NIGERIAN ENTERPRENEURS SCARE: GOVERNMENT POLICIES THAT DESTROYED BIG-TIME BUSINESSES

Only the naïve entrepreneur in Nigeria is excited with the contemplation of floating a manufacturing concern. The wise ones, schooled in the experiences they have had to contend with in the ever changing dynamics of manufacturing and other investments tasks in the production lines have fled the scene to the shelter of trading and merchandising. This, for good reasons. The challenges of conducting manufacturing and related production activities in the country, though, besetting, are however benign when compared with the ease with which government oft volte-face on policies and action stamp out the promises or existence of a once upon-a-time manufacturing plant.
In this review, we track some of the celebrated industrial concerns that had been heckled into non-existence by government policy summersaults over the years, official actions or inaction that have become the scare of entrepreneurs.
Presidential Initiative on Cassava Production
In 2002, cassava suddenly gained national prominence following the pronouncement of a Presidential Initiative. The intent of the Initiative was to use cassava as the engine of growth in Nigeria. In the ordinary sense, the perception is that cassava is indigenous to the country, official statistics claim that Nigeria grows more cassava than any other country in the world with a production capacity of about 34 million metric tones a year.
The Presidential Initiative on Cassava production and export was initiated in the year 2002. The goal of the initiative was to promote cassava as a foreign exchange earner in Nigeria as well as to satisfy national demand. The challenge of the initiative was to make Nigeria earn 5 billion US dollars from value added cassava exports by 2007. The objectives of the Presidential Initiative on Cassava was to expand primary processing and utilisation to absorb the national cassava production glut, identify and develop new market opportunities for import substitution and export stimulate increased private sector investment in the establishment of export oriented Cassava industries, ensure the availability of clean (disease free) planting materials targeted at the emerging industries, increase the yield, productivity and expand annual production to achieve global cassava competitiveness, advocate for conducive policy and institutional reforms for the development of the Nigerian cassava sector and integrate the rural poor especially women and youths into the mainstream of the national economy.
The federal government under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo backed the initiative with funding support while encouraging banks and other government and multilateral agencies to drive the initiative through funding support.
Suffice to say that in response to the government drive, an industry revolving around cassava plantation and processing started emerging. Opportunity seekers were encouraged to invest because of the obvious outward flourish of government. The signs were obvious too, under the Presidential Initiative on Cassava, Nigeria mandated millers to integrate 10 percent cassava flour to wheat flour in making bread, a percentage mix of ethanol in refined petroleum motor spirit (petrol) in the nation’s refineries. These were moves aimed at increasing the utilization of the tuber crop.
Other statistics pointed to the profitability of entrepreneurial engagement in cassava related activities; the domestic demand for cassava starch is about 130,000 tonnes per annum and 200,000 tonnes per annum for high quality cassava flour. The domestic demand for ethanol is 180 million litres – all ethanol is imported In Nigeria. None of these markets are being satisfied by local supplier even till today in Nigeria.
Individual entrepreneurs were attracted into the field and the buzz made the rounds of great things happening in cassava production in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the fancy was just for a time, even before the exit of the Obasanjo’s regime, there were obvious signs of government distancing itself from the clarion call to cassava farming and processing, soon after the assumption of office of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, immediate successor to Obasanjo, federal government articulation of the cassava initiative lost its din.
The lacklustre enforcement of the policy of mandating flour millers to integrate 10 percent cassava flour to wheat flour in making bread and other confectionaries were altogether abandoned. Of course, the idealism of the refinery blend of ethanol with petrol had been a mirage according to entrepreneurs that had found their ways into cassava processing. “The nation’s refineries only functioned epileptically, rather, the bulk of refined products are being imported from foreign refineries, so the idea of the ethanol could not have worked out at all.” A cassava processor said
The government of Yar’Adua nailed the fledgling sector by abandoning the ethos of the Obasanjo initiated presidential initiative on cassava initiative. Importations of cassava processed by products and all have been allowed in the country with import tariff of 20 percent value.
“Apparently, this has sounded the death knell for that endeavour.” Another cassava processor said. “Local conditions have made it difficult to produce and process cassava, the thinking was to protect the industry until such a time that it would be able to compete favourably with importation but I understand that government decided to make this reversal because of the need to mitigate increased food prices. But then, we think that it would have been better to strengthen cassava production and processing in the country to boost food supply and to earn more income for government through export.
In the final analysis, the fact is that most entrepreneurs have had their investment and efforts gone up in smoke, another promise subverted by inconsistent government policy shift.
NIGERIAN LAMP PLC
One of the outstanding business endeveavour the recently demised Chief Beyioku Adebowlale of the Adebowale Store fame would be remembered for is his Nigerian Lamp Industry Plc. A courageous indigenous effort to play in the main stream manufacturing sector, when Adebowale built the Nigerian Lamp plant in his native Epe in Lagos State, it was reported to be the first of its kind in Africa. The plant was equipped to manufacture light bulbs and fluorescent.
It is reported that Adebowale was encouraged to make a foray into the manufacturing effort away from his electronic products trading concern in the Adebowale Electronic Store by the positive outlook of government incentive for indigenous manufacturers to commit to the economy in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, by the time the plant came on stream, it was like hitting dirt on first day of commission, government had made a reversal on policy, rather than protect local industries, government lifted the restricted importation of bulbs and fluorescents tube and other lamp forms. The market place was immediately flooded with Asian and Far East Asian countries bulb brands, which were cheaper though low in quality.
Nigerian Lamp, unfortunately, had become a publicly quoted company, Nigerians had subscribed to is initial public offer, but with the influx of cheaper products and brands into the market, the company’s operation became blighted and soon after became literally comatose. The company that never took off for operation eventually was placed under a receiver manager. This officially announced the demise of the once upon a Time promising company.
ROKANA INDUSTRIES PLC
Rokana Industries, had, back in the late 1980s caught the attention of the dentistry world with its production of the uniquely styled Jordan tooth brush. The market penetration of the Rokana brand of tooth brush was fast and quite domineering. It is reported that in its first year of introduction, the Rokana brand had pushed other imported brands to the back of the shelves. Jodan tooth brush was, considered the authentic Nigerian brand though the brand is a British franchise.
The dominance of the brand won’t endure for long however, because the Federal Government felt no need to specifically outlaw the activities of importers who would rather import fake Jordan tooth brush into Nigeria than to import other brands.
This more or less killed the vibrancy of the brand in the market place, it is however to the credit of the endearing qualities of the brand that it still subsists till day despite the continuous import of its counterfeit. The limitation is that Rokana, the producing company which is also a publicly quoted company floated by the immediate past commerce minister in the Yar’Adua’s cabinet Mr. Charles Ugwuh, has remained more or less moribund on the stock exchange’s price listing as investors ignored it even when the stock market was upbeat.
DOYIN INDUSTRIES
Doyin Industries is still a flourishing concern, this would not have been so if the man behind the manufacturing concern had not been well grounded in the ways of manufacturing in Nigeria. Of course he had been badly burnt from his engagement with manufacturing.
Samuel Adedoyin, the man behind Doyin Industries started out in business as a trader and he made quite a success of it that he diversified into manufacturing of household and food items and body care products. By 1996 he mobilized credit to build an awesome factory to manufacture his company’s range of products, and he was daring enough to take on multi-national companies. Travails soon ensued, electricity limitation to power the factory and the credit sourcing for funding the factory project became a burden, the market was also flooded with cheaper products from Asian countries.
The operations of the company soon became hamstrung, credit issues from City Express Bank became a public embarrassment for the Kwara State born industrialist, eventually, a production line of the industry had to close down and workers lay off.
DUNLOP
Dunlop Nigeria Plc is the latest of once buoyant companies to hit the dirt. The company had endured the harsh economic environment and had over the years returned impressive earnings to investors in the company being a public quoted company a greater majority of 95 per cent of the company’s shares belongs to several state governments, public companies and no fewer than 93,000 private Nigerians.
In 1991, it acquired majority shareholding in PAMOL (Nigeria) Limited, a rubber producing company to ensure uninterrupted supply of the right quality natural rubber, a major raw material in tyre manufacturing.
The company pioneered the radial car tubeless tyres in West Africa; produced the first crossply tyre in tubeless in Nigerian market; was the first Nigerian tyre company to hold the E.C.E 30 Certificate, an export requirement for car tyres to Europe; and first manufacturing company in Africa (beside South Africa) to hold the ISO 9002 certification.
It would soon be revealed during the former minister of commerce visit to Dunlop factory late last year that the company was merely struggling to stay afloat. The managing director of the company had complained about infrastructural deficiency, especially energy (electricity and recently, gas outages) and import duty regimes, inconsistent tax regimes which combine to place local manufacturers at significant disadvantage.
A major gripe of the company was its N8 billion expansion into the Heavy Truck Radial segment which was frustrated by reversal of government policy on tariff for imported truck/bus tyres from 40 per cent to 10 per cent at the beginning of 2007. This according to the company’s officials, created unfair and inequitable advantages for importers of finished tyres.
The dichotomy between tariff for car tyres (50 per cent) and Truck/Bus tyres (10 per cent) is said to have been abused by importers, both in terms of tariff and haulage evasion.
The situation confers undue advantages on importation rather than local manufacturing, now, the company has declared its incapacity to continue manufacturing activities in the country. Unofficial source said it would resort to tyre importation with grave implications for the rubber from its subsidiary, Pamol.
FAMAD (FORMERLY BATA) PLC and LENNARDS NIGERIA PLC
Before the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme, Bata’s ubiquitous outlets were the ultimate in foot wear shopping for all ages, Bata with its lesser cousin, Lennards Nigeria Plc. After 1986, the promise of flourishing was effectively shut out of the footwear manufacturing outfits. Government could not stem smuggling activities.
Synthetic shoes from Dubai and other Asian countries and high quality leather foot wear from Europe smuggled large scale into Nigeria particularly suffocated indigenous production. Ironically, the nation’s export in their raw forms the materials needed for footwear manufacturing. The products are exported, refined, recycled and packaged abroad to be sent back to Nigeria as import.
Till date, no appropriate government policy has addressed the inadequacy in the sector that has turned FAMAD (BATA) and LENNARDS into moribund companies.
VOLKSWAGEN AND PAN NIGERIA
In the 1970s Nigerian was the centre of attraction in the African continent with its hosting of the Volkswagen and Peugeot Automobile Nigeria plants. Nigerians, before the economic deluge of the last quarter of 1986 were sure of brand new cars proudly assembled in Nigeria. The assembly plants were supposed to be transitional in the nation’s march to becoming a full fledged vehicle manufacturing country.
The dream was cut short by government policy. Government steel rolling mills could not produce an ounce to support the desire to attain full production capacity, just as the value of the naira had suddenly depreciated in the years running to the close of the 1980 decade, and government back in the days, unofficially gave the go ahead for the importation of second hand vehicle (Tokunbo) at outrageously low tariff without consideration for age of vehicle to be imported.

CHARLES UGWU BLOCKADES PROSHARE NIGERIA WEBSITE

Charles Ugwuh, son of the immediate past Minister of Commerce and Industry, Eng. Charles Ugwuh, is at the centre of a controversy over the illegal blockade of Proshare Nigeria website, a popular investment focused website. According to owners of the website, Ugwuh shut down the site so as to blackmail Proshare.

In a release made available to FORTUNE&CLASS, Proshareng explains that on Friday, November 7th 2008, Charles Ugwuh of ContentOmni made good his threat to shut down the website of the company in an attempt to blackmail it to pay for spurious bills.

Ugwuh manages the Information Technology arm of Proshare through his ContentOmni IT company. He had informed the management of Proshareng that the site would be hosted on a dedicated server for which payment was made to January 2009. This, according to Proshareng management, was backed up with a full year maintenance agreement, equally paid for.

The revelation that Ugwuh had, in fact, breached the specific order to host the site on a dedicated server was made when, according to the Proshareng statement, it discovered, sometime in the first quarter of 2008 that Google had flagged the blog website as ‘possibly harmful’ to users.

“This was brought to his attention with nothing done. We realized the need to take better care and full control of issues related to the site as we were responsible for the site and requested that a 3rd party investigate the cause. We discovered that the problem resides on ContentOmni server for which we had no control over. This led to the discovery that we were indeed not operating on a dedicated server as contracted; and was sharing the platform with his other clients.” Proshareng explains.

Highlighting the reason for the need to have a dedicated server, Proshareng said:

“The agreement states that we shall be able to deliver 50,000 newsletters per 60 minutes amongst other service qualities desired by us. This unfortunately was never the case because of the deceit and non-conformity with the contractual obligation as agreed with us. To deliver this service, the company has had to operate shifts in a 24 hour cycle to meet newsletter demands.

Commenting on the challenging relationship Prosahreng had had to contend with Ugwuh because he held the sensitive information and access to its site, Proshare observed:

“The ContentOmni office in Ikeja was shut down early this year, barely two months after we had commissioned the firm and we have had serious challenges locating him or reaching him on phone when we had service issues which was a daily affair, for which our maintenance agreement covered.

“Most importantly, we needed ContentOmni to complete outstanding work from Proshare 2.0 which remained outstanding till date. A culture of service failures, non-observance of delivery timelines; desperation for money and disregard for client preferences, all well documented in formal correspondences showed no sign of abating.

“As the market entered the bearish state in May/June we feared for our ability to respond to the anticipated need for ‘another type’ of market information during the increasingly obvious market downturn, and requested that the website be handed over for us to take full responsibility for.

“Several entreaties from him for understanding of pressing challenges were made. On one of such visits, we made available additional funds to assist.

“Again, nothing happened and when ten (10) months after, sometime in September 2008 we asked again that he simply hands over the site and refund our money when able, he pleaded with us that we would have the site ready in October 2008.

“During the period of waiting, we requested for but did not receive information on the look and feel, functionality changes, logic for uploading and information on what customers should do and know about the new site. We still do not have that information.

“He rather sprung on us the need to move us to a ‘better’ dedicated server on a day when we were due to load a clients advert and while the website was acting up. It was literally a ‘gun to the head’ moment. We then realized that given the ‘catch 22’ situation we found ourselves, the only reasonable thing to do was to go ahead with it but insist that payment will be made by us directly to the web host, especially given our most recent experiences with him on matters relating to integrity.

“We recall that we have a subsisting contract till January 2009 and reckon that we could validate all works completed by the firm to achieve a smooth handover.

“ContentOmni migrated the platform to a test version of Proshare 3.0 in October 2008. The transition was anything but smooth or professional. Clients, advertisers, subscribers and staff members found it challenging to buy into the site and we thus demanded for a meeting/presentation from the firm. This he said he could not create time to do as ‘anyone should be able to apply themselves to the information there if serious’.

“Ugwuh’s disparaging remarks about users’ level of IT literacy would be considered by some as unusual but his formal response to our request to provide FULL DISCLOSURE of all third parties to which he had allegedly contracted on our behalf was anything, but sincere or professional.

“ContentOmni, he said, cannot and considers it unprofessional to disclose the identity of the third parties with whom he had contracted on our behalf nor can they disclose the source codes relating to our site (though initiated and paid for by us) if we want to take over the site and move it from them.

“We responded by demanding for a meeting as we became convinced of ContentOmni’s resolves to use any means available to them to keep us from being independent of them. When we insisted that we wanted a complete control of third party obligations and direct relationship with service providers supporting our operations as part of the transition, he threatened to shut us down unless full payment was received in a matter of days for spurious bills which included previous work done and paid for, and cost of transferring the website from one server to another.

Knowing our desire and passion to always serve the people, especially at this critical time of financial turbulence; Charles Ugwuh went ahead to block the website by placing a suspended service notice with the view to embarrassing the company and bring the brand into disrepute for no just cause. The notice was placed by ContentOmni and not the web host as anyone with knowledge of such services would know that no credible business will behave in such a reckless manner over disputed bills.

He had hoped that our zeal for service would compel us to succumb to such lawless act of intimidation and blackmail. WE REFUSE! If he is not responsible for the shut down, can he allow us pay direct to those who are, so we can hold them to a higher standard of decorum and service regard.

“This singular action of Ugwuh was subsequent to a commissioned project to deliver on the ideas put forward by us on the anticipated market requirements for investors in the Nigerian Capital Market; known as Proshare 3.0 – a customer centric platform which would remain free for all users. The completed site was due for launch in January 2008, having paid for same in November 2007.” Proshare recounts

“Charles Ugwuh, a son of a former minister, touts and believes that he is privileged enough to ignore the consequences of the shutdown by taking the law into his own hands. Sadly, this will be another chapter in the list of incidents we have had to grapple with this year in what many believe is a deliberate attempt by certain faceless persons/institutions to stifle the service and muzzle our voice in the market. It is not lost on us that the last incident we had to issue a disclaimer on related to the possible hijacking of our mails to which we used the website to immediately quell. More tragic is the fact that ContentOmni, referred to in the said broadcast as looking into the remote causes of such has allowed itself to be a willing tool to shut down our capabilities to defend ourselves.”

“This makes it such a compelling reason, not to allow such a blackmail to stand.” Proshareng affirms.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.