By Omodele Adigun
OMOBA Kolade Roberts, the Chief Executive Officer of Apoi Investment Limited, is worried that today, the nation has become a dump site for sub-standard goods. For this reason, he wants the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to do more to tackle this. “We want them to fish out the dubious people. By the time they do that, people would sit tight. SON, sometimes, came here to look at the facilities before giving us the certificate. In that aspect, SON has been trying but needs to do more.”
In this interview, he delves into some of the burning issues ailing the nation.
The economy has not been buoyant because of the change we had at the centre. We observe that they are doing all they can, But it is like what they met on the ground was not palatable. They have a lot on their hands to do. And if you look at it, Mr President has been trying his best. He has been going all over the world to see that the economy improves and put us on a good pedestal. So we are just praying that all his plans come to fruition and the economy moves forward. For now, we are not there yet. We are praying we get there very soon with the policies the Federal Government is coming out with.
When you talk about the foreign exchange (forex), you can see what is happening to the Dollars everyday. It skyrockets every second, every minute. So it is not helping importing at all. If you go to the bank, you can’t get it. You can be on queue for months because of the shortage of the Dollars. For now, most of what we use are imported, most of the manufacturing companies have closed down. Power and forex are not helping matters. But with what the present government is doing, we can see their efforts. We are only praying that things come back to normal as soon as possible to put smiles on the face of the citizens. Everywhere you go now, everybody is complaining about the economy. Go to the ports, nothing is happening there. All the clearing agents are crying. Some are looking for other jobs. No goods are coming in. That is why I said we pray that the economy improves so that business will boom again.
Apart from forex scarcity and irregular power supply, we have other challenges. The purchasing power is reducing. Since the last quarter of 2015, we cannot meet our projections, which has not been so for the past years. So it is a big headache, a big problem. This is because money is not in circulation, the economy is not buoyant. Some customers would come here to seek credit, which is unhelpful for business. This has not been so before. Just because nothing is happening in the economy.
Advice for government
Just like what the Nobel Laureate said sometimes ago that Mr President should call a summit of economic experts to brainstorm on how to move the economy forward, I think it is a right direction. And for Professor Wole Soyinka to have said that, there are a lot of things he must have seen. Secondly, the government should put some infrastructure in place. For instance, when you say you want to manufacture, and you don’t have power, where do you go from there. Power supply is of utmost importance to whatever you are doing. Once power is stabilized, everything will fall in place. Okada riders will reduce. Some of them are panel beaters, electricians etc. But once, there is no light to work. And as family men, they have to resort to Okada business to feed their family. If the power issue is the only thing this government can do in its first one and half years, let them do it. And Nigeria will become a country where everybody wants to come to.
Sourcing raw materials locally
We made the move sometime ago with our manufacturers in Seoul (South Korea) to establish here and source their raw materials from Nigeria. But what they were saying was that the climate here was not conducive. They talked of power, which I earlier mentioned. They talked of security; they talked of roads. They said when all the infrastructure is put in place, they would be looking toward that direction. But as of now, they find it difficult. In an enabling environment, these are the things government is supposed to have provided. In the developed countries, power is a forgone issue. It is supposed to be available 24 hours seven days in a week . It is once in a year you see an area in blackout. I read recently in newspapers that someone in Arepo axis in Ogun State said they have had no light for two months. Sometimes here in Lagos, we don’t have light for more than two hours. We run the generating set in office and at home. It is not conducive. It is very difficult to tell people to come and invest in this country.
If the manufacturers establish here and source their raw materials locally, it will be good for us, we will employ our youths instead of their going overseas to do dirty jobs. If we can put all necessary infrastructure in place, unemployment will reduce. We can bring the young ones in, as part of it, to see how it is being done in developed countries.
But we can only source about 20 per cent of the raw materials used in the rope making locally.
Dumping of substandard goods
The Chinese have almost turned Nigeria into a dumping ground. That is the more reason SON has a lot to do when it comes to that. We are one of the leading suppliers when it comes to ropes. Some products like mine, with all modesty , project the country’s image. This rope is supposed to be in 220 metres. There was a time we did a market survey: you would see some 180 metres, some 200, but we maintain the international standard of 220 metres. That is what has really helped us to live above board. There was a time one of our partners came to Nigeria. He said we were the only one that had never suggested to them to reduce the quality or the length of the rope. I said we have been in this business for 30 years. You can’t ask us now to come and be playing pranks. And this is where life is concerned. The ropes are used to anchor boats at the sea side. If it is not strong, if you tampered with the quality, it is a big problem, if you tamper with the length, it is a big problem. We have our image to protect. And the image is what keeps you going in business.
Advice to government
We have a lot of intelligent people in this country. If you go to other countries of the world, there is nowhere you won’t see Nigerians. Most of them are first class brains. When they come to Nigeria, I don’t know what has come over them, they find it difficult to do things in the way it should be done. Look at the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, for instance. Come and pass the place in the evening. You will be sorry for this country that an expressway that leads to the number one port in the country can be in that shape. A place where you could be in a traffic hold-up for two or three hours for a journey that should ordinarily take 30 minutes. Good road is very important. Good road should be the government’s top priority. After power, let them face road.
I thank God that we’ve been able to pick our bills. We have some government’s departments that we have been dealing with for over 30 years. We are their number one customer when it comes to ropes. We have other ones too outside Lagos. LIke I said earlier, what we value is quality, not quantity. We don’t compromise standard under any circumstances. It may be a bit expensive, but at the end of the day, you will enjoy it. We don’t collude with the manufacturers to reduce the length from 220 metres to 190 metres as being done by other people. So this has been helping us to keep our head above the water. By the time our clients open the seal and measure it, they would discover that ours is international standard.
It is what we discuss on daily basis whenever there is forum for us to meet, don’t compromise standards. There is no way you won ‘t see some bad eggs that want to make quick money at the risk of other peoples’ lives. By the time you reduce the quality, you are creating problem for the end users. By the time you reduce the length that is supposed to be 220 metres, you make it 180 metres to make money, by selling at lesser price, you create problem in the market for the man that has come with normal standard who wants to sell at the normal price. SON has said everybody must maintain the normal international standard. If you go to the manufacturer in China and Japan to ask them to reduce the length, you have not disgraced yourself, you have reduced your person as a human being. By the time you ask manufacturer to reduce the quality of the product, you are not only degrading yourself but the country you represent. Some would go and rebag. That is the challenge we are facing. Some would buy a standard one and rebag it with bad ones. This what we are facing everyday. But SON has been trying. We want them to do more. SON, sometimes, came here to look at the facilities before giving us the certificate. In that aspect, SON has been trying but needs to do more. SON should fish out the dubious people. They should open the bags and do spot check, take the measurement. By the time they do that, people would sit tight.