Paul Obanua, a 43 year-old Nigerian businessman, is on a quest to change the landscape of mall developments in Nigeria and, arguably, in Africa. Obanua’s current project, through his firm Greenfield Assets Nigeria Limited, is turning a 28–acre in Aba, the capital city of Abia State in Nigeria, known as a strategic trading hub in the southern part of the country, into what will be a purpose-built smart mall community with 100,000 square meters of retail space for shopping, a multiplex movie theater, bank, its own transportation system, a dry dock for wholesale distribution and more.
With a projected development cost of $300 million, Aba Mega Mall is expected to be the biggest shopping in Africa.
I recently caught up with Paul Obanua, CEO of Greenfield Asset Management, to get his take on Aba mega mall development, and how it can impact and encourage privately funded infrastructural development in Nigeria and Africa in the years to come.
How did the idea of building the biggest mall in Africa come about?
The mission of Greenfield Assets Limited is to renew sub-Saharan African cities, regenerate our communities and empower lives. In our quest to achieve this, one of the opportunities we identified is in the area of infrastructure development, especially retail infrastructure. This has encouraged us to pioneer the leapfrogging of Africa’s Historical Open Market Retail System to Smart Mall Infrastructure. Our goal is to transform the way in which Africans trade.
Rapid urbanization and Nigeria’s youth demography of about 70% of her population, have amplified the demand for a new shopping experience. Lagos with a population of over 20 million has just four standard Malls compared to 23 malls in Nairobi with a population of 3 million.
Aba has a long history as a major center of commerce and industry in Nigeria and its influence extends to such neighboring countries as Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Central Africa Republic, Ghana, etc. The major shopping center in Aba is the Ariaria market built in the 1970s with the capacity for 20,000 shops; today it has become a sprawl of 120,000 shops. This and many other commercial centers are all busting at the seams as they have all exceeded their carrying capacity.
The amount of retail space required to meet present demand is in excess of 500,000 square meters and we envisage that Aba Mega Mall will go a long way to fill this gap.
What are the biggest challenges in embarking on such a large project?
The difficulty in raising local financing for capital intensive projects like this is one of the biggest challenges.
How many developers have you partnered with in developing the mall?
Greenfield Assets Limited is the sole developer of Aba Mega Mall though we have some equity and technical partners.
As things stand, how far long is the Aba Mega Mall development at present?
The first phase of 1,000 units of retail space has been completed. It was commissioned on the 26th of May 2015 and commercial activities commenced right after the commissioning.
The first phase has dovetailed into the second phase which includes a luxury mall, 100-room boutique hotel, 6-Screen Cinema, 10-megawatt Independent Power Supply, the first Dry Port in the South-East of Nigeria with a fully automated 30,000 sqm warehouse. By the time we are done, we would have invested over $300 million and achieved about 10,000 units of lettable space for commercial activities.
This is a rather large undertaking from a financial position, is Aba Mega Mall the largest investment Greenfield Assets ever made or is it one of many to come?
You are right; it is one of the many to come. We are going to have the Special Economic Zone, which will be an integrated city of business parks that will consist of manufacturing concerns, like automotive manufacturing, steel fabrication, leather works, petrochemical industries, Agri-business and ICT Park.
It will be a complete city that will be self-sustaining, because it will have an economic life of its own. That is coming with 300 megawatts power supply and excess will be transmitted to the national grid.
What are the immediate economic impact for the region and continent as a whole?
The development of Aba Mega Mall will have a multiplier effect on economic development and growth of the city and region, having positive impact on the economic advancement of the nation and indeed the entire continent.
Aba has the latent potential of competing with the biggest commercial hubs in the world in terms of volume of trade and industry. What it has lacked is the supporting infrastructure. Aba Mega Mall provides the right infrastructure which will act as a stimulant for the realization of this potential.
The development of the mall will help to nurture industries, for instance, the leather industry in Aba has suffered because of the lack of a conducive environment. Aba Mega Mall has provided a world-class trade environment with adequate facilities to help support the leather works industry and others.
Aba Mega Mall will ultimately create employment opportunities in excess of over 10,000 direct and indirect jobs.
What are your expectations on completion of this development?
We expect that we would have pioneered the leapfrogging of Africa’s Historical Open Market Retail System to Smart Mall Infrastructure and to stimulate the urban renewal of Aba city.
We also look forward to replicating this model in all the major commercial cities in Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African countries.