By Dickson Okafor
Chairman/CEO, Blue Diamond Logistics China and founder of Good Governance Initiative (GGI)Festus Mbisiogu, in this interview spoke on the nation’s economy, importance of power supply among other issues.
You were one of the Special Guests at the 19th Annual Awards of The Sun Publishing Company, what is your assessment of this year’s Awards?
I give credit to The Management Committee of the 19th Annual Sun Awards 2021 for improving on this year’s award of The Sun Publishing Limited. The organizers and those behind the awards were on point in terms of organization, planning and execution of the event. However, this year’s event was rich in presentation and caliber of Awardees and showed that there was no compromise on the selection pattern. That is why in spite of my busy schedule, I left China to attend The Sun Awards. Also may I use this medium to commend my friend and brother, Chief Ebuka Okafor, Chairman/CEO Vixa Pharmaceutical Limited for being conferred with The Sun Industrialist of the year because of his contribution towards national development. Therefore, it shows that The Sun Annual Award is purely on merit, hence I praise The Sun Publishing Company for finding Chief Okafor worthy of the Award. Indeed, Chief Ebuka Okafor is a man with a good heart which he has shown through Ebuka Foundation through which he touches many lives across Anambra State and beyond. So, The Sun Awards selection committee did a good job for selecting men and women of credibility whose footprints shine on the sands of time. The awardees are Nigerians whose actions and achievements have continued to influence the country positively.
During your recent visit to the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ambassador Sarafa Tunji Isola, you said poverty rate would continue to rise until there is steady power supply?
As former Coordinator of Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO), Guangzhou chapter, I had the opportunity to come across the representatives of Nigeria across the world and the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ambassador Sarafa Tunji Isola. Ambassador is one of them. He is a worthy Nigerian and a good ambassador. Yes, he played host to me during my visit to the United Kingdom. He knows that I have been championing and advocating for steady power supply during successive administrations through my Non Governmental Organization, the Good Governance Initiative (GGI). Earlier, I have sent SOS to Federal Government over poor electricity, especially high cost of diesel to run my industries in Nigeria. Whether we like it or not, the epileptic state of Nigeria electricity is one of the factors responsible for high rate of unemployment, poverty and crime because majority of Nigerians are jobless and the few private businesses could not be sustained because of lack of power supply. So, to create jobs and reduce poverty to a bearable state, industries and manufacturing companies that closed down because of lack of steady power supply have to reopen. And for them to reopen, electricity must be steady.
As an advocate of steady power supply in the country, you reechoed dissatisfaction over epileptic power supply in the country within the seven years of the APC administration, how do you rate the present administration in its effort to fulfill its campaign promises of steady power supply to Nigerians?
It is unfortunate that steady power supply is still an expectation in Nigeria even though the present administration under President Muhammadu Buhari has tried within 7 years to guarantee uninterrupted electricity supply. However, this government has done better than past administrations in tackling electricity problem in Nigeria. But we expect them to do more in order to stabilize power supply in the country. The danger is that many industries are folding up in Nigeria and relocating to neigbouring African countries where steady electricity supply exists. I’m also affected by the trend as an industrialist with industries in Nigeria. Therefore, lack of steady power supply and insecurity has hindered free flow of production of food and equipment in the country. The problem is not peculiar to Nigeria, but in some African countries which have resulted in the global supply chain crisis causing significant fall out in Africa. According to Human Rights Watch recently, the war in Ukraine has deepened the continent’s food and insecurity issues. These countries are in East, West and Southern Africa which heavily depend on the region for their wheat, fertilizer and vegetable oil imports.
Are you saying that the Russia/Ukraine war and Covid-19 pandemic contributed food shortage and insecurity in Nigeria and other African countries?
As an industrialist in Nigeria, the impact this war has on large scale manufacturers is terrible. Recently in my factories in Lagos and Owerri, we have witnessed a lot of challenges as result of this Russia and Ukraine war. Before now, we have been battling to survive due to Corona Virus pandemic, then came the Russia and Ukraine war even after what we went through during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lack of steady power supply has great effect on the manufacturing industries in Nigeria. Nigeria used to import diesel from Russia and other countries of the world. Before the Russia/Ukraine war, diesel or crude oil was 0.4 dollar per a litre; that is N260. But due to Russia invasion of Ukraine and because the supply chain has cut, the price went up three times higher. So, we now buy a litre of diesel 1.2 dollar. In my factory, we run 15 thousand litres of diesel a week. Therefore, if you plus it, we are spending about 17 thousand dollars on diesel a week to keep the factory afloat. And in a month, we spend 68 thousand dollars if you are running the generator day and night. However, in a month we spend about 60 thousand litres multiplied by 1.2 dollar. Ordinarily, before this used to be 10 or 20 thousand dollars, but now it is double three times. This is how epileptic power supply in Nigeria has affected my business and other businesses. And for us to break even is difficult as we have downsized because clients find it difficult to purchase these products.
It is obvious that the present administration may not deliver steady power supply to Nigerians as they promised in 2015 and 2019?
From inception of the present government, I have constantly been calling for drastic steps should be taken to actualise steady power supply in Nigeria. Yes, it is possible within the remaining one year, this administration can improve on electricity supply. They can extend palliatives to these industries and they can also make arrangements where the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) can concentrate much in industrial areas, because the industries are the ones really providing jobs for unemployed Nigerians. I want to reiterate my earlier call that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari should declare a state of emergency on power. This situation that has lingered for a long time is already having a devastating impact on the industrial sector and on Nigerian people. Many SMS spend their hard earned money on diesel and fuel. Even workers are not left out as they must use fuel for their generators on daily basis. That is why I called for the development of a National Energy Policy that would serve as a social contract between the people and whoever emerges President in next year’s elections. The present government should do everything within its limit to preserve this sector because if erratic power supply continues or keeps growing, we may be forced to close shop. The agonizing aspect of the whole thing is that none of the Presidential aspirants are talking about how they would improve the power sector. The situation does have adverse effects to the Small and Medium Enterprises. We want leaders who will ensure that sustainable power is sustained This is in its far reaching effect in the development because many Nigerians in the Diaspora that want to repatriate their money and invest in the country if the power problem is solved. Part of the new national energy policy must contain the contract whether social or legal with the would be President in 2023 before he or she would be sworn in. This document must be part of the oath of office he or she should take and must be adequately enshrined in our constitution and other national documents. He said if this is done, he believed that in the next four years, Nigerians will be begin to enjoy steady power supply as our industries would be revived, massive employment will be generated.
What advice do you have for the next administration that can move Nigeria out of the present economic hardship?
I urged the Federal Government to intervene through palliatives to enable manufacturers handle cost of production. The current costs of diesel have made it difficult to produce as price of diesel has gone up to N720 and N730 per litre. It has never been like this before, hence, it is becoming extremely difficult to produce. And I don’t know how we are going to cope because cost of running my industries on diesel is high. For instance, I spend over N20million every month to get my industries running. Unfortunately, we are currently running at a huge loss and we may lay-off more workers. Why won’t the rate of crime increase when there is no job for young graduates because there is no steady power supply to enable industries function. In my industries, we are having less than 40 per cent of what it used to be while the costs of products are going up. Going by the recent complaints by the nation’s Distribution Companies (DISCOs), they say they are running at a huge loss. And the revelation of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) shows that most of the utilities were technically insolvent which confirmed that something drastic needs to be done in the power sector. Therefore, It is obvious that these firms are operating below optimal level, hence they are overwhelmed by the challenges in the sector and they have no solution to these problems. According to operators, because they have fallen short of both in price structure and liquidity, that is why we are yet to obtain a reasonable level in power distribution. Typical of everything Nigeria, the Federal Government has allowed the DISCOs to take advantage of everyone and many Nigerians are paying for services they do not enjoy.