THROUGH PARTNERSHIP, NIGERIA CAN LEARN FROM BRAZIL'S ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT - IBRU
By Micheal Eboh
Mr. Emmanuel Ibru, Director/President, Nigerian Brazil Chamber of Commerce and Industry, NBCCI, is also an Executive Director of the Ibru Organisation, a private indigenous conglomerate with interests in agriculture, oil and gas, trading, property development, banking, hotels and tourism, among others.
In this interview with MICHAEL EBOH, he spoke on a number of initiatives undertaken by the NBCCI to increase cooperation between Nigeria and Brazil, among which is the proposed setting up a direct air link between both countries, joint venture partnership between companies of both countries and the establishment of a research centre in Nigeria by Brazil's leading developmental organizations among others.
I am Emmanuel Ibru, a member of the organized private sector, an Executive Director of the Ibru Organisation. The Ibru Organisation is an indigenous conglomerate, with interests across the economy. We have interest in agriculture, real estate development, oil and gas, airline industry, through Aero Contractors among many others.
I am also the president of the Nigerian Brazil Chamber of Commerce and Industry, NBCCI. The NBCCI was formed officially in September 2009, primarily to develop trade between the two countries - Nigeria and Brazil.
There is a lot of synergy between the developmental stages that Brazil has gone through and also cultural similarities, because of the slave trade in the past.
A lot of Afro- Brazilians are of Nigerian descent. Hence, they are strong cultural links.
Nigeria and Brazil have had a trading relationship in the past, for over a hundred years.
We thought that there was no chamber to really help encourage trade between the two countries. If you look at it, few years back, there used to be a direct flight between both countries by a Nigerian airline, which used to go to Sao Paulo and back at least once a week. This used to engender a little trade. But over the years, there have been a reduction in the level of trade.
Apart from oil exports, Nigeria is one of the major exporters of oil to Brazil. The Chamber is here to encourage trade between the two countries, in the non-oil sector.
How do you go about your activities?
We have a secretariat which operates from Number 6 Louis Solomon Close, Victoria Island, Lagos.
All prospective members have to do is get in touch with the executive secretary of the Chamber who will provide them with the necessary forms and details of being a full-fledged member.
We have had a number of activities already, this year. In January, we had a breakfast meeting for members to start the year. At this meeting, we had the representatives of the Brazilian embassy here in Nigeria. Ambassador Kayode Garrick, the immediate past ambassador to Brazil, is a strong member of the Chamber, he was also there. We also had representatives from the Lagos State Government.
Recently, we just got back from an introductory trip to Brazil, where we visited various government agencies to introduce the Chamber and also let them know about the opportunities and possibilities that exist as far as cooperation between the two countries is concerned.
Among the places we visited is the FIESP, Federation of Industries of the State of Sao Paulo, We also visited, FIRJAN, which is the Federation of Industries of the State of Rio De Janeiro. We had the opportunity also to meet with representatives of BENDES, National Bank for Economic and Social Development and equivalent of the development bank. We also had the opportunity of meeting with some major infrastructural development firms.
We met a number of infrastructure development groups, involved in a number of things, ranging from road construction, to independent power projects, to agriculture among others. We also visited Siemens, the major player in power generation.
Some of the things we discussed with them included: the potentials for investment in the country's power, agricultural and in the social housing sectors.
Though Siemens are here already, they don't have the kind of presence they have in Brazil. In Brazil, they have a major transformer production unit, where they produce all sorts of equipments for the power generation industry.
We met with all these organizations, presenting them with project ideas and on the need to support developmental efforts of Nigeria.
Can you let us into your membership status and drive towards increasing your membership base?
We currently have a membership base of about 50 companies, from all across the spectrum of the economy. We are represented by members in the banking industry, from the private sector, even from the government.
Some of the companies we have as members are the UAC Group, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Ibru Organisation and various companies within the Ibru Group. We have the representative from the Lagos State Government, representing the state government, keeping them abreast of what we are doing.
Our membership base cuts across all the sectors, from the hospitality sector, among others. So our membership is very diverse.
The only idea is to encourage business between Nigeria and Brazil and Vice versa, and we want many Nigerian companies interested in doing business with Brazilians to join.
It is open to all companies involved in business and trade between Nigerian and Brazil.
We welcome genuine Nigerian businessmen who want to promote their business in Brazil.
What are the opportunities that companies stand to gain from joining the NBCCI?
We just came back from introductory visit and we plan to have trade missions. Between now and the next six months, we should probably have gone on the first trade mission. We are also inviting trade missions from Brazilian companies to come to Nigeria, and to display their goods and services and products.
Of course, as a member of the Chamber, you are in a driving seat to take advantage when such exhibitions do take place. As a member, you know exactly what is going on; you get the monthly newsletter which informs you of various opportunities for businesses between here and Brazil, and this is presented to members.
We have a website which is updated regularly basis, letting our members know what is going on, who is visiting the country, what opportunities are available, companies that are looking for joint ventures partners in the country.
You gain that from being a member. It is a one-stop shop for members to get all the information they require, if they want to do business with Brazil.
In the Long run, what will be the benefit of this partnership to Nigeria?
If you look at Brazil, 20 years ago, the economy of Brazil was in the doldrums, today, they are among the eight largest and strongest economies of the world. All that has taken place in the space of 20 years. We can borrow a lot from the policies that were initiated by their government and which have worked successfully so far.
For instance, in the field of agriculture, we have the Brazilian Agricultural Institute, ENBRAPA. ENBRAPA has done a lot of research and development, in the production of high-breed seeds specifically suited for tropical climate, because our climate and that of Brazil is very similar and their research and development and implementation has made Brazil one of the top exporters of agricultural products in the world today.
Now, they are number one in the export of produce, specifically, beef, poultry among others. I believe we can borrow a lot from that and replicate that here.
They had a policy, which was to look inwards and develop their own natural resources before anything else. In other words, the policy of making whatever they produce in Brazil available in Brazil. They have done that so successfully, that now they are exporting their excess all around the world. That is why recently, they have an excess of about $350 billion in their foreign reserves.
Nigeria can borrow a lot from them. Some of their states are very similar to states that we have here. The terrains are similar. Just as we have vast areas of Savannah in the north, they also have same. Some areas that are equatorial like the Delta, they have that in the amazons.
Looking at a city like Sao Paulo, it is a mega city; they have a population of about 25 million people. Lagos is slowly moving that way and Lagos has the same kind of challenges that Sao Paulo had and still have, in terms of providing social housing for its population, refuse collection and recycling, provision of basic amenities, such as water, power among others.
So, Sao Paulo is a city that Lagos, specifically, can gain a lot from, because they have gone through this stage and was able to tackle it.
How do you intend to go about promoting businesses between both countries, considering the bottlenecks associated with doing business in Nigeria?
First of all, the federal government already has gone to quite some extent to make it easier to do business in Nigeria. For instance, in the past, you would recall that there was a policy whereby foreign companies are not allowed to own 100 per cent of a business.
That has been removed, so you can come here and invest in a business and own it 100 per cent. Also, getting the necessary expatriate quotas for companies has been eased, repatriation of profits is much easier now, and that has been made a lot easier.
The major things we have to do to make trade easier are two things, and we have started with them already. One of them is dispelling the negative image that Nigeria has of been a country populated with dubious characters. As part of the introductory visit that we went, the team that went was made up of members with very high standing in the business community.
For example we have a Deputy Director of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, we have represented from the legal profession, Lagos State Government and Kayode Garrick.
In the introductory visit, we were able to explain to them to some extent, that there are a lot of genuine businessmen who want to do business; it is just unfortunate that some times the first contact is with the wrong people.
The more trade missions that we organize between the two countries, the more opportunities that will arise and the more experience that will come up in dealing with genuine businessmen. We hope that that will help in dispelling some of the false negative perception about Nigeria.
The second thing which we must do and we are working very hard, is to establish a direct air link between Nigeria and Brazil. Today, getting to Brazil takes you a day, whichever way you look at it. You either have to go through Europe where the lay over is usually 12 hours, or you go to South Africa, where the lay over is also 12 hours.
Whereas, if it was a direct air link, the air time between Sao Paulo and Lagos is about seven hours at the most. And I'm sure that once an air link like that is established; there will be an upsurge in volume of business and tourism. As I mentioned earlier, there is a close cultural affinity between Brazilians and Nigerians.
In some parts of Brazil, they still speak Yoruba and worship Yoruba Gods. They still eat some kind of Nigerian foods. For instance they sell and eat akara there; the only difference is that they call it Akaraje. It is exactly the same with ours; it is prepared the same way and eaten the same way.
A lot of these Brazilians will like to come over this way and discover their roots. I know you would have been having hearing Nigerians bearing some Brazilian names. These are people taken into slavery during the slave trade era and who found their way back after the abolition of slave trade.
In Lagos, you have the Brazilian quarters and even if you get their, you will see the architecture, if you can see some of the old buildings; they are a direct replication of the old Brazilian and Portuguese architecture that was brought back with the returnees. There is a very strong cultural link.
Do you have a value of the current level of trade between both countries?
We can not give the actual figures. Primarily, what we have is oil export to Brazil. Right now, the balance of trade is highly skewed in favour of Nigeria, because they are importing from us and we are not bringing in much from them.
In the past when Volkswagen of Nigeria was still here, there was a lot of trade between Volkswagen Brazil and Volkswagen Nigeria, both in terms of expatriates that were over here. Hence there was a lot of movement between both countries, but that has gone down considerably since then.
Like I said earlier, if a direct air link is established, this will help boost trade and bring about increased activities between both countries.
We had a meeting with one of the major Brazilian carrier, Avianca, about the possibility of establishing a direct air link. The discussion is still in the very early stages. We spoke to them about the potential and they are looking into it and hope something will come out of it.
With the NBCC, are we expecting to see changes in relationship between both countries, especially in area of increased technology transfer, increased cooperation among others?
Definitely, that is what we are trying to push now, especially having come back. For instance, we have already had discussions with ENBRAPA, about the possibility of them setting up an office in Nigeria. Right now they have in office in Ghana, which is meant to be their regional office. Today, that office is doing much more work in Ghana. We are in discussions with them on the possibility of setting up a research office here in Nigeria, to help our own people and country.
Again, we are at the early stages, and we have put in place proposals to be able to replicate some of the thing they have done and some of the thing we saw in Brazil. For instance, the setting up of trade schools for training technical workers.
They have a scheme there, where the federation of industries (a membership of almost all the major companies doing business in the state of Sao Paulo).
What they did was that, originally, it was a primarily agrarian economy, but when Sao Paulo became the first area where electric power supply was established, a lot of manufacturing concern started springing up there, and they didn't have trained technicians to run the industries, because it was primarily an agrarian society before the growth.
So they now have a lot of people coming from the hinterland, just as we have people flood into the city, but without the necessary requisite skills to be employed in the manufacturing concerns. What they now did was to set up schools to train those people coming in from the country side so that they will be employable.
And in doing that, they also realize that these people will be coming in with their families, so they also set up schools, not just for workers to learn the technical side, but also for children of the workers to go through the normal schooling training. And one of the point that came out in out in our conversation is that the immediate past President of Brazil, was trained through this particular system.
So, some of these things that we have seen from our trip, we are talking to the various agencies on how they can come here and set up some of those things and replicate those ideas in Nigeria, because as I said, most of the things that we are going through now, Brazil has already gone through most of them in past.
Are they any specific results we should be looking forward to in the immediate term?
Not yet, we have already started discussions and the chances are that within the next one or two years, we will find some of these institutions setting up here.
Two things we are pursuing the most now, one is ENBRAPA, because they have shown that they have the interest in coming here, the second is the direct air link. The direct air link is a priority for us and we hope that within next one year or so, that we will see it come to fruition.
The main thing we will like to achieve within the space of the next 12 months is the direct air link between Nigeria and Brazil. We think that with that direct air link, a lot of things will open up.
What specific lesson do you think Nigeria will learn from Brazil, especially in achieving our economic growth and the Vision 20:2020 agenda of the government?
First of all, is the necessity to tap whatever natural resources that we have to give us what we need. For instance, from the power sector, you know Nigeria is very rich in gas reserves. To be able to increase the production of the generation of power, with what we have here.
Already, to some extent, that is been done by the new policies of government. But I think if Government was to 100 per cent allow the privatization of independent power plants, we will find that we willable to solve our problems as far as power generation is concerned, much easier than it is now.
Secondly, the necessity to diversify our economy base, by exploiting whatever natural resources we have here. There are a lot of activities that can be generated from the mining sector, for instance, which we are not exploiting.
Brazil, right now, all their natural resources, they are taking advantage of it, Gold, copper, manganese, whatever resources they have on the ground, they are bringing it out and developing it. The agricultural sector too.
When ENBRAPA was set up, one of its major objectives was to be able to produce food for the population and it even produce more than what they need for export, they have achieved that. Nigeria has the capability of doing that; we have a vast expanse of land that has not been properly utilized.
Most of the agriculture taking place in Nigeria now is mainly small scale, subsistence farming. With the amount of land we have available, I'm sure we can go into large scale agricultural development and we would be able to produce much more than we needed, and even become a major exporter, especially in the West African sub-region.
The removal of fuel subsidy, how do you think will affect businesses and even in the quest in bringing in foreign investors?
Firstly, the fact that we are not totally self sufficient as far as non-diesel power generation is concerned, it is going to impact a lot.
Secondly, the rail system in Nigeria is not properly developed, which means everything is transported by road. The inland waterways are not properly utiolised. In other words, our economy is almost totally dependent on diesel, not just diesel, but also on fuel - imported fuel and of course, if they remove the subsidy, then the market price will determine the cost of products here. This will be passed onto you and me. When they are importing all these things, of course, inflation will come into play, the price of goods and services will go up.
However, you have to look at it from two points of view. I saw in the newspapers some time that we spend about N8 trillion per annum, subsidizing fuel. If that subsidy is removed, it will free up that funds for investment in other critical sectors of the economy.
We know that the effect of the removal of fuel subsidy will most likely be an increase in the cost of fuel and that will certainly rub off on every thing else that we do. It will even have an impact on the cost living, making the N18,000 minimum wage look like just N5,000 as everything will just skyrocket.
Are you in support of the fuel subsidy removal?
To some extent, yes, but more important than that, I think we should take steps to be able to produce the fuel here, cheaper than it is being imported. If our refineries are all working, we have the main natural resource here, if we do not have to ship it out, have it refined and then brought back.
I am sure if our refineries are working, we would be able to produce fuels for our own needs at much cheaper rate than what it is at the international market. So, what we should be looking at, rather than importing the finished product, we should be looking at refining the finished product here.
In fact, we should be exporting to other West African countries or the sub-region. We should be looking at a situation where we produce enough for our needs and sell to us at the lowest possible price and export the rest at the prevailing world market price and generate more income.
How have the crisis in the Nigerian financial sector affected doing business in Nigeria?
The Soludo-solution, on paper, was a good policy, on paper, in that the recapitalization exercise was for the banks to have permanent capital for them to invest in the real sector, such as agriculture, social housing, and manufacturing among others.
Most of these investments involves medium to long term capital and the way the banks were structured at that point in time, they didn't have much of their own capital. They only have money given to them as deposit. Most of these banks were surviving mainly on government deposits which were short term. You can not take deposits on short term and borrow for long term.
The whole idea was banks to have permanent capital and that permanent capital, because it is theirs and with them forever, they can now invest in projects that are seven, eight, nine years, and the cost of capital also was made to come down.
But, unfortunately, either through the banks' executives' perception of the country's risks, or whatever in Nigeria, we found out that all that money that went into their hands, were still invested in trading activities - risky trading activities.
For instance, we saw the proliferation of oil and gas companies during that same period. It merged together, because it was the same time that the government removed the subsidy on diesel.
So, you found a lot of companies springing up, having access to this capital, because the whole idea was that you were meant to trade in this diesel, turn it over very quickly. A lot of this money was given out unsecured, and at the end of the day, a balloon was being created which was bound to burst at some point in time.
What I think in the future, is that the CBN and other regulatory agencies should be more diligent in monitoring what the banks do. For there to be a way, there must be a will. If you put all the best policies in the world on paper and you don't implement it, then what happened will happen again.
From what we have learnt, is that when the policies are in place, the regulatory agencies must be conscientious enough to do their jobs and do their jobs properly and bring to book any erring members of that particular sector quickly before the malaise spreads to every body.
The challenges of doing business in Nigeria, and those confronting the NBCCI, how do you intend overcoming them?
The challenges we have of doing business in Nigeria include the problem of power supply, transportation system, security, especially in the Niger-Delta and now, the North. These are all factors and are parts of the problems that we have doing business in Nigeria.
Concerning what the chamber is doing to encourage investment in Nigeria, it has to be a give and take thing. The private sector is doing its own in trying to bring in foreign investment, the government has to do its own, in putting policies in place to ensure that those problems that we have already discussed, questions about power generation, road transportation are addressed.
Once we do that, I'm sure we can create a fertile ground for business. This country is a potential El Dorado. When you have a market of 130 million to 150 million people; you have a ready market for goods and services there. You now need to exploit that market, and to exploit that market, you should be able to produce goods and services at a reasonable price to the market.
In so doing, you increase employment, thereby, putting money in people's pocket, giving them disposable income that will be used to the purchase goods and services that have been produced here. The key is here and all the major areas, and I keep on harping on it, that we must focus on, agriculture.
Every body in Nigeria runs after three major areas - areas where the money is - oil and gas sector, banking sector and the telecommunication sector. Now the barrier for entry for the average business men in these sectors is quite high. But the fourth one which every must have is food.
If you don't have blackberry, you might suffer in one way or the other, but if you don't eat for seven days, you can't get out of your street. Self-sufficiency in food production, storage of what we produce and exportation of the excess, is critical to the development of the country.
Before the discovery of crude oil, Nigerian economy was based on cash crops: cocoa, cotton, groundnut, rubber, palm oil among others. Forty years ago, Nigeria produces about 60 per cent of the total palm oil produce of the world; we were definitely the number one exporter of palm oil. Today, Indonesia is number one followed by Malaysia.
Malaysia started their programme in the early 70s, today, they are number two, because Indonesia started their programme ten years down the road and today they have undertaken Malaysia. The seeds were brought from here.
Today, Indonesia do more in palm oil and palm oil related products, they do more export than we generate from crude oil, and they have oil too, it is not like they don't have oil.
When we have been so blessed, the oil should have been a bonus to help us develop the other all the areas, instead, instead what we have done, we have neglected the other areas capable of growing our economy totally.
Where do you see the NBCCI in the next five to ten years?
Presently, we are relatively young; we are only two years old. We hope in the next five years, you will see a very vibrant chamber that is achieving its goals and objectives by ensuring that investment has been made in the Nigerian economy by Brazilian businessmen and that Nigerians too have had the opportunity to go over there and to invest.
We would like to see joint ventures emerging between Nigerian and Brazilian companies. While would like to promote trade between both countries, we would prefer to see joint ventures taking place, where investments are made in the country itself, rather than just a situation where we are importing whatever they produce this way.
No, we prefer them to come over here, areas where they are similarities and where we have the natural resources and they have the experience, have joint ventures between Nigerian and Brazilian companies, exploiting those natural resources in Nigeria.
One other important thing we should note is that Brazil was able to drive most of its low-income earners into the middle class. That is more than 50 per cent of the low income earners were helped into the middle class, but in Nigeria, the middle class are not defined and almost non-existent.
They made a point that in the next ten years they want to move from number 15 producers of oil to be among the top five, which means they want to be higher than Nigeria, because they have found oil offshore. This is because they found a lot of oil offshore, in what they call the ''Pre-Salt layer'' which has huge reserve and they are spending about $200 billion over the next five years to develop and exploit it.
So much is happening world wide as far as oil is concerned because there is so much research going on especially in the area of renewable energy.
Oil is a depleting reserves, our oil has been depleting and we have been finding new reserves offshore, if it was not for the new reserves, another 40 and 50 years, our oil would have been gone.