By ABAYOMI ADESIDA
Just back from Japan
HAVING done businesses in Nigeria within the last six months, kindly tellÂ Â us how it all started and your line of business now.
I want to thank you first for the opportunity you have granted me to speak to you about your country here in my country. I think it is important that I should let you know the story. About six years ago, I decided to pay attention to Africa so that I can expand my businesses. I want to tell you today that I consider it luck for me to have employed a Nigerian, Zakariyah Yusuf who came here to study originally. After I worked with him for sometime, I realised that his behaviour was very good, so, I thought I should work more with him and his people. One day, I asked him to prepare and let us travel to Africa and see what we can do there.
He was happy because it was the opportunity he needed to confirm to me that all the things we see and read in the media here about the life of the people in Africa were not true. So, I told him that I want to believe him as well as the saying of our people here that to see is to believe. So, we had to draw a programme and I asked if we could just go and see Nigeria as well as three other countries. Before we left Japan, I told him that we are going to stay three days in Nigeria, one day in Benin Republic, another day in Togo and one week in Ghana .
He accepted and we prepared for the trip. So, we arrived Nigeria, and after three days, I refused to follow the temptation of staying one other day because out of curiosity, I thought I should work my original plan so that I could then make the best choice when we would eventually settle for one place. In fact, I was also asking myself why we should not just see other regions of Africa before I made up my mind because the first impression I had of Nigeria and Nigerians was that every African is as good as Zacky, in fact Lagos was a great fun for us. When I saw the people in Lagos, I told myself that this is the greatest ingredient for any business.
My staff was stunned when on the day we had to go I said there was more to see, so, I told him that if it was possible to travel to Benin Republic by road, I would choose not to fly; because he was afraid of engaging in an argument with me, that might change the view I already expressed, he accepted and we found a transport. After we left for Togo the next day, I told Zacky that I was not feeling like continuing the adventure because there was no need for us to go very far because I could feel all the treasures in this world in Nigeria!
It was his turn now to tell me that IÂ Â Â Â should not rush to takeÂ Â decisions, even if we do not have to have heavy presence in any of the other countries, I needed to at least see the place, know the people and learn that all Africans have a bond. I agree with him and reluctantly, and completed the plans.
But there is this thing I did not tell him, the seven days we stayed in Ghana to me was like a complete waste of time because each time we made moves, I was not eager to commit myself because to me, I should have followed my mind and spent more time to know Nigeria . To me then Nigeria was a standard, and it was just difficult for us to locate the kind of warmth and acceptance we had in Nigeria in the other places. So, when we returned, we prepared the first set of our shipments of some trucks and as you will expect, we sent them to Nigeria, twice as we sent to Ghana and four times as we sent to Togo and Benin.
As I speak with you, some of the others in the other countries have not concluded transactions on the first set of consignments, and I have travelled in and out of Nigeria for several other businesses than the original thing that took us here. So, now, we are in good business in Nigeria, we have registered two companies and we are ready to work with your people in the areas of agriculture, construction, education and most importantly, we are prepared to engage your government and use our connections with some Japanese banks that we use to grant loans to governments and businesses in Nigeria.
Having registered your businesses in Nigeria within the first six years of your presence how is your relationship with government and the business community in the country?
You know my friend, nothing comes that easy. We have made very good contacts in Nigeria and we now have friends within government at all levels as well as honest Nigerians who are doing their own private businesses.
Recently, we got a very good job with theÂ Â Kwara State government in the area ofÂ Â Â agriculture and now, we believe that another one would soon be confirmed with the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory. In the Kwara job, we are to import machineries from Japan under a public private partnership agreement which started about April or May last year.
For both jobs, we are facilitating loans that would reach about one and half billion naira and the bank in Japan that is to release the funds is very eager to back us up. I want to say with the opportunity of your talking with us now, other businesses and government agencies which would like to benefit from us can still come forward to enjoy the facilities.
Having done businesses in Nigeria for all these years, what are the potentials in the country that you have identified and what else can you do in Nigeria?
Oh, many areas! If it was otherwise, I would not have officially registered two companies, one in Abuja and the other in Kwara State. I always told my fellow businessmen here in Japan that they only need to visit Nigeria, because as soon as you set your feet on any part of that great country, you just see so many opportunities, and sometimes, you may be confused on what exactly to do, because the nation is just great! As for what else I am going to be doing, I just will tell you straight away that I am not sure myself; not because there is nothing to do, but because there are so much to do that I just have to take things one after the other as they come. I have personally told friends here and some business owners that they should just forget about the stories in the media, for me, many media people are just selling negative things to let people stay listening to them.
At the end, you see that in many cases, if for example you see on TV that some places are on fire, many of those who are returning from the place would just be asking you where exactly; maybe it is different from where they just returned from. Anyway, the immediate plans we have in Nigeria is to get involved in the construction business. We realise that there are still so many parts of the country that are not built up yet, and a great number of the population still needs accommodation. We also would want to be part of the construction of infrastructure in many of your cities so that we can contribute to the growth of the country.
How do you intend to expandÂ Â Â the scope of your operationsÂ Â in the country from what it is now?I think it is important to let you know that we are also present in Kenya, where we are organising the exposure of Japanese businessmen to the Kenyan, Ghanaian and Tanzanian markets. In the same way, after a little more time now, I hope to be able to facilitate the introduction of some Japanese businessmen to Nigeria.
You know, I cannot do everything, so, I have to allow for participation by other businessmen. Many of them are interested in Nigeria, but they donâ€™t even have an idea where it is located beyond what they see on the world map. So, in a little while, I think that the people in Nigeria would see us as a veritable source of locating business partners in Japan. Once we get to that level, you know, it would then be easy for us to measure the development of the country which will also mean the development of the African continent.
Many Japanese businessmen really want to take their money out here to do businesses, but they need to be sure of where they are going and be convinced that there is security in those places. Many of them know that your country and Africa is currently undergoing development but most of them are not thinking like you and I are thinking. So, my target is to be able to be the one who will smoothing the rough edges and make Japanese business men come to Africa to do businesses and develop the continent.
You have a noble idea that will require government backing since you want to be engaged in facilitating Japanese businesses in Nigeria; in what areas would you want government to step in so as to guarantee the investments of your colleagues and let your patrons get value for money spent?
The global food crisis is a very good example that I will want to use to illustrate this your question.You know that food is a very important means of having peace most especially in Africa where there is so much tension. There was a prediction that the global food crises was approaching, and we thought it was very important that we travel to Africa to quickly plan with governments on what to do to prevent them from being caught napping when the problem eventually gets to the people.
In answering this question as related to your country, therefore, I need to explain to you the Kwara State experience. When we approached the government to draw their attention to the global food crises, they quickly accepted our proposals which we tendered before the bank in Japan and as I speak with you, we are already taking practical steps towards doing something in the agricultural sector.
The governor of Kwara even said sometimes that he is getting involved because besides having to plan ahead to prevent hunger in his state, there is need to find other sources of getting money without relying solely on oil revenue. My role in this case was to try everything possible to get the Japanese government involved. Currently, the two projects we are involved in are almost concluded, and I am sure that with the involvement of our company with the Kwara State government and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, we can now boast of two solid projects that will transform the lives of the people in those areas as well as help to confirm to authorities in Nigeria that we are capable of delivering on our promises.
I should seize the opportunity of the interview you are granting me to express the gratitude of our company to your minister of foreign affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe as well as the Nigerian ambassador to Japan, Godwin Agbo for their efforts and cooperation which has paid off in our efforts to raise bank loans for the projects in Kwara and Abuja.
Both men have contributed in no small measure towards attracting Japanese investments to Nigeria. We have reached advanced stages for the two projects and the Shinsei bank in Japan here that is financing the project is prepared to commit one and a half billion naira at the first instance and make further commitments as work progresses on the projects. One very important point
I want to harp on here is that the success of the Kwara Agricultural project particularly is very significant to all of us because it will become the foundation upon which we hope to build and achieve bigger and better commitments for Nigeria and other Africa countries in the near future.
After this success, we hope to continue to work very hard to take concrete steps towards actualising our dreams in other areas where we have identified opportunities for growing the Nigerian economy so that we can completely remove poverty from the face of the earth. I want to quickly point out here that the deputy minister of foreign affairs in our country, Mr. Yasutoshi Nishimura is a very strong believer in the development of Nigeria.
After he led a trade delegation to Nigeria last year, so many of us on the Japanese delegation who earlier were misled by the negative information about Nigeria in the international media, started falling in love with Nigeria and many who made it even started referring to what I told them about the potentials of Nigeria some few years before they came for the first time. Our minister was convinced about the sincerity of your government, especially the vice president who led the Nigerian side in many of the meetings we held together. One other area where I hope to invest in the future if some of your states would allow me is the area of education.
I have seen many schools in Nigeria, and I think that structurally, they are below the standard of schools here in Japan. I even think that some schools in Ghana and Kenya where I also do businesses are better structured when compared with what I saw in many parts of your country. In the future, I want to be able to be the one who would help to contribute towards the building of new schools, replacing the old structures with modern ones where quality education is given to everybody that comes to seek knowledge and helping to raise the standard of learning in all areas which would impact the quality of the education of Nigerian children.
Many of your people do come to Japan to study, and I am sure they can testify to the wide margin between the educational structure here and what is obtainable back in Nigeria. I believe that with a solid educational curriculum in a clean reading environment, the future is great for Africa.
Also, the transfer of Japanese technology will be easier because majority of the people would be able to understand what they have to do in all the professional fields of life.
What should the Nigerian government put in place to allow the Japanese business men bring their money to the country and stay for a long time?
First of all, it is security. That is why one of the plans I am working on in the near future is to see how security firms can be attracted to Nigeria to provide world class security. The government has to provide enabling environment for them to operate as well as make sure that there will be consistency in policies such that any business man who brings in his money will be able to continue to invest for a long term and feel secured that the returns on his investments will start turning in after a particular period.
Recently, when I invited
some of the Nigerian business men to Japan, my bank, Shinsei bank agreed to partner with them so that a small office of that bank will be here in Japan and Shinsei bank will also have a small office in Nigeria for corresponding transactions.
Discussions have reached advanced stages along this line, because even the Nigerian Ambassador to Japan is already involved so that we can carry the government of both countries along in all the transactions.
The stage that we are now is that Shinsei bank has agreed already to support the Nigerian bank, they are working out the agreements and very soon they will sign it and work will start if they agree. After we conclude this, I also have plans to invite governors from all the states in Nigeria to come and identify a particular field of endeavour where they would require support for their people. I have gone round many of the States in Nigeria and I am aware that all they need is this kind of push for them to start flying with great results. When they come to that meeting, some of the states will do well in agriculture, some is solid minerals, some in infrastructure and even some in the manufacture of computer software.
In all the areas of life, we have Japanese companies that are interested in transferring the technology in all these areas. So, before they come, we prepare the grounds through Shinsei bank to get Japanese companies which are experts in the chosen fields. It is also our duty to invite both parties to meet with the representative of the Shinsei bank.
When the deals becomeÂ Â Â Â agreed upon onÂ Â particular areas of collaboration, Shinsei bank will work with the Nigeria bank to handle the financial transactions. The Japanese business men who are transferring the technology and expertise then feel secured and ready to invest any amount required because of the involvement of the Japanese bank with the Nigerian bank.
How many Nigerian banks are you talking to along this line and can we know them and how much cooperation are you getting from these banks?
So far, we are talking to three banks, and I think they are very aggressive in their approach. Their positive responses further confirmed my belief that majority of Nigerians are smart and this is the first ingredient required for nation-building. I better not mention their names now because you know I donâ€™t know how it will affect their own strategies back there in Nigeria . All I can tell you is that I am impressed by their immediate response as some even wanted to fly with it immediately I mentioned it to them because they want to come to Japan .
How would your intervention translate into the creation of jobs, because part of the reasons for the security problem you mentioned before was unemployment among qualified youths?
One of the reasons you see few Japanese business men come to Nigeria is that they apply for Japanese government loans for their projects. Japanese government has stopped this provision in the last sixteen or seventeen years now until recently when JICA started the opportunity again. Now, if Japanese business men see the restoration of this assistance between the Japanese government and African governments, then they will be interested in also making their own contributions. And with the restoration of the Overseas Development Assistance Loans by the Japanese Government, more of our people will come to Nigeria where there are greater opportunities for quick return on investments and provide jobs for those that are qualified besides further retraining them to boost their capacities.
So, how much in dollars will this your intervention attract into Nigeria in the first instance?
In life, you start things small and continue growing your dreams as other ideas come to you; if you try to start with the big one, you may run into some difficulties that might slow you down or even truncate your potentialities. But if you succeed with a small one, the next thing you do would be easier.
Since the Nigerian Embassy is here, and the Nigerian Government is already collaborating with the Japanese Government, why are you targeting state governors, what would be their roles in meeting with bank Shinsei?
I have studied Nigeria and realised that the greatest link between the people and development is the involvement of state governments. They are the ones that have the capacity to invest huge funds into areas that will make life meaningful to the people.
Donâ€™t forget that they have the responsibility to develop their areas and they will be required to supervise the Nigerian business men in their states who would practically do what has been identified by the governors to be the areas where the people need attention for rapid growth.
Just now, you said the Japanese Government is ready to reopen its ODA Loans for African Countries, what does Japan stand to benefit from making this huge contribution to Africa ?
The government of Japan is doing all these so that it can have better friends in Africa who will see that the government here loves the people of Africa . We have always believed that the African continent is a place where we have friends that require help to be lifted up. It is the last frontier of development that we believe will be out of the problems of underdevelopment some day, and we are prepared to be part of the history in making the continent grow.
On my own part, it has always been my passion to achieve something for Nigeria since the first day I entered the country about six years ago, and I will not rest until I do this. If you look at it, our intervention will always make majority of the people around the world to think positively of our country as a place where you have good people who were committed to developing the African continent.
Economically, I should also tell you that we are interested, just like other developed nations of the world, in the oil and gas sectors as well as the solid minerals which are abundant in the African continent.