Every business needs an enabling environment to thrive, something that is lacking in a country like Nigeria where plenty opportunities abound. For Higgins O. Peters who has endured doing business in Nigeria for a long time coming, things will only change when government is involved in the area of policy making. Interview by Victoria Omuya Usman
We have projects spread across all the states…
We operate four companies merged together as one. Each of the companies have their specialty; we are into construction, communication and energy. And though we do not have offices in all the states of the country, we have projects spread across all the states because of the construction arm of our business. For every project we execute, we hire staff on contract bases for the duration of the project. Most of the people we hire are essential staff who are specialists in their particular fields. So in all, we manage 24 staff members here in Abuja but across board, including those on the fields, we are more than that.
I would rather not engage anybody than engage someone I cannot pay…
In this company, we would rather not have job to do than take the health of my staff for granted. Their health and their salaries too, because as a Christian, the Bible tells me that the labourer deserves his wages. So I would rather not engage anybody than engage someone I cannot pay at the end of the month, or not be responsible for their safety and health. We also pay attention to quality delivery in any of our projects.
We intend to position our company to observe every standard that is fair…
As a company, we aspire to become one of the very strong indigenous companies competing with any of the international companies coming to Nigeria to do business. In that line, we intend to position our company to observe every standard that is fair in any of our disciplines. There are a lot of multinational and indigenous companies in the same line of business with us so our competitors are all over the place. But we know that every client deals with every company differently so that if I go to look for a job in one of the ministries, the law is that we all have to be qualified and bid, that is where the competition is. You go there with your capacity and precedent and in the end if you are selected because you meet the criteria, you are given the job. So the volume of companies in the same business does not affect our business in any form.
In a government where budgets are not passed, jobs would not be given…
The Nigerian business terrain in itself is a challenge, so that every day is a challenge for every Nigerian businessman. Like in the case of my company, apart from doing personal projects here and there, we are into government projects, which is actually were the money is. But in a government where budgets are not passed, jobs would not be given. And when jobs are not given, the businessman whose projects are government inclined has a challenge. And the challenge becomes continuous when this happens year in year out. For instance, we have heard that the National Assembly has sent the 2018 budget to the president for assent about two or three months ago, but we have not seen the implementation. No funds have been released and this is the ninth month for a budget that is in quarters. What this means is that businessmen in Nigeria that are dependent on government projects have been idle for the whole year.
As head of my company I’m unemployed…
In basic economics, when you have an office and workers, it means that you have all it takes to run a business. I am paying my workers, bills, servicing my equipment and all, but as the head of my company I’m unemployed. No income is coming in for me but everyone working for me is being paid. That is what is called structural unemployment in economics.
No matter how you restructure,
if there are no policies, the structure would still fail…
What we need is an orientation that would change government policies on how we do business and how we take governance in Nigeria. That is why when we talk about restructuring in politics I wonder, because no matter how you restructure, if there are no policies, the structure would still fail. What we really need is a comprehensive policy in Nigeria and a commitment to nationhood. Nigeria is a nation without nationhood. Nationhood is not the country itself but the spirit of the people, patriotism and dedication to the nation; that is what we don’t have. It would take real orientation, proper policy formulation and commitment by our leaders, for these problems to become a thing of the past.
My leisure is my office and my hobby is my house…
I have a very routine life and that has been so for a long time. I come to the office between 10 and 11am. I sit here until 7pm. I drive straight from my house to my office and drive straight back home and once I’m in my house, I’m not coming out again except something really serious comes up. And on weekends, when there is any sport to enjoy, I sit on my couch and watch, that is the best way I unwind. I have not at any time since I have been in Abuja, gone to any of the gardens, clubs or lounge for anything. My leisure is my office and my hobby is my house. But I spend time in church and with my family, those are the two things I am committed to.
We need to continuously work hard to support and advice government…
As CEOs, we shouldn’t be dispirited. We need to continuously work hard to support and advice government to see if someday we would have a group of people with the same mind-set that would be committed to Nigeria and formulate better policies that would bring back Nigeria’s past glory. We have had various committees set up in the past to bring businessmen and government to interact but those committees are advisory. They come up with policies that are sent to the government but it’s left for the government to implement them.
Every investor wants profit…
No international investor would come to Nigeria if Nigeria does not present a picture of prosperity because every investor wants profit and an investment must bring that. So by the time foreign investors come and meet that the business terrain is not healthy even for indigenous businessmen and experience the challenge they have to face, they will not want to come in.
The country as it is now is skewed against the youths…
The country as it is now is skewed against the youths. I was around when privatisation came in banking and aviation. Back then, you could be in the bank with 10 years’ experience and retire to go register for banking licence with N100 million or N2.5 billion capitalisation. When that started, owners of the major banks in Nigeria today like Tony Elumelu and Jim Ovia were all in their early 30s that’s why we can say they were youths. But because the conditions were better then, they were able to put such huge institutions together. Which youth can do same today? They are saying that you have to have N25bn capitalisation, where would you get such money from? Because of the policies, procedures and processes of government in place, it has become so difficult for youths to excel even now that they are brighter than my own generation.
The youths now are smarter because the world has placed something in their hands that we didn’t have in our time. But the policies in our country would not allow them to take full advantage of what they have been given. That is why they are instead, tilting towards a natural environment that is comfortable and easy which is entertainment. Most youths are going to Nollywood, music and comedy because they don’t need more than N10, 000 to get into that sector. But to do so in a serious sector becomes very difficult. But they should not be dispirited. We have to work harder to build a nation that we can pass on to those coming after them.
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