‘Nigerian commercial banks’ needs CBN’s constant oversight to survive’ – Princess Layo Bakare Okeowo is the Chief Executive Officer, FAE Limited, a company involved in the production of fast moving consumer goods amongst other things. In this interview with BIODUN-THOMAS DAVIDS, she speaks on the problems besetting the manufacturing sub-sector and other related issues. Excerpts:
As an industrialist, how will you react to the state of industry in Nigeria?
My advice or my dream is for us to industrialise Nigeria. Many people are migrating to China and other best economy countries today, simply because they are highly industrialised.
When Nigeria is adequately industrialised, we will have more mechanical engineers, more electrical engineers and other technical professionals, more businesses will develop, there will low unemployment rates, and as a result, our economy will improve greatly. Technology is advancing seriously, as an employer of labour, I want us to do all within our capacity to encourage our youths in looking inward and be more technical.
We appreciate economy intervention fund of the government to the manufacturers, we still want the intervention to go down to about 5% rate. We also want the government to strictly monitor the intervention fund in order to ensure that commercial banks are putting their words into action. As far as I am concerned it’s only a few people that are benefitting from the intervention, it has not well circulated, so we want the federal government and CBN to monitor commercial banks in this regard and ensure that government’s efforts are not frustrated.
From experience, what are the major challenges staring manufacturers in the face?
Stable electricity is the major infrastructural issue that our government needs to look into more seriously for this country to move forward. Then the Apapa Port issue, I don’t really know what to say now, because the situation there is really affecting the economy…
Are you referring to traffic gridlock or port congestion?
I am referring to both the traffic and port congestion. We don’t get our shipments on time and besides it is expensive to move consignments to final destinations, it takes up to a month many times, before you can get your consignments. You can believe it, a 40 foot trailer hired now costs about N750,000. Which is about $2000, we do not pay $2000 as freight from Europe…
What’s the challenge or problem that we cannot resolve in order to make life bearable?
The present situation is making us produce at a very high cost and there is no way it will not affect pricing and general economy. It is a serious issue that the government needs to act fast on…
What about the issue of import duty, is it taking any tow on your business?
To be honest I don’t have any issue with the import duty-government also will have to generate income to run the economy, but what we are asking the government for is conducive environment for manufacturers, especially infrastructural issues like electricity and good roads.
You claimed that your company is the largest envelopes producer in Nigeria, if I may ask, what is your staff strength like?
I wouldn’t want to go into giving figure, but I can say we are an employer of labour and we are doing our best in boosting employment rate in Nigeria. Besides, we have our own way of contributing to corporate social responsibility. For instance, road on our street we did it ourselves without government aids. Sometimes we give to the less privileged in the society….
In the course of talking, you said you are the largest producers of envelopes in Nigeria, how did you come to this conclusion?
Because we simply have proven records, for example we produce about 500,000 different types of envelopes per day….
People are really harnessing ease that comes with digital technology, they deal more with electronic materials, has advancement in information and technology affected your production in any form?
Well, every business will have its own share of advancement in technology, despite that enveloping is still relevant. We are trusting God, we are not doing badly and we hope to do much more. It’s not really having impact on our business.
The main thing that is affecting business in Nigeria is the infrastructural issue. With technology, we can do more than what we are doing now, if we are more technically advanced. We need more technical experts to move the economy forward and get Nigeria well industrialised.
Back to the issue of credit facilities, lending rates are still at double digits- 14% for inter lending and 16% to 20% for multilateral lending, what is your reaction to such monetary policy?
Definitely such policy will affect economy in the country, there is nothing like single digit rate which will allow loans to perform very well and beneficiaries will have the ease of pay back. The best thing remains coming up with economic policies that get Nigeria highly industrialised or that encourage industrialisation. With that Nigeria too, can be like China, may be in the next 10 years.
Actualising new N66,500 minimum wage, from the present N18,000 is the in thing now, how prepared are the manufacturing industries for this?
I don’t want to go into that, because that’s sort of a labour issue, but the Bible says we shouldn’t deprive labourers of their rewards, so whatever is the position of the government and the labour bodies, whatever conclusion they arrive at will be looked into and addressed properly. To the best of my knowledge, infrastructural problem is one of the factors compounding these wage issues, if things were even or easy economically there wouldn’t be any noise or misunderstanding on wages.
The CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, during a monetary policy meeting, earlier this year, mentioned, inflation rate and pre-election spending as major factors causing hikes in lending rates, if I may ask does pre-election spending really affect your operations?
You are very correct, it is for sure; electioneering period is always a very tough time for the whole economy, especially for manufacturers, much financial attentions are given to campaign exercises, so it’s better to let them do what they want to do on time so that the economy can move forward…
In the meantime, how prepared is a manufacturer like you for the pre-election spending?
Well, we are trying, and we and we will still try our best in making sure it doesn’t affect us so much, what I will advise is that we should vote wisely. I am not a politician and I don’t intend to be a politician, I remain an industrialist, but voters should vote wisely, because voting patterns also to a large extent determine economy of a nation. We pray God will intervene in the affairs of Nigeria, so that the nation can move forward.
What is your advice to the youths?
Well, I will advise them to keep calm, in the stage that Nigeria is passing through now, they should however try and lay hands on vocational and technical works for self-independence, so that, even if they couldn’t get white collar jobs, they can get themselves employed and become CEOs on their own.