Producinglocally to promote made in Nigeria products and in turn boost the country’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP) is of paramount importance to budding entrepreneur and start-up expert, Leke Ojikutu, the Chief Executive Officer and founder of a number of manufacturing and innovation companies in Nigeria.
With CMS Naija, a firm which is into manufacturing creative household equipment, furniture and fittings, as its parent company, Ojikutu holds the view that local materials are of a very strong quality for production. He, however, lamented that government at all levels have done little or nothing in the area of encouraging innovative startups in the country.
In this interview, Ojikutu x-rays the crux of local production for small businesses, the challenges and the way forward.
We partner with China by studying them online. We understand that the reason we are not growing quickly like China is not because of dearth of financial capital but that of intellectual capital. We figured out that these things are not rocket science. Everybody now believes that we can contribute to the made in Nigeria project with our raw materials here. As such, we can create employment. We set out to change the impression that made in Nigeria goods are inferior and we are making progress.
Addressing made in Nigeria products
We have started addressing that. Some people even come to ascertain that we are actually producing on our own. Through word of mouth, we were made to believe that made in Nigeria products are inferior and through the same word of mouth, we are saying made in Nigeria products are superior to imported products. Local materials are of very strong quality for production. Most people now buy locally made products because they are made in Nigeria. They buy because they are unique. We manufacture according to international standard. I must first address the thing we have in common with China that we do not realise. You see, a lot of companies are going to China to produce. They believe there’s cheap labour in China but our labour is even cheaper. Here, we use generators daily and apart from that, we pay for a lot of things we don’t use. A lot of things should be made right if we are going to go the way of China.
No matter your market potential, no bank gives you loan here. We have works and products to show to banks, not collateral. If we have collateral, why do we need the loan then? If banks don’t cooperate, there is little to what you can do. The second thing government should do is the issue of power. Tools and equipment need power to run. Another is to fix our deplorable roads. We need to believe in our intellectual capital as a country too. There is so much Nigeria can do with the crop of people we have. The brain of a Chinese man is not particularly different from our own, practically or theoretically. It is best to build entrepreneurship through building other entrepreneurs. If each one that knows it trains one that doesn’t know, in a very short time, we would generate as many competent hands.
We employ a lot of people in our production process. Our second approach is the indirect approach, so you can later start on your own. We engage graduates and jobless people on e-commerce and they make a lot of profit. Some of them have their own offices and cars. For some, they can get as much as N1m or N500, 000 worth of goods on credit from us, so they can pay back as they sell.
The first and major one is the bad roads. You may want to send a package from Lagos to Abeokuta and it may take over 24 hours. This is to Ogun State, which is very close to us here. We can buy and sell things but how do we deliver fast and safe when the road network is poor? If our roads were in good order, e-commerce would really pick up in Nigeria.
Technology in manufacturing process
The machines are the technologies. We started by asking which machine was the most critical and which country we could get them cheapest. China was it for us, as you know. We ordered one machine from China and we had to learn to operate it online, as we couldn’t hire experts from China. No matter what you have to produce in Nigeria, you still have to bring in the machine from China and that still amounts to paying into China and you can see that Forex is scarce right now. Now, we are working on our first indigenous machine. We are making a machine that would make products. It is a computerised machine that would take instructions from the users. To make it possible to produce an indigenous computerised machine for mass production in our industries, we will build the parts with wood but the controllers, boards, engines can’t be wooden. After producing the prototype, we can mass-produce it with metal. You don’t need to continue to import a machine for N8million from China. It can be made here and you can buy it with just N800,000. The technology is not peculiar to China. Why can’t Nigeria make it?
Implications for the Ministry of Trade and Investment
I don’t know what it portends for the Ministry of Trade and Investment. We don’t see them. We only try to do our bit in the Nigerian market. We need to see these people. The encouragement is not there. I can only see what it portends for Nigerians. They gain everything in order to get things done locally. The average Nigerian can acquire them and produce, because the machines are available and affordable. We have a variety you can choose from and that would really boost the manufacturing sector and add to the country’s GDP. You first have to understand that almost everything made in Nigeria today has a foreign component. If you want to make a wristwatch today, you have to make the engines from China. Some of the machines we are producing are machines that can make electronic boards. The more things we can make locally, the greater it adds to the country’s GDP. It is going to open up doors in manufacturing.
Promoting entrepreneurial development and skill acquisition
The government must know that apart from saying something, there are people that do it. There are some people that have taken the made in Nigeria campaign to an entirely new level and these people need to be supported. We need to go beyond theories and without losing an arm or a leg. You can’t compare someone who makes a production machine to someone who makes a product. Somebody who makes machines makes more impact on the society. Government needs to identify such people. A simple change in the financial status of such people can lead to a change in the lives of many Nigerians. A lot has been said about patronising made in Nigeria products but does government patronise local products? Why should you give just N250,000 to someone after skill acquisition? If you want industries to boom, you have to take this very seriously. Make good money available to people who can deliver.