Chief Godpower O. Agbonifo (JP), is the Chairman, Joma Frozen Food Products and Group of companies. He is also the founder of Agbonifo Foundation, an NGO he uses to empower communities.
In this interview with Saturday Vanguard Business, he sends a clarion call to government on the need to create industries for youth employment, even as he uses his business acumen to ensure the success of Wellington Hotel Ltd., Jocean Ventures Ltd. etc. Excerpts:
Your Foundation in partnership with Bishop Felix Onomeregbor of Peace, Unity and Development Commission sponsored a community empowerment programme in Kokori, why did you take such step?
Bishop Felix Onomeregbor has an outreach that empowers the poor in the hinter-lands of Niger Delta. When I saw him doing that, I developed interest in joining him carry out such humanitarian services and that was how I sponsored the Kokori empowerment programme and crusade. Bishop Felix Onomeregbor is a very good friend of mine. I respect him very much because he is a bishop with a difference. His humility is worth emulating. He goes to remote areas with the gospel to empower people physically and spiritually. That is what he does in troubled communities to secure peace and unity.
A lot of graduates in Nigeria are unemployed, how do we create jobs for them in order to reduce the rate of unemployment and criminality in the society?
That is a good question! Youth employment has always been in my mind and it pains me a great deal that many of our youths graduate from higher institutions without a job. It’s also unfortunate that our forerunners, I mean those governing us are not establishing industries at all even private companies to reduce unemployment. So, this is the reason I established the few companies I have in Warri to enable our young graduates work and if they are working, youth restiveness would be reduced in the society and parents/guardians would have less responsibilities. My prayer today is that if God provides me with enough money, I would establish more industries where many of our youths can secure employment and they would not foment trouble in the society. Some trouble the country is experiencing today are because many of them are frustrated. I appeal to government and individuals to create an avenue of empowering youths for peace to reign in the country, bearing in mind that youths are future leaders of tomorrow.
Apart from empowering Kokori community, which other communities have you empowered?
Because of my passion for youths, I have done it at Eboh-Orogun community which is my village and I have been empowering individuals. And I can tell you that the few are the beginning of more good things to come by the grace of God.
However, Niger Delta youths need empowerment, Nigerian youths as a whole need empowerment and if we engage them seriously, criminality and other vices associated with youths will be reduced drastically and our country will become a better place to live and enjoy. Nothing is too small or big to empower somebody.
Many companies in Nigeria today have been liquidated, but yours are still operating, what is the secret?
The secret is the grace of God. Again, when you see companies beginning to liquidate, some factors are responsible. First, you must know what you are doing to prevent liquidation because it is not enough to establish a company and you go to sleep, that company cannot work. Also, you have to supervise what you established and ensure it works, and train people that would take over from you. This is what we are doing in Wellington Hotel. It is like a training ground for youths and some of our workers when they leave for other places to work they perform better because of the quality training they have received from us. I’m happy too that people resign from this hotel to work in other hotels and by so doing they are selling the name of Wellington Hotel. We train people in every department here. I can say that management of Wellington Hotel is strong because as the chairman I carry everybody along and things are done collectively.
What are the challenges you encounter running the hotel?
Too many challenges! One of the biggest challenges of running hotel business is epileptic power supply. It has crippled businesses. We spend a lot of money on diesel to run generator 24 hours everyday. Now, we have four giant generators we use for business and with the cost of diesel it’s difficult to run them sometimes. Another challenge, are the cases of kidnapping that gave a bad name to Warri,as a result, strangers find it difficult to lodge in Warri for business transactions. We are appealing to the media to learn how to polish their publications. How do I mean, when Warri was in turmoil, papers were using scary headlines to blow up little issues that made strangers think the end of Warri had come. Things that happened in the riverine areas, the media would say it is happening in Warri instead of telling people where it happened.They kept saying Warri is on fire, and these kind of news create fear and wrong impression in foreigners.
With your experience how can you describe hotel business in Nigeria?
Hotel business is a lucrative one, even though it is strenuous. But in the case of Warri and its environs, it is not paying much because strangers are scar ed of lodging in Warri because of what happened in the past. Most oil workers and other companies are afraid to lodge here. People still believe Warri is the den of kidnappers but it is not true. Business life is normal here. That wrong notion is still affecting hotel business here. Apart from that, hotel business is a lucrative one if you manage it well.
Since the privatisation of NEPA, the situation has become worse , what is your take?
The privatisation of NEPA as far as I’m concern is still on paper, we have not seen it in real terms. In this hotel, I have not seen it practically. The same thing in my house, I don’t know if you have in your house. I appeal to those that bought it to be serious with the project because if we tackle power supply, I bet you in two years time, the economy would change for better.
Talking about Niger Delta youth empowerment, what do you tell other wealthy and rich industrialists in the region?
I appeal to them that we need industries to end unemployment in Niger Delta. Building estates, houses can’t help the youths because we put those houses on rent and the money returns to your purse. But if we build small scale industries that can remove youths from the streets that would go along way in saving many families. There is enough land in Niger Delta even in Warri here to establish a lot of things that could create employment for our graduating children from the universities. If they are not idle, they can not cause trouble in the communities and cities. For instance, if someone establishes a nail industry, plastic industry etc. youth restiveness would reduce. Wealthy Nigerians should think towards this direction after building their own private houses.