The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Forgo Batteries Company Limited, Mr. Joseph Offorjama, in this interview with SUCCESS NWOGU addresses issues in the auto manufacturing industry
How do you assess the industrialisation and economic policies of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration?
Policies have not been the major problem of Nigeria and many other countries. The problem is more on the implementation of government policies and programmes. In most cases, policies are well thought out, but then, during implementation, they do not go exactly the expected way. So far so good; we hope it gets better.
Are there some policies and programmes that have been favourable to auto-companies in this present administration?
Buhari’s government inherited the National Automotive Policy from the previous government headed by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and thought it well to be continued and it is ongoing. We think it is a good one. For our industry, we see ourselves in the future.
We keep talking with government to possibly exclude Nigerian companies that manufacture goods to access tax or duty payment incentives, than bringing in those goods. For example, if you demand five per cent import duty from someone who had just dismembered vehicles only to assemble them in Nigeria and for us who assemble batteries in Nigeria and are creating jobs, we have to pay 10 per cent, and in some cases 20 per cent; such will not help the economy.
They should give us some incentives or five per cent import duty as applicable in the automotive sector. They should also stop the sourcing of parts that can be readily available in this country from being imported at a very ridiculous import duty or rate.
Do you think Nigerian indigenous auto companies can fully manufacture cars in the next 20 years?
We can. What Innoson auto manufacturing company is doing at present is interesting. The Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, has said that Innoson does not just assemble; Innoson manufactures.
So, if prominent Nigerians in the like of a minister who visited the facility said that Innoson manufactures vehicles, why are you thinking about 20 years? Here now, with government policies, many manufacturers are being motivated to add value to the economy. We want more players in the automotive sector.
How can these initiatives be encouraged so that very soon, Nigerian companies will fully manufacture cars for national consumption and even for export to other countries?
At present, there are synergies and cooperation between some Nigerian companies and their foreign partners in developing the sector. The problem is that prices of these locally manufactured cars are not cheap for average income earners.
In the future, there are possible ways that as policies get better and as more players come into the sector, prices of vehicles will come down. But for now, I think it is a good one but average Nigerians cannot afford them. That is the major problem I see.
How has Forgo Batteries Company Limited fared in the Nigerian market?
Forgo Batteries Company Limited has fared relatively well even though many Nigerians in the past were not proud of indigenous products but with the quality Forgo has offered, it has gained the acceptance of Nigerians who value good quality product.
Can Nigerian companies compare favourably with their foreign counterparts? Are their products of international standards?
Every country has its own standards specifications and at present in Nigeria, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria is doing well to ensure that every product sold in the market meets its NIS standard requirement. Of course, Forgo has met all the requirements.
Besides that, there are a number of facilities and products in the country that can meet international standards. There may be a little difference but such is negligible. Nigerian facilities and products can compare favourably in terms of quality.
Why is it that many Nigerians do not have preference for indigenous products?
It is not peculiar to Nigerians not to believe in their own products. Many Africans have similar challenges. Many of them do not believe in themselves but for us, it is a changing trend. In recent years in Nigeria, we have seen change as people now trust products made in Nigeria much better than imported and smuggled ones that are not under the purview of SON.
Do you mean that more Nigerians now appreciate locally made products?
Yes! A good number of Nigerians can discern that if you have a good product in Nigeria, SON has its seal and endorsement on it; it is the right one because the quality is well regulated before SON endorses. We are happy that is happening.
Does it mean that the buy-made-in-Nigeria-goods campaign of the Federal Government and the National Assembly is being appreciated by Nigerians?
I can say that the drive is encouraging it more than ever before. The government in its policies and programmes is conscious of local content even in the award of contracts and approvals. Everyone has to lend their voice as there cannot be a better option than to support what we produce here.
Has the Nigerian environment encouraged the growth of auto-companies in Nigeria?
Yes; to some extent. If you talk of auto-products, let me talk of the National Automotive Policy that is on-going in various spheres. It is a specific target in the automotive sector. However, it lends majorly to vehicle assembling.
We have tried to talk with government why there should be some support or inclusion of the likes of companies which deal with automotive assembling plants. Even without getting that understanding, we can say that the government has done relatively well to put the future in focus to engender increased patronage of Nigerian automotive products.
Government has relatively encouraged the growth of auto-companies in Nigeria through the National Automotive Policy that is being supported in many areas. We hope in the future, vehicles would be made affordable through various loans that would be given to those who want to purchase made-in-Nigeria products.
For the likes of our company who are into automotive related products, we have not really gained support but in the future, we hope we will be patronised by the assemblers of these automobiles.
What are the challenges in your industry?
The problems in our industry – if I narrow it down to manufacturers – are irregular power supply, high cost of doing business, fluctuating exchange rate and high cost of deploying technologies where you need to buy some spare parts and to bring in some expatriates to do some maintenance.
We hope that in the future, things are going to improve as government listens to the cry of the manufacturers and see how to bring down cost and support where they can.
What has it been like being a CEO of a big company in Nigeria? What are the challenges?
The functions of CEOs vary depending on which industry you find yourself. For us, taking the hurdle to assemble automotive battery has not been an easy one but it is worth doing because if you can put food on the table of many who could have become criminals, you feel fulfilled that you are putting smile on someone’s face. That is a major reason why somebody will be happy as a CEO in Nigeria.
There are endless challenges especially with taxation that one may think it is not worth doing. However for us, we have the love of the country. Looking at job creation and putting smiles on the faces of people make the job more interesting and fulfilling.
Are you saying that there are multiple taxations?
I am the lone voice saying it but I wish there can be some ways that people who add value will get the understanding of the government, knowing that the economy is an emerging one. Manufacturers need to continue playing the part they are playing rather than down tooling and putting the nation into joblessness and social vices.
What are you telling other CEOs?
Let me commend them for believing in their country, for adding value, and for creating jobs because it is better to give than to receive. It is an opportunity if you can generate jobs than to be looking for employment.
What is your advice to Nigerians?
We should believe in our economy and know that it is our country. We should join hands to build the nation. No one is going to build it for us. We may have some teething problems but we should believe in this economy, patronise home made products and have good quality.
The likes of what you have in Forgo and many other brands are commendable. We are doing favourably well in terms of quality and durability. Nigerians should believe in themselves, buy home-made products and circulate wealth rather than exporting jobs through their quest for imported goods.
What do you say to the government?
The government should believe in their vision and listen to the cries of the populace and give us incentives where possible to ensure that we work together. If the government does not support us, the populace will not. It is like we are working against each other. I believe things will get better with time.
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