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Ibru: FG’s agric revolution’ll boost economy, reduce poverty

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Ibru: FG’s agric revolution’ll boost economy, reduce poverty

Mr. Goodie Ibru, a commercial lawyer and entrepreneur, is the founder of Ikeja Hotels Plc, owners of Lagos Sheraton Hotel and Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos. He is also holding controlling interest in Abuja Sheraton Hotel. In this interview, he speaks with KAYODE OLANREWAJU about wealth and employment creation, entrepreneurship, economy, insecurity, Federal Government’s agriculture revolution, and the need for more integration and interface between’ town and gown’ for national development, among other sundry national issues.

 

How do you think the country can wriggle out of the present poverty and economic challenges?
To get out poverty in the country or to tackle poverty, first we must create wealth. Government should put in place economic programmes that will create wealth. This is necessary because we cannot create wealth without first creating employment.
Secondly, government must come up with policies, which will encourage and give incentives to investors to invest in the country. There is what we call Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which government should tap into and make Nigeria a destination of investments that will be attractive to foreign investors. And, in a simple sense, they would be able to make good returns for their investments.
More importantly, government should make the country safe for investors and their investments. We must make the issue of doing business in Nigeria more attractive such that people will not be discouraged to bring their money into the system. What I am saying in essence is that there should not be too many rules or policies to discourage investors; though I am not saying there should not be regulations.
The other area to look into critically if the nation wants to tackle poverty in the land is to address the spate of killings in parts of the country. Thus, security should be topmost in government’s agenda and the current killings must be stopped immediately. The United States of America has made its intention known and clear to us on the spate of killings in the country. But, thank God that Mr. President is now reviewing the country’s security architecture and operatives so as to tackle this spate of killings that is greatly disturbing.
The other aspect to exploit is agriculture. That is through government’s agricultural revolution. More efforts should be concentrated in this very important life of the country.
But, like you said that the Nigerian agriculture products are not been accepted in international markets today, let me stress here that this is because there is lack of quality control mechanism in place.
We should ensure our agriculture produce meet the international standard. Therefore, there is the need for government to bring back the Marketing Board like the one in operation in the defunct Western Region. The Board insisted on quality control of all farm produce such as cocoa, which did very well in the international market to the benefit of the farmers.
Of course, this should be brought back immediately to ensure that our products are of international standard.
But, again, there should be no too much regulations on business or investments so that business and investments can grow.
The diversification programme of the Federal Government should be intensified and vigorously pursued. The country needs to move away from oil and gas as the mainstay of national economy. I want to also say here that the easiest way to diversify the economy is through agriculture revolution and extractive industry/mineral resources. Don’t forget that agriculture was the mainstay of the nation’s economy in the 50s and 60s. And now with the country’s population made up of good, hardworking and intelligent people, as well as the expanse of arable land, Nigeria should capitalise on all these to boost its agricultural sector by diversifying heavily into food production.

Looking at the environment we live and operate today, there are insecurity, incessant killings and poor infrastructure; what is your take on these?
Well, despite all these, I want to stress that we are here and we live here. We need to ensure that government takes care of the security challenges confronting the nation. It is not something that will continue forever, otherwise any government that comes to power will become unpopular and the chances of winning a re-election will be slim. Hence, any responsible government will make sure that security is topmost in its policy focus so as to ensure security of live and property as well as encourage investments.

Presently, major big companies are operating in a harsh economic environment with high cost of production, high import tariff and so on. All these would not give way for young businesses to grow. What are your views on these?
Of course, it is a fact that we are in a state of economic recession, but now the country is gradually getting out of that recession and perhaps this is not peculiar to Nigeria. But, I want to add here that recession is a circle. That is, we have the time of recession and time of prosperity. What we have to do is to hold on till the time things would be a bit better. However, there is much talk about restructuring and there is a lot of talk about diversification of the economy. So, one of the greatest challenges that Nigeria, as a country, has is that we have too much depended on oil and gas, and that makes Nigeria’s economy very vulnerable. What this means is that whenever the price of oil goes down in the international market, we are in problem as there would be automatic recession because there will be less money for government to spend on infrastructural development and other needs. And, recently when that happened, the price of oil fell from $100 dollars to between $30 and $35 dollars in the international market.
So, Nigeria has to diversify her economy and shift focus from oil and gas mono-lithic economy to other areas of economic activities. And, the two areas as I have always mentioned are agriculture, which was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy before they found oil and also solid minerals or extractive sector. The other sectors such as tourism, where I belong, some countries live virtually on tourism sector and I don’t see any reason why Nigeria with all her God-given resources such good weather, good land and good people, could not be able to develop tourism. Although, if other sectors of the economy are developed, the hardship we are talking about today, if not disappearing completely, would have drastically been reduced.

As an entrepreneur, are you comfortable with the pace of government’s agricultural revolution to leverage the economy?
Yes, we don’t have any choice than moving in that direction and, sincerely, any responsible government should pay special attention to agriculture. In fact, the future of Nigeria is more largely on agriculture than in oil and gas. And I will tell you the reason why. If we do not develop our agriculture, we will, as a nation, continue to import food and that is ridiculous because we have so much arable land that we have no business importing food. We should be able to produce the food we eat, while the surplus will be exported to other countries, especially to the West African sub-region and also Central Africa.
Secondly, Nigeria is part of Africa and Africa is the future of the world. As at today, the population of the world is about seven billion people and it is reckoned that in the year 2050, the population of the world would be nine billion people, where is the food going to come from to feed the additional two billion people. Now, people have been speculating that Africa will produce food for the rest of the world because, 65 per cent of arable land in the world is in Africa. So, if we plan well ahead, Africa will become a very important continent to feed the rest of the world.
Again, let us look at rice revolution. Despite much noise, we still depend on imported rice because the locally produced rice is not readily available in the market.
No, I am not sure of that because a lot of rice is being produced in the country, at least from what I hear and see.

But, in your hotels, do you serve locally produced rice?
I can tell you with pride that most days of the week, if you visit Sheraton Hotel, Lagos and others, you will eat Ofada rice, which is locally grown and produced. That is good evidence that rice produced in the country is helping significantly to reduce consumption of rice imported into the country. I strongly believe that is good news.

Why it is that multinational companies operating in Nigeria still run back to their home countries to patent research work from their institutions. Don’t you see that it is a deliberate attempt to frustrate our system here?
Like I said before, if we have the right type of leaders we can make the country great. The problem we had in the past was that we did not take advantage and pursued the mentorship model that was proposed. Most successful people have mentors and they pay great tribute to their mentors. I received mentorship from my father. If we mentor our young people we will produce great leaders for the country. And again, I believe strongly that this will definitely come. One thing we must understand is that no foreigner is coming to develop this country because they would rather prefer to develop their countries, even at our own expense. Our future is in our own hands and we should ensure we develop our nation by producing leaders who will take the advantage of the resources we have to the nation’s advantage.

As an entrepreneur, will you agree that Nigerian economy is growing?
I think so and I we give you my reasons. Recently, a Nigerian came with a group from America and stayed in one of my hotels, that is one barometer to determine whether the economy is growing. If the economy were not, such a number of people would not have come from America to the country. If you visit the hotel you will see many airline crews. The crews don’t fly the aircraft empty, they bring people to Nigeria. That is a barometer for a growing economy. Many of them come to do business and some come as tourists. Though, the economy may not be growing as fast as we hope, definitely the economy is growing.

Nigeria and especially the university system believes strongly that entrepreneurship holds the key to national development and that students should be introduced to entrepreneurial training early enough. Do you share this position and how relevant is this?
Indeed, entrepreneurship is key to the development of the students. And of course, I will say without ambiguity that entrepreneurship is the future of this country. If I may also add, entrepreneurship is the future of African continent.
And in view of this, university curricular should be skewed in such a way that it will accommodate the teaching and training of entrepreneurship in the sense that they should be prepared adequately for the job market because when our graduates leave the university system all of them cannot be employed by government or international businesses.
So, graduates should be able to set up businesses of their own and in other words to be self-employed.
And again, they should be prepared for the challenge and that is why I said entrepreneurship is very important as the future of the country, especially in the areas of start-up companies, small and medium scale industries, which formed the bulk of businesses in any country. This takes about 70 to 80 per cent of any economy. Thus, the earlier we get the students introduced to entrepreneurship training, the better for the individuals and the country.

Caleb University is bringing town and gown together to develop students in every facet of their life, how do you think we can make this integration between the university and industry more robust?
I have always said that the academia, I mean the universities, play very important role in the development of any economy. In fact, any smart government should partner the academia for its development in all aspects. There is a popular saying that if there is a problem we should go to the academia to say we have a problem and that we want solutions. The academia is good at organising seminars, conferences and workshops that would produce results and, at the end, through the advantage of such intellectual engagements, they proffer solutions to such problems for which any responsible government should implement to its advantage.
But, that has always been the problem, as government is never ready to embrace such recommendations for national development.
Yes, it is a problem because they say some of these communiqué or recommendations usually gather dust on the shelves or drawers of government. But, I want to tell you that this will soon change in the sense that we are already embarking on how to develop leaders of tomorrow. We have bad leaders in the sense that all these solutions that were being proffered they did not implement them. But, that is going to change by getting older people to mentor the younger ones in order to prepare them for future leadership. If this is done we will no longer be talking about bad leadership in this country.
The United States of America is 242 years old, and it has a lot to share with Nigeria because of its heavy investments in the country, especially in the extractive industry. America wants Nigeria to grow and prosper. One of the speakers during the celebration of American Independence anniversary said they want to see Nigeria stronger and great, and they believe that one way we can do this is to begin to prepare our leaders of tomorrow. And, he proffered a solution in that direction and the solution he offered is that Nigeria should start mentoring the younger people. He gave a figure of the number of mentors he envisages. The speaker said there should be 10 million mentors in the country to mentor the young people. In this case, let us agree that Nigeria is a country of 200 million people and if there are 10 million mentors that would be one mentor to 20 mentees. But considering the fact that the population of the younger people under 30 years old is about 60 per cent of the total population, at least this will reduce it to one mentor to 10 mentees and that is achievable.
And besides, all the recommendations made by the academia taken into consideration their advantages could then be implemented by the new leaders.

How do you think the universities could do this in view of paucity of funds and other extraneous factors in the system militating against integrating entrepreneurship programmes?
I don’t see any difficulty in this. What they needed to do is to put in place a faculty that will prepare the students and the university for entrepreneurship education, just as we prepare for law or medical practice. In that manner students could be prepared for entrepreneurship and after graduation he or she would be ready to take up the challenge because by then he won’t be completely a green horn.

But the students have always complained that after acquiring entrepreneurial skills at the university there is no start-up funds to start their businesses, coupled with the harsh economic situation of the country. How do you react to this?
Well, that question has always been asked now and then, but my position is that in every challenge, there is always a solution. Government has set aside some funds for start-up companies to help small and medium scale entrepreneurs, which the graduates can also tap into. There are so many of such funds made available through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other interventions. I know that a lot of start-up companies and businesses have taken advantage of these funds and interventions.
Apart from this, there are other means of mobilising funds. Some people in order to start up their companies go to borrow money or get assistance from their families and this will form the seed money. So, it is not completely impossible, but something that is achievable if carefully planned.

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