How was Sarepta created, and what have its operations been like?
Sarepta was created out of a love for my continent and country, and to promote a different image of Africa to the western world. The image of Nigeria and Nigerians abroad is not always positive, and changing this image was the driving passion behind creating the company. I always loved the idea of business and making money, but that philosophy changed when I realized that if I could help better the lives of others through offering gainful employment, the rewards of having a satisfied workforce and employees would lead to greater motivation and better business results, not to mention profit. We started by approaching state governments that had ideas for projects but did not execute them due to a lack of funds or because white elephant projects needed revamping. These included MROs, hospitals, or power plants that were not completely finished. I used my resources and contacts in the US, many of whom were Nigerians who were looking for places to invest. I wanted to make an FDI prospectus that would showcase information vital for any investor, foreign or domestic. Information such as what investment opportunities existed in the region and their markets, associated cost, risk, profit, and potential returns: quantitative and qualitative data that can help a willing and savvy investor make a decision. However, there was little or no data on most of the projects, not even on potential markets or profitability. I said we could do it as a service but governments did not have the funds. I created a small foreign investment directory that I funded with the help of family members and banks. We received the capital we needed, and from that I established other lines of business: the transport line, a paint manufacturing plant, and the construction company. We are also set to launch an affordable office hub space for 25-30 consultants and entrepreneurs in search of a space where creativity can thrive in a corporate setting at a price that creatives can afford. We accomplished all this through our ability to network with existing firms that are key players in their line of businesses.
How do you act as a bridge between Nigeria and the international business community to promote investment opportunities?
We focused on oil and gas and agriculture, where the byproducts can be used to produce a variety of valuable oils and petrochemicals. For example, we have rubber plantations all over the south, so we detailed how the trees can be converted into rubber, which can be used to make tires and every other kind of rubber-based product that drives manufacturing in other parts of the world and is a big contributor to their GDP. We explain to investors who the off-takers are. With one project, for example, Cameroon was about to buy over USD1 billion of palm kernel from Nigeria just to receive the oil extract. I showed that setting up a factory is cheaper in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world and that we already had direct access to all the raw materials needed.
Where would you advise investors to put their money into in Nigeria?
I would direct them to agriculture. I wish oil in Nigeria had never been discovered because it ruined our business models for everything. The UAE invested its oil revenues. Nigeria believed the cash cow would never stop delivering, but it has. Even if prices go up slightly in a few years' time, everyone will still be looking for alternative sources of energy. Agriculture is our most untapped and most valuable resource because from north to the south and east to the west there is something we can grow, mass produce, and export, which we are not doing yet.