By Udeme Akpan
The development of local content in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, which increased from almost zero level to 26 per cent in 2017, is targeted to rise to 70 per cent in 2027. In this interview with Udeme Akpan, the Managing Director, Coleman Wires and Cables, Mr. George Onafowokan, who spoke on a wide range of issues, said the target is achievable.
How are you coping with many challenges that stare investors in the face?
Many problems stare Nigeria’s manufacturers in the face. These problems, including bad roads and inadequate power, are so severe that if you tell anyone that you are into manufacturing, many people will think that you are not thinking right. Despite the various issues, we would continue to do our best and remain optimistic about the country.
How far have you gone on your new brand of product dedicated to the oil and gas industry?
We have made progress and are currently at the stage of completing work on the construction of the first marine cable factory in the country. Specifically, we should be up and running by next year, by the grace of God. We expect that at the end of the second or third quarter of next year, we should have a fully functional marine cable factory, which would make Nigeria second cable manufacturing company in Africa. For us, it is a major milestone, especially as we have already accomplished at least 50 per cent of the work. We look forward to having more machinery early next year to increase work to about 70 per cent.
We will continue to take bold steps, investing in areas where everybody feels is too risky, apparently because we just have to think beyond all the barriers to find a solution and add value to the nation’s economy. If foreigners with adequate capacity come to invest in Nigeria, indigenous companies should also develop their capacities and capabilities to invest in our nation.
What impact should we expect the new product to make in Nigeria’s economy?
It will make a massive difference, especially in on-going and planned oil and gas projects. Specifically, we are looking at the Bonga South West and Zabazaba, among others. Now we are offering, for the first time, a 100 per cent top side floating production storage and offloading cabling solutions. So, if you are talking about a $10 billion project, you can imagine the cable content and the foreign exchange we are going to conserve for Nigeria. We hope that massive importation of cables would stop or greatly reduce in the oil and gas industry.
What has encouraged you to move on, despite the problems?
First, we are encouraged by the Nigeria Content Act. Second, we are driven by the leadership of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, NCDMB, to do their jobs rightly. Remember, it is one thing to have a law, and another to have a capable board to drive operations. In other words without the board, it would have been impossible to expand and deepen local content in the nation’s oil and gas industry. From all indications, the NCDMB has outshined other government agencies in delivering on its mandates, thus making it easier for investors to stake their resources in the industry.
Why are you so committed to local content at this time?
As a company, we are committed to the implementation of local content because it is a way of life. We do because when you look at the history of the Nigerian content and the history of the NCDMB, you will find out that some operators were not willing and ready to do local content at the early stage. However, with good legislation and commitment of major parties, especially the NCDMB, many people and organisations have been encouraged to comply with existing laws and regulations.
Looking at the NCDMB’s 10-year plan, are you impressed that things would be better, moving forward?
I think the 10-year plan is good. The problem with Nigeria is not lack of plans and policies, it has always been implementation. However, the NCDMB is different. Past executive secretaries did well to set-up the foundation. Others, especially the Engr. Simbi Wabote-led NCDMB, have gone further to initiate and execute projects and programmes of lasting impact. Take the NCDMB office complex, for example. This is a very good project, especially as it would go a long way in hosting important events now and in the future. Therefore, I am optimistic that the 10-year plan would be achieved because the board has been very consistent over the years.
What features stand your products out in the market place?
We stand out because of our ability and capacity to feed the market. Our delivery capability also stands us out. In fact, we are one of the few companies you can ask for any volume of wiring cables and you get it within 24 hours. We supply very large volumes. Everyone prefers Coleman because we enable our customers to meet their project timelines. In one of the recent jobs we executed, Shell was shocked to note our ability to deliver a particular brand of cable to the company. We stand out because we have been able to deliver within a very short period.
Can you tell us about your work force?
We have a great team, which remains one of our greatest assets. The team is the extension of me without me. This is important because it brings about sustainable operations with or without the managing director. We appreciate and recognise every member of our top management because everyone is a potential CEO, who should be given the opportunity to contribute towards the growth of the organisation. In addition, there should be synergy between the leadership team and the workforce. There must be a synergy in growth of all leaders, which enables you to affect and direct your vision.
Can you comment on your different technologies and technical partners?
We only have technical partners when it comes to manufacturing and they come when we are executing major tasks, especially designs and training. It has worked well for us because we believe majorly in the Nigerian team. Today, we have over 350 employees and only one expatriate, because we believe in Nigeria and Nigerians to run highly automated machines. Coleman applies high capacity technology machines. For example, if we are producing 10 coils in one minute and the next person is producing one coil in one minute, he cannot compete with us because we have superior technologies that culminate in higher capacities.
Can you comment on your marketing strategy; is it just here in Nigeria, or do you supply other West African countries too?
Unlike other brands, we do a lot to market our products and services. We do a lot to create and sustain our brands’ awareness. First, we are pushing to Rivers, Anambra, Bayelsa, Kano, Kaduna and other states. Second, we have also started to push our products and services in West Africa. Therefore, ours is not only about Nigeria, it is also about West Africa and other parts of Africa.
Is there any issue you would want the government look at in order to grow local content?
Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, NIPC, is doing well, especially by encouraging investment in the nation’s economy. However, it can do better because it is counterproductive to import machineries at five per cent duty. I think this is very critical because it affects importation of machinery and, by extension, operations of the manufacturing sector, which affect the entire economy.
How would the proposed increase in Value Added Tax, (from five per cent to seven per cent) affect investors?
I and every other manufacturer in Nigeria still condemn the proposal. I am an executive member of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, and we have already told the government that this is not a good idea. It is our opinion that the government should take steps to capture or encourage many potential taxpayers to come into the system, instead of discouraging the few that are currently paying with higher VAT. I think we should keep the VAT system out of the financial bill.
What final word do you have for your customers and other stakeholders?
Going forward, I think they should be reassured that Coleman will continue to be the number one quality cable producer they can trust. They should be assured that we will give the best products at very affordable prices. They should be sure that Coleman would meet and exceed their expectations in terms of quality, quantity and time.