By Ebele Orakpo
Dr Ifeanyi Eric Okoye, a Pharmacist, is the Founder/Chief Executive Officer of Juhel Nigeria Ltd., a 100 per cent indigenous company incorporated in 1987 as a business organisation. In this chat with Vanguard in Enugu, Okoye, Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria and an alumnus of Harvard Business School, tells the story of Juhel and the challenges faced by businesses in Nigeria.
After his one year mandatory service to fatherland in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in 1982, Dr Okoye joined Upjohn Nigeria Ltd, a US-based multinational pharmaceutical company and worked for five years before venturing out on his own.
Okoye who has a master’s degree and a Phd in Pharmaceutical Technology, said he went into pharmaceutical production with the establishment of Juhel Nigeria Ltd “in answer to calls for local provision of cost-effective generic products to fill the gap left by multinational companies operating in the country.
“We started production of pharmaceuticals in one room with one tabletting machine at Trans-Ekulu Layout, Enugu. We later expanded into a duplex of about six rooms and two sitting rooms and attached it to the very room where we started.
“Colonel Robert Akonobi, then governor of old Anambra State, commissioned the factory in December 1989 as the first tablet manufacturing company in the state.”
Today, the little seed has grown into a big oak tree with presence in the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.
Said Okoye; “In 2001,we moved to our permanent site at Emene and expanded our product lines to other products like syrups and capsules and in 2010, we built a parentheral plant ie a factory where you make only drugs that you don’t take through the mouth (intravenous, ear/eye drops) and it was commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan on October 15, 2010.”
Speaking on his initial capital, Okoye said; “It was like nothing. I know I bought the machine for N37,000 and that was it. We never went to bank to borrow money. We started growing with less than N100,000 and gradually, we are where we are today.”
Juhel, which started with two staff and the chairman, now has a staff strength of about 3,015 spread all over the country.
“Number one is the unavailability of funds and where available, the high interest rate. Then there is the issue of infrastructure (electricity, roads, security), instability in government policies etc. Recently, we were made to start paying five per cent tax which they call five per cent penalty for importing polyethelenes. They claim that polyethylenes are made in Eleme Petrochemical Company but the ones we use are specific for making medicines and they are not made anywhere in Africa, not even in Asia.
For now, we import from Europe but because these Indians and Koreans who work in Eleme may have done some business with someone around the Presidency, they started charging five per cent tax for those importing polyethylene. I have written to the Presidency, CBN, Ministry of Finance and at a stage, I had to write through Manufacturers Association of Nigeria to let them understand that the polyethylene they produce in Eleme is not what we use in medicine. So a lot of issues have been bugging us, we are only hopeful that the current government will do something about the issue of electricity. We hope it works.”
He praised Gov. Sullivan Chime of Enugu State for repairing the road to the factory. “The road was so bad that even the workers were finding it very difficult to come to work. The governor did it specifically to get this factory working just because of the number of employees here. He gave them two weeks to do the job and he used to come late in the evenings to inspect the job. He did same to most strategic places.”
On imported drugs from Asia, Okoye said the importation is affecting their sales. “The unfortunate thing is that most of them are fake, they don’t have the active ingredients, but they come out looking so beautiful in appearance and our people patronize them because they are cheap.”
Asked how they got NAFDAC number if they are fake, Okoye said; “They come in with NAFDAC numbers but is it not only when you go to check whether the number is genuine that you confirm that it is or it is not?”
Although he noted that the journey has not been very easy, but “at least, most hospitals in Nigeria can tell you that before Juhel came on stream, they used to have a lot of problems of availability of infusions (drips) but since we started, the problem has been solved. Hospitals can now ask for infusions and get them immediately. You know the importance of drip to a dying patient. So in that aspect, we have done very well.”
“There is a saying in Igboland that “You cannot because of the killings in war stop going to war.” Once in a while, there will be fights and people will die so you will not because of the problems manufacturers are facing, refuse to come up with something. It is fulfilling and it assists the government in job creation. The heart of the economy is the SMEs. After the federal and state governments, the SMEs are the next highest employers of labour. ”
Juhel is ranked as one of the fastest growing pharmaceutical manufacturing companies in Nigeria and this, Okoye attributed to the grace of God, due diligence, dedication, commitment to excellence of staff and management, and support from numerous customers nationwide.