Dr Okechukwu Henry Obi may not be a household name especially, in a country of ours that harps much on unconscionable display of wealth; ill-gotten or not. He is nonetheless, a colossus; a true definition of a tree with many branches, a focused and astute achiever; breaking uncommon frontiers in the agro-allied industry, oil & gas and maritime sectors of the national and global economies. As a trained medical doctor, young Dr Obi saw beyond the regular patients’ wards, the dangling stethoscope and string to a much more challenging sector which he innately belongs. Today, the well traveled medic- turned business mogul sits in the fluffy sofas as the MD of Florence Petroleum Limited and Ecumenical Investment and Development Company Limited with trajectories across the West-Africa sub-regions and the United Kingdom. As an investor and employer of labour with a workforce spanning over 100 and one with ample knowledge of the global socio-economic space, Dr. Obi is among the numerous Nigerians who is far from being comfortable with the spate of insecurity in the country. To him, there cannot be any meaningful development in an insecure environment. In this no holds barred interaction with CrimeWorld magazine online Senior Investigator Correspondent, Mary BASSEY, the visibly concerned foreign based Nigerian businessman spoke on sundry issues including business development, the abundant but untapped human and natural resources buried in the belly of the nation’s virgin land and therefore, wants the Federal Government to wake up from its slumber and return the country to her old glory of safe, serene and crime-free nation for a thriving socio-economic activities. Excerpts.
*Nigeria is a virgin forest with population over 200million energetic youths…
*What is your take on the spate of insecurity vis-avis business development in Nigeria?
The only incentive I want government to give us is to make Nigeria safe and secure for everyone. Government should provide enabling environment for investors and entrepreneurs like us to keep faith in the country. When I started out in 2006, I drive from Saminaka to Jos, Jos to Bauchi, Jos to Kaduna,Zaira, Kano, back to Abuja without fear of killer herdsmen, bandits nor kidnappers, but now, whenever I’m in the country, I dare not travel by road to any part of the country even to the Eastern part of the country. It is that bad. So, we are not asking the government to give us money, we know how to make our money. All we need is security, peace and peaceful co-existence between the north and the south. My best friends are from the North. In fact, the first ever business support I got was #5 million in 2009 from a Muslim guy called Bashir Inuwa Ali. I had just met him like a week before then. I was looking for a business loan from a bank and the bank was delaying, so he just asked me what I needed, I said #5 million, he just gave it to me without collateral nor signing any form of agreement with him. We are family friends now. A.A Rano also has given me credit facilities that banks haven’t given me. No collaterals, no sales purchase agreements signed. Just go and sale and bring back their capital. So, why will I not want to remain in the same country with these guys? Let the government make the country safe, then, we will all prosper.
*You trained as a medical doctor, how come you’re fully into business?
I have always loved business and entrepreneurship because of my parents’ business backgrounds. As a student, I have always engaged in one business venture or the other. I knew I wasn’t going to last long in the medical profession because, as a young medical officer in the university of Calabar teaching hospital and General hospital, Saminaka, Kaduna State, I normally travel to Cotonou those days to buy vehicles and sell to my colleagues, friends and referrals in order to make some cool profit margins. So, when I met people like Alhaji Awalu Rano (AA Rano) in the year 2008, I knew I wasn’t going to continue in the medical field again because it wasn’t giving me the satisfaction and freedom that I desired.
*Let’s talk about Nigeria as a country and its abundant resources
Nigeria is a virgin forest, with population of over 200 million young and energetic youths, making good fortune in Nigeria is kind of guaranteed though there are so many challenges, and as you solve some of the challenges, you make more and more money. The market is very huge in Nigeria. We make good turnovers monthly and we are not even close to the market leaders. We do business in United Kingdom and Ghana, but you cannot compare those places with the kind of transactions that occurs in Nigeria in our industry. The candid advice I will give to up- coming Nigerians that want to go into our kind of business or any kind of business for that matter, is to first of all look for a mentor and serve that person or do apprenticeship for some time and learn as much as you can learn from that person before venturing on your own. Our kind of business is very capital intensive, so it takes a lot of time to build up capital. So, you have to be patient and trustworthy. Integrity is the watch word and without integrity, just forget it. You will just be hitting hard rocks, before you know it, nobody will want to do business or associate with you again.
*How do you rate the economic growth and of course, development in the present day Nigeria?
The growth of commerce and industry in the present dispensation has been in reverse direction majorly because of insecurity. Foreign direct investment has plummeted, USD inflows has dried up. You don’t expect any reasonable foreign company to invest in a country where the security of life and property is not assured. My advice for improvement is to get the security of the country right then; every other thing will fall into place.
*How do you see the Nigeria maritime industry?
Nigeria is endowed with extensive inland water ways system but the maritime environment is faced with a lot of challenges ranging from sea piracy which we have encountered a couple of times to inadequate berthing space for mother vessels, poor dredging challenges, dock problems, reduced channel width due to silting and unwholesome obstacles, inadequate functioning plants and equipments, inadequate financing and funding of port operations, proliferation of government agencies in port activities and waterways doing and duplicating the same work and charging multiple taxations and levies. In the same water ways, you see Nigerian inland water ways (NIWA), you see NIMASA, marine police, navy, army, DPR, NPA and others like touts and community boys. There are also government policy inconsistencies. All these and more are some of the challenges we do encounter in the marine industry in Nigeria. So, I think government t should harmonize the operation of these agencies because whatever monies we spend on them, trickles down to the final consumers, which then impacts negatively on the country’s GDP. Presently the government is doing well with the lunch of the deep blue project which, in my honest opinion, is the beginning of good things to come. Right now, there has been reduced incidence of sea piracy attacks up to the gulf of Guinea. Government should be eager in the development of the blue economy. Nigeria being a country blessed with a great amount of littoral component states and waterways of great lengths should strive very hard and concentrate its oil resources and revenues in developing a blue economy. Blue economy alone can out- perform any other form of economic activities you can think of. The ocean is the largest and most critical ecosystem on earth. The blue economy is the use of sea and its resources for sustainable economic development. It consists of sectors like fisheries and aquaculture, marine biotechnology, renewable energy and shipping, hospitality (like beech side hotels and bars). Majorly, it centers on trade and actions around large bodies of water. If well harnessed, it will solve Nigerians socio-economic problems because it will help achieve economic diversification, create high value jobs and ensure food security. All the ports in Nigeria should be developed in order to reduce tension and traffic congestion to Apapa port. River Niger is the biggest and longest river in Nigeria but, unfortunately left unattended to and well maintained. The failure of successive government to dredge the river in time has contributed to the impassibility of the river. Dredging of waterways and channels are very big capital intensive projects. Though it can be divided into two, capital dredging and maintenance dredging which is less capital intensive but requires regular venture. These are not done as it should be. We have dredgers lying all over the place in Nigeria abandoned, probably procured with bank funds and subsidies, we should engage those dredgers to be doing maintenance dredging regularly, small scale ports should be developed around the river banks. There are also fears of those living in the downstream of the lower River Niger who feel that dredging may aggravate the erosion of the river banks and increase flooding incidences. These people had protested against the dredging of the River Niger in the past thereby stalling the work over the years. Apart from this, silting of the river Niger happens more often, so maintenance dredging should done regularly in order to make the River Niger channel navigatable to barges and low draft vessels. With these, I can get a low draft vessels and self propelled barges to lift refined products from say Waltersmith Refinery in Oguta to Onitsha port to deliver to coaches, from there to the North and sub-sahara region. We will create multiple jobs along the waterways. Food supply will be made from the North to the South via same partway. Nigeria is very rich but let’s fix our security.
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