‘Africans should believe in locally manufactured ICT products’

RLG Communications is the company currently setting up an assembly plant in Osun State, Nigeria to manufacture mobile phones and computers for local consumptions and exports. In this interview with KUNLE AZEEZ, RLG’s Chairman, Mr. Roland Agambire, speaks on the company’s vision for the Nigerian economy in terms of jobs creation potential, collaboration with existing computer manufacturers in country, and the need for patronage of locally-assembled products to create global African brands, among others. Excerpts:

Can you tell us about RLG Communications?

RLG Communications has been in operation, manufacturing mobile phones in the past 12 years, and has just entered into the Nigerian market. In the last 12 years, we have improved our products to a quality that can now appeal to the eyes. The products are much stronger and better now, compared to what it used to be in the past, we have learnt from our mistakes and we have remained a better product in the many markets today. RLG has regional operations in Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, China and United Arabs Emirate. Each region or country has regional autonomy and a legal entity.

What is the focus of the company?

The focus of RLG today is to become a leader in innovation with a vision to create a strong African brand. If you ask me if we have an African brand today, my answer will be in the negative because Africans cannot single out something we can attest to. If someone is looking for an African brand to identify with, such person will find none. So, this is an opportunity for us to be using Information and Communication Technology tools in producing our own brand and creating jobs for the people. Our relationship with various countries is to create jobs and promote the brand across the world. It is important to note that one can create jobs if he or she has the product. In creating jobs, we offer the society valuable skills and gainfully engage the youths in the society. We offer skills that will enable them assemble computers and mobile phones. Our first encounter in Osun State is the training of over 20, 000 young Nigerian youths, in collaboration with the state government that bankrolled the training cost for the trainees.

You are setting up an assembling plant for manufacturing ICT products in NigeCan you share more information with us regarding this investment?

Yes, we are putting up one of the biggest assembling plant in Nigeria, precisely in Osun State and currently, we have spent close to $10 million and we are aware we will still spend more, but that is not to say that it is a very big investment because we believe we can do more than that.

We have our Nigerian head office in Lagos, but we are building an assembling plant in Osun State, from where we will be able to produce and sell all RLG products in Nigeria.

We have a tagline which is “Proudly Yours’. This means we have brought the brand to Nigeria and it is owned by Nigerians and will be promoted by Nigerians. RLG is about the people of Africa, giving them the confidence that Africans can start very small in business, but can grow very big in the same business. Africa has always been a source of raw materials for other countries that come to Nigeria and take away the raw materials and turn them into finished products. The finished products are later sold back to us and Africans buy them. That is the situation with Africans. We are supposed to be richer than any other country in the world, but we have allowed ourselves to be poor because of our own mindsets. So, it is high time Africans started believing in locally-manufactured ICT products and other products coming out African continent with a view to also promoting them as global brands.

We have made ourselves a cash society, whereby we must save for everything we want to buy, unlike developed countries that get what they want first through credit facilities and then pay latter. If we begin to believe in the African brand like the products of RLG Communications, like the phones and laptops, and begin to patronise them, then we will go places and compete well with the developed countries. If we do that, we will be creating job opportunities for Nigerians.

We should believe in our own, learn from our mistakes, and this will go a long way in changing the mindset of our people. From our mistakes, we will learn more and change to become better manufacturers in the future.

You may want to ask about how we intend to cope with the challenge of electricity in Nigeria, yes, we are aware of it but electricity challenge is everywhere in Africa and we cannot run away from it. In Ghana, we have electricity challenge and we have been coping in the last 12 years of production. We will have a way to overcome it in Nigeria, since we are very much aware that steady electricity is key to manufacturing.

When operational, what will be the job creation potential and other value additions of the plant to the Nigerian economy?

The assembling plant is designed in such a way that it will create nothing less than 1, 000 jobs at a time in the factory alone. Then, the after-sales service and product marketing will create over 10, 000 jobs. In the market strategy of the RLG products, we have three lines of business, which are the Enterprise Business, After Sales Service, and the Turnaround Production Time. The Enterprise Business is a very detailed plan that allows the youths to trade with RLG and establish meaningful jobs for themselves, by selling RLG products.

The After-Sales Service has to do with aligning some of the people with various shops that will be dealing with RLG products by detecting defects and making repairs and replacement of faulty parts, and this will create over 500, 000 jobs across the country. The Turnaround Production staff are factory workers that will be engaged with factory production, and this alone can create over 1, 000 jobs at a time.

From the production capacity, the plant is designed to produce a minimum of 5, 000 phones in a day. But as we progress, and the workers understand the working principles of the machines perfectly, the number can be doubled.

The plant is today, the biggest manufacturing plant of RLG and we are citing it in Nigeria, and we are proud of that. The plant we have in Ghana does not have that capacity as that of Nigeria, and we have made it so because of the huge market in Nigeria, and the warm reception given to us by the government and people of Osun state. So, the plant is near ready. We will start test-running in the middle of October this year and by the first week in November this year, we will begin full production.

Nigerian government is very keen about local content. What per cent of local content will you incorporate in RLG products?

In terms of local content, everything about our products has 100 per cent local content. What most manufacturers do is to outsource some of their production line, but I promised that 100 per cent of the production contents will be sourced from Nigeria.

Also, as part of the local content infusion in all that we would be doing in the assembly plant, we will be seeing a lot of local applications from the phone. We are looking at local contents and our Research and Development Desk is already compiling various forms of available Nigerian software applications that will run on the phones we would be manufacturing.

We will have apps on local culture, ecommerce, e-education that are tailored to the Nigerian market. We are in the ICT world that creates local contents to solve local solutions, and that is exactly what we are doing with the RLG phones.

There are other computer manufacturers already in Nigeria. With your coming into the Nigerian ICT market, what level of collaboration do you plan to have with these firms in order to promote African ICT brands together?

We are passionate at collaborating with other Original Equipment Manufacturers in Nigeria. We strongly believe that it is better to play as a messenger in a $1 billion-investment company than to play as a boss in a zero-balance investment outfit.

It is of no use playing alone in a market that needs collaboration, so we are willing to collaborate in the interest of the countries where we operate. For example, the phone assembling plant in Osun State is not 100 per cent owned by RLG Communications. It is a partnership business between RLG and the Osun State government and we are happy to partner with the state because we believe in healthy collaboration. On why we have chosen Osun among other states of the federation as the site for our assembly plant, the reason for this is simple: Osun State became the choice state because of the warm reception given us by the Osun State government and the people of Osun State.

We do not have particular choice for any state. If today, other states invite us, we will gladly go there to establish. We have written proposals to different state governments to partner them in training of their youths and in establishing in the states, and we are still waiting for their responses.

Also, in terms of market competition, yes, we are aware of market competition but we are not scared of competition because of unique strategies and selling points. Today, we have strategies to distinguish our brand from all other brands in the world. We have three tiers of products that stand out anywhere, and in any day.

We have the Easy Brand, which is a feature phone that is of general use for everybody. We have the Fever Brand that is associated with the entry level of smartphones that comes with Twitter, Facebook and others. We also have the Uhuru laptop that gives freedom and flexibility of use. The Uhuru brand is a tablet and a smartphone combined, and all our products are strong and durable. We, therefore, have three categories of products that meet the demands of everyone.

You recently recognised by the Board of Nigerian Telecoms Award as ‘African Telecoms Personality of the Year 2013’. What does this mean to you?

First of all, I thank the Board of Logica Communications, organisers of the annual Nigerian Telecoms Awards for recognising me as a person and my company, RLG Communications. This shows they believe in me and in my products. The recognition has given me a new platform to talk to anybody in the world today. I am dedicating the award to the youths in Osun State that have benefitted from our training and to the entire people of Osun State that have built a cordial relationship with RLG Communications.

I promise them and the entire Nigeria that RLG will grow to become an African brand that will be identifiable with at any time. I encourage Nigerians to believe in RLG communications in order for us to have economic independence. We have had political independence and what we need now is economic independence, where people will have confidence in locally-developed ICT products. Remember that no one can have economic independence if the people do not believe in you. So there is need for Nigerians to build their interests around locally developed IC products. RLG products have been accepted by Nigerians and we need them to sustain that interest.

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