REVOLUTIONIZING NIGERIA’S NIGHTLIFE

Nigeria 2019 | ENTERTAINMENT, CULTURE & SPORTS | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Shina Peller, Owner of Aquila Group, on challenges in the music industry, nightlife in Nigeria, and possibilities in the entertainment sector in 2019.

How do your non-entertainment operations fit within the group?

Although Quilox is the most popular brand in the Aquila group and Aquila records has also gained widespread recognition they contribute less than 10% to the revenue of the group I went into the entertainment and hospitality space due to my passion and the genuine belief that I could redefine the industries. I am not sure entertainment was meant to fit but rather part of a diversification strategy driven by passion and conviction. Aquila Group is a conglomerate with interests in oil and gas although we focused more on the downstream side of the business. However, now we are restructuring to move more into EPCI, mid-stream, and upstream. The construction Subsidiary also has executed several projects for government and also in the private sector. In fact Aquila Building built Quilox so if that expertise wasn't resident in the group setting up Quilox would have been a bigger challenge. We also have a few properties that we build and sell, such us our residential project Eagle Heights, which is coming up in Banana Island soon. We also do a great deal of procurement and supplies for private companies and the government with Aquila Global Resources Limited. On the entertainment side, Aquila Records was established to develop talented Nigerians and Africans and help them become superstars. We have artists like Air Boy, as well as my brother, Que Peller, the only artist magician in the world. We also have Base One, an indigenous rap artist, Beezy, and my daughter, Naomi Peller. Quilox was established with the goal of revolutionizing nightlife in Nigeria; hence, the name, which means redefinition. My financial advisers thought I was overexposing myself in a business that has a notoriously short life span. However, Nigeria was one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, and I knew Lagos, as the commercial capital of Nigeria, had great potential. I saw a gap in the nightlife industry that needed to be filled. Quilox has been around for five years now.

How large is the entertainment portfolio of the group compared to the other areas?

It would be unfair to compare some of the other businesses in the group to the entertainment side because the industry structures are fundamentally different. I am more concerned about the impact of each business in their respect market but like I said the contribution of my entertainment portfolio to the group is about 10% which is quite decent.

How can Quilox contribute to economic development?

Quilox has contributed significantly to the development of the country, and it has raised the bar within the nightlife industry. Every club now looks at Quilox as the benchmark. Also in terms of tourism, people come to Nigeria from all over the world now just to visit Quilox and this is contributing positively to Nigeria's image. Quilox even had a feature on CNN on the prestigious Parts Unknown show with the late Anthony Bourdain. We are an employer of labor, we pay our taxes, we are contributing a lot really. The government needs to look into nightlife and the contribution it makes to diversify the economy especially on the back of a tourism master plan. It is unsustainable for us to have such a strong focus on oil; we need to diversify to take the country to the next level. Entertainment and tourism should be major areas of the government's economic vision moving forward. I see great potential in the entertainment industry. There are many more collaborations between American artists and other international artists with Nigerian talent, and that underscores the value they can bring and have brought. There is much potential that could be tapped into.

What are the main challenges affecting the music industry in particular?

There is a great deal of talent out there; however, there are challenges in terms of a lack of industry structure, which is essential for any business. This can negatively affect the ability of certain artists to gain popularity. Some artists do not have the resources or support required to develop their following and popularity. There should be a structure that helps develop artists' recognition as they enter the market, so we can create truly global superstars. Even having the infrastructure in place for coordinated, multi-modal media strategies would go a long way. Social media has helped in this area, though there are more structural adjustments that can be made.

What are the main challenges in the entertainment business?

The main issue is power. I spend an average of NGN8 million (USD22,000) a month powering our clubs via generators. On unstable power, we spend an average of between NGN700,000 and 1 million. This is a huge factor and a key expense. Security within the country is also a major issue, and the government needs to focus more on security. This would create a better business environment, because more people would be interested in coming and spending money. Other important factors are levies and taxes, and the government should work on streamlining the tax and levy structure. The nightlife business here does not function the way it does abroad. Many clubs here are free to enter, which limits the amount of activities that they can provide. By not being able to adjust my own fees accordingly, I can only offer certain services that are more limited than they might otherwise be. Furthermore, the system in Nigeria relies on orders being placed before charges are made, which is somewhat riskier than the minimum spend pre-authorization used in many other countries. A payment-before service model similar to other countries would reduce our risks significantly, though it would be difficult to implement. We need to have industry people coming together to make these changes as one voice. There can be more industry-wide cooperation to improve efficient operations.

What is your outlook for the group in 2019, particularly the entertainment side?

In 2019, I will be contesting for national legislative position, which is a vital challenge for me. The time for armchair politics is over, and I will get more involved in policy-making and law. I will join politics as a technocrat, which will allow me to help shape economic and business policy in the most effective way. I have been involved in many philanthropic activities, and I am excited to represent a new set of ideals. I have structured my businesses such that they will function smoothly in my absence during 2019. I foresee the price of oil continuing to stabilize. The government will continue to work on diversifying the economy as well. Domestic production in certain areas will increase. The president seeks to make Nigeria a self-sustaining country whereby we export more than we import. I foresee the economy growing more, and in 2019 things will really pick up.