Infrastructure Deficit, Nigeria’s Greatest Challenge

07 Sep 2013

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Rosaab has undergone some operational transformations since its establishment. Can you take us into the world of this corporate firm?

Chief Ade Odojukan who was a graphic artist founded Rosaab International in 1974. We started with signage over a period of time. We have evolved since then into various spaces. But today, we are into infrastructure development business. We have two businesses effectively. We have an engineering business, where our legacy business, signage, still resides. We have a construction business also. The businesses form our infrastructure development business, where we are trying to make meaningful impact. We are indeed passionate about developing infrastructure. There is a huge infrastructure gap in Nigeria and Africa at large.

It is a space where we want to build our credibility on in the next decade. We are particularly a learning organisation. We spend a lot of time learning and developing ourselves. Our primary focus in terms of vision is about developing people. The logic is that if you develop people, they develop your business. If you develop world-class people, there is no way world-class people will function except it is world-class environment. It is a simple logic. We invest heavily into developing our people. We are also building a culture that nurtures talent.

We see ourselves as a creative set of people based on our legacy and environment. We came out of artistic environment, even though we are into manufacturing and construction now. Our operations extend beyond Nigeria. We operate in four West African countries. We have a West African hub in Ghana where we do our business in Liberia, Sierra Leone and in the Gambia. Our key-operating sector is financial services. That is where we build our signage business on. But we have expanded that. We have been in a number of economic sectors.

How much have you invested in developing human capital since the establishment of Rosaab International?
It will be difficult to quantify what we have spent in monetary terms. But I will explain how we have been developing people over the years. We have what we call Rosaab Academy. Three out of five days in a week, there are trainings going on here, and this takes place between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. every day. We train our people for two hours for three days in a week. This means we have made huge sacrifice in terms of time we have invested in training people. During those periods, they are not out marketing or producing.
For us, it is a big passion. We have a library that we upgrade and stock on regular basis so that people can read and update themselves. We also give opportunity to pursue interests they have passion for, even within the organisation. Our collaboration with South Africa on the take-a-girl-child initiative is a bid to achieve our vision. That is why we brought five female undergraduates for a day at work. We have done with the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). The institution has brought their students here for internship in specific areas of study. We have worked on certain facilities with them on their campus. All of these are our investments, not just monetary, but also in effort, focus and time.  The logic is simple. It is all about charity.

From your explanation, Rosaab has moved from one area of business to another. Can you explain why your firm has not focused on its core area of business?
We have a culture of evolving from one area of business to another. It is also a strategy. There is a strategy in business we call ‘Blue Ocean Strategy.’ There is a line of thinking that every market has ‘a blue ocean’ and ‘a red ocean.’  In Red Ocean, competition is very intense. The Blue Ocean is a vast space where nobody is. In a real sense, nobody takes the chance to step out of where everybody is to create new things. I say it everywhere I go that we do not know how to compete. That is why we continue to create our blue ocean, while typical Nigerians venture into where money flows. Every person rushes into where money is being made somewhere. We are exact opposite. We go where there is no money and create a market.

So, we are the only one there for a period of time. But during that time, we were already looking for a blue ocean. That is what keeps us going. Over two decades ago when we went into signage business, we are the only one there. As an example, signage was used as a location identifier, meaning this is where I am. People just put up signs to show where I am. But we said no. Signage can be used for a lot more than that. We created an understanding in the market that signage can be used as a business brand identity. It can be the first touch point of your brand. And we created that perception in the mind of the market. It took a lot of effort to change the perception of the people.  It took a lot of investment in creating a brand for us.

Nigeria is in urgent need of infrastructure. With your venturing into this area, how do you intend to bridge the country’s infrastructure gap?
Infrastructure development is a thought process. We have a construction unit, but we are not the construction firm. We are simply an infrastructure development company. So, that is why it is a thought process. We are able to bring all the components of that infrastructure to the table. We bring to the table the construction aspect, the creativity aspect, the funding aspect and the efficiency of putting the components together as well as outlining to make work them efficiently to deliver the purpose for which it was conceived.
Even as an infrastructure development firm, we need to have a very strong financial unit. The unit will be in charge of how infrastructure will be delivered and determine how it will be funded. It will determine the funding patterns a client has. We are the one doing this thinking for our clients. So, we are not going there to bid for something. The difference really is the thought process. That is the value we are adding to the infrastructure development process.

Based on what you said, does it mean the absence of thought process is responsible for infrastructure gap in Nigeria?
Obviously, there are so many things responsible for infrastructure deficit in the country. We go to the extent of leadership challenge, ill political will, lack of funding and dearth of human capital among others. You will be amazed the kind of creative ways the infrastructure is delivered in other climes. It has started happening here. Until recently, the new ways of developing infrastructure are not available to us here. That is our own point of differentiation.

A number of public institutions are now canvassing the public-private partnership (PPP) initiative. Do you buy into this approach?
We are also looking into the initiative. Really, it is the way to go. There are various things we are currently talking about with several institutions. We are also talking to the governments about the PPP initiative. That is an opportunity most countries take advantage of to deliver infrastructure in their climes. For us, it is really a direction to go. The gap is so wide that it has to be filled. As long as there is a purposeful government, we will continue to fill this gap. That is the way we see it here.

Rosaab took part in the 2013 edition of the take-a-girl-child initiative, a project of South Africa. What do you expect the participants to gain from this initiative?
Signage is a unique business. Traditionally, it is an artisan business. Graduates hardly go into this business because it is about welding. It is about plastic works. It is about painting. For me, it will give them a new perspective. That is what we have been trying to do in the last decade. We are working to upscale signage and make it attractive for those who are well-educated. All we can do is to expand and make it more robust than what it is today. People with high educational foundation will bring new thinking into the sector and help sustain it.

They will not be thinking how much they are going to make today. Second, I know our understanding when we were in the university. It is a whole different kettle of fish when we came out. So, this opportunity will give them what it is like to be in a work environment. At the end of the day, they will have robust understanding of what a work life is. With the girl child issue globally, it will give them confidence that there is nothing they cannot do. In the world of today, everybody has opportunity to get to where he/she wants to get. That, for me, is sufficient to transform their lives.

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