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Man in the Mint

Onome Amawhe
Mr. Emmanuel Ehidiamhen Okoyomon, Chief Executive of the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC); also known as the mint, is in an understandably upbeat mood. He is basking in the genteel applause that has characterized the turning around of the Mint, the company responsible for the printing of the Nigeria ‘s currency, government certificates, receipts, postage stamps, University certificates, WASC certificates, amongst others.

Emmanuel Ehidiamhen Okoyomon, Chief Executive, Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company.

As we meet for a chat, the Senior International Manufacturing Executive is full of energy and confidence, talking about how he has revived growth at the Mint:  “The opportunity to turn around the mint has been very exciting and challenging”, he tells Vanguard, “and we are very delighted that we’ve been able to make significant progress in doing that”.  After several years of consistently failing to meet the goals for which it was established, the government presided by President Olusegun Obasanjo commercialized the Mint.

The commercialization in 2005 brought about the infusion of a new private sector-driven management headed by Mr. Okoyomon.  Upon assumption of office, he met an excessive and under-utilized manpower, chaotic and decentralized procurement system, poor maintenance and manufacturing practices, inability to meet the CBN’s yearly order, and no investment plan to replace ageing machinery.

There was also the issue of late delivery of products to customers, a huge debt profile and a demoralized workforce. The N8.44 billion debt inherited by the new management was cleared within one year of assumption of duty at the mint. Other issues of infrastructure were adequately addressed. Staff productivity also soared with sales shooting up tremendously.

In the area of meeting
Nigeria ’s currency demand, the mint has achieved a tremendous output since 2005. In 2008, it printed about 2.6 billion banknotes for the CBN, a production volume never attained in its product supply in the preceding decade before the appointment of the Okoyomon led management. From 2005 till date, the mint has produced more than 5.6 billion banknotes for the CBN, and project managed the production of over 400 million ballot papers on behalf of the Independent National Electoral Commission.

At the moment, the mint produces nearly three billion  banknotes in a year;  posting over three billion naira as annual profit after tax.: “I am glad that we have moved from where we were to where we are now but I think we need to consolidate internally and then maximize benefits for our shareholders and thereafter,  we’ll embark on an expansion drive so that we can meet the requirements of other people in terms of quantity, quality and pricing”.

Stepping up from where it is at the current time will be in the review of the mints’ internal processes with “a view to adding better value than what currently obtains.

We are positive that these changes in processes using genuine and continuous improvement techniques will generate additional value for the business”.

The mint’s other product offering include bank cheques,  drafts, postage stamps, postal orders, certificates, international passport, and visa stamps for foreigners coming into Nigeria. Others are the ECOWAS passport, examination papers, vehicle license, customs and immigration documents, tickets, vouchers and diplomatic papers. It also prints ballot papers for elections and has printed several ballot papers both for national and state elections: “Our products are all in high demands but at different levels.

“’And we then try to take care of our active customers as we don’t have the capacity to satisfy all customers. Though we wish we had the capacity to; but that will entail a lot of investments with very heavy financial requirements but sooner or later, I think we’ll be in a position to meet the demands of a number of customers than the ones we cater to at the moment”.

The coin currency is another product of the mint that has proved so unpopular. And now,  Nigerians are refusing to use them. This, Mr. Okoyomon attributes to the Nigerian culture, history and economic situation as well as the feel good factor amongst Nigerians: “Nigerians don’t like to carry coins because they think they are heavy and that the face value of the coin currency appear to be cheap.

Those who are a bit affluent also think that the coin is for poor people and that brings about a culture where everybody is ‘aspirational’: Everybody wants to spend the 1000 Naira notes and not the coin or other lower denominations so; they associate the usage of the coin currency to people who want to buy cheap things like confectionaries and most of whom are younger people. I believe that the CBN has a huge stock of these coins and it’s been trying to make people get used to the coin currency but that appears to be quite tough at the moment”.

As the supplier of choice
to the CBN, the thrust of the government is to ensure that the mint is able to meet the currency demand requirements for Nigeria . And as is the usual practice, the CBN meets with the mint and tries to find out the quantity that can be delivered in a year. This then gives the mint the first chance of providing the financial requirements for Nigeria , and  when it is unable to meet this demand that the apex bank begins to think of printing banknotes from abroad.
This case scenario it is that has led the CBN to patronize foreign banknote printers including De La Rue of the UK, the world’s largest commercial security printer and papermaker, involved in the production of over 150 currencies of different nationals. De La Rue,  shareholder and technical partner managers of the mint until the 90s previously owned closed to 40% stake in the mint.

Its commercialization in 2005 left the former managers with 3% shares leaving the CBN with majority shareholding. Others banknotes printers for the CBN include Giesecke & Devrient of Germany , [printers of the recently launched polymer notes] Royal Spanish Mint, FNMT of Spain, and Securrency of Australia.

In the face of the rapid progress being made in the mint is also the allegation of sabotage on the side of the foreign banknotes printers who, in the words of Mr. Okoyomon, are not terribly excited that the mint is making the kind of progress that it is making and that Till date, it not in their interest for the mint to succeed so that they can come back and buy the company:

“They have their own selfish interests just like we have our own selfish interests too. It is only proper for us to harness our God given potential and exercise it in such a way that we will not be dependent on them anymore because the more the mint can do, the less the business for them will be. And by so doing, we would have succeeded in acquiring full independence. They do not depend on us for their requirements so why would they want us to perpetually depend on them. We should not!”

The four companies had indicated interests to buy the MINT in 2005. As the CBN’s decision to print banknotes from abroad is unlikely to pay of on the long run, Mr. Okoyomon himself isn’t sure he wants foreigners watching over him at the mint,  juxtaposing the notion of critics that he probably doesn’t want to be watched over at the mint: “We do not watch over their own printing and minting company anyway

So, what is the genuine interest in their watching over the mint in Nigeria?”  Driving home the point, he said that the corporate governance oversight by the CBN and other shareholders is a matter taken seriously by the board of the mint which is chaired by the CBN governor and the Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprise representing government’s interest. While his tenure at the mint is largely successful, it has also been marked by controversy.

He has been plagued by accusations of series of fraudulent practices and when the Independent Corrupt Practice Commission (ICPC) summoned him and some top management of the mint for questioning, they were cleared of any wrongdoing but the allegations tarnished his image. In hindsight, it’s probably the price he had to pay for straightening things up in the mint:

“The challenge of running a public sector institution is in the fact that there are too many intrigues from different interest groups. And it’s sometimes hard to navigate or satisfy all these groups because each group gives sufficient hassles that one spends more time fighting fire than actually tackling the job. And I’ll want to think it’s a Nigerian thing which we should actually grow above because sometimes you find that if you don’t satisfy the requirements of these interest groups, they go ahead and do one serious protest or petition to the security services and so at the end of the day, you spend time that should be used for more serious things,  investigating petitions and only to find them not to be true. We should not actually encourage people to come up with frivolous things and if at all, there are people with genuine petitions let them come out with proofs”.

He also thinks that mis
chief makers who go about spreading falsehood should be subject to punitive action as a deterrent. As his first tenure in office comes to an end sometime this year, and with the significant growth achieved in the mint under his leadership, and with the emergence of the new and audacious and independent-minded CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, it remains to be seen if the reforms initiated will be sustained and whether Mr. Okoyomon will get a second term in office or not.

In describing his job at the mint, Mr. Okoyomon said that “The business of running the mints is quite attractive and interesting because high security for money also leads to high security for other documents. And like any other manufacturing business, the challenges are enormous—but it’s really a good business”.


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