By Ayo Alonge, [email protected]
HAVING lost a huge sum of money to Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east, Engineer Ochade Osakwe, the Chief Executive Officer of NIJP Allied Integrated Limited, recalls how his investment went down the drain.
Shortly after a 30-year sojourn in Japan, Osakwe disclosed to us that he was encouraged by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to come back to the country to invest, only for the investment to die in the wake of the Boko Haram insurgency.
However, the Delta-State born businessman seems to have put aside this experience in business as he disclosed to our correspondent that his new business venture focuses on modern medicare.
Osakwe reveals the nature of the business and how other Nigerians can tap into other opportunities in the business. He also spoke about Nigeria-Japan bilateral business relations among other issues.
Could you tell us how you started as a businessman?
I have lived most of my life in Japan and when I was there, I was the Chairman of the Nigeria-Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I was the deputy for six years and became the chairman for two years. I came back to Nigeria in 2006 . That was after my encounter with former President Olusegun Obasanjo when he came to Japan in 2005. I came in with some Japanese investors and we were looking at the solid minerals sector. We invested about $20 million in the sector. Sometime in 2010, when the Boko Haram insurgency struck, our activities were disrupted and eventually disorganized.
Our expatriates went home and everything came to a halt. We thought the insurgency would only be for a short while but rather it became worse. We ran away and as I speak to you, some of our equipment are still in areas we can’t even find them like Potiskum in Yobe State. Some we can access in Kebbi have been vandalized. The investment just went down the drain.
How do you feel about this huge loss?
I was totally devastated and it was like a house of cards falling apart in one day. We tried as a company to see what we could do and we tried to diversify but our financiers from Japan lost interest in Nigeria, particularly because there was nothing being done to curb the insurgency. They felt their investment is not guaranteed and if anything happens, we are on our own which is actually because as I am talking to you now, the initial investment is gone. Investment here in Nigeria is not guaranteed and there was nothing we could do to recoup our losses.
At the moment, is there any other business you are into in the country?
Yes! Lately, we’ve began something. The Japan/Nigeria Trade Forum was held in Tokyo, last year and ECOWAS organized something similar too and I was a panelist. Immediately, we started talking to Nigerians in the Diaspora to think that it’s worthwhile to come back to Nigeria. We decided to look into the medical sector and that’s what we are doing now.
What do you consider worth knowing about your fresh investment in the medical sector?
The plan then was that we were investing in solid minerals and power. Today, we are looking into the medical sector. We did a feasibility study on the Nigerian healthcare sector and we found out that most hospitals in Nigeria are ill-equipped. The structures are all there but nothing is functioning. That’s what we hope to fix now. We want to fully equip these hospitals, get the manpower there so that the Nigerian populace would benefit. You don’t have to die of common fever. There is a cure if your illness is properly diagnosed. In some cases they were not properly diagnosed and that is why you see “Gone too soon” everywhere. Life expectancy in Japan is over 80 years, but here in Nigeria, it’s just about 52 years . That is too wide a gap and we want to bridge it as quickly as possible.
Do you have any governmental backing at the moment?
We don’t yet. We are still climbing the ladder. We are visiting public hospitals all around now.
What are you introducing into the business of healthcare?
There are new machines that people don’t know about and not like the CT scanner, Digital X-ray machine, dialysis machine and all made in Japan. All we need do is visit the hospitals and get to know what they want before we now go into an MoU with them.
How would Nigerians benefit?
The whole plan is a win-win thing. We will buy the machines from Japan and ship them to Nigeria install and get them running. It’s when they start functioning that people can benefit from them .We are not building more hospitals. We are trying to blend into the existing ones, empower them and ensure they’re functioning.
What’s your impression of Nigerian/Japanese relations with regards to business?
Having stayed in Japan for close to 30 years, I can say that in the early ‘90s, the relationship was not too cordial because the system here was a military setup and Japan has always been a democratic system. From 1999, when we came back to democracy, Japan now felt they could partner with Nigeria. You know Japan is part of the Paris Club and when they forgave our debt then and things became better. As we speak, the bilateral relationship between Nigeria and Japan is improving economically. Last year, Japanese people who visited Nigeria to discuss bilateral trade were about 60. Nigerians in Japan too are doing very well in business. A practical one is the CEO of MatKen Plc in Japan and he is doing very well.
How can Nigerians key into this business opportunity and make money too?
That is sure to happen. We will employ more people and the Japan government also promised sometime ago to award scholarships to some African undergraduates who are coming to Japan for their Master’s degrees. It’s online and open.
Do you think the present economic climate in the country is conducive for making money, considering the free fall of the Naira?
Yes, medicare is something that drives the economy. I cannot stay one full day without eating. Once you have a stomach upset, you can’t do anything. This is about taking care of human beings. Once you are sick, you are sick. It doesn’t affect business in that sector, except for the fact that Nigeria doesn’t have a good insurance system. If it’s effective, everybody is supposed to have access to it like in Japan, where the government pays for your health insurance.
What are your long-term goals in business?
As a Nigerian in the Diaspora that has lived most of my life in Japan, I wish that things get better so we can look into many other sectors like power and infrastructure. We will do that if government can give us a soft landing.