By Ebele Orakpo
N igerian entrepreneurs are ready and willing to work to give Nigeria a pride of place in the comity of nations but there is a snag. All of them without exception lament the lack of basic infrastructure. With one voice they are asking the government to provide the basic infrastructure especially power and deal with corruption, and they will ensure that Vision 20-2020 will not be a mirage.
In this chat with Vanguard in Lagos, Mr Chukwudi Ibeanu, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Ark Group comprising Ark Electronics, Sunny Ark Security doors and Ark Reception, notes that most of Nigeriaâ€™s problems would be solved if the electricity problem is taken care of and corruption tackled headlong. Excerpts:
According to Mr. Chukwudi Ibeanu who worked with Premier Breweries Onitsha as head of Power House before he went on study leave to Far Eastern University, Manilla, Philippines where he obtained a first degree in Accountancy and a masterâ€™s degree in Management Finance from Gregorio Araneta University also in Manila, â€œAfter graduation in 1988, I got a job with Sunpack Information/Publishing Centre, in Tokyo, Japan, the company is into printing of business and economic magazines.
I worked at the Analysis and Interpretation Department from 1988 to 1995, when I decided to come back to Nigeria because in Japan, itâ€™s all work, work and more work, nobody talks about anything else. Personally, it is not a country where one could settle down. As you wake up in the morning, itâ€™s work, and after work, you are thinking ofÂ going back to work the following day.
Apart from that, the city is too expensive. I was able to save some money because of my lifestyle. We had it at the back of our minds that we were preparing to go home. Some of the Japanese people doing the same job with us earned much more than we did, a kind of job discrimination we faced as foreigners. For instance, where you are paid $2,500 – $3,000 as a foreigner, a Japanese would be earning about $7,000 – $8,000. Despite this discrimination, my people were encouraging me to marry and settle there because according to them, life in Nigeria was becoming tougher. But I knew I could not do that because by the time I bring in a woman and we start having children, my salary may not be enough for school fees and feeding so I decided to come back home because the challenges and pressure were becoming too much in Japan..â€
Mr. Ibeanu who said he also had a part-time job besides his regular job, noted that Japanese die mostly of karoshi, a Japanese word meaning death from overwork. â€œI sleep for about 3 – 4 hours a day. So at one point, I said â€˜no, no more. If I continue like this, I will drop dead one day.â€™ What we used to do back then was to send money home to our people, in a bid to build infrastructure to aid your return, ensuring that everyone was ok before your return.
Unfortunately, some people at home fail to understand, they see you as a big shot who works in a big organisation, earning big salary abroad. Sometimes when you send money home, it is wasted because they would not invest it. I was lucky in my own case because my people to some extent, were good. At a stage, they understood that I needed some space to get established myself as I had helped them the much I could. So I started my life in Nigeria in 1995. I got married in that year, settled down in Lagos and decided to go into importation.
Then as a student in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to travel the whole of Asia so I said to myself: â€˜well, since the purchasing power of the naira had dropped significantly and Nigerians could no longer afford European and American made products, the demand was now going to Asia and so I decided to utilise my knowledge of the Asian continent. First of all, as someone with limited capital, it was not easy settling down in Nigeria. Before you pay for accommodation and all the fees involved, you discover you have spent so much.
The Ark Group boss said he started with importation of fairly used air conditioners and air-conditioner compressors from Hong Kong because it has the same voltage as Nigeria (220) while that ofÂ Japan is110. â€œAs the business grew, I went into electronics with the brand name, Sunny Ark. We have musical equipment, home theatres, VCDs etc. About two years ago, we went into importation of steel security doors. We represent the biggest manufacturers of bullet-proof doors in Japan called Royal,â€ he stated adding:
â€œThe business is more challenging in the sense that when you look at what is going on in Nigeria, wooden doors are becoming outdated and the price is almost the same as that of steel doors so people prefer to add one or two thousand naira and buy steel doors which are not affected by weather unlike wooden doors. But the challenge we face here is that many Nigerian businessmen are dishonest as profit is their major motive. Government policies aimed at stopping substandard products from entering the country have failed completely as a result of corruption.
Everyone brings in whatever he likes. As a businessman, I would say that one of the problems with Nigeria is that politicians and business people are wrecking the economy by siphoning ourÂ money abroad and importing rubbish and people buy because there is poverty in the land and those substandard products are cheaper than the standard ones so this is a very serious challenge. When you tell a buyer the price of your product, he will tell you that Mr. B sells his N2,000 lower so why is your own higher?â€
Mr Ibeanu who believes that buying and selling is no business said Nigerian businessmen see it as the easiest way to raise capital for whatever they want to do. â€œHonestly speaking, we are prepared to start from small scale enterprises because I know from there, your business would be much more stable, you would employ people, the business will have control and direction because importation has no direction,â€ noting however, that the problem Nigeria businessmen face today is basically that of lack of infrastructure. Look at electricity, today the problem has contributed up to 90% of Nigeriaâ€™s unemployment problem. How can a nation function without light, roads, clear economic policies etc? he queried. â€œWe use over 600 litres of diesel a week to run our two generators and yet at the end of the month, you are made to pay PHCN whether you had power supply or not.,â€ he said.
â€œMr. A will come with a clear policy direction, we follow and before you know it, another person comes along and changes the whole thing. Again, government has no programme, no long-range plans and for any society to grow, banks must be up and doing but in Nigeria, they are more interested in getting money from business people. Government would take their own and banks would take their own. To some extent, businessmen are pushed to the wall and are forced to do some illegal things.â€
He lamented the lack of patriotism amongst Nigerians saying that â€œnobody cares for Nigeria and the very few who do are looked upon as mad people. So actually, the government is not helping at all in the area of development.
All they do round the clock is play politics. Every new leader comes in with his own policy direction just because he feels the policies of his predecessor will not favour him. All these are economic wastes. We hear of trillions of naira being carted away but the funniest thing is that if you calculate the interest on all that stolen money, you will discover that their great, great, great grand children will not finish the interest, the question is: â€˜who uses the capital?â€™
The capital is a waste. Again, some of these politicians who stash our money in banks overseas are selfish. When I was in Tokyo, I had the privilege of coming across banking information of some African leaders. You discover that some of these banks, based on their banking rules, have the maximum amount you can withdraw from the account and you discover that in the next 100 years, you wouldnâ€™t have finished withdrawing your money. Donâ€™t you see that you are trapped upon all the money you saved?â€ he asked.
Insisting that most African leaders are selfish, he said: â€œWhen you look at it, there are some UN Charters, Geneva Conventions, Anti-Drug money laws etc, the West would carefully pick those that favour them but our leaders cannot come out to say, â€˜look, we will support the war against drug and drug money, terrorism etc but you (Europe, Asia, America) must support the war against investing ill-gotten wealth in your countriesâ€™ because let me tell you the truth, the damage caused by ill-gotten wealth is deadlier than the damage caused by drug money. It is sudden wealth that destroyed Africa and if it is not properly managed, Iâ€™m telling you that in years to come, Africa will have a problem that Europe and America would not be able to solve – poverty, disease etc.
So the problem is that we donâ€™t have leaders in the true sense of the word, the only exception is Gov. Fashola of Lagos State who came and we realised that someone could be thinking of developing the state, building roads and affecting lives positively though sometimes we feel the taxes are way too much.
A group will come for this tax or that tax and another group will come with their own. After paying tenement rate, there is another one called Land Use tax, a lot of things and we keep paying. The only consolation is that we see what they are doing with the money. What Nigerians need are the basic necessities. If all these are in place, nobody will know they are stealing money.
The Ark Group boss who has 32 people in his employ said he opened Ark Reception, an Events place to give his wife a job which will afford her the opportunity to train the children. Said he: â€œI started thinking of the children who were growing up. If I decide my wife would work, then the children would be left in the care of a nanny.