How would you assess the current business environment in Nigeria?
It was definitely better in 2018, though it took longer to turn around from 2017 than we had hoped. We now see some real activity with stability in the foreign exchange market, higher oil prices, and the government understanding the challenges better. It took the new administration a bit of time to assess the situation and put its policies in place.
Has the government's policy to promote local companies, industry, and the Made in Nigeria brand worked?
The Made in Nigeria campaign resulted not only from policy, but also from circumstance. It was expensive to import anything, and we realized the country did not need to do this. There was a shift to businesses operating at a commercial level that made sense. First, because people could not access the dollar and, second, it was difficult to price one's goods in naira when businesses materials were imported in dollars. The focus turned inward to determine what could be produced in-country. People also started focusing more on trying to export. This showed it is possible to operate here despite the transportation infrastructure challenges. People started realizing it is possible to use local raw materials for their finished products. Many international companies moved out of the country as well because the unfavorable forex situation meant it did not make economic sense for them to stay here.
How did the international companies leaving Nigeria impact your client base and business?
Many of our clients were in the oil and gas service sector; hence, there was a significant impact. We had to shift our focus from predominantly oil and gas clients; now, we have many commercial clients in Nigeria as well. This forced us to look at a different model, particularly partnering with other companies to have backward integration of our services. We are also considering doing things directly ourselves because the more of the chain we can manage and control, the better the solution we can provide to clients. Especially in logistics, it is about finding solutions for our clients to create a better platform in order to grow our business.
Do you see the road logistics situation improving in the near future?
We are still months away from the road network improving. The new road is being done; however, trailer parks need to be built where trucks can wait, off the road. There are many truck breakdowns, though another problem was trucks blocking the roads. If there is somewhere for them to wait to come into the port, it will make a big difference.
What are your expectations from 2019?
As the business environment picks up, 2019 will see an improvement on 2018 in terms of activity levels and some of the policies will come to fruition. Hopefully 2019 will be a better year. For Eko Support Services as a company, we want to get the technology and software we require, which will have to be custom-made for us. We are in talks with bright young programmers here, as well as with a company in the US about designing and assisting us with exactly what we need. If we manage to do this and increase Eko Support Services' footprint, we will be able to provide a better and complete logistics solution, not only to the oil and gas sector, but to other sectors as well.