Managing Director of Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Company, Zubeyir Gulabi, a Turkish born investor spoke on the company’s investment in Akwa Ibom State, saying it is a turning point in the nation’s industrial space. Jonathan Eze brings the excerpts:
JSM is finally here. Many had doubted the posibility of having this hugeinvestment in Nigeria since all efforts to have a successful syringe manufacturing company in the past failed. How did this become a reality?
The dream started in May 2015 when Governor Udom Emmanuel’s industrialisation movement was discovered not to have any iota of political connotation, but inundated with clear cut direction, good laid down policies and purpose. The sincerity of intent by the governor at that early stage of hisadministration, inaddition to his flood stream of working experience in the global world, made it possible for our Chairman, Mr. Onur Kumral, to assemble investors with the promise of investing in Akwa Ibom State. When our team finalised discussions with the governor, we were certain that we had a conducive environment for our investments including suitable land, security and lack of bureaucratic hurdles. In 2016, we laid the foundation of the Syringe Factory and on September 23rd, which incidentally coincided with the state anniversary, we were able to commission the project in a record 11 months.
The commissioning was done by His Excellency, the Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo.
This investment is a multi-million dollar investment. How were you able to source the required capital investment for this project?
Yes, this is indeed a sizable investment. Mr. Kumral has been in Akwa Ibom State for over four years now and he fell in love with Akwa Ibom people and the state. An investment decision does not rely solely on having the required capital. There are banks all over the world ready to roll out resources to fund investments. In Turkey for instance, banks are pleading for investors to come and get funds to invest. So finding the required capital wasn’t an issue. The crux of our concerns were if the state was safe enough, if it had investor friendly business policies, if the raw materials were available, if we could be connected to the power grid easily, and of course, if the market was there. Firstly, we concluded that the market was there, there was a sizeable demand for syringes in Nigeria, which was being met with low quality imported products. We also observed that the country is blessed with well-educated individuals, engineers, technicians and knowledgeable administrators who can drive our investment effectively without much supervision. Safety wasn’t even an issue. So we made the final decision and founded Jubilee Syringe. We are very pleased with our investment and the assurance is that more investments will be brought into the country.
Was there any doubt in your minds that things may not go well at some point in the course of realising this investment; maybe for political reasons?
No, not at all! Maybe the confidence and the assurance that kept driving us was the personality of the Governor. We were met with open arms from the moment we arrived. At the state level, His Excellency has been a great supporter of industrialisation, and at the federal level, the government is sincere about encouraging investments to provide employment for Nigerians. Every conversation that we’ve had with the state government and the Ministry of Health ended on a positive note. Clearly, all the parties realised that Nigeria needs to increase its domestic production; it depends too much on imports. But I should also state that our vision is not limited to Nigeria. We are the largest syringe factory in Africa and our vision is to fulfill the needs of all African countries. If you look at neighboring countries like Cameroon, Ghana, Congo etc., almost all of them buy syringes from Europe and at exorbitant costs. We are able to produce syringes at a fraction of the cost the product is sold in these countries, and at the same international quality standards. We are a Nigerian company but we strictly adhere to international quality standards. So we have no reason but to believe that Nigeria can produce and export syringes first, and then other medical consumables in the future.
Tell us some of the challenges you faced during this process?
Sure, there were challenges; logistic problems for example. We were looking at the port closest to us so we could bring our raw materials into the state easily. Land transport is and will be problematic for the foreseeable future. Secondly, the challenge was the availability of medical grade raw materials, we never want to be associated with any substandard raw material. We want to be known for producing high quality products. Many people outside Africa believe the continent cannot make a difference in the world of manufacturing. We are determined to prove them wrong. Availability of medical grade raw materials are scarce, but we have been in discussions with other manufacturers to have medical grade materials made available to us. Human capital has been no problem. There are highly educated people here who are willing to work. Every challenge that we faced we have always had the full support of the governor and the federal government. All hands are on deck to make Nigeria Africa’s medical hub.
During the commissioning of JSM, the Vice President said that the investment was a very smart one. Can you expatiate on this?
I believe what his Excellency was referring to was that our factory was addressing an important gap in the medical consumable sector, in a strategic location, at an opportune time. We are trying to make Akwa Ibom State, and by extension Nigeria, a medical hub in Africa. His Excellency, the Vice President honored us by coming to commission this project.
Your production start-up capacity is pegged at 350 – 400 million syringes annually, surpassing South Africa’s 93 million annual production. Why the huge difference in your production line?
There are no official figures for Nigerian syringe demand but there are estimates of 1.5-2.0 billion of syringe demand per annum. So our production capacity is not a huge number if you consider the overall demand. This doesn’t of course take into account demand outside of Nigeria as we discussed. When you take that into account as well as our capacity is minimal. This is why when we were setting up the factory, we planned the space for double the existing capacity. We believe it will not be long before we have to make that decision.
You said the location of the raw materials is just an hour drive from the location of the factory. What is your take on the quality of raw materials found in Nigeria?
Actually, the quality is still not at the standards that we hold ourselves to. As a result, we import most of our raw materials from abroad at least for the time being. We are still in talks with certain companies to have them produce medical grade raw materials. We know that this does not require huge capital investments.
The 12 Nigerians, mostly engineers that were sent to Turkey, Istanbul, for training by JSM were seen during the commissioning operating different machines and explaining the operations to guests. Would you say the purpose at which they were sent for the training has been achieved?
Absolutely! The purpose has been achieved and even more because they have become the future of industrialisation in not just Akwa Ibom but Nigeria. We’ve had Korean, Turkish and European engineers training our engineers and they were surprised at the speed in which the Nigerian trainees were advancing in their training.
Tell us where you got machines used for the production of the syringe from?
We made sure we purchased the most technologically advanced machines when setting up the factory. Plastic Injection Machines were purchased from Austria, packaging, serigraphy and assembly machines were bought from South Korea, and we purchased other machines from Turkey and Italy. The resulting product is as clear as glass. This is the standard; highest quality!
Is JSM an investment of the Akwa Ibom State Government or a joint investment between the State Government and some private investors or a 100% private investment?
I am sure you heard Governor Emmanuel clearing the air on this on the day of the commissioning. Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Company is a 100% private investment and initiative.
How ready is JSM for the market, talking about distributorship?
We have had sales people touring the country for the past two months and taking pre-orders from distributors. The Nigerian market is driven by distributors, there are very few direct sales to the hospitals. We have already established relationships with the largest and most reputable distributors in the country. When conducting our due diligence, we have made sure they have the necessary facilities, vehicles and sales people. So we are well prepared domestically. In terms of the export market, we are currently looking into export permits for neighboring countries. We’re also conducting market studies in each of the countries to understand their market dynamics. Our priority is the Nigerian market but we are also looking at how we can export our products.
In terms of employment, how far have you gone?
Our full capacity will be around 300 direct employments, but we currently have approximately hundred people. As you know Nigerian employment policy is that any foreign investment must employ at least 70% Nigerians. We have gone above and beyond that and implemented a policy of 90% minimum Nigerians to be employed in JSM. Most of these employees will be from the community around the factory and from Akwa Ibom State.