… Says coy is set to manufacture for multi-nationals
Phamatex Industries Limited is currently one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the country, which has on its stable a range of products
Last week, a team raised by The Sun management went on a facility tour of the state-of-the-art factory of the company located in the Amuwo-Odofin area of Lagos State and was quite impressed with the level of exquisite equipment deployed in the production processes.
In a chat with the Managing Director of the company, Prince Christopher Obuora Nebe, he narrated how he came into the pharmaceutical business, the challenges encountered and how his company has been able to face the stiff competition in the industry. Nebe lamented that the influx of foreign pharmaceuticals into the country has been their major headache just as he urged the government to provide amenities that would help Nigerian manufacturers produce at competitive costs. Excerpts:
What inspired you to go into pharmaceutical business?
I have been in this business for almost 30 years now. I have been into the manufacturing and importation of pharmaceuticals. I first started as a businessman. I was doing some businesses in Abuja and Enugu before I decided to come to Lagos to settle either by accident or God’s design because it was really a rough road for me. I am a prince, but I did not grow up as a prince; I had a lot of rough times growing up. So, it is not like I rode on my background as a prince to become what I am today. That’s not true. I really suffered on my own to make it on my own to this position I occupy today.
What was your original line of business?
I supplied various materials to people and companies that needed them in Abuja, even to the government. Then Abuja had been designated as the Federal Capital Territory, but government had not permanently relocated there. There were liaison offices in Abuja that handled transactions on behalf of the government.
You are a prince and should have been looking up to the throne of your father, but you left that to go into the pharmaceutical industry as a manufacturer. What attracted you into the industry?
In this world, man proposes, but God disposes. There is a way you may be planning to go, but you find yourself going another way. When I came to Lagos, I planned to change my situation because I felt that I was not doing well at all. But when I settled down, I met somebody who was going to overseas and I joined him. He later led me to where we started buying things until we continued to grow up till now. Nevertheless, I have a passion for healthcare, but it was just God’s design. I believe that God has his own plan for every person.
What are your challenges so far?
Well, this is a pharmaceutical company. There are a lot of challenges here. You can see the road; even before you get here it’s terrible, it’s a pathetic situation. You can also see that the power supply situation is not better here. We have a very big gas plant here to generate our own power. We get our light from Gaslink; they generate light and we transmit with our own very expensive gas plant. But throughout this month, I don’t think we have got gas for even 10 days out of the 30 days. Initially, they were blaming the Niger Delta crisis for shortage in supply, but now I don’t know their reason for rationing. I don’t know whether the vandalisation of gas pipelines in the Niger Delta is still being perpetrated, but the ugly situation is that they are rationing. To remain in business, we spend a lot of money on diesel for our generators. So, I don’t think the government has paid enough attention to the manufacturing sector. If they are serious, they know what to do to provide them with what they need and monitor them closely.
How did you get your initial capital for this huge investment?
The capital came from the little money I got from the other businesses I had, including the importation of pharmaceuticals.
You didn’t receive any assistance from the Bank of Industry (BoI)?
No assistance! We made several attempts, but they all failed.
But did you take loans from the commercial banks?
Yes, we have a lot of loans from the commercial banks. We have to survive through loans from commercial banks. How can one do this kind business without loans?
How are you coping with high bank interest rate?
Well, we are paying, but it’s terrible. It’s unbelievable. But what are we going to do? We are already in it and we are paying. However, we are lucky that we set up this place without much loans. It was when we needed the running capital that we had to take some loans. So, we didn’t borrow money to build the factory. We borrowed money for running the plant and other things, including future expansion.
Your facility is not running up to 100 per cent capacity, we were told that you are currently running on 30 per cent. At what point do you hope to meet 100 per cent capacity production?
You are correct, but you see, that’s the market we are talking about. Somebody has invested this kind of money here, but you find out that when you get to the market, it’s a pathetic situation. That’s why we need people to come here and see what we have. That’s also why we are going to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to see if we can be getting foreign orders. We hope that if we can get their qualification, we might be able to access the non-governmental organisations and foundations that are affiliated to them.
Do you have plans to explore the West African market?
We have plans for that. We have visited Cote d’Ivoire and we also intend to visit some other countries to look at the possibility of exporting to them. But with the present capacity, we cannot meet up.
The industry you operate in is a very competitive, how do you manage to handle the competition and what edge do you think your company has over other pharmaceutical companies?
There is stiff competition in the market. We are just coming up. It’s tough, but we believe that after some time we will get there. We do aggressive marketing and adverts. We believe that people will get to know us better with time. Talking about our products, the quality is there. They compare favourably with other products in the market. But you know that there is a problem in Nigeria; people want foreign goods. But they don’t know that even in India, there are so many factories that this one is better than. The Indians have been saying it. A lot of people from India and even Germany have been here to inspect this factory and they tell us that in India, there are so many factories that ours is above. We have everything you can find in a standard pharmaceutical company. But the market is saturated. There is price war in the market and a lot of Indian cheap products.
How are you coping with them?
It’s terrible. We are competing with them through the quality of our products, our skilled personnel and adverts.
Are there differences between the cheap products and the ones that are made in Nigeria?
Now look at the issue. There is what we call pharmaceutical sales and there is what we call pharmaceutical marketing. The Indians sell and price determines sales. In marketing, price may not determine sales. So, we are doing pharmaceutical marketing. Marketing means to get people to buy products made by Phamatex. If we have a personalised brand, we can go to doctors and conduct clinical meetings and other procedures to make sure that they always prefer to patronise us. These things are done gradually; they can’t be done over night. It’s unlike bringing a product into the market and wanting to sell. Price determines that one. But the other way, it’s gradual and difficult, but later you might benefit.
You are not a pharmacist by profession, but you run a pharmaceutical company. How do you keep in tune with developments in the industry?
A trained pharmacist cannot even do better than me. That is the issue. I was the project manager for this factory. A lot of people may not believe it, but that’s the truth. If you are setting out to execute this kind of project, you have to employ a project manager, but I did it myself. For somebody to veer into an unfamiliar terrain, all you need is to have the requisite administrative skill. As it stands now, I know everything that is going on in this factory. So, it’s not about being a pharmacist, but I know what I want from everyone. If things go wrong I know the person to hold responsible.
You presently manufacture only tablets and syrups. Do you have any plan to go into the production of injections?
No, we have no plans because you have to first consolidate on what you have. Besides, you don’t have to manufacture everything. Why we have a future expansion plant is because we started getting big demands for syrup at a point, but the syrup line was too small. It cannot get anywhere. Now as it is, the situation is really pathetic. But a lot of big foreign companies have approached us for contract manufacturing. They have come to audit the factory and they were impressed. So, as we are doing our own, we can contract manufacture for them under their own label. But it will still bear that Phamatex manufactured it for those people. Manufacturing for these multinational pharmaceutical companies is a credit and three of them have visited us. We are still discussing with them.
How do you get your raw materials? What is the local content?
There is no local input. The raw materials are 100 per cent imported.
But the Federal Government is talking about local content?
There is no local content here; it’s not possible. Everything we use here is imported except plastic bottles. If it is the glass bottles, they are all imported.
Why is it difficult to make local inputs?
The technology that is involved is not here. We can’t do it even one per cent. To make a raw material of the active ingredients of all these products is not easy.
Do you have expatriates working for you?
Our head of engineering is an expatriate likewise the head of research and development. Over all, we have so many Nigerians working here. Our staff strength is over 300 and they are mostly Nigerians.
In what areas do you want the government to help in what you are doing?
Government should regularise and know what manufacturers want. The issue of light should be addressed because there is no way you can grow this nation without light, so let nobody deceive himself. Now, so many people depend on us to feed, which means we are contributing to the economy. So, government should be able to encourage us. If we need foreign exchange, let them allocate it and ensure that every person gets so we can grow the industry. They should provide light, water and good roads, and everything will become okay.
Where do you plan to take Phamatex to in the next five years?
In the next five years, I would want Phamatex to be placed high up there. There is a lot of investment here and I want us to be among the big players in the industry that can provide pharmaceuticals for the nation probably at competitive prices.