(An Interview with a Nigerian Brand, who produces a brand of shoe dye and polish (Buffalo) that competed favourably within and in other shores of Africa with foreign and imported ones in the country.)
Many brands arising from the real sector of the nation have been going through turbulent times that so many companies have gone under and so many foreign companies operating in the country, even those that have achieved the status of household names have had to quit the country, however, brands such as Bufalo have endured the stifling and harsh economic environments in the country, it is with this at the front burner that John Meze of the African Brands in this all holds bared interview with Sir,(chief) Franklin Amaechi Okeke, the manufacturer of Buffalo range of products and a philanthropist, took a look at the travails of the real sector and the possible panacea to the unenviable situation.
What type of production processes are your companies involved in?
Currently, we are involved solely in the production of corrugated packages and the Buffalo ranges of products which comprises of Buffalo Shoe Dye and Shoe Polishes. We are involved in the production of corrugated paper packages which are used by companies that produce goods that have heavy weights, such as biscuit making factories, breweries and auto parts companies and we also produce takeaway parks.
There is one thing which I discovered in this industry, though, I firmly believe that the development was necessitated by the current economic situation of the country and it is producers relying on refuse dumps for their packages not minding the health hazards that that poses.
What I meant by this is that production companies scavenge from refuse bins and incinerators for their packages for repackaging of manufactured products even pharmaceuticals.
Our company is located at Nsugbe in Anambra State and services the whole of the eastern part of the country, where our products is high in demand. We deliver to some companies while others come to our offices there to pick their deliveries. Our take away packets are also sold in the markets even in Lagos.
What about your buffalo shoe dye and polish as well as your communion wine production?
The shoe dye company is still there, we produce one of the best shoe dyes in the country, but, we had to stop the production of communion wines due to cost. Our company in Spain was producing that for the country but when cost skyrocketed we ceased. The cost I am talking about is the cost of importation the finished product because after production over there we will have to bring them in as imported product.
Why did you not consider producing in-country?
We tried but discovered that the products get contaminated due to long stay at the sea ports. The government’s fiscal environment was not conducive and the weather was also another cog in the wheels. Our greatest challenge was still the import duties and the banks’ interest rates which we were made to face.
Some of the chemicals and the grapes used in the production of the communion wine are not grown in Nigeria, so we imported them and tried to produce but it failed. When we were importing, if one puts in papers in the bank asking for letter of credit (LC)before now it used to last then for ^ days which dropped to days and kept vacillating making us to lose money. This added to the duties, demurrages due to long wait before clearance led to our decision to stop producing and importing wines. That was the reason why we rested that aspect of our production.
Presently, I can tell you that we are solely focused on the production of corrugated packages and takeaway packs and it is paying beautifully. We are also into agriculture where we have hectares of land in Nsugbe. At the farm, we have about palm trees, cattle and we are planning to plant some products which we got from the North of the country.
One issue which we have right now is the non-cooperative attitude of the Anambra State Ministry of Agriculture. We had approached them asking for their assistance in carrying out soil tests for us for the palm trees and some of these products from the North of the country, but we have been waiting for months, even till date we are yet to hear from them.
When we brought the seeds from the North we also beckoned on them but still the same story, however, at this minute we have resolved to plant them as we did the palm trees. We hope to engage a private organisation that can carry out the soil tests for us.
Since you cut down on your products what have become of your staff strength?
Well, they are still what they are. We did not downsize all we had to do was to redeploy and train them in the new area……
…….even with the depression?
No, we did not sack anybody. You can go out and find out for yourself. All we did was to summon a meeting of all staff and intimated them with the situation which they are already aware of and we all agreed that there will be no promotions, no increase of salaries but to continue with the old salary. I had expected some to leave voluntarily but none left. They are the ones that market these products they know what is happening, we needed not to talk so much. We all are trying to see what we can do to get out of the woods.
At the farm, we have Fulani cattle rearers from the North handling that aspect. Precisely, they are Fulanis whom we arranged with to mix their cattle with ours and rear all together at the farm and they have not given us any problem.
You see that is where you will find out that what they are saying about the Fulani cattle rearer is all false. Besides having them in our farm, I have lived with them when I was growing up in the North. I was born there and I grew up there in the mist of the Fulanis. The Fulanis are not trouble makers and they are not capable of doing what is being arrogated onto them today. They are peace loving and friendly people. The government should really investigate what is happening. I feel that what is going on is that there are groups of people who have decided to make the country unhealthy by creating the unhealthy atmosphere we have in the country and they are benefiting from it. This thing calls for thorough investigation and I feel the government should do that. This whole thing of the herdsmen being labeled the way they are is engineered by some people who have some political motives.
How have you been coping with the economic recession?
Generally, we have been doing well but you know not as well as it should have been, if there is no recession. It is a thing that affects everybody. Some of my Asian friends who were doing business in this country have had to leave the country for places such as South Africa and Ghana. They even spoke of coming back when things ease-up because we know that things will definitely change for better. You know Nigerians are resilient and the economy is broad and accommodating but it is only the operating environment. Take for an instance there was a time I took a loan of about N10 million from a bank and this loan was for some months but you will not believe that the reprieve which was supposed to be given to me was not given, even the repayment became immediate at a rate not agreed upon, I was left with no option than to stop the loan and pay up with my money.
Yes, I had to ask the bank for the loan but the spiraling interest rates made me to pay up in order to forestall further charges.
Whatever that must have happened to the economy stemmed from bad economic policies and execution of some wrong policies. For instance, why should the government be so engrossed in the construction of roads up North without first providing the necessary infrastructure needed for growth and development. The government should make policies and budget for it, especially, support the growth and further development of the education sector, the health sector should be improved far beyond what its present state is, the agricultural sector supported heavily and the industry otherwise known as the real sector provided with enabling environment for it is the mainstay of every economy. These areas are the key areas which the government needs to put their interests and a lot of money into.
These are the areas from which the country would experience the needed growth and development not in construction of roads. Tell me after the construction of the roads leading to wherever, of what use will it be, if it does not carry the needed goods and services which are the most needed. This government’s Northern IP projects will benefit no one.
What advice do you have for the nation given the current situation?
Same thing as I have said earlier. The country has to brace up and face these four areas especially the education and the industry. The industry is the real sector which acts as the pivot to every other sector in the economy but a situation where this is relegated to the background, the economy becomes the worse for it. The government has to do a reverse and do the needed.
What advice would you advance to the up and coming Nigerians who would want to be like you, by going into production?
That they should be relentless in their pursuits. That whatever they find their hands to do they should do it well. That they should not be deterred by the challenges and the vicissitudes of the time because there has never been a positive step that has not been met with its ups and down.