By Oluwafunke Ishola
The founder and Chief Executive Officer of Erisco Foods Ltd., Chief Eric Umeofia, says that a powerful syndicate keen on killing his company is behind the “false and malicious’’ social media post against the company.
Speaking to newsmen on Saturday in Lagos on the raging Facebook controversy, Umeofia said that the syndicate, whom he identified as importers of tomato paste had been pulling such pranks over the years.
“Their ultimate goal is to discourage Erisco Foods as Nigeria’s major local tomato paste maker and force Nigeria to depend on imported tomato paste,’’ Umeofia said.
He vowed, however, that he would continue to forge ahead, to make tomato paste locally and discourage importation of the product to save the Nigerian economy.
Umeofia, who is described as Africa’s top tomato paste maker, said that the purported review of ‘Nagiko Tomato Mix’ by a Facebook user, named Chioma Egodi, was apparently another attempt to smear a local brand that had put a Nigerian manufacturer on the map.
Records show that Erisco Foods has had a dominant presence in the tomato paste sector in Angola and Liberia over the years, positioning itself as the fourth largest of its type in the world.
He lamented that the offensive Facebook post had a tendency to impact negatively on the company, describing the development as “one of the painful experiences of engaging in manufacturing in Nigeria’’.
According to Umeofia, the so called review of ‘Nagiko Tomato Mix’ by Egodi, showed her total lack of knowledge of the ingredients used in the making of tomato paste.
Describing Egodi’s post as baseless and malicious, he said that the write-up was clearly meant to drag Erisco Foods to the mud and destroy one of its flagship products.
“She showed her determination to kill our brand and products so why should I let her go scot-free?
“For the past five years, I’ve not received any credit facility in Nigeria – no loan. For the past three years, I’ve not received one dollar as foreign exchange.
“I’ve been sustaining my local production from my foreign investments in Angola and the United Arab Emirates.”
Narrating how the incident unfolded, Umeofia said that after Egodi’s product review on social media, he reached out to his staff to find out if any complaint had been filed by Egodi.
“I found out that there was none — no product, no batch number, no production number – but a claim that our product is killing people.
“We released a statement that we would not allow our efforts of over 40 years of production to be destroyed by a syndicate of importers who had been fighting our products.
“We decided to defend our corporate identity by tagging her to the statement.
“Some people advised her to pull down the post that she’s destroying someone’s business but she refused.
“She abused those that had positive comments about our products but made thumbs up for those that criticised it. Then we knew she had a hidden agenda.
Umeofia added: “we had fought tomato paste importers for years because we believe that producing products locally was the best way to support economic growth.
“Should I now sit back and allow someone to destroy what we’ve spent over 10 years building?”
The chief executive officer said that efforts to reach Egodi proved abortive, necessitating Erisco Foods to petition the inspector-general of police to investigate the allegations.
“If my product has been killing people, I should be killed.
“I have over 3,000 workers in my factory and pay over 20,000 people indirectly. How can I allow syndicates to destroy my hard work?”
Umeofia clarified that the product under scrutiny was a tomato mix and not tomato paste and that the former always had sugar as an active ingredient, stressing that the product was certified by NAFDAC.
He displayed an apology letter, purportedly written to Erisco Foods through the Nigeria Police Force, regarding the product review Egodi had posted. (NAN)
Edited by Silas Nwoha