Ejike Onwujiobi is the Managing Director of Jidak Standard International Company Limited. In this interview with Anayo Okolie, Onwujiobi speaks on Nigeria at 56 years, how the new financial policy by the President Muhammadu Buhari -led administration is affecting business in Nigeria and among other issues
Nigeria will be 56 tomorrow, how would you rate the country so far?
Considering the present situation in country, Nigeria is nursing a myopic view, considering how vast a country like Nigeria is, we should be the economic giant and controllers of strength and weakness of currencies in Africa. Naira should be used like dollar all over Africa if we had good leaders. It’s painstaking that at 56 we can’t boast of steady power supply, good road network, and good schools for the common man. What is the hope for the common man? It’s quite disheartening that people we grew up knowing as our leaders are still in power. How will there be transformation? At 56, I weep for my country. We should be mourning and not celebrating.
You do your business with foreign currency. How is the new financial policy affecting business in Nigeria?
Over time we have been encountering problems in business, but I don’t think there has been anyone like the one we are facing now. The situation now is crazy and alarming. We bought dollar N230 as at this time last year; but as I speak with you now, dollar sells for N425 in the black market. There are also some policies that the banks have brought in, like when they tell you letter of credit and bill of collection.
We used to do all these things, not until at the official rate dollar sky-rocketed from N197 that we used to procure it, to N335; so I don’t think any business man will tell you that this is a mouth-watering time in business, I don’t also think that the government is looking into it to be able to bring out measures to curtail the harsh situation that we business men are facing.
Some time ago, I was talking to a friend and telling him that production would be a more ideal procedure in this our line of business; but when you look at the prevailing factors for you to produce these doors locally, you find out that you have issues here and there, starting from power supply to sourcing for the technical know how to make these doors look beautiful when finished; so there are many things to be considered before going into production, hence if the government have made it easy for new entrants to go into production of these doors and maybe provided avenues for loans, I don’t think we will be sourcing for these doors outside this country, as we have the needed wood here in Ogun, Ondo and Edo States. So if we have an enabling environment, we could as well source for the wood and go into production here in Nigeria.
How do you think we can salvage this situation especially now that the country is in recession?
I used to tell people, we have stunted ideas in Nigeria. This is because, if we can harness what we have in this country, I don’t think we would be facing all these problems we are having here and there. The government of the day is concentrating only on oil, which is not supposed to be so. There are so many countries that do not have oil, yet they have a better economy than we have here in Nigeria. We have lots of other natural resources that can be harnessed to gain ground on the foreign market and revamp our economy; thus allowing investors to come in and make this country a better place.
When you say recession, I think it is just a word; when you take a look at Nigeria, you will discover that this recession is not applicable to every sector of business. There are so many people that are enjoying this period and are laughing to the bank; they would wish for this period to continue to count their gains, which is probably one or two ways they have figured out to benefit from this period.
So, if government can look into other sectors other than oil, use their ideas to acquire the needed technical knowhow and bring people who know what it takes to make things function properly, then, we will not be facing recession.
The recession obviously has made sales drop, so how do you balance the drop and operating maximally?
Before now, we had programmed ourselves such that we would make doors that are of high quality; with this recession, people do not go for such products, they would rather go for the cheaper ones that can stand the test of time. And if by the grace of God they get more money in the future, they would change.
With this, we now go for American panel doors, doors that you can buy for N15,000 to N N20,000; while before now, people could cough out N50,000 to N60,000 to buy doors that they will fix in their rooms. I am not saying this present condition will continue, but if the government of the day uses what it has; the ideas and the professionals on ground, I don’t think this recession would last more than it has already, and in due course business will turn out to be better.
As someone, who has been into business for up to 10 years, is there any policy you think the government can introduce to help salvage the situation?
The problem is when you tell all banks to channel these monies into a single account, that is where they got it all wrong and that is where the problem started from. My advice to the government is, when you want to cut off something, create an enabling environment for other things to be functioning in place of what you want to cut off. If this is done, you won’t even notice that something has been cut off.
For instance, there are so many places where rice is being farmed locally; now since the government is bent on stopping the importation of rice, what have they done to improve on the locally produced one, so as to meet the already establish demand for rice consumption in the country? If what we import is 40,000 trucks of rice, and government can say places that formerly produce 5,000 trucks, what do you need to produce 50,000 to 100,000 trucks? By so doing, government will not only be promoting locally produced product, they would as well be surpassing the import quantity as well as be bettering the lot of Nigerians. So if the government can look into all these sectors, I think we will be better for it.
What we are currently facing has led to an increase in crime rate, what is your reaction to that?
The economic situation is affecting both the poor and the rich alike. I was reading this morning, about 200 plus workers were retrenched in one of the banks in Nigeria; this is a vivid resultant factor of economic recession. Here in Africa, if you are earning a good salary, so many people look up to you; now what becomes of those people who are looking up to you in this case of retrenchment? On the streets now, the rate of robbery is on the increase. People are afraid to walk with money on them; sometimes they even approach and walk you up to the ATM machine armed, and ask you to bring out the money in your account. There are so many damages that this recession and economic situation has caused; people that used to buy household products that would last for at least one week, now buy that which will be enough to last them for one day. The poverty level has really affected us; I pray in due course we will come out of this situation and look back with gratitude to God.
You recently unveiled a new product, what are the features of the product?
Currently, we have stocks from Turkey, Spain as well as China; and this time we have products with improved technologies. The doors we had before now had two locks, but with this new technology we can get four and six locks respectively; thus boosting security. With the two lock doors, anyone could dismantle them to get into your property; but with these new doors, the locks plunges into the wall of the house.
These new doors are also weather and water proof, because over time we have encountered situations were clients tell us that their doors get spoilt as a result of dampness; at the end of the day, when water splashes on these new doors, it repels it. The products we have now, we have beautified them more than they used to be, so when you see them in houses it gives you a resemblance of the types you see in houses abroad; those are the type of houses we are trying to make doors to match with.