An Italian investor in solar systems and other renewable energy sources, Mr. Roberto Fontana believes the Nigerian banking sector must play its natural role of boosting the economy for the nation to develop. The Chief Executive Officer of Insiemer, a multinational solar systems company, wants the banks to enable Nigerians so that they can leverage on the abundant sunshine to power their homes and businesses. Bennett Oghifo reports
Nigerians can live better, away from all the noise and fumes from electric power generators, to be free of pollution that has caused so much ill-health and needless deaths, according to Roberto Fontana, an investor in renewable energy sources, who hails from Verona, Italy.
Fontana spent a week in Nigeria, casing the investment environment, and came away with positives but remarked that the nation’s banks must do more to encourage business growth.
Fontana, who had with him the Nigerian partner of the company, Mr. Mark Nebo said he has a company in Italy, Switzerland, Egypt, and Spain in renewable energy sector, including solar, wind and energy efficient systems.
He said, “I have a company that specializes in air compressors, chillers, and machinery like forklifts for big businesses. My interest is to bring to Nigeria high quality energy efficient and solar power systems. These will improve the lives of families, increase their wellbeing and to give them opportunity to stop using generators that make people to be sick from pollution. It is one week that I have been here but I am already feeling the effect of the pollution.”
He said his company would bring in long-lasting high quality solar systems that would dissuade Nigerians from buying cheap and poor-quality systems that are prevalent in the nation’s market today.
According to him, the products he intends to import would resolve people’s energy problems, and advised Nigerians to look forward to a bright future like it is experienced in other countries in Europe where quality products are used for their energy needs.
Fontana said he believes that even the low-income people should have energy sources to power their electrical systems like refrigerators, televisions, and not spend hard-earned money buying petrol for their generators.
According to him, his products would have an average of 20 years’ life span, adding “this is what obtains in every part of the world and must be done in Nigeria. They will resolve the problems of families and this is my company’s motto: Resolving Problems.”
He said he is will to take a step and let the market judge, adding that people would be given an opportunity to judge whether it was more economical to buy a product that would last a long time or to buy one that would be replaced often because it breaks down often.
Banks and economic growth…
Fontana said his company would sell to whole sellers/distributors but that “One big problem that I have seen since I have been here, is that while in the rest of the world people/families pay for goods in installment, people here pay in full.
“I have been trying to get the banks involved to have financing agreement but I see a great unwillingness or resistance and their desire to stick to their usual operational format and their absurd taxes/interest rates. Besides, interests charged by banks in Nigeria are too high and this will not make the nation’s economy to grow. The banks are prepared for my type of business, but they need to review downward their interest rates/taxes.”
Giving an example of where this hostile operational environment had posed a problem in the past, he said, “In 2003, Romania was at the level of present day Nigeria in terms of bank taxes/interest rates, but as the banks changed their system/politics, Romania has changed to a very beautiful country with topflight economy.
I suggest that the banks help Nigeria to be a country that is less polluted to improve people’s lives. I am not a banker but if I were, then I’ll change the banking politics.”
Shipping his goods into Nigeria, Fontana said should not be much of a problem because after discussing with some big shipping companies in the country, he got to realise that the system is the same as in other parts of the world.
He said he would establish his presence in Nigeria as he has in other countries, adding that he had talked to some people in the country who deal in these products. “I have commissioned people to produce the systems that would suit people in the villages and rural communities, but there is need for the assistance of the banks. I see their willingness to do business and they appreciate my initiative a lot but I don’t know if they would play their part. I will play my own part.”
He said if the banks do not reduce their interests for financing the purchase of these products, then it may not work. “All developed countries are maintained with the assistance of their banks. In Italy, we buy telephones by installment payments. Buying goods outright here is not good for the economy and it is also not good for families.”
According to Fontana, there is a big market in Nigeria for solar systems, adding that sunshine is free and that he would bring in equipment that are simple to use even in villages and that there are complex ones for both medium and big businesses. There are also small solar plants for all strata of society, permitting them to exploit sunshine during the day and use the stored energy during the night and as such there would be no need to use public electricity or petrol for generating sets. “This money that families will save from not using public electricity and buying petrol, will be used for installmental payment to the banks and after about five years they will complete payment and for the remaining 15 years, the product will work free of charge.”
He intends to set up a complete office in Nigeria just as he has done in other countries, adding that he is comfortable in Nigeria because of the warm welcome that he received.