By Dapo Akinrefon
THE recent commissioning of a multi-million Naira Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Company (JSM) in Akwa Ibom State by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, may have come and gone, but the euphoria of the celebration and the excitement by Nigerians who believe that this investment is a turning point in the nation’s life still rent the air. Zubeyir Gulabi, the company’s Managing Director whose responsibility is to supervise the huge investment, takes us into the past, present and the future of JSM. Excerpts:
JSM is finally here. Many had doubted the possibility of having this huge investment in Nigeria since all efforts to have a successful syringe manufacturing company in the past failed. How did this become a reality?
The dream started in May 2015 when His Excellency, Governor, Udom Gabriel Emmanuel’s industrialization movement was discovered not to have an iota of political connotation, but inundated with clear-cut direction, well laid down policies and purpose.When our team finalized discussions with the Governor, we were certain that we had a conducive environment for our investments including suitable land, security and lack of bureaucratic hurdles.
In 2016, we laid the foundation of the Syringe Factory and on September 23rd, which incidentally coincided with the State Anniversary, we were able to commission the project in a record 11 months.The foundation for the factory was laid precisely 11 months ago, and now we can say that a well-equipped syringe factory is in place in Nigeria. This investment you will agree with me is a multi-million dollar investment.
How were you able to source the required capital investment for this project?
An investment decision does not rely solely on having the required capital. There are banks all over the world ready to roll out resources to fund investments. In Turkey, for instance, banks are pleading for investors to come and get funds to invest. So finding the required capital wasn’t an issue. The crux of our concerns was if the State was safe enough, if it had investor-friendly business policies, if the raw materials were available if we could be connected to the power grid easily, and of course, if the market was there.
Firstly, we concluded that the market was there, there was a sizeable demand for syringes in Nigeria, which was being met with low quality imported products. We also observed that the country is blessed with well-educated individuals, engineers, technicians and knowledgeable administrators who can drive our investment effectively without much supervision. Safety wasn’t even an issue. So we made the final decision and founded Jubilee Syringe.
Was there any doubt in your mind that things may not go down well at some point in the course of realizing this investment; maybe for political reasons?
No, not at all! Maybe the confidence and the assurance that kept driving us was the personality of the Governor. We were met with open arms from the moment we arrived. At the state level His Excellency has been a great supporter of industrialization, and on the Federal level, the government is sincere about encouraging investments to provide employment for Nigerians. Every conversation that we’ve had with the State Government and the Ministry of Health ended on a positive note. Clearly, all the parties realize that Nigeria needs to increase its domestic production; it depends too much on imports.But I should also state that our vision is not limited to Nigeria.
We are the largest syringe factory in Africa and our vision is to fulfill the needs of all African countries. If you look at neighboring countries like Cameroon, Ghana, Congo etc., almost all of them buy syringes from Europe and at exorbitant costs. We are able to produce syringes at a fraction of the cost the product is sold in these countries, and at the same international quality standards. We are a Nigerian company but we strictly adhere to international quality standards. So we have no reason but to believe that Nigeria can produce and export syringes first, and then other medical consumables in the future.
Tell us some of the challenges you faced during this process?
Sure, there were challenges. Logistic problems for example. We were looking for a port closest to us so we could bring our raw materials into the State easily. Land transport is and will be problematic for the foreseeable future. Secondly, the challenge was the availability of medical grade raw materials, we never want to be associated with any substandard raw material. We want to be known for producing high-quality products.Every challenge that we faced we have always had the full support of his Excellency and the Federal Government. All hands are on deck to make Nigeria Africa’s medical hub.
During the commissioning of JSM, the Vice President said that the investment was a very smart one. Can you expatiate on this?
I believe what his Excellency was referring to was that our factory was addressing an important gap in the medical consumable sector, in a strategic location, at an opportune time. We are trying to make Akwa Ibom State and by extension Nigeria, a medical hub in Africa. His Excellency, the Vice President honored us by coming to commission this project.Your production start-up capacity is pegged at 350 – 400 million syringes annually, surpassing South Africa’s 93 million annual productions.
Why the huge difference in your production line?
There are no official figures for Nigerian syringe demand but there are estimates of 1.5-2.0 bn of syringe demand per annum. So our production capacity is not a huge number if you consider the overall demand. This doesn’t, of course, take into account demand outside of Nigeria as we discussed. We believe it won’t be long before we have to make that decision.
How can you attest to the quality of the raw materials found in Nigeria?
Actually, the quality is still not to the standards that we hold ourselves to. As a result, we import most of our raw materials from abroad at least for the time being. We are still in talks with certain companies to have them produce medical grade raw materials. We know that this does not require huge capital investments.
Could you tell us where you got your machines used for the production of the syringe from?
We made sure we purchased the most technologically advanced machines when setting up the factory. Plastic Injection Machines were purchased from Austria, packaging, serigraphy, and assembly machines were bought from South Korea, and we purchased other machines from Turkey and Italy. The resulting product is as clear as glass. This is the standard; highest quality.Is JSM an investment of the Akwa Ibom State Government or a joint investment between the State Government and some private investors or a 100% private investment?Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Company is a100% private investment and initiative.
How ready is JSM for the market, talking about distributorship?
We have had salespeople touring the country for the past two months and taking pre-orders from distributors. The Nigerian market is driven by distributors, there are very few direct sales to the hospitals. We have already established relationships with the largest and most reputable distributors in the country. Our priority is the Nigerian market but we are also looking at how we can export our products.
In terms of employment, how far have you gone?
Our full capacity will be around 300 direct employment, but we currently have approximately hundred people. As you know Nigerian employment policy is that any foreign investment must employ at least 70% Nigerians. We have gone above and beyond that and implemented a policy of 90% minimum Nigerians to be employed in JSM. Most of these employees will be from the community around the factory and from the Akwa Ibom State.