The Chief Executive Officer of a Port Harcourt-based manufacturing company, Ibifiri AC Bobmanuel, fears that Nigeria has moved from monopoly to another monopoly. He has however, suggested how to cut transportation cost by half. In this interview with Ignatius Chukwu, he talked about how to know states that listen to investors, saying such states will soon record GDP leap: Excerpts:
What makes you worthy of becoming the president of the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum? What business or businesses do you run?
My name is Ibifiri AC Bobmanuel. I am the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (MD/CEO) of the Bobmanuel Group of Companies. Basically, I am a serial investor.
When you say group of companies, can you kindly help our readers understand those companies and what they do?
Bobmanuel IAC Construction Company with 70 years of experience in redefining construction in Rivers State. IAC is a metamorphose of AC Bobmanuel Construction Company that turns out to be my late father’s company. IAC is following in the footsteps of AC Bobmanuel Construction Company. If you put the history and experiences of both companies, you get over 70 years.
The company built the landscape of Rivers State for decades. It built many structures in Bonny and Finima in Rivers State. It also built many housing projects for the NLNG. We also built for the NNPC in their estate, built for the Eleme Petrochemicals Limited, now Indorama-Eleme Petrochemicals. That is a rich history.
I am also the MD/CEO of Bobtrack Tractor Nigeria Limited, the first indigenous tractor manufacturing and equipment manufacturing company in Nigeria. We are proud to be the fastest homegrown equipment company in Nigeria.
I also have an interest in a company that has legs in the Nigerian market with a license with Toyata for Africa. We have locations in Nigeria.
I have interest in a company called Electrica. It is an investment that is centred in electricals in the Nigerian market. It is leading the revolution or charge for electric cars in Nigeria.
We are setting up recharge centres in 15 states in Nigeria set to sell 5000 cars in Nigeria.
It will be rolling out stations in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. We are going to push that with the sell of electric cars which Toyota is going to send. We intend to have a paradigm shift from the CNG the FG is pushing to a more sustainable energy mix which the world sees as ideal. It is electric cars in a global transition. It is the best technology. Serious countries are going to electric energy, not CNG. In the next three months, you will see our footprints in different states in Nigeria. We already have 12 outlets and we will send this to them. That will lead the transition.
Currently, the FG is talking about CNG but that is a byproduct of fossil fuel. Nigeria has been in the fossil fuel for over 60 years and we are not into serious refining. CNG is all about refining. If Nigeria has not got it right in 70 years, what makes anybody think Nigeria will get it right now.
We decided to go in a different portfolio, electric. It is simple. Yes, Nigeria has not much electric but we enjoy average of 40 per cent of electricity, and much more in some more. Every Nigerian home has improvised electric means which can add power of up to five hours. It is enough for you.
The car comes with free charging units called slow charging units. In the house, or office, you take five hours to charge your car, which is about 20 per cent of your electricity ratio. Research shows we have at least 40 per cent of power. You should be able to have electricity to charge your car.
If you don’t have power at all, no problem. We have charging places for free for six months. Our sales staff can arrange to come pick your car and charge it.
So, you can charge for 650km which is like from Port Harcourt to Lagos. These are the value propositions Electrica is offering.
We also have interest in oil and gas, etc.
Have done your financials for the user, about electric car versus fuel car use. What is the cost comparism?
We charge it for free in first six months. We sell value, not just car. If you buy fuel car, you are spending to buy, but in electric car, you are investing because you are going to recover cost. The electricity in your house will also charge your car. So, no new cost. It’s a win-win.
If you do the math, in maximum of three years, your money for buying it is back by fuel you saved. For car hire services, you gain more. The second phase of our project is to partner with states so they buy a partnership in our e-hailing services. We will bring experts to support the partnership project. We help the state governments to cut back cost of taxi system by about 50 per cent or more. The partnership company will recoup and bring back prices of transportation before fuel price hike.
You have been talking to state governments for years, what makes you think they will listen now?
I am not waiting for them. Each time I talk to them, I am helping them. Nigeria economy is still stuck with fossil fuel technology despite our advice. So, we went on our way, and we have spent millions of Dollars. We do not just talk, we work. The process is on. We have our projection for 2024.
I have an interest in an OML but am not driving it but I put my mind where the prospects are, and in renewable energy. We have talked at REIF for 15 years, but they are not listening. Yes, there is primary gain in oil and gas, but every discernible person knows it is in renewables.
Can you name state govts that listen?
You don’t have to mention names.
But has any state govt listened to you?
Yes, Lagos has placed order for 1000 buses. The kind of money Lagos State is making is a sign of the futuristic plans they listen to. There are those that listened to us. In years to come, their economy will jump. See their annual budgets going up. If other states can follow suit, Nigeria will jump. Lagos is 5th in Africa. It shows there are states that are listening.
In the north, some are pushing in agriculture, though insecurity is troubling them. See Oyo State with Sheyi Makinde. Look at the agro-ventures. They have done clear cut policies eg, first agro industrial belt. They were lying fallow for years but he turned them into belts and lots and put basic infrastructural facilities and security. Investors rushed and snapped them up. It is only agric investors by public officers that are not being probed because of benefits to the people. Multinational companies get raw materials from those ventures. He created second to fifth industrial parks but they all sold out. It shows that there are some state governments that are listening. Some governments are serious.
For me as an investor, if I talk to a government, am bringing value. Mine is to exploit opportunities. If states are not serious, maybe we move to the FG.
You were in an event when a foreign president (Rwanda) sent a Rep to see it. We have discussion with Ghana, etc. Governments are bringing value. Dangote is borderless. Everywhere he goes, they try to lure him.
Why is it that the deregulation people like you recommended is hurting Nigerians so badly?
I have always been in support of it but when President Bola Ahmed Tinubu spoke in May 29, 2023, I was pleased but my issue is that it is not complete deregulation. I stand for complete deregulation. You can’t deregulate and also regulate. Now, the FG gives licenses to import fuel. That is anti-deregulation. You should only influence market forces but get out, but the FG started giving licenses to the highest bidders and you call it deregulation. NNPC is deciding licenses, so how many people can get it. Its from one monopoly to another monopoly. My views have been clear, you can’t deregulate and regulate. If you did, things will pack up and it has done so today. Today, globally, the amount of refined products mostly goes to Nigeria. If you allow complete deregulation, you should set the standards of product and allow anybody and give your tax on it. Custom collects the tax. It will encourage more investment confidence in the market, government generates revenue, and soon, it becomes better to refine at home instead of abroad. Most of the refineries we import from are owned by Nigerians. I can call up to five names. They make more money by refining abroad, and they even do round tripping. Every business person is capitalistic. The shareholders want profit and it becomes a piggybank. In our own, the government functionaries have hand in businesses and also make policies. So, they force the policies to favour them. So, complete deregulation will eliminate all that. It makes all economic sense if you set up refineries where raw materials are. We spoke out when they did deregulation and regulation.
About 15 years back, I was frontal on Dangote setting refinery away from raw material. But because we still run regulated fuel system, he can do what he is doing. This is because they have not run pipes, they use ships. See the ships lining up. Over time, BUA that has set up new one in Akwa Ibom (Niger Delta), they will have advantage. If proper deregulation is in place, Dangote Refinery will return to laying pipes if they must compete.
The cost of pipes is at a humongous cost. Nigeria is the knees because of that because it will be billions of Dollars to lay pipes from Niger Delta more because of crisis. He will need to run pipes one day to be competitive. Refiners around the world, they are downsizing. China is pushing in electric cars. Decline in fossil related cars is here. Climate change is here.
What should the FG do in 2024?
The job of government is cut out; which is diversification and private participation. The FG should focus on blue chip companies full of wastages and which are in the govt hands without. Even the NNPC is bloated with wastages. We have wishful thinking; foreign direct investments (FDIs). What the FG should look for is Local Direct Investors (LDIs) because the right indices are not in favour of FDIs. Hyper inflation will not allow any foreign investors to make investment decisions. Yes, he will make gains by investing little and making huge gain but you are not sure of the stability. As long as the naira trades very poorly, such business is financially unstable. When LDIs begin to do well and help the economy to have stability, it will attract FDIs.
So, asking the FDIs to come and create stability for LDIs to join, it’s the most unreasonable method. Local investors have local knowledge. The more we open up for LDIs, the better.
See one poor example, the NNPC. They woke up to change it to NNPCL, but what is the change. These are the issues. We need deep-rooted reforms to cause the change we are looking for in the Nigerian economy.