Mr. Bola Akindele
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Courteville Plc, Mr. Bola Akindele, spoke to Eromosele Abiodun on why Nigerian businesses face several challenges outside the country. He also decried Federal Government agencies’ preference for foreign companies instead of helping local ones to grow and create jobs. Excerpts:
Taking Autoreg to the Caribbean
Well, the decision to venture into any new area of business is almost always about the bottom line. The bottom line not just for Courteville and stakeholders, but also for the environment in which we operate. For our stakeholders, we owe it a duty of making sure that their surroundings, people around them also benefit from our activities.
Courteville is working very hard to ensure that we put the ‘light’ in every single corner of the Nigeria. We are not there yet. We only work in about 20 states in Nigeria and have about 200 franchise. In terms of every other service we provide, we are all over the country. We have almost 5,000 processing points across Nigeria. We have almost 10 thousand young men and women in direct or indirect employment and we have created the Auto Reg platform in order to be able to satisfy our vision of trying to touch the lives of everyone that will come in contact with us not just in Nigeria but also in other countries.
In order to touch the lives of many, we provide these services within Nigeria and in Sierra Leone. We also plan take our services beyond the shores of Africa. Nigeria is noted for exporting oil as its major product, agriculture is coming up. But we know that it is not all of us that can indulge in the activities of oil and gas. It is capital intensive, it is political and Nigeria making effort to diversify its economy from oil and gas to other areas. For us at Courteville, we won’t play in oil and gas or in agriculture because of the technical and political issues involved. We had to find another sector to play and that is why we have chosen to play by exporting local technology. Technology that was conceptualise, designed not only to service Nigeria, West Africa, but outside the shores of Africa.
Where best to start than to look for a terrain that is close to where we started from, which in this case happens to be the Caribbeans.
The people of the Caribbeans are practically like Nigerians, incidentally, their terrain, landscape, environment is practically like what we have in Nigeria. Unfortunately, we are divided by this large space of water that does not allow them hear or see much of what is happening on this side and they have traditionally looked up to their northern neighbours like the United States, Europe, further to east Dubai, China for some kind of ‘salvation.
’ The global financial crisis dealt a very heavy blow on their economy. In Jamaica for example, their tourism was badly affected. They realise that even the grants and aids that use to come to them from these economies were no longer forthcoming because those economies themselves now have their own challenges. So, Courteville went in to the Caribbean and discovered their challenges are practically the same with what we have in Nigeria. We discovered that the solution we provide can easily take care of all the poor, inadequate, public or private service provision that they face. So that was why we went into the Caribbean.
How it All Started
It all started with our sponsorship of the Africa and Caribbean business expo in London. It was a widely successful one. As a fall out to that event, we were introduced to priority group in the United Kingdom (UK) and other part of the world. They saw what we offered the world at the expo, and they believed very strongly that the Caribbean nations need our services. They also need our help in the area of capital injection into their economy. The model that Courteville runs is like the private public partnership type of model, which was the model that fits best in the Caribbean at this time.
When we got there, we opened their eyes to all the opportunities that are in their countries and we are exploring these opportunities one after the other. We have been invited by different private sector organisations. The Jamaican Stock Exchange has invited Courteville to come and cross list in its shares in their stock market. We have been invited by the taxi owners association of Jamaica to come and help them design and develop a solution that attend to their major challenges seeing that we have done that in the past.
The Jamaica insurance industry wants to do the kind of thing we are doing with the Nigeria Insurance Association. The private sector, the online education system, we have offered them solutions on how they can expand. We are building a relationship with a company called U-tech, that is where all the great sports men in Jamaica attended and they want to offer this opportunity to Nigerian students or athletes. The Caribbean, despite being an oil rich region, still have challenges in their public sector service delivery and that is where Courteville comes in.
We have gone and have shown them what they have to do and they have indicated their interest in such areas. We have convinced them that what can develop their economies. It is not just looking for grants and government support, it is being able to ginger and instigate the development through private sector participation by making it competitive. When there is competition, people will sit up, when people sit up, a lots will come to their economies.
Cross listing of our shares is just one of the starting points for us. We will go in there with our own funding, help them develop some of these sector and then come back home to show that we have been able to extend these services. So, what in essence that means is that beyond oil and agriculture, Nigeria is starting to export technology and we are going to be the best in the shortest possible time.
Other African Experiences
We started our African expansion in Sierra-Leone. We are very close to concluding hopefully in places like Rwanda and Burundi. We have also gone very far in Cape Verde, Gambia and Guinea. It takes a while. In Africa, Nigeria is seen as quite aggressive. We are seen as people who always come and take over.
But what I tell them is that there are 36 states in Nigeria, in some parts of Nigeria you may not be able to understand the source of a particular denomination of Naira currency that you find, but in Lagos state, you will be able to trace the history of that money because there would have being an economic activity as it relates to that money. So we have to work very hard to get what we believe we deserve and that is the spirit we take in there. The spirit of competitiveness, which is where other African countries see aggression while we see the fact that we have to work very hard.
Therefore, in West Africa and in most of Africa, they will rather deal with other foreigners than with Nigerian because they worry about the fact that we come in and take over their businesses. We have been working very hard to get into Ghana and Benin Republic, but you know the will of those in position of leadership does not necessarily translate into action. Take for instance in Nigeria, some state governments have indicated interest, but the civil service system under them may just frustrate it.
Financial Committing to Caribbean Project
We have told them that over the next five years, we plan to invest in term of Jamaican dollars over, 600 million, which will translate to about $5 million. We have invested over $3 million in Sierra Leone. Even though we have started that is not to say that we don’t have challenges bordering on nationalism and the fear of other nationalities. This is a challenge that we have to continue working on and people have to see us for the quality of work that we can do and not necessarily where we are from and that is what sells Courteville.
This is what has sold us in over 20 states across Nigeria. Even though our origin is in Lagos, we are in the South East. We are practically in every state in the South-South, in the whole of the North, and we probably cover over 50 per cent of Nigeria. It is very interesting to note that it is only in the South West where our origin lies that we have the smallest participation as in region. Though its quality that sells not where you are from. If you can deliver on quality, all you need is just a space and they will see the kind of work you can do.
Raising Money in the Capital Market
In 2008 we went to the public and said we wanted to raise funds. Even though it was planned for one month, we could only hold it for one week because the response was just over whelming. We wanted to raise N1billion but in five days we have raised about N1.3 billion, so we decided to close the offer.
We have been a listed company since 2009. At the time we went public, we assured our shareholders that we will list our shares so that the shares can be trade-able on the exchange. We assured them that we will declare dividend every year, we assured them we are going to make profit every year, we assured them that they will smile as individual shareholders every year, all of these we have done despite the fact that the shares have traded at 50 kobo in the past two or more years. We know it is not intrinsic value of Courteville. Every year since 2008 December, the first year of our private placement, we have declared profit and have been paying dividends.
Courteville Performance in 2012
We are about 30 per cent over and above what we did in 2011. We are very transparent. We like to let people see what we are doing. Less than 10 companies have been able to stay profitable for the past years. All the mission and vision we set out to achieve as a company, to a large extent, we have achieve them. We employ local talents because we believe in letting the young minds drive innovation and we will get there.
Promise on Future Prospect
Courteville is not always about profitability, it is about creating value for the stakeholders. Profitability has come to us by the grace of God. It has not being too difficult because of what we do. We open up doors for public and private sector operators to achieve better service delivery. Our system is one that is self- building because we have achieved this in Autoreg. It offered us an opportunity with the Nigerian Insurance Association, since we have achieved a lot in terms of data administration and documentation.
It gave us the reason to tell the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) what we can achieve and they gave us an opportunity. Because of our platform, the Federal Road Safety Corporation (FRSC) uses our services. As a result of what we have achieved through our platform, both state and federal security agencies seek our solutions to resolve some of their investigative cases.
Assistance from other Federal Government Agencies
I am not too satisfied with activities at the federal level because as a country, we need to trust the capabilities of our private and public entities. The federal government does not have to insist that there should be the presence of a foreign partner company in order for one to deliver national utility services.
We have approached the people in charge of National Identity Card Commission (NICC) to tell them that what they have tried severally to achieve but failed, we can help them do it at a minimal cost. If the voter registration scheme was that successful, why do we need a separate data base for national identity card? They will not allow companies like Courteville to do this kind of thing. NCC wanted to register all SIM cards, business they don’t want to give companies like Courteville a chance. I refuse every time they send out request for bids and they say show us evidence of your foreign affiliation with companies. They are not as good as I am as a company, so why do I need to affiliate with them.
So, if we don’t believe in what we can do locally, who will take us serious outside Nigeria? Nobody gave Autoreg a chance. But Lagos state gave us a chance because they are the most advance in terms of technology. We have given the Nigeria customs solutions proposal on how they can achieve 100 per cent collection of duties on every single vehicle that comes into Nigeria. But sadly enough, they have not taken any of them.
Our solutions are not tied to any particular sector, it is all about the improvement of the efficiency and effectiveness of your service delivery as an operator whether government or private. It is not about the sector, it is about the fact that you can identify areas of improvement and you get it done and results are immediately obvious .