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Declining Interest in STEM Education in Nigeria: The Need for Urgent Intervention



By 2030, more than half of the jobs in the world will be STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – based. According to research from Brookings – a Washington based research institution – more STEM-oriented metropolitan economies perform strongly on a wide range of economic indicators, from innovation to employment.

But how prepared is Nigeria for this reality? Are students in Nigerian schools equipped to take advantage of this opportunity?

Technology companies are springing up, the number of jobs requiring STEM based skills is on the increase, but it is sad that Nigerian students are poorly equipped to fill this huge gap. The challenges range from poverty, poor school funding and waning interest from students, to poorly trained teachers, inadequate learning aids, incessant strikes, among others.

Consequently, traditional education in Nigeria is failing, with STEM education being the worst hit. Students are largely uninspired to pursue their passion in STEM related fields, thereby leaving them unprepared for the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century world.

In a quest to change this negative trend, integrated digital payment and commerce company, Interswitch is launching an initiative conceived and developed to promote STEM education in Nigeria by providing the right support and reward for students and other stakeholders.

The initiative, called Interswitch SPAK, is poised to support young Nigerians who are interested in acquiring the problem-solving skills that come with a solid STEM education, in order to fix the challenges facing Nigeria in various sectors of the economy. This initiative would ultimately position young Nigerian professionals to compete favourably with their colleagues globally.

To kickstart the initiative, a national science competition is set to begin in April 2018. The competition will feature students from all states of the federation competing in core STEM subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics.

The top two students in the competition will be awarded a five-year scholarship, a Mac laptop and gold trophy; and a 3-year scholarship, a laptop and a silver trophy respectively. While the third position will receive a-two-year scholarship, a laptop, and a bronze trophy.

This is indeed a laudable initiative which should increase student interest and enrolment in STEM subjects, among other benefits.

Owing to existing incompetence levels, a large number of jobs in Nigeria’s employment ecosystem have been outsourced to expatriates. Initiatives like SPAK will on the long run increase competitiveness and improve employment levels for Nigerians. And as a matter of cause-and-effect, improved STEM skills at the grass roots will equal greater employment, lower rate of job losses, higher exports and a direct positive impact on Nigeria’s GDP.

While STEM education may have been plagued by various challenges in the past, Interswitch SPAK is one great step towards ameliorating the situation, and it deserves the support and commendation of every stakeholder. One also hopes that other successful Nigerian tech companies will be inspired by this to create similar opportunities for the nation’s education system.

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Katsina government committed to agricultural mechanization – DG media



The Director-General, Katsina Media and Publicity, Malam Ibrahim Muazzam says Katsina State government remains committed to agricultural mechanization to ease farming activities in the state.

Speaking to newsmen in Katsina, the DG Media said the state government has already procured 225 latest model tractors from an Indian firm, Springfield Agro Ltd.

He said the tractors will be distributed to farmers through the Tractors Owners Association to enhance the farmers productivity.

Malam Ibrahim Muazzam said already, over five dams across the state were under rehabilitation to facilitate dry season farming which will boost agricultural productivity.

He said the state government also supports farmers in the production of staple foods like rice, maize, wheat, millet, sorghum and guinea corn through the provision of fertilizer at subsidized rates and extension services to farmers

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Oil logistics: No framework to protect local operators –Opah



Foreign players in Nigeria’s oil logistics industry repatriate millions of dollars due to ineptitude in regulation to protect local companies. Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Fortunes Global Shipping and Logistics, Mr. Eric Opah, speaks on how his company and others have been fairing in the sector dominated by their foreign counterparts, in this interview with ADEOLA YUSUF



What’s your take on the incursion of multinationals and job security for local customs brokers?
I have observed that most Nigerian logistics companies are very laid back and unwilling to go international. Consequently, they hardly ever get to the helm of affairs internationally where decisions affecting freight are made. Nigerian logistics companies are not migrating very fast to dominate other markets, whereas their multinational counterparts are dominating the local market.

It would interest you to note that in 56 years of Nigeria’s existence, we only have maybe one or two brands that operate internationally. So, Fortune Global took the bull by its horns. To give impetus to what we do here, we started a new office in Houston in 2013. The Houston branch of Fortune Global Shipping and Logistics is the wholly owned subsidiary of the Nigerian entity.

That is a milestone for us. We have an FMC license, which authorizes us to work in that market. We did not start working in that market just like an agent. It’s our own full-fledged subsidiary already working for some multinationals and supporting the Nigerian company. We also have an office in Ghana, which is also a subsidiary of the Nigerian entity. This is all part of our vision to look out for strategic places to support oil and energy logistics.

How do you see the Local Content Law affecting local players in logistics?
For me, it’s all about capacity and competence. I will agree to an extent from the local content standpoint that there are not enough jobs in Nigeria. But again, Fortune Global is operating in Houston. So, basically, I am a foreigner operating an international business in America, but I’m not being restricted.

With the Local Content Law, the major drive should be ensuring that the frontliners or those who do the day-to-day port operations are Nigerians. However, anybody should be able to own a company, provided the Nigerian government licenses such a business to operate in the country with majority of employees being Nigerians.

How would you rate the potential of local players in logistics?
Freight forwarding and logistics in places such as China and India is a lucrative business. But locally, the major challenge is that people have not actually developed to the extent of understanding the business fully. Rather, they rely more on customs clearing and customs brokerage. That’s not the business. The challenge starts from regulation.

In Nigeria today, you cannot tell who a customs broker is, international forwarder, NVOCC, etc. Yes, there are licenses, but the specifics to be able to differentiate who is doing what within the sector is a challenge. Everybody gets a custom clearing license and jumps into the field without actually having the requisite knowledge. But by rights, the customs brokerage business should guarantee you to only do the customs brokerage business and not international forwarding. That is not how the system operates in other markets.

Funding is another challenge because most of the global brands are backed up. They have a brand already growing in their international market with lots of funds to support expansion into other markets. Therefore, if our government promotes and gives some form of interest to this sector, it will make a lot of difference since logistics and maritime industry is a major revenue earner for government.

What was the role of Fortune Global in the EGINA FPSO project?
As you know, we have already taken centre stage in the oil and gas/energy logistics. We handled the inward clearance of the FPSO, which is a delicate asset. The performance of the inward clearance is really very important because one needs to ensure that all the documentation is done correctly and the declaration is in perfect order such that when the FPSO sails away to its permanent location there will be no issue arising from all formalities. We handled the boarding and inspection from start to finish. So, what we did has a lot to do with all authorities – Nigerian Ports Authority, NIMASA, Nigerian immigration, Customs, NDLEA, SSS, etc.

How did the Local Content Law impact the EGINA project?
I must tell you that the most outstanding impact I’ve witnessed is what the local content has done with the EGINA project. Bringing the FPSO to do the integration in-country was the most outstanding. A lot of Nigerian contractors got involved – Dorman Long Engineering did a lot of fabrication, paints were manufactured even in Nigeria and shipped to South Korea.

The EGINA FPSO shows that the Local Content Law is very effective. However, one of the challenges is the facilities developed to support these huge projects following the passage of the law. When the project is finished, I urge government to ensure that these facilities are put to use with new contracts to ensure they are not sitting idle.

How much is Nigeria losing to foreign players in shipping and logistics?
I cannot be specific in terms of figures, but it’s huge. For instance, a lot of local projects running into millions of dollars have been awarded to foreign companies in the industry. I’m not saying that such should not be. But again, if you have a local company with the same competence, they should come first.

What I’ve observed is that most companies that claim they are wholly Nigerian owned are only fronting for major foreign entities. Whereas that is not the case in a place like Ghana, which has made it mandatory that you cannot operate in the Oil and Gas Logistics Industry unless a Ghanaian has a majority stake in your company. So, we have lost a lot of revenue because our government has not actually paid the desired attention to regulatory issues around the logistics business in Nigeria.

What volume of freight has Fortune Global developed as a logistics player?
We handled over 500 container import clearance of shipment to support the EGINA project before the arrival of the FPSO. Currently, we are still involved with supporting the project. We have chartered vessels out to deliver project equipment from Nigeria to Geoje in South Korea and for import we have supported with lots of import shipment by Air Freight as well as Sea Freight. In a year generally, we have a volume of about 2,000 containers all year round with different vessels that come into the country. We also do a lot of air freight, about one million tons air freight all year round, spread across different airlines because we have a strategic alliance with international companies that generate a lot of business for us.

How should government support the shipping and logistics industry?
First of all, government needs to enforce the regulations to ensure that players in the logistics industry are qualified to trade since this is an integral part of our economy. If you have people with haphazard knowledge playing in the industry, it’s also a risk to the country. Again, government needs to assist serious minded companies in the sector to have access to loans.

By so doing, government will develop brands of Nigerian origin. This will forestall foreign giants from taking over the market and also help Nigerian brands migrate internationally where they will earn income and repatriate it back to the country.

Also, government should make effort to regulate some areas within logistics – such as the ports, for instance. The truck-transit parking system needs to be developed to solve the problems in congested areas such as Apapa.

What’s your assessment of the Nigerian port?
I think the port is congested. The road infrastructure and facilities around the port are nothing to write home about. The port should be expanded if possible or more effort should be made in accelerating the development of the new ports. As we speak, the port is not yet automated. Customs clearance and examination cannot be done at the snap of a finger as is the case elsewhere – especially in this era of e-Business.

But the question is, what is the reason Calabar port cannot be put to use? Why is cargo going to Calabar and Warri still coming through Lagos? What is happening to Sapele Port? Why can’t it be put into proper use where it can be efficient? That is what is giving Lagos numerous challenges. The roads, once repaired, will go back to their former state in another 2/3 years, because the volume of cargo that goes into Apapa is mind-blowing.

You have Warri, Calabar and Sapele, but they are not utilized. The question is why? We also have the tank farms scattered around the port axis. You have people living in an area earmarked for port use. However, the adjoining area around the port should be for port infrastructure and facilities.

We have seen oil price rise significantly in recent months, how will this impact oil and gas logistics?
I expect a lot of additional businesses to spring up. The Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) has still not been signed into law, but with the oil price going up, a lot of projects will start. For us, our strategic direction is to create a strategic logistics base for Fortune Global. Ultimately, we will have a one-stop shop facility to load out and support the oil and gas logistics sub-sector. This will take our business to another level. We are currently evaluating our business plan in that direction. It’s all in a bid to become a Nigerian owned entity with the capability/capacity to deliver end-to-end logistics services.

Do local operators have the capacity to takeover the logistics space if given the opportunity?
It would interest you to note that there is no framework or regulation to protect operators in the industry. We have experts in Nigeria with the requisite capabilities to deliver, but clients have a poor attitude with payments. There is no framework to handle payment-related issues when logistics companies are owed. There is no regulation about data that could be shared and ultimately protect operators in the industry. We have seen it happen a lot in this industry where one client owes your company, doesn’t want to pay and jumps to the next operator. But this should not be the case.

What is the background of Fortune Global?
Fortune Global was incorporated in 2006. We started out as a customs broker and shipping agent. But from day one, the vision has always been to internationalize our operations. I work for PANALPINA World Transport Nigeria Limited, a global company. In the process, I discovered that what they did was inextricably tied to the international hub they had built for the business. That experience gave me some background regarding how to navigate with the vision when Fortune Global was incorporated.

What challenges did you experience starting out?
The first challenge that Fortune Global encountered was how to gain customers starting from scratch as a brokerage business. As a new company coming from this part of the world, you usually don’t have everything articulated and a mentor other than your work experience. But what helped create some kind of advantage was the fact that from the start, we saw the vast opportunity in building up an international network.

As such, Fortune Global keyed into finding an international but independent freight network, which we required to gain a competitive advantage over the multinationals. We joined international networks such as World Freight Network (WFN) and World Cargo Alliance (WCA) with presence in over 120 countries. We leveraged this to generate business from across the world.
So, international forwarding is a core element of what we do, not just customs brokerage or clearing. Fortune Global is not a customs clearing agent. Rather, we are a total supply chain global logistics company.

How did you get into the oil and gas logistics business?
For the last 11 years, we at Fortunes Global Shipping And Logistics have been navigating this business – growing from a small brokerage firm to a bigger international forwarding company, which has expanded into oil and gas. From 2010 till date, this expansion into oil and gas and energy logistics has seen us not only handling freight, but also providing tailor-made solutions for the energy industry. Even before achieving this, we had gained recognition in the global forwarding arena where we worked with a lot of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) accounts. But 2010 launched us into the global oil and gas industry where we played an active role in the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) Forcados Yokri Integrated Project (FYIP).

We handled the freight, support logistics of the movement of vessels in and out of offshore. We handled the meet and greet support services, security, procurement, etc. That is what differentiates us from other smaller brokerage businesses. Today we provide consultancy service in marine support services for the Oil and Gas Companies and play as one of the leaders in the Oil and Gas support service niche. Our services allow our clients to focus more on the core areas of oil production, construction and core energy services. Of course with services tailored to individual client requirements

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Champion Breweries: Costs trim profit



The unfavourable operating environment that has raised costs is gradually impacting on the performance of Champion Breweries Plc. CHRIS UGWU writes


Businesses in Nigeria have continued to be buffeted by the usual challenges of poor infrastructure and public services, insecurity, corruption, multiple taxes, power supply shortfalls and volatile capital market.
Dearth of power supply has left most companies to continue to operate solely on electric generators with associated costs, just as the currency devaluation heralded sharp increases in the prices of inputs.
Coupled with the elevated political risk due to the build up to 2019 elections in the country, investments are drying up as consumer purchasing power remained weak. Consequently, the effects of these developments on the economy were low corporate revenues and margins, translating to higher cost of doing business.

The Nigerian market remains at the centre of volume growth for the global beer market as the per capita alcohol consumption continue to rise.
Though Nigeria’s beer industry is a very vital component of Nigeria‘s non-oil sector, which has largely contributed to economic growth in recent times, various factors have interfered to alter the dynamics of the alcoholic beverage market.

Notable among the changes to the architecture of alcohol business in the country is the rising to prominence of a new variant of alcoholic drinks, which mixes bitters with spirit.
For example, the introduction of Alomo Bitters produced by a Ghanaian company, Kasapreko Limited, in Accra, led the charge of this category of beverages, the market share of all other alcoholic brands have been re-configured and the beer brands have suffered a significant loss of market.

This has made audited results of most of the companies in the industry not encouraging of which Champion Breweries Plc was not insulated.
Market watchers attributed the depletion in revenue to stiff competition and drop in the value of the naira.
The company’s share price movement has also receded significantly and remains susceptible to the challenges facing the manufacturing businesses in Nigeria.
However, the company, following the recent rally being witnessed on the stock market, its share price, which closed at N2.35 per share on April 30, 2017 stood at N2.85 when the closing bell rang last Friday, a increase of 50 kobo or 21.27 per cent year to date.

Corporate profile
Champion Breweries Plc was incorporated as a private limited liability company on f July 31, 1974, with the name South East Breweries Limited. The company’s name was changed to Cross River Breweries Limited and thereafter to Champion Breweries Limited.
The major shareholders include The Raysun Nigeria Limited, Asset Management Nominee and Akwa Ibom State Government whose shareholdings are 60.71 per cent, 12.29 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. The principal activity of the company is to carry on business of brewing and marketing of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in Nigeria as well as provide contract brewing and packaging services.

Champion Breweries Plc recorded 587.56 per cent growth in net earnings for the full year ended December 31, 2016.
According to a report from the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), the company’s profit after tax stood at N530.389 million in 2016 as against N77.140 million posted a year earlier.
Profit before tax equally grew by 198.70 per cent from N206.769 million in 2015 to N617.634 million in 2016.

Turnover rose from N3,501 billion in 2015 to N3.864 billion during the review period of 2016, accounting for growth of 10.36 per cent.
Champions began the first quarter ended March 31, 2017 with N1.1 billion revenue compared to N871.9 million recorded in the previous year, translating to a growth of 27 per cent.
The brewer’s costs of sales for the period was N886.3 million against N606.2 million recorded in 2016, representing a growth of 46.2 per cent.

The company recorded N220.1 million gross profit against N265.6 million recorded in 2016. Its operating profit for the period was N36.1 million in 2017 in contrast N67.3 million recorded in Tue previous year.
Its profit before tax was N39.1 million in 2017 against N57.1 million recorded in 2016.

The profit after tax for the period fell by 30 per cent to N39.5 million in contrast to N57.1 million recorded in the year before due to higher production costs caused by inflation and a weakened naira.
The company recorded N9.9 billion assets in the period in year against N9.3 billion recorded in fiscal year 2016 while its total liabilities remained at N2.2 billion same as last year.

Champion Breweries, however, posted positive performance in the second quarter as its net profit grew by 114 per cent to N46.5 million compared to N21.7 million recorded same period 2016.
The brewer ended the quarter with increased revenue of N1.1 billion compared to N957.9 million posted the previous year and costs of sales was higher at N896.8 million against N732.9 million in the year before.
Its gross profit rose to N287.9 million from N225.0 million in the financial year 2016, while operating profit increased to N54.9 million against N16.0 million in the previous year.
Total assets fell to N9.8 billion in q2 2017 compared to N9.9 billion in the previous year, while total liabilities also lower to N2.0 billion versus N2.2 billion in 2016.

Champion Breweries sustained positive bottom-line as its nine months ended September 30, 2017 profit after tax grew by 56.89 per cent to N152.122 million as against N96.961 million posted in 2016.
Profit before tax equally increased by 56.13 per cent to N216.922 million during the period under review in contrast to N138.941 million recorded in 2016. The company’s revenue also went up by 24.82 per cent to N3.321 billion as against N2.660 billion recorded the previous year.

However, the brewer ended the 2017 financial year with a drop of 2.41 per cent in profit after tax.
The company in a filing with the Exchange, said that its profit after tax stood at N517.562 million for the financial year ended December 2017 as against N530.389 million recorded a year earlier, representing a decline of 2.41 per cent.
Profit before tax stood at N603.173 million during the period under review from N637.300 million posted in 2016, accounting for a drop of 5.35per cent.
Revenue however, grew by 23.62 per cent, from N3.864 billion in 2016 to N4.777 billion during the period under review.

The Chairman of Champion Breweries Plc, Dr. Eljiah Akpan, speaking at the company’s 40th annual general meeting (AGM) in Lagos said: “The company’s successful conclusion of debt re-financing, increase in production and sales volume of Champion Lager Beer as well as re-introduction of Champ Malta has resulted in positive turnaround of the business performances during the year.”
He assured the shareholders of better days ahead, saying they will soon start enjoying the dividend of their investments.

“Considering our present financial position from deficit to surplus, our company has the right mindset and structures to achieve payment of dividend to you our dear esteemed shareholders in no distant time”, he said.
Akpan, who said there would be stronger competition with on-going global mergers between brewing giants in the world, noted that the situation would lead to more innovations and inflow of new brands in the market.
He also expressed optimism in Nigeria’s outlook, which, according to him, is brightened by the large and varied opportunities in different sectors of the economy.

“We shall explore the available possibilities the Nigerian business environment is offering to increase our market share within our business region,” he said.
“Our concerns on the inability to pay dividend till date has put more pressure on the board and management to implement strategies to boost our revenue and profits in order to reduce the company’s accumulated losses.
“We remain relentless in achieving growth, development and success of our company in the coming financial year.”

Last line
Following the rising level of competition in the industry, it is advisable that the company remain resolute in continuously achieving cost optimisation and innovation for increased profit going forward.

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