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.

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Obama will be a good president

Head or tail, history made

Obama: Head or tail, history made

Away from our beleaguered stock market and the yet roiling global financial markets. At least, a little bit of sanity is returning to the Nigerian stock market though not by way of positive market activities, thankfully, the management of the Nigerian Stock Market has finally discerned the wisdom that informs free market activities by removing the one percent down limit on stocks price depreciation. Good enough, prices are stumbling; curiously, most hurt in the crashing prices are stocks of banks and insurance companies. The manufacturing sector is curiously holding steady, prices of UAC Nigeria, UAC Property and even those in the health sector; especially the pharmaceuticals have managed to hold their own at relative sliding rate. Does this tell a story?

 

I think it does, the power of any economy is a function of its real and active sector. Investors seem to have decidedly held faith with companies that are producing goods and products they can relate with and have turned their backs on the services of the financial sector with the average fall in price of stocks in that sector calculated at more than 50 percent. I guess it all about fears and negative sentiment. Yet, I can still dare to propose that in that sector lies the redeeming prospect of the market. Why?

Financial sector players understand the Nigerian economic market, perhaps, much more than any other sectoral player, and of course, they know how to get things done. They have been at the commanding height of the economy since the military inspired economic structural adjustment programme as influenced by the International Monetary Funds. Nigerian banks and bankers had survived much turbulence since 1993 when we first witnessed the first wholesale crash of the national banking sector and had returned stronger and better.

  So if First Bank is selling for less than 30 per cent of its peak price in 2008 at N20 plus and Access at less than 100 per cent of its high this year, I am tempted to go searching for value in the finance sector.

Please, excuse me, the stock market was not supposed to be in focus this week. I am very sure, the most discussed issue that would be discussed the whole of this week will be the USA presidential election while the most mentioned name any where in the corners of the globe this week will be Barrack Obama, that genteel, lithe figure that suddenly happened on the American political scene and had since captured the imagination of American across age, gender and other persuasion.

It’s natural to expect an opinionated African to canvass an Obama presidency, isn’t it natural? Of course, to my mind, this is the final resolution of the opposites that had defined relationship among people across the world, and for once, an indication that Africa, will, despite the interface of all morbid attributions in national leadership of countries across the black African continent, is where ultimate civilization and prosperity is headed. This may not be more than 50 years, I feel a reordering of the global economic space, an Obama USA presidency will be the beginning of the process.

Is this some fanciful thought? I don’t know, but it’s not every time that an individual, seemingly unqualified for a position just suddenly start marshalling the most effective strategies to beat political institutions in the United States.

The fact that Obama, a black-white man, or put properly, a white-black man (still wonder why they still primarily describe him as a black man as if the white gene and pigmentation of his mum were of no consequence) subsumed the Clintons and veteran John McCain in the opinion of people across the USA should convince anybody that Obama will be a good president.

No need to cajole logic and other persuasive argument about the worthiness of Obama, he has proved this by taking the battle to republican states and even competing on favourable numbers in McCain’s Arizona. And even more interesting, he turned the institution of the republican into a bleary eyed pumpkin mask only suitable to be laughed at during Halloween. Obama is that awesome.

So, can we be practical enough to stop all those talks of a McCain miraculous come as he had done before in those other elections into the senate. This is a different ball game; we are talking here about a phenomenon who is just being introduced to the world stage. Something tells me the world will not be the same after four years of Obama…but that will be if he survives the first term. Now, that’s talk for another day.