An industrial revolution is underway in Akwa Ibom State, spearheaded by Onur Kumral, a Turkish businessman and investor, who recently won the Independence Newspaper CEO of the Year in Nigeria.
In this interview with Godwin Akpan, Mr Kumral speaks on manufacturing and business-related issues, including plans to export syringes from Nigeria to Germany.
Q: This is the very first time a non-Nigerian has been honoured as CEO of the year, during the 2020 Independence Award. This is outstanding. How did you arrive at this, what’s the secret?
Onur Kumral: It’s our organisation that got the award. We get this as a people. I’m just getting this on behalf of them. First, I really want to thank my team, Akwa Ibom State, stakeholders, and the company, for their support. It (the award) came through hard work. Now, it is time for new frontiers. The secret is that we worked hard. We believe in this country. We believe that if we continue like this, we will get more.
Q: How are Akwa Ibom people benefiting from your investment in the state?
Onur Kumral: Akwa Ibom State is one of the largest oil producing States in Nigeria. But unfortunately, in the past, the State could not record adequate investment. That is what we saw as a point of business. So, the things that we created have impacted much on manpower and also trade. When you have investments like the ones we have here, Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Limited and Kings Flour Mill, you are simply creating jobs for the people.
And a State that is only producing oil began producing other materials and a lot of skilled people came and transferred those skills to the indigenes of Akwa Ibom State. That is why we believe Akwa Ibom State, first of all, has the benefit of employment through new investments. Second, it has increased revenue because of tax benefits which goes back to the people living here. Also, the traders, we see our brand on the street. New trading companies are opened. These kinds of investments will make the State rise like a trade hub in the future.
Q: How many Akwa Ibom people are working in your organisation?
Onur Kumral: About 2000 direct employment and over 25,000 indirect employment is created by our investments. If you compare this to farming or construction, the benefit of this kind of investment is not seasonal. It is a lifetime job. So, what we created is bringing lifetime benefit to people who are in touch with our investments.
Q: Kings Flour Mill recently marked two years in Akwa Ibom State. But out there, your brand is everywhere. How did you achieve this?
Onur Kumral: Let me give the credit to our guys working in the company, not to myself. They have done very well to create that brand. They want to touch everyone’s life, giving that quality. The same applies to our Syringe. When I saw our Syringe in a pharmacy in Lagos, I was really proud of what we have done. When you see the flour, like when I visited one State in the north about four months ago, I saw our brand on the street. It makes me proud of what we have done. I am sure this is a big success for our marketing team, a big success for our production team in terms of quality. What we have done in Kings Flour Mill is that we combine good price with good quality. So, that strategy worked out. I really want to thank our team.
Q: Can you lead us into the future of your investments?
Onur Kumral: This is just the start of the story, hopefully. What we have planned now is that we want to raise the capacity of our Flour Mill as soon as possible. This is because the demand now is much more than supply. For the syringe, we want to add more lines to new kinds of products, not just syringes. We want to add drip lines to it. However, we want to expand on these two sectors first. Also, with our partners in Turkey, a huge oil and gas group, we have signed a deal on exclusive distribution of oil lubricants for the ECOWAS region. Of course, it will first start in Nigeria. Our first target is to start trade in oil. But the main target is to see if we can create that same success in what we have done in Kings and Jubilee. If we can create the same distribution lines, we want to start packaging.
Also, we are very much interested in the textile business. We have signed our preliminary contracts with our partners in Turkey again. Of course, you know Turkey is a big textile country. We want to bring that textile company to start to produce in Nigeria. We hope to start the construction before the end of this year. Hopefully, next year, you will see the opening of a textile company here in Akwa Ibom State. It will be designed by local designers. It will be in the quality of Turkish textile. That is what we want to achieve. Our first target will be to produce 3,000 dresses a day which will be a standard of 3000 to 5000. That will create about 5000 direct employment and maybe 23,000 to 25,000 indirect employment. This is the first target we have in 2021. If we succeed, in 2022, we will want to add some more. But we have to go step by step. We have some principles. We have to succeed before we get to the next one.
Q: Are investment policies in the country favourable to your investments?
Onur Kumral: We have a lot of support. First, we would like to thank the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel because his investment-mindset encourages us to bring all these industries and investments to the State. Second, we want to thank the Vice President (Yemi Osinbajo) for attending all our openings and to consider all our requests on how to encourage us as a private sector investment. We have a lot of support from stakeholders in the country, starting from our landlords, village chiefs, paramount rulers, the stakeholders in the state, the governors and even at the federal level, people are recognizing what we have done. That is a big encouragement for us. You know, when a number two citizen of a country comes and opens your facility and says you have to raise your capacity, you cannot say no. It is an encouragement.
Like in the Senate now, they are deliberating on the ban of importation of Syringe into the country, and this is good because it is what we have been trying to explain to Nigerians that you do not joke when it comes to quality especially in medicare. We are happy because some Senators have decided to support the local manufacturers by demanding that Teaching Hospitals buy their syringes from local manufacturers. That is a huge support which I, as one of the local manufacturers, cannot appreciate enough. That means they are thinking about people’s lives.
Same thing with Kings Flour Mill. During the heat of Covid-19 lockdown, all the governors gave us some exemptions including the Federal Government to work and to transport the flour to people’s houses. You know, these are very critical decisions that every country must take. The situation in Nigeria, if you have the goodwill and perform well in step one, you will have five steps added. That is something I have seen in Nigeria. I have been here eight years now, I have never seen anything negative. When I want to invest on a sizable thing, I always see the support from every stakeholder.
When Governor Udom Emmanuel started governing the State, he declared the same policies as the United Nations declared in investment. Declaring is not a big deal, everyone can declare. But he executed it and that execution gave us a big encouragement. That is why I am still thinking about more investments if possible.
Q: Tell us about your interest in the construction industry.
Onur Kumral: I am a civil engineer. Of course, as a civil engineer, you must be in the construction business. I have a construction company which is in charge of some key projects. Some of the projects have been completed like the 21-storey building known as Dakkada Towers. If I am not wrong, it is the sixth tallest building in Nigeria.
Again, with the vision of the Governor, if you want people to come and invest in your State especially the international entities, you have to put in place some critical infrastructures like the Ibom Air which is operating in the International Airport. Now, we are building a terminal there. They need an international standard office space, that is why they needed to build a 21-storey building which the state government may likely commission on the 23rd of September. We have some critical building projects here like the Dakkada Towers, Airport Terminal which we are finishing very soon. But we had some delay in the airport project because of the Covid-19. Of course, the production of materials that we were going to use was not that fast. But all of that has been sorted out so we are speeding up that.
Also, Governor Udom Emmanuel, has made a huge investment in coconut-planting business. The factory is finished and it is very much ready to be commissioned on the 23rd of September which is going to generate big revenue to the State. It is a State-owned factory. The raw materials will be produced in the state. Also, a lot of farmers will be supplying coconut. So, instead of coconut to be sold to the retail market, you can produce more and sell to the coconut factory and get paid every day. It is a very critical and important factory which my company also constructed. Of course, my construction company built my factories. We have some jobs in other states too. Construction is an important sector of our investment, but our main focus is industrialisation. This is because the biggest advantage for us to have a successful story in Nigeria is to produce. If we can produce more, we believe the success will grow more.
Q: A lot of people in Akwa Ibom State have criticised the Governor on his policies on industrialisation saying that it is not very effective, and most of the critical areas have not been touched. What is your reaction to this?
Onur Kumral: I am not a politician and I do not like being dragged into an area I have little or no idea about.. But I can make my comment from a business perspective. Anytime I go to him and request any support or propose creating a new factory or industry, he is always a step ahead of me in policy. So, as a person, considering his desire to see more investments in his state, I know this cannot be true. But again, since the rate of unemployment is high in the country, nothing is enough for the people. However, I know that under his administration, 15 industries have been created and this is quite commendable. There is no success close to what Governor Emmanuel has done in terms of industrialisation in just over six years. But I can understand people’s criticism. It is normal, people will always want more. And if you ask me, if my investments can be repeated, I will say, yes.
Q: Your organisation offered insight into the fact that you are planning to produce other medical consumables, besides syringes. We are yet to see that in the market?
Onur Kumral: Unfortunately, Covid-19 has stopped a lot of things we were planning to finish on time. That was about last year. But what we are facing now is post Covid-19 circumstances. Post Covid-19 circumstances have caused a lot of nightmares. Some companies and manufacturers that we were going to buy our things from are not there. During this post Covid-19, to bring materials, starting from timber, aluminum to steel, have been raised to about 70 per cent on dollar prices because of supply and demand problems. The transportation to Nigeria from Europe is about double now. So, this also affected our budget. Post Covid-19 investment budget and the duration are not the same. Let me give you an example, when I ordered an injection machine from Austria, I was able to get that in 3 months, maximum 4 months. If you go now and request from those same people, they will give you a minimum of 9 months. Also, one could pay some percentage in advance and some percentage when they are loading. Now, you have to pay 100 percent up front before any business is done. So, all the cash flows, all your schedules on it have changed. We are revising that now. It is not easy to maintain the investments and to maintain what you are producing now. If you have an income, you want to invest in something reasonable, not paying a high cost of percentage on goods. So, I can assure you that in 2022, we will be in a very good position, we hope so, to start those investments on ground. That is our target.
Q: The National Assembly had expressed displeasure over the high rate of importation of syringes into the country. Do you see this as a veritable opportunity to catch in and improve your capacity, thus stand as a key player to see how the country can end importation of syringes?
Onur Kumral: I think it is a very positive policy and a very big encouragement for us to increase our capacity. Our factory capacity is 400 million per year but if you go to our company, you will see some empty spaces. We did that on purpose. Our first target was 1 billion annually. We wanted some encouraging policies like this one. Now, the target is to raise production capacity to 800 million or to 1 billion. We will, hopefully, do that at the end of 2022. We will have all those on the ground. I think that would be a good sign also for us to show to the Federal Government of Nigeria that if they step forward to us, we will do our best. We will supply as much as it is needed in Nigeria. We can assure that.
Q: What will be your advice to Akwa Ibom people regarding the opportunities that have been created for investments?
Onur Kumral: I wish they create some industries that are needed by big industrial establishments. Why I am saying that is because big industrial establishments are only serving some people like the distribution chain. But we need Small and Medium Enterprises which can fix generators, industries that can sell chemicals to my flour mill, industries that can do some computerisation in our syringe factory. I wish they will talk to us. Maybe, it is a good idea I talk to them. I will create a seminar to give them ideas on what we need on ground. If they create those medium enterprises, our effectiveness in the State can be much more than what we are getting now. I shouldn’t be going to any big city in Nigeria to fix one of my machines. I should be able to do that in Akwa Ibom State. That will win time. I can always have someone I can discuss with if I have any problem in that area. That is a perfect thing. And that would create more and more effective jobs. When other industries come, people will submit their generators to be fixed. It is not only binding to one sector or industrial entity. That would be my wish.
I wish every young, dynamic, educated Akwa Ibomite could go into that sector instead of trying to make shortcuts in forging wealth. Let them use it in that productive way. They will benefit, industries will benefit and we will have a huge foundation to build on. That will also encourage other industries to come. As much as those industries are expanding, we are also expanding. Jubilee Syringe has the ISO certification on syringes. We applied for CE certification. CE certification is the standard of Europe and we are hoping to get it before the end of this year. We have all the qualifying stuff. A German company requested syringes from us but we need those certifications. When the first container is loading, we will all witness it. This is huge because it is reversing back to Europe. That is a huge revenue for the country in terms of exchange rate. That is an important milestone that we targeted in the last two years. It is not easy to get those EU certifications in Africa. That would be a reverse back policy. It strikes a revolution. We would love you to witness that one with us.
What I also wish from Akwa Ibomites is to differentiate between industries and politics. We are not interested in politics. We are here to produce and create employment opportunities for the people.
Q: Would you say that through your industries, technology has been transferred to Nigerians?
Onur Kumral: In Jubilee Syringe, we do not only manufacture, we transfer technology to the State and Country. What we did is that we created a team from the local engineers, we sent them abroad, they were trained there for a few months and we brought them back. We have lots of work we handle and the local engineering guys we have helped, achieved that. Now, I have only three expatriates, the rest are all locals and it would be good when they have the opportunities to open their factories, maybe to support the syringe factory, or they even open a syringe factory, which we really encourage them to do, because we do not see them as competitors. We see them as partners. Thus, this technology transfer creates a solid foundation for the medical industry. This is a seed that we have planted in the soil. When people see that seed grow and we start to eat the fruits from that tree, people will understand the importance of this. The technology that we have transferred is going to positively affect the medical system in this country.
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