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Nigerians Must Look Inward To Address Dwindling Economic Situation – Oladiran

Nigerian businessmen are currently inventing and re-inventing themselves to be able to meet up with the challenging economic situation in the country occasioned by the numerous challenges dogging them. In this interview with OLAOLU OLADIPO, the CEO of Oilden Energies, Mr Oluwatoni Oladiran, talked about some of the things he has been doing to stay afloat: Excerpts:

As an investor and entrepreneur with so many years of experience, how will you appraise the prevailing economic environment in the country?

I would say that the (Nigerian) economy in recent years has been quite challenging for every business person. We never can take away the fact that for every country when there is inflation, it affects businesses because the cost of things will rise. When the cost of things goes up like that, it definitely affects our collective core existence. The negative trend has been affecting businesses and it is affecting the consumers too. When this happens, it will affect businesses.

If manufacturers provide goods at the cost of N10 before, and all of a sudden, things change and you (manufacturers) now buy such things for N20, there will be the need for businesses to increase the prices of the commodity and that usually don’t go down well with the consumers who would now have to pay more for the goods that they have been buying at cheaper prices before.

As it is said, the current situation has become so challenging for businesses because it is affecting everybody. For us, we can thank God for where we are at the moment as a company. Apart from the issue of cost which you alluded to, what other factors or variables have impacted negatively on the process and system of manufacturing?

Another variable that comes to mind is the issue of labour. The economy eroded earnings of Nigerians and that has invariably affected the cost of labour. The procurement of labour for manufacturing has become way higher than it used to be. Another issue is the competition coming from imported goods.

The cost of importing goods has become so expensive and this is why the importation of products that could be locally manufactured has become costlier. The cost has affected importation both positively and negatively. This has affected us in some ways and products are not readily available and things are not flowing the way they should.

People in manufacturing and businesses also complain about taxation, has taxation been a serious issue to you?

I won’t say that taxation has been a challenge to us in any way. I am of the view that for any economy to thrive, people must pay their taxes. Governments need to mobilise taxes to be able to meet their obligations and provide services to the people. I know that these are the sacrifices that we need to make as citizens of the country. Paying taxes is giving back to the country. It’s not a challenge to us.

What are the measures that you have put in place to bring down the cost of production as a manufacturer?

The little efforts that we have been making to bring down the cost of production in our company are such that we have tried to segment our products and their prices in a manner that has us producing different kinds of grades of the same products for our numerous customers who wish to buy our products.

If you are demanding a premium, we have it for you, if you want the next one after that, we give it to you. The prices are different and I can assure you that, whichever one that you believe works for you is the one that you buy. Take for example in the oil sector, we also have several grades and whichever grades that work for you is what we give you.

We also have a system where you don’t have to pay for the goods and services at a go. For our consumers and customers, we have put together a flexible payment plan for our loyal customers who don’t have to pay at once. We think this is our own little way of helping small and private businesses and also to top it all we are gradually tilting towards going 100% Nigeria which means all raw materials we use in production are locally sourced and less imported. It’s also our way of keeping the economy up and running in spite of the current economic challenges facing the country.

Do you also do local substitution for some of the materials that you use for producing your products in view of the current economic realities?

As regards that, I can tell you that right now, we are trying to reduce the way we import some of our products. We know that Dangote Refinery is set to take off fully anytime from now. The Port Harcourt Refinery is also going to open soon. Different private entities are also trying to set up refineries. When all these facilities become fully operational, they are going to help us in a lot of ways in meeting our raw materials needs.

We manufacture lubricants also retail finished petroleum products hence we are trying to partner with these local refineries to make sure that we secure our raw material needs from them which further drives down our cost of production. We are also trying hard to reduce costs so that the prices of the finished products don’t skyrocket again. We have fine-tuned our production capabilities to ensure that though our products are locally made, they also conform to international standards.

Some people argue that the petroleum industry is somewhat saturated, as a big player in the sector, do you think so?

I will say yes but it depends on the sector of petroleum production that you are talking about. I can boldly tell you that the diesel market and the petrol segment or market are quite saturated but the situation is not the same in the lubricant sector where we have very few players playing there. Take, for example, I tell people that diesel or petrol can mess up your engine but it won’t spoil it. That is not the same for the lubricant. We are the delicate part of the oil sector.

We are very delicate unlike petrol, and diesel when they are put into machinery and you have to be careful in the production processes. If you make a single mistake, it damages the engine. I feel like that is why our own sector. Many people are scared to dabble in our sector but we dabbled into it because it was something that we wanted to do and we have the necessary expertise and wherewithal to do it. This is the reason why I made sure that I personally go through all the processes of production.

I do that to make sure that the products are top-notch before we send them out for sale. Yes! The oil and gas might be saturated as you said but our sector is not even saturated at all.

If you were given the opportunity to meet officials of state on the state of the economy, what would you tell them as measures to help bring down cost production for manufacturers in the country?

For me, the advice I have for the government, especially officials such as the president, ministers and the like is to make sure that most of the things that we enjoy in other countries are made available to us. If we want to make life easy for our people, we must encourage local manufacturers to produce goods and market them locally and internationally. The government must also reduce the amount of goods that are being imported into the country. When that happens, the country will be helping existing local companies thrive and not helping foreign companies dump their goods and services on us.

I am so happy with what President Bola Tinubu has done in collaboration with the NNPC in terms of making sure that the local refineries are brought to life. What we have now is that we drill for oil and take it out of the country to be refined. What we get by that is that we enrich the economies of other countries with our God-given wealth.

To that extent, I will advise that we focus on the resources we have at hand in Nigeria to make sure that life is good for everyone again. That will be my candid advice to the government, the more we patronise local players, the more it increases and skyrockets the economy of the country.

When you encourage local players to do better, the economy will do well. Now, other countries will now come to you to look for the product. We will be making more money through such means. That is my position.

Apart from governmental and institutional support, what other incentives are you looking at to come from the government?

The only other incentive that I am expecting from the government is to ensure that we go leaner in taxation. In Nigeria today, when you are just starting a business, the institution of state easily humbles you because you are thinking of how you are going to sort out your customers, you are thinking of how to buy more products for manufacturing. You are even thinking of how to pay your taxes. The whole institutional hurdles are a whole lot. You pay personal income tax, you pay for your company too. If they can go a little bit leaner on taxes and taxation, it would really help us.

What about platforms for export of your products?

Oh yes! We need it and that is one of the things that we have been advocating for. We are looking at the possibility of making the procedure easier for us in the manufacturing sector. When we export our products out of the country, that will help boost the economy of the country. It would also enhance the level of production and productivity.

When you have a lot of customers waiting for you to export your product out of the country, we then start to produce more and more foreign exchange now accrues to the government.

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