Despite the impact of Local content, Nigeria still depends on some imported products and services. In this interview with UDEME AKPAN, Managing Director/CEO, Coleman Wires and Cables, Mr. George Onafowokan, said the company has concluded plans to produce oil and gas cables this year, thus assisting to conserve foreign exchange for the nation.
How was last year in terms of business in your sector?
Last year was tough generally, mainly because of elections, but towards the last two quarters, the economy recorded a revamp. After the elections and inauguration were out of the way, the nation started to record sanity because there was continuity in governance. That helped to calm nerves and effectively allowed the economy to start readjusting itself quickly to a positive level. We are still seeing the fallout of that stability making positive impact in some sectors of the nation’s economy.
What is your take on Nigeria’s border closure?
Do not get it wrong, we are not against regional trading. What we are against is the abuse of it. It was abused, but the border closure has enabled almost everything to leave and enter the country through the seaport. Unfortunately, it has made the port a bit more congested than usual and that is another catastrophe the government has to deal with. Although the roads maintenance works are on-going, that will take a bit more time. We need to find palliative measures to cater for the losses the people are incurring. It is now more expensive to get your container from the port to your doorstep than it is to ship the containers into Nigeria.
Looking at the impact of the border closure on your own sector, is there any positive impact?
It has made a positive impact. Before now, about 90 per cent of the substandard, non-tax paying and none duty-paying cables were coming in through the land borders. The closure has assisted to check that trend. We are not saying that they should not bring in cables. We are simply saying that such cables should pass through the approved and legitimate channel. Things are looking up in the sector, which explains why we are supporting the border closure. For us, cables are essential part of life because you cannot do anything without light and the light is not a wireless process yet. Therefore, we need a medium to carry this power. That is what Coleman has stood out for. We are the cable company, proudly Nigerians, we are capable of wiring Nigeria and we are capable of providing the solution nationwide.
Is it a good thing for the government to begin to look out to other ports i.e. Calabar, Port Harcourt and Warri at this time?
I am in support of the decentralisation of ports operations in Nigeria. However, it is only about the ports. It is also about the quality and quantity of roads to different locations or destinations in the nation. The roads are not good; a loaded container that is heavy would most likely tumble in some parts of the nation. Those ports are essential, but the network of roads to other parts of the country is more essential. It is useless taking your container to a port when you know that half of your content would have tumbled on the road before the goods get to you. The risk is too high.
Last year is gone, what are we expecting in 2020?
For Coleman, we are expecting a lot. It should be noted that our investment in the sector is still the biggest in the whole of West Africa and it will continue to be so. This year, we are spending between $30-50 million on expansion, meaning that we will be bringing in new products into the market from July to December 2020. Coleman, this year, will be going into the production of certain cables for the transmission sector. We will also be impacting the oil and gas sector through the production of our rubber cable in July this year – and that will be the biggest impact in the industry because it would be the second-largest in Africa.
In addition, that will enable us impact some of the projects in the oil and gas industry, especially those on the Bonga South-West project. The major advantage is that it will be possible to build a vessel (local or international) with 100% Nigerian cables. We are also looking at solving this problem for other countries within the continent and this would see a lot of export generation and will boost economic growth. Part of what we are doing this year is backwards integrating of our processes. Before the end of this year, we are going to have our own massive copper continuous cast smelter for copper rod and for aluminium rod.
How will the start of work in Train 7 LNG plant impact on the sector?
Train 7 has a massive impact on the entire nation. However, for us, it is important, as many cables would be required. We would lead the market share because of the size and capacity, but the good thing is others would also benefit from it.
What is your advice to the government and other stakeholders?
We need to stop flaring and invest more funds in harnessing our gas. We need to construct new or additional Trains. We cannot afford to delay anymore as we had wasted time in the past.
Looking at the power problems in particular, has there been any serious engagement between the investors like you and the DISCOs?
I think there is a bit more hope now with the way the government has been overseeing things. There is a lot of misconception and mistrust on both sides between the government and the DISCOs and that is also part of why we’re all suffering because the DISCOs themselves, I’d say, they bought a product they didn’t understand and many are in a lot of financial mess because of what they bought that they didn’t understand. In addition, I think the government has tried over the years to try to intervene in some people’s crisis. However, now I would advise that both parties tread carefully and find a lasting solution to this problem together.
What difference would it make if the operators in the power sector begin to see Local Content as something that has to be done?
There will be a massive difference because unfortunately, they do not see it. It has to be well perceived by operators in many sub-sectors. For instance, there is not Local Content in transmission. We are hoping that the current management will change. The Ministry of Power has started to talk about it. I think that would grow the business a lot, not only cable but also others. We need to stop politicizing the power sector and encourage it to develop local content policies and practices.
How is Project 100 doing in the oil and gas and how do you see us replicating that in the power sector and even other sectors?
In my view, Project 100 is doing very well, because a team of Nigerians that believes in it. There must be continuity from one team to the other believing in that dream. Moreover, I believe if they continue to hold faith and believe in the vision they have today; I do not see the Project 100 being impossible. It might take us time, but we will get close if not achieve 100 per cent of it. However, it takes steadfastness and commitment from everybody in the sector to allow Project 100 to be achieved.