“The challenge is our banks. We do not have banks in this country, they are only money-lenders. You know, money-lenders are shylocks.”
Tony Osauzo and Ighomuaye Lucky, Benin
Chief (Dr) Leemon A. Ikpea (JP) is the Chief Executive Officer of Lee Engineering and Construction Company Limited, a strong player in the oil and gas sector in the country and internationally.
In this interview, he x-rayed Nigeria’s business environment, saying that things are improving.
He also identified high interest rates charged by the Nigerian banks as the biggest challenge facing the investors.
Chief Ikpea, who is The Sun Businessman of the Year Award nominee, expressed surprise over his nomination, and thanked God and The Sun management for the recognition.
He spoke on other issues.
Sir, you are not just a local businessman, but also an international businessman. We want to know how you see the Nigerian investment environment?
You know globally, there is economic recession, so it is not just in Nigeria alone. Every part of the world is struggling right now. Even right now, things are picking up considering what it was some months or some years ago. Things are picking up and the environment is safer than before because you remember in those days, there was Boko Haram harassing every part of the Northeast and the military has been able to push them back. So, you can see that the environment has been very peaceful for businesses to thrive.
The government having realized that there are problems has embarked on simplifying procedures, what it called ‘the easy of doing business’. As a businessman, do you think that has rubbed off positively? Has it simplified the process for those who are coming to invest?
You know, government with their bureaucracy, as I said earlier, anything government all over the world, their bureaucracy is hectic, but I am sure they will improve to reduce the bureaucracy to fasten the processes of approvals and licenses and others. So, I am very sure.
As a businessman, what would you consider as a challenge in the
Nigerian environment as an investor?
The challenge is our banks. We do not have banks in this country, they are only money-lenders. You know, money-lenders are shylocks. So, it’s the same thing we are having in our banking system. They are really the challenge we have. Look at the rate, look at their charges and if you look at everything, they are hostile. So, I think that is the area I will appeal to the government to look into deeply. The regulatory authorities should look at the banks lending system, their charges and so many things. They do not give loans, how do you do your business? And if you want to give and at the end of it all, the person is not able to pay back due to the strings attached to the loan, it is difficult. It is very difficult. So, that is the major challenge of we businessmen.
Beyond the banks, are there any areas you think you can advise the
government to look into?
I think the first priority the government should work on is the banks, the regulatory authority of the banks. The power (electricity) is improving considering before when maybe sometimes in three hours you do not have light, but you can see that these days, 30 minutes if they take your light, maximum 30 minutes, the light is back even in my area, sometimes in a week, we experience full light. So, I will relatively say that things are really improving.
There is this area as we know your organization, you are very strong in local content drive, what motivated you to play so large in that area?
This local content Nigerian companies are enjoying today, started from office. We originated it. I thank God that it has become law. And it has impacted greatly on the Nigerian companies considering before. Some of the activities that Nigerians will do, but they will give it to foreigners. I think with this law that was enacted some years ago by the Federal Government, that has really improved Nigerians to build capacity. For example, my company, it has helped us to build capacity. We also used that window to ensure that we are on top of the game. We used that window to now establish our own indigenous factory for oil and gas equipment. So, very soon we will be manufacturing some of these equipment right in my factory in Warri. And the president has graciously agreed to come and commission it by himself. So, that will give Nigerians the opportunity to learn, that will build capacity and it will create a lot of jobs. And it is also foreign exchange saver and earner for Nigeria.
Very recently, you were chosen as a businessman of the year by The Sun Group of newspapers, how did you receive the news?
You know, something you did not ask for or think about and people started calling you to say congratulations. It came as a surprise and at the same time, I know that I have worked so hard in the industry. I know I have worked so hard for this country. It is a surprise and at the same time, I know God can do anything for any person and you know, whatever you are doing, people are taking note of you, but you may be thinking that people are not taking note. I thank God that some people took note of me and they feel that I deserve an award and I thank them for it.
Last year, I recall ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo visited your facility in Warri and he made very good commendations about your establishment and your effort, especially in the area you talked about earlier which is the local content, that he is now proud that the law they have put in place is now yielding fruits. I guess that also is spurring you to higher heights. So, how did you feel when Obasanjo came and made those comments?
Those comments were really inspiring. That is encouraging. You know, during his tenure as a president of this country, that was when we started this local content discussion. So, it was during his tenure we were able to battle it to go to the House of Representatives. Although it was not during his tenure that it was signed into law, but I think everything started during his time and different government now signed it into law. It was good he came and saw things for himself and his words really encouraged us to work harder and by the grace of God so far, we have trained well over 25 Nigerians who are going to be the managers of that plant in Warri. And by the time the place is commissioned by the government, I am very sure that it will be very busy and it will create a lot of jobs for Nigerians and it will create a lot of capacity building for our people. Really, it is inspiring and I am happy that I am able to set it up.
There are a lot between policies and business environment, especially when you have a government that does not have the political will. In this regard, what will you advise the Nigerian politicians to do in order to liberalize the business environment and ensure that jobs are created?
We are advising them that this country is our country and we do not have any other. They should ensure that the environment is conducive so that businesses can continue to thrive so that investors can come in. By the time investors come in more people will be employed, more factories will be opened, more businesses will flourish and the economy of the country will grow. So, we implore the politicians to be truthful and to be honest to our people and we beg them also to do the right thing because if the right thing is done, the multiplying effect will be enormous for all of us, but if they do not create the enabling environment then, it will weaken the economy and it will also reduce investors coming to our country. We pray that things should really work properly the way we want it.