• Monday, April 22, 2024
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Despite the huge debts we met on ground, our assets have grown to N24bn

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Although there have been series of debts and alleged infractions from public servants at the Benue State Investment and Property Company (BIPC), Raymond Asemakaha Jr, PhD holder and Managing Director/CEO of Benue-owned Investment and Property Company, in this interview with Benjamin Agesan, Benue State Correspondent, Asemakaha Jr. speaks on the current state of the BIPC balance sheet, how he is repositioning BIPC, employment opportunities being driven, and acquisition of new asset done by his Administrationm He also speaks on his plans for MSMEs among others. Excerpts:

Four months down the line, how has the experience been as the MD of BIPC?

It’s not been easy but we are trying as much as possible to get it right. Benue State is reputed as the food basket of the nation. We are trying to reduce the number of unproductive youths on the streets. We have about 4.7 million in the labour market in Benue. Thus, we are trying to pluck the low-hanging fruits by encouraging Nano, Micro, Small, and Medium-scale industries that will help reduce unemployment and grow the GDP of the State.

Specifically, what strategies are you deploying to make the above happen, that is to create new jobs and harness the creative energies of Benue youths?

First, we are doing subnational and local. We are trying to support small businesses and also set up new entities. For every quarter. We intend to come up with a project or two and execute them within a reasonable timeline. We want to have mini businesses that can create new jobs. When we start a project, within two months, we launch it and move to another project. For instance, in the next two months or less, we will be launching our Benue oil and one of the biggest bread factories in Benue State. For the two projects, we are looking at employing 60 people directly. Hundreds of others will be employed directly. This will enable us to reduce the labour force in the market. Imagine, we employ 60 people in the first quarter and by the second quarter, we employ another 60 on other projects, that’s 120 people off the streets already.

What are your projections on the new jobs you intend to create in the short, medium, and long term?

We are looking at creating 1,850 direct employments every year. We have broken it into clusters. Our target is to create 300 new jobs per quarter. This is because we intend to be executing two new projects per quarter. We have two in this quarter and we have started for the next quarter. We are launching two projects on March 20th and the next one will be on May 20th, 2024.

Tell us about the revenue position of BIPC. Where did you meet it and where are you driving it to?

Before my appointment, BIPC was posting losses from 2019 to date. The losses in the balance sheet were cumulatively about N1.62 billion. There was also the issue of unremitted taxes to the tune of N2.1 billion. We had issues of unremitted pensions and unpaid gratuities. The company was on a liability of close to N4 billion. I have commenced the payment of gratuities. I also paid N20 million to the Federal Mortgage Bank because BIPC owes the FMBN about N600 million. After the negotiation, I started paying. On the tax liabilities, I have already paid N3 million but negotiations are still ongoing on how to liquidate the debt. I have also started paying pension remittances and the National Housing Fund. Industrial Training Fund (ITF) also sent a letter of demand of about N76 million. We have started paying too. There are problems on the ground but my concern is to proffer solutions that could help move BIPC forward.

You said you met deficits. So, what are your profit projections? I’m sure you don’t want to also leave deficits when your tenure is up. Do you?

No. As we speak, we are already sitting on an N24 billion balance sheet. We are trying as much as possible to do new business. As we do these new businesses, we are buying more assets and adding to the bottom line of the assets and profitability. We are trying as much as possible to return to profit. By the end of this financial year, we should be back into profit margins. When I assumed office, I invited one of the best auditing firms, PKF. They have audited us and we are using the insights of the audit report to remodify our environment and know exactly what to do, so people are held accountable. I have also introduced the ISO Quality Management System for the office. We are also going digital in all of our operations by March 1, 2024.

You recently launched “Your Idea, Your Future.” What do you hope to achieve?

My vision is to see that BIPC become one of the best investment hubs for Nigeria and Africa. This is why we launched the BIPC Venture Capital Fund. This scheme is to enable young people to pitch their business ideas to BIPC. There are a lot of young people with ideas but people are not listening to them. When we listen to these ideas, and we are satisfied that the ideas are bankable, we invest in them. That is why we have also set up the equity capital investment option, to invest in the ideas and nurture them to success by partnering with the idea owner. We will provide the funding and technical capacity for the idea to become a thriving business but in return, we take up major equity stakes in the business. We have set aside N100 million for this in the first instance. If we can create five new businesses monthly, we will create new wealth and jobs. This speaks to my vision of reducing the labour force in the State. As we speak, there is no private company in Benue State that has employed up to 100 people and we need to do something real quick to reduce the unemployment level in the State. Small businesses hold the key. We have also been visiting business owners in the State to know what their challenges are. Data show that about 68% of small businesses have shut down in Benue State. Thus, we want to use BIPC as the hub to connect businesses with the State Government so they can thrive.

Recently, you toured BIPC properties across the Country. What’s the state of the assets? How are they performing?

I think there was a misplaced priority in acquiring some BIPC assets. BIPC has a lot of non-performing assets. We recently paid about N40 million on ground rent for a property in Abuja and Kaduna. These assets are not adding N1 to the bottom line of the company so why do we keep them? We need to find a way to either develop or sell the assets and bring the money to the State. For instance, we have 7.4 hectares of land at Deidei in Abuja. I can bet you that even in the next ten years, there is nothing you will get from there. Even if you develop a housing estate there, you won’t get good rent on it. But BIPC invested so much in the land. Yes, the land is big but the location isn’t good,

Supposing BIPC builds an industry on the land on Deidei, wouldn’t it be profitable?

Even at that, what industry would you build and how long would it take for you to recoup your investment? Those are things. For me, I am looking for a way for the State EXCO to approve for us to dispose of the none non-performing assets because they are just asking from our books without adding anything. The Lease Agreement from Cosgrove and PRESKEN is not in the interest of the State Government. The joint venture was 70% to Cosgrove and 30% to BIPC on our land. I think that is not good enough. For PRESKEN, the Lease Agreement on the property in Lagos wasn’t favourable but the Agreement will expire in 2026 so there is an opportunity for renegotiation. We can’t terminate the contract because of the damages that may occur. BIPC has spent N50 million on that property and we haven’t gotten the allocation of that property. We have so many properties that BIPC that are not property. BIPC has a warehouse in Gboko it bought for N60 million but the current valuation is around N35 million.

BIPC used to have a filling station, but it does appear it has folded up, what’s the current state?

Those are specialized assets. The people who introduced the BIPC filling station were using that to divert funds. When I asked for the file of that filling station, I discovered BIPC had spent about N300 million on the filling station. But the current value of the filling station is around N200 million. The business posted consistent losses and so it was shut down. We are looking at NNPC to lease the property and take it over. We are not thinking of reviving it.

What is your take on the moribund industries?

Let me take one of the moribund assets to share my view. The Benue Breweries Limited, BBL and Benue Bottling Company that are supposed to be active in the state today were sold out. The people who sold it out were deceived by the buyers just because Benue Breweries Limited BBL and Benue Bottling Company were their major competitors in the market. The buyers had proposed to the State Government then that they wanted to buy into the companies with the pretext they wanted to remodel them. I think we need to start asking some questions. I can tell you that from my view the state was deceived and because we don’t do research or due diligence on a company we quickly jumped up on the investors and today our companies are lying fallow. We know very well that the BBL should be doing good in Benue because the state has enough sorghum to feed it.

What is your biggest shock at BIPC since you assumed office?

My biggest shock was that from the forensic audit I did, I found out that some people are over 60 years but they are still in the system working. Some have worked for over 37 years but they are still in BIPC under the pretext that BIPC is a limited liability company but does a limited company pay gratuity? I have not yet seen the gazette or circular that suggests you can work in BIPC in perpetuity. What I do know is that if you have worked for 35 years or have attained the age of 60, whichever comes first, you ought to retire. We will be writing to the affected staff soon.