100% LOCAL EXPERTISE

Nigeria 2018 | ENERGY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi, Executive Chairman of Obijackson Group, on entering the Nigerian market, the telecoms sector, and the work of regulatory authorities.

Obijackson Group is currently one of the leading conglomerates in Nigeria. What advice would you give to your peers and investors looking to enter into business here?

It was important to us to look at areas of the economy that were emerging or where opportunities existed at the time. We focused our attention on those areas and developed our business from there. Our businesses in the oil and gas sector are the result of the opportunities that emerged. Nigeria used to be one of the leading producer countries in the world and has been producing oil for over 50 years. In those 50 years, most Nigerian companies were not involved in oil production; there were mostly overseas and international companies working in the sector. We saw opportunities for Nigerians to enter the oil business and participated by developing a company to provide oil and gas services: this is how Obijackson Group started. From the services business, we progressed into the oil production business. We have other companies within the group that have been created out of the opportunities that arose at the time we were doing projects for major oil companies. This is why Obijackson Group currently has a portfolio of diverse companies covering different aspects of oil and gas. Because we have a production company as well, we are more or less doing the same work as international oil companies (IOC) such as Shell, Total, and ExxonMobil. The difference is that we are 100% local and use local Nigerians to grow the country's production. This is extremely important because we want to continue to build capacity in Nigerians. Over time, Nigeria has started doing this work well.

What are some of the most important projects and investments you have undertaken?

We have investments in the oil and gas area, though we have also invested in other parts of the economy, including the power business. We are currently trying to conclude a deal for a mega power plant planned for east Nigeria where we will use gas from our oil fields to power the plant. We have invested some money in that. Over the years, we have also invested in other areas of the economy, such as telecommunications and major construction companies. In the construction sector, we developed a company in which we are the majority owners. Our investment in telecoms is in Smile Communications, which was the first Nigerian company to offer 4G. The company is also present in Tanzania, Congo, and several other West African countries. We look for new opportunities as the economy diversifies and also seek ways to get out of the oil sector because oil will not be there forever.

Three of Obijackson Group's subsidiaries were included in the LSE's 'Companies to Inspire Africa' report. What does this mean for the Group and for Nigeria?

This was a great result for the Obijackson Group. It was inspiring for us to have LSE deem three of our companies as the future. For us as a Group, it was a sign that going public is something we are moving closer to both in Nigeria and London. More importantly, these businesses that are being talked about in London are businesses that we need to develop a succession plan for. We need to remain focused on getting these companies into the market. Also for Nigeria, this is the beginning of transformation for certain indigenous companies that aspire to be listed. Other companies will look at this acknowledgment and realize what we have done is a great way to go about growing their businesses as well. For us, the next challenge is looking at coming to the market as soon as everything is ready.

What else should the government and the private sector in Nigeria do to send a more positive message to the international investor community?

Nigeria has a lot to do to send the right message to the international community in terms of attracting investment into the country. First, the regulatory authorities need to ensure that all the legal bottlenecks that affect and make doing business difficult in Nigeria are addressed; there are too many regulatory bodies involved in the process. The government needs to align all these to encourage more foreign investors. Once the policy is achieved, Nigeria's currency also needs to be stabilized with a mechanism to cushion and guide it, similar to most currencies around the world. Large currency fluctuations have to be eliminated. The government has to monitor the economy in such a way that it becomes more investment friendly. That, along with removing the bottlenecks and complicated regulations, will create a safe environment for those who want to come and do business in Nigeria.

What is your outlook at Obijackson Group for 2018?

For Obijackson Group, 2018 is a promising year because we expect to consolidate on the gains we have achieved over the years. Nigeria has just emerged from a recession and we are now beginning to show signs of growth. Most of our companies' projections for 2018 are promising because we have a stable economy and foreign exchange rates have stabilized somewhat. With this, most of the losses and pains from the recession are behind us and we will now build and make our mark. Most well-structured businesses in Nigeria will do well in 2018. It is a promising year for the Group in oil production, construction, and more. The price of oil has stabilized somewhat. In terms of developments between OPEC, Russia, and the US, all the signs are that oil prices will remain around the USD60 mark, which we are comfortable with. Most of our major income in the Group comes from our exploration & production (E&P) business and in 2018 we want to ramp up our production by at least an additional 30-40%. Oil and gas is still our dominant business.