BEN AGANDE, ABUJA
The story of Mr Terna Hembah Nezam, the Chief Executive Officer of a Haulage company that goes by his name, exemplifies the fact that those who refuse to give in to a temporary failure are bound to go places. From a Danfo driver in Lagos in the 90s, Hembah has risen to own one of the leading haulage and logistics company in the country, NEZAM Transport and Logistics Company. His is a story that many of the thousands of jobless youths in the country can find inspirational, and, rather that wait for the non-existent jobs, learn a thing or two from.
But even for Terna Hembah, if any one had told him 20 years ago that he would be the owner of a multinational company, he would dismiss it with a wave of the hand. For as soon as he left the university and finished his national service programme, he was offered automatic employment by his place of primary assignment, the defunct Allied bank. For a bubbling young man, he could have wished for nothing better. Though he served with the bank branch in Calabar, Cross River State, he was deployed to the Apapa, Lagos office where he served for three years.
As an ambitious young man then, when he was offered an appointment to join a budding mortgage bank, the desire to do something different from what he was doing in the bank became too strong to resist. He left Allied Bank and joined Property Mortgage Bank in Lagos.
That was the beginning of the challenge that he faced which culminated in his setting up a thriving haulage company.
He explained: “The finance company failed after a while and I was left with no job. When it became so tough feeding my family, I took the car I had and sold it. Initially I wanted to use it as airport taxi, but when that didn’t work out, I sold it and bought a bus and was driving it as Danfo in Lagos. I was plying Oshodi-Apapa route. I was happy doing it”, he said.
But because he was a graduate and apparently comported himself better than the average Danfo driver in Lagos, it didn’t take long for one of his customers to notice that that there was something different in this Danfo driver.
“One of my regular customers then was a banker with Union Bank. In the course of on of our discussions, we exchanged information about ourselves. She was surprised that with my degree in economics, I was comfortable driving a Danfo. She introduced me to the owner of Chisco Transport Company, Chief Chidi Anyaegbu, who gave me an opportunity to work for him. I had a very good relationship with him, which actually exposed me. He took me through the rudiments of the industry. My first time out of the country was when Chisco sponsored me to attend a conference in logistics in the United States of America. I owe him a debt of gratitude”, Hembahe said.
His stint with the owner of Chisco Transport apparently prepared him for the big task that he is handling now as the owner of a big haulage company with offices in many African countries, including Malawi and Tanzania. Apart from giving him hands on knowledge about the transport and haulage business, Hembah’s 10-year stay with Chisco exposed him to contacts and connections that he finds very useful till today.
“I spent ten years with Chisco. Because we were doing contracts with Nigerian Breweries, when I moved on, I kept in touch with many of their staff who also trusted me. They encouraged me to take a contract to haul products for them”, the CEO explained.
But it appears that women have a special role to play in the lives of this multi millionaire haulage and logistics company owner at very critical times. After landing the haulage contract with Nigerian Breweries, he needed funds to acquire the necessary machinery and vehicles to take the company’s products nationwide. Obviously as an up coming company, there was not enough funds to embark on such capital intensive project. But as he was contemplating the next move to make, another woman intervened for him.
“In the course of my job, I had met another woman who was very supportive. I had nothing but she had confidence in me, took me to her boss at the Stanbic Bank who gave me a facility of about N300 million. It was a lot of money back then. One surprising thing was that they gave me the facility before asking me to go and open an account. It was a divine favour and, since then, I have never looked back”.
And since that divine intervention, his company has continued to grow from strength to strength. He set up an expansive office in Kaduna where he is in charge of the distribution of Nigerian Breweries products in the North. From his Kaduna base, he has expanded his company to cover Malawi and Tanzania where is in charge of the distribution of the products of the country’s two biggest breweries.
“We are in Malawai with Calsberg, a Danish brewing giant. The plant in Malawi is the only one outside Denmark. We are also with them in Tanzania”, Hembah stated.
But like all businesses operating in the country, his is also not without its challenges. He told Sunday Vanguard that, apart from the usual issue of infrastructural deficit and lack of manpower to take care of his fleet of vehicles, one other problem that he has had to contend with is the insincerity of workers who lack commitment and dedication.
His words: “The greatest challenge of doing any business in Nigeria is that there appears to be a fundamental problem with us as a people. The workforce is not as committed and dedicated as they should be. You find very few people who are committed and dedicated to their work. Majority of the workforce in the country are people who come looking for ways of making money without working at all.
“Being in the haulage business in particular, our roads are in a very horrible condition so vehicles that should last ten or twenty year crash after five year. The insecurity in country is another big challenge. The skill to maintain our vehicles is virtually non-existent. When you combine this with the number of people who beg you for one favour or the other, it is way too high. They think that when they see your vehicles on the road, it is money that you are moving around”.
And for the youths of this country who believe that their best bet is a white collar job, the CEO said that rather than wait endlessly for non-existent jobs, they should instead rediscover themselves and learn the rudiments of doing business under a mentor.
Speaking on what government can do to alleviate the economic crunch in the country, Hembah said steps must be taken to bring down the cost of goods through investment in infrastructure, adding that government should go back to the olden days when there used to be long term, medium term and short term development plans.
“If we can resort to drawing up national plans as we used to do, things will be better. If I have my way, I would wish that the government did not build any airport outside Lagos and Abuja. Divert those resources used in building dormant airports, some of which do not have navigational aids into building fast trains and good roads. If we have a train that takes for instance, two hours between Makurdi and Abuja, you can imagine what that means in terms of movements of goods and passengers. Many people will not even want to live in Abuja but will prefer to live in Makurdi,”the CEO stressed.
“The cost of distributing goods in Nigeria is very high. If you build fast trains, it will bring it down, make them affordable and expand the economy. We invest so much of our scarce resources on things that touch only few Nigerians. The number of people travelling by air is insignificant and they take so much resource. Government should re-plan. Improve the road situation, improve security ad things will change”.