SUNDAY AKINTOLA: HOW MUSHIN HOME BOY GREW MULTI-MILLION NAIRA BUSINESSES IN MUSHIN, LAGOS

SUNDAY AKINTOLA is specially proud of beating all the odds as a home boy growing up in the densely populated Mushin area of Lagos State to become a successful owner of business chains that span micro finance and telecommunications. In this interview with GOKE OLUWOLE, and TAI ADEWALE SHOFELA, Chairman of Sovereign Micro Finance Bank, AKINTOLA shares his journey to conquering the litany of challenges that littered his path to business success.

How would you describe yourself?

Yes, by His grace, I am Sunday Akintola, a gentleman who happens to be one of the lucky entrepreneurs whose company is positively impacting on Nigeria in the area of poverty alleviation. I am the Chairman of the Board of three companies; Covenant Perazim Investment Limited, a multi-facetted company established to operate in the Oil, Gas and Agriculture sectors, Sufi Enterprises Limited, which is a company involved in the sale and distribution of GSM companies recharge cards, and Sovereign Micro-Finance Bank. I am a graduate of Accounting from the University of Lagos. I am also an ex-banker having worked with one of Nigeria’s fastest growing banks Zenith Bank Plc.

Briefly, can you tell us the background to how you grew this multi million naira business empire?

Most big businesses always start in small ways. This multi-million business concern, like you rightly said, is a business that was registered first as Covenant Perazim Investment Limited in November, 2003 while I was still in service with Zenith Bank. It was then the thought occurred to me on what I could do to change my life and touch the lives of other people around me. I thereafter initiated the venture, but we started operation with four staff which included my wife and my brother in-law in a shop here in Mushin from where we sold telecoms recharge cards.

I resigned from my banking job six months after we commenced operations, to be precise, July 1, 2004, two days after securing the NCC dealership licence. In fact, I got my licence on a Sunday and I put in my resignation the following Tuesday, and by August, 2004, I was already able to raise the mandatory N5 million to join the recharge card dealership community of the then V-Mobile Network with Sufi Enterprises Ltd.

All these while, my colleagues, some in the banking halls and some from other companies like Chevron, Exxon-Mobil and other multi-nationals, were greatly disturbed about my decision to go into business; they asked if something was wrong with me and how could I leave certainty for uncertainty; leaving the bank to go and sell recharge card. For them, it sounded absurd. But I told them I wanted to go and develop my business.

Things started to crystallize for us because all we were doing then was to get some money to buy and sell recharge cards until we had our breakthrough when in 2006 the V-Mobile Network started seeing us as a serious business entity, and in 2007, we won the best dealers award of the V-Mobile Network. That same 2007, we were among the 25 dealers selected in Lagos and promoted to the status of big dealers. However, as part of the requirements of that new status back then, we were also expected to have our own building as office complex. On the back of this, we decided to build our own building. Thankfully, by the end of 2007 we were able to build our own office complex.

Personally, how had your background influenced the development of your business?

I am a proper Mushin boy, born and bred in this community where people have the notion that nothing good can come out of the community. While we were in the secondary school, those of us from Mushin were seen as boys from homes of hooligans and thugs but to God be the glory, we came out very disciplined, because I am fortunate to have very responsible parents who gave us good up bringing.

Can you believe that as far back as 1963, my Dad refused all discouragement from others not to send my elder sister to school; he sent her to the only private boarding school then in Abeokuta, the Baptist Private School, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta. People were laughing at our parents for sending my sister to the boarding school. Ironically, I had to attend a public school, Odo Abore Primary School in Mushin. I guess my brilliance then impressed the school management such that they made me the school’s senior prefect.

After finishing at Odo Abore, my parents preferred that I schooled out of Lagos State, they rejected my preference for the Nigerian Model College at Idi-Oro, a suburb of Mushin. They sent me to Baptist High School, Saki, in Oyo State. From Saki I proceed to the Lagos State College of Education, and later, to the University of Lagos where I studied Accounting. I also taught in a primary school for two years before I joined Zenith Bank in 1993 where I spent 11 years before quitting in 2004.

Though my parents were not rich, I remember that they always struggled to pay our school fees then. They thought us about God and, my mother, especially, taught us the principle of prudence and wealth creation. All these contributed to my success today, but the secret to my business success is God. There is nothing we do in this office that we don’t ask for God’s favour, He is our Alpha and Omega. In this office there is nothing we do that we don’t tell God; we pray in the morning and we pray to close each of our day’s operations.

As a major player in the telecoms recharge card distribution and marketing sub sector, how would you describe the industry?

Yes, the industry is full of illiterate and semi illiterate people, but with the new policies from all the companies, I expect that the situation will finally change. I believe that there will be a lot of changes because it is only in the telecoms sector that some illiterate people will buy something at the rate of N400 and sell it for N250, that is about 80 per cent less than the cost price. But now, the business is getting more exciting, interesting, and rewarding than what it used to be.

What prompted your interest in establishing a microfinance bank, which is seen as very risky commercial engagements, or do we reason that you preferred this because of your banking background?

It wasn’t my background in banking that inspired me to establish Sovereign Micro Finance Bank, rather, it was due to my interaction with the people at the grass-roots of my immediate community here in Mushin while I was operating the telecoms business. The economic plight of these people rekindled my interest in empowering the people in my immediate community. You know when we were doing the telecoms business a lot of people always came to us for financial aids in form of soft loans, but there was no way we could be able to solve all these needs, so we now saw the opportunity to serve and empower our people when the CBN came out with the guideline and licensing procedures for establishing micro finance bank, that was the vision.

Again, there was this experience I once had while I was trying to establish a friend in the recharge card business in Abeokuta. I then realized that what most people need is micro-credit, soft loan, when you don’t help people within your neighborhood they will be the same set of people that will make life difficult for you. Do you know some of those my friends who thought something was wrong with me when I left Zenith Bank today are now begging us to be part of what we are doing. But we shall adopt them provided CBN reviews its policy on the board membership; we are also looking for a way to involve them through our forthcoming private placement.

Don’t you think it is easy for Nigerians to abuse the concept of micro finance banking just like the earlier banking and finances houses of the past?

The establishment of microfinance banks and transformation of community banks is a thought in the right direction by the government, it shows the government knows what the needs of the people are; forget about the bastardization of the earlier finance houses, I can tell you the impact of the micro finance bank vision is already showing on our economy. As I am talking to you now, we are highly regulated, every MFB has a CBN supervisor attached to it and every bank is mandated to do a monthly return to CBN. They will trace and check all the loans you disbursed that month, so there is no way you can give all the loans to your family like in the era of finance houses and commercial banks of the past.

You can log on to the CBN’s website and check the full list of the MFBs as they are arranged alphabetically, this is also part of the effort to showcase them (micro finance banks) and for you to know the ones you can deal with, I can assure you there is no MFB that will like to go under because there are lots of opportunities in the micro financing business

Of all the MFBs in Lagos what do you think stands your Sovereign Micro Finance Bank out from the rest?

We believe so much in God, and this is the anchor of our own business philosophy… to be the fulcrum of creating financial independence for the people. You see, all these area boys, some of them have great talents but what they mainly want is financial empowerment. One of them approached us about three months ago that he wanted to have his own bus and I told him to go and start saving, that if he can save N50,000 out of the N450,000 he needed to buy a Faragon Volkswagen Bus, we will fund it.

He jumped at the offer and each day, he deposited N1500 with us out of the N3000 of his daily income from the transport business. We also work with other professional groups on how to empower their members. All these are parts of the ways to eliminate criminality from their minds because if someone has a wife and kids and a job, his approach to life will be different. He will not be thinking that he wants to die because he already knows he has a stake in this world.

What gave you the impression that Mushin people deserve another micro finance bank despite all the commercial bank branches that populate the roads?

I don’t think there is any other community that I will want to serve than the Mushin community; these are the people that deserve to be uplifted and empowered financially. It is the rural people who need micro-credit or micro-funding; our vision in Sovereign MFB is to empower all these so called area boys, and since I grew up in this area, I understand the economic philosophy and psychology of the people.

We’ve already started some collaboration with the professional groups’ trade and artisan associations on how to serve them better, and even the National Union of Road Transport Workers [NURTW]. We hope to set them up with financial backing of our bank.

Our operations here as telecoms recharge distributor had opened our eyes to many needs of the people. We are now able to understand the need of the people of this area, ask anybody here around Mushin, if they know Sufi Enterprises Limited, they’ll tell you that they know us very well, it is the goodwill we’ve created over time that is rubbing on the bank.

I have also realized that commercial banks are too big to recognize micro financing opportunities, they will not fund or support your business when you are small, it is always the big projects of billions and millions of big establishments that they will always be interested in funding while the man whose business need just N5, 000 to survive is left to wallow in abject poverty.

Which was the riskiest investment venture you had made?

The biggest investment risk I ever took was the outright sale of my entire investment portfolio when I couldn’t secure a loan to finance this MFB project. A friend at FirstBank just told me point blank that since my office complex didn’t have a certificate of occupancy, no bank will give me a loan and the best, he advised I did, was to liquidate my stock portfolio. That was how I sold all my stocks just as if I was been pushed by a spirit but to God be the glory, I was lucky enough to escape the stock market crash now being witnessed by investors. Up till today, my stockbroker still enquire from me how I was able to escape the downturn in the market.

There is no business that doesn’t have its own ups and downs, tell us the challenges being faced by operators of microfinance banks in Nigeria?

Our major challenge is commercial banks, they are becoming jealous of our achievements, which is why you see a lot of the country’s mega banks transforming into micro banks. They see us as threats, because they know we can go for clearing by statutory order and with this the commercial banks always stalemated us. At present, we have a serious battle with a commercial bank over a facility of N110million we got from a company which the company, the bank and us decided was supposed to be given to us but when the money was ready, they sat on it, denied us access to it because of our capital base. We need more money to service the micro needs of our people. What we devised now is that we have contacted about three to four banks for our clearing, one is in charge of the financing of Okada scheme, one for the NURTW scheme, while we also get another to manage our other schemes because it would be too risky to keep all our good eggs in one basket.

We are currently working with a commercial bank to provide us with an ATM which will soon be installed to serve the people of Mushin. We are going to table most of these problems before the Central Bank Governor at the next conference of MFBs in Nigeria. Maybe the Governor can help us caution the commercial banks.

Another major challenge we are facing, like every other business in Nigeria, is the problem of power supply. Large amount of our money goes to fuelling of generating sets, and mind you, we bought our own transformer at about N1.8million while our 100 KVA generator costs a whopping N2.9million and this we fuel with N8, 000 daily. If we plough these back into our business do you know the number of people that will benefit from our micro finance bank? The issue of multiple taxation, too, is another serious challenge to business in Lagos.

As an entrepreneur what will you say is your greatest achievement?

What I personally see as our achievement may not be too fantastic to you but for a company that started in a small shop five years ago on this street, selling recharge cards, now owns an edifice housing the headquarters of all our businesses which include banking, aquaculture, oil and gas, and telecoms; all these we can boast is valued to be above N100million.

We have about 60 well remunerated staff, with at least over eight brand new Toyota cars for our staff, and in the next three months, we are going to take delivery of another set of five new Toyota cars for our middle cadre officers. Some of our staffers who were employed some years ago with school certificates are now graduates while some are about completing their choice of courses in various higher institutions. While studying, we make sure they don’t lack anything. None of our staff has been involved in stealing and none had left us. We are still one united family five years after we started. Last December, we harvested our fish pond and the return from the investment yielded about N1.5miilion because it is safer to diversify to other businesses to expand our capital base and income sources.

What is your management style?

I am a hard working person, and all my staff members know this. I am always the first person to resume here and the last person to leave. Can you believe I live in Alagbado, yet I’m always very punctual at the office? You’ll see me resume here by 7.30a.m. everyday, I mentor my staff, they’ve all imbibed discipline from me. You know, I operate an open door policy here, all my staff are well remunerated. If a CEO is not disciplined, the staff will not be disciplined. Again, let me tell you that yesterday (Friday, 9 January) I was with one of my colleagues way back at Zenith Bank and he was reminding me how disciplined we were then while employed at Zenith Bank. He said it was I who once said that I dreamt that one day I would have my own bank, but we all did not believe it then because of the situation surrounding the licensing of commercial banks. But today, both of us are owners of full fledged micro finance banks; he owns Olive Microfinace Bank on Awolowo Way, Ikeja, Lagos, while my own is Sovereign Microfinance Bank, Mushin, Lagos. What we thought was impossible is now a reality in our lives. God has done it, it is easy now to grow a micro-finance bank into a commercial bank and that is our future because in the nearest future we hope to go public.

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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.

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.