By Tosin Ajirire
With the rising cost of transportation, insecurity and debilitating infrastructure as the economy slides into recession, Mr. Godwin Eghosa Odoruyi, an integrated fleet management expert and MD/CEO Libra Motors Nigeria Ltd, advises the government to take practical steps on infrastructural development and promotion of trade and investment in Nigeria.
How would you assess the development and impact of the transport sector on the Nigerian economy?
Obviously, we have been partners in progress in delivering innovative services to the urban elite, business executives and rural populace as well as contributing strongly to the economy. Of course, we have the issue of falling oil prices that adversely affects our operations, investment in fleet management, expansion plan and development projects. That’s where we find ourselves at the moment and we are in tune with the current administration’s efforts to salvage Nigeria’s ailing economy. We believe that the government has to be very practical and address the precarious situation. There’s need to understand the seriousness of our economic challenges and evolve strategies to mitigate the crisis. For us at Libra Motors and the transport sector in particular, we are left with no other option than to improve on our competitive edge by providing efficient service delivery and value added ticketing system that is prompt, convenient and secure for our esteemed customers always. We have not increased fares in the strict economic sense if you go by the rate of naira to the U.S dollar, which has affected our operations, vehicle maintenance and fleet management service on our routes in the South West, South East and South-South. The fluctuating exchange rate is affecting the transport sector seriously as the price of brand new commuter buses and spare parts have gone up astronomically compared to what we had a couple of years ago.
What’s your thought on the way out of the prevailing economic situation?
It’s unfortunate that the revenue accruing to the Federal Government is not increasing at the rate expected to finance this year’s budget . There’s no doubt that income is low and the economy is heavily dependent on oil revenue. My candid advice is for the government to channel resources to boost local production of raw materials, food processing and investment in agriculture. Every time we fuel cars, generators or industrial plants, we are spending dollars and the government must do something urgent about that by providing alternative power sources or upgrade refineries. For us in the transport sector, insecurity poses a major hindrance to our investments and operations as armed robbers attack our vehicles day and night, particularly between Ijebu Ode and Benin. The energy crisis is driving manufacturers and investors out of Nigeria and unemployment is alarming.
There are issues raised by vehicle importers over the seeming difficulty in accessing foreign exchange for importation of accessories and spare parts. How bad is the situation?
The problem with fleet management companies like ours is that we don’t compromise on quality and international specifications in spare parts and allied products for safety and good returns on investment. That’s the reason a good number of transport service providers stuck to Toyota products because the brand has proven to be reliable. It’s the main reason we are so scared to get involved in the local assembly of vehicles or vehicle manufacturing in Nigeria. I think the issue right now is harnessing our resources to attract investors into Nigeria to boost local assembly of world class automobile brands and spare parts. When we heard that Toyota was making a plan to set up an assembly plant in Lagos, we were excited to be part of the project because it was a dream come through for fleet management operators. The issue right now is that it is hard to access foreign exchange. So, we know that income is low and the country is primarily import- oriented and it’s affecting business generally whether manufacturing commerce.
How would you describe the performance of your company in the past decade and its potential?
It has been rewarding and challenging as well. I came back from Holland in 2002, where I acquired practical skills and management experience in automobile fleet management and technical operations. I started business with 10 buses that I brought from Holland and later sold three to raise funds. However, the particular brand of bus called Falker that I had was not suitable for long distance, country-wide transportation and my plan was to run an inter-state commercial bus service. Thank God, we overcame the initial challenges by converting the buses into having extra seats, with ample space for luggage which gave us an edge over smaller vehicles. Gradually, I was making savings from the business and later bought a Toyota Hiace bus and then upgraded our operations by plying South eastern routes. It is a developing company and I must admit that we’ve got a big dream and we’re yet to reach the advanced stage of our master plan. We have great plans to facilitate promotion of trade and commerce in the west and central African sub-regions through Libra Motors expansion plan. So, we are hoping to achieve these as we step up operations. We have raised the standard of executive fleet management and inter-state transportation with full air-conditioned, secure, comfortable buses, corporate ticketing/reservation and efficient customer service. It’s a viable sector in terms of employment generation and income earning for the people who are involved in connecting business travelers and holidaymakers across Nigeria during festive periods, education tours and leisure.
What are challenges and way forward for the sub-sector?
In this business, there are issues of security, maintenance, connectivity, operations management and tracking of drivers. We have a strict management policy on the supply and quality control of genuine spare parts for repairs and maintenance of our vehicles. To be honest, we want the government to help us in addressing road infrastructure, security and 24-hour highway patrol. Could you imagine that between Lagos and Ore Expressway, our drivers apply the brakes more than 100 times as a result of bad roads and obvious death traps on the highway? There’s also the issue of quality tyres, but we stick to a particular brand and in spite of the quality assurance, we change tyres every six months. However, Toyota Hiace is fitted with premium quality imported tyres that we don’t compromise in our fleet management regimen.
What’s your unique proposition to counter stiff competition to drive growth performance and achieve excellent service delivery?
It depends on your brand package and the product offerings that set you apart in the industry. In Lagos, we have about 10 branches, which I branded Libra Terminals, and we are set to further expand to reach greater number of travelers and residents of Lagos. Our master plan is still unfolding to accommodate luxurious buses on our routes, to connect neighbouring West African countries. We operate an effective customer relation and feedback systems that facilitate free information flow with our internal and external publics. For example, our professional drivers are trained in customer relations and feedback mechanism that the customer is king. Any act of misconduct or complaints about our drivers is summarily treated while erring drivers face disciplinary action from the management. We take our image seriously and constantly review our brand strategies to cope with competition.Our technical personnel and ticketing officers keep track of the drivers through our monitoring team, and throughout the journey with the aid of mobile workshops in case of breakdowns.
What’s the philosophy of Libra Motors?
The name Libra was derived from my zodiac sign, which indicates a balance or the scales. We started the company with only seven drivers and currently there are over 100 drivers on our payroll, excluding other workers from various units and branches. Libra has got a niche and a master plan that was consciously designed to build a great legacy that will transform the transport sub-sector into a pleasurable, secure and exciting experience. My leadership style is to make a positive impact by doing the right thing at all times and strife to be the best. When you live by example through your words and actions, your workers will follow suit and exhibit discipline, passion, responsibility and commitment to excellence. That’s my personal creed as a strategic liberal-minded business leader and investor in the transport sector.
There are concerns by foreign investors and importers in particular over CBN’s policy on foreign exchange and devaluation of the naira. What’s your take on this?
For a country that has been exposed to unbridled fuel importation and attendant foreign exchange armada as fuel subsidy granted petroleum importers, it is no wonder that the Central Bank has taken a drastic action to cut supply of foreign exchange for school fees, BTA for medical trips, BDC and frivolous imports. So, these laudable steps taken by the Central Bank to curb waste and control the flagrant abuse of the process by banks is a welcome development.
The Federal Government should also be proactive in its fiscal policy implementation and plans to diversify the economy in order to change the course of the national economy for good. There is unprecedented demand for foreign exchange and the Central Bank policy guidelines should enforce stricter control on frivolous importation of luxury goods while the government should deliver on its proposed diversification into viable agricultural projects and systematic release of funds for capital projects across the country. The crash in the price of oil is a great opportunity for us to promote viable investment to attract genuine foreign investment, which the government should accord a priority under the prevailing economic situation.