New automotive policy’ll transform Nigeria into manufacturing nation –Proforce CEO

Mr. Adetokunbo Ogundeyin is the Chief Executive Officer of Proforce Limited, the only company in West Africa providing total defence solutions such as armoured personnel carriers, armoured boats, sports utility vehicles, luxury cars and wide range of armoured products for military, personal and corporate uses. In this interview with OLUSEGUN KOIKI, he says that Nigerians have no reason to continue to import armoured vehicles, especially now that a new auto industry development plan is in place. Excerpts:

Your company is the first in the sub-saharan Africa country to manufacture armoured vehicles and other personal protection, why these products when there are several options available?

What has happened over the years is that the level of insecurity is on a very high level. When you look at armed robbery, you will see that it is on a very high level. I happened to be in Kuwait sometime ago, and people were looking for a company that would be a partner to them, to market their products, and at that particular moment, it dawned on me that I did not want to be a go-between; I wanted to be a manufacturer. So we teamed up with some Colombians to set up Proforce in 2008. That was actually how we started the company. And the reason we founded the company, like I said, was due to the high level of insecurity in the country and all over the world. Nigeria is not isolated on this, because when you look at it, the same thing is happening in many countries across the world.

Many Nigerians would have jumped at the offer of importing some of these products, rather than manufacturing them locally because of easy and quick returns. Why did you go for manufacturing?

Due to my passion for innovation and my training as an engineer, I do not believe that trading is the way forward. We engineers believe that trading does not build up the economy of any country, but innovative manufacturing and application of latest technology. Manufacturing is the heartbeat of any economy and without manufacturing that economy will be stagnant and potentially collapse under external global market pressures.

Trading is just a short-term engagement. Manufacturing is long-term, and the more companies you have manufacturing, the greater the foundation of the economy of that country because of the jobs and wealth created. So, that was why we went into manufacturing and, of course, it gives me so much joy and pride because by manufacturing, we design and build our products; and this is done by Nigerians thereby developing expertise and capacity. We are creating jobs for Nigerians. We are saving for the country a lot of foreign exchange and are even earning foreign exchange for the country by exporting. You can imagine the amount of joy you have when you see your products in other countries all over the world and it is made in Nigeria. It enhances Nigeria’s good image all over the world.

But, then apart from that, when you are talking about defence, in Africa, it is only South Africa that has gone into this type of business, and we believe that we can do better. We believe that Nigerians have what it takes. We believe that Nigerians are intelligent and hardworking; Nigerians are focused and forward thinking; they know how to go about things. They are very sharp thinkers.

So, we believe that by the time we tap into these great qualities of Nigerians, we should be able to produce better products than what they make in South Africa, and we are on the way. We are on our way, because when you look at the level of patronage and the level of confidence that is being built in a lot of our clients that approach us, you will agree with me.

They can see the vehicles that are built abroad; they can see the quality of things done abroad. They can see that Nigeria has been used as a dumping ground, and when they see what we are doing and the quality of the finish, they are impressed. We are gradually building confidence in a lot people. Our quality control department is doing a great job in that respect. I thank most of the people working there, because it is a collective effort to project Nigeria as the number one defence products manufacturing country in the world.

Most investors believe that Nigeria is not investmentsfriendly due to several policy summersaults, what is your take on this?

About policies that keep on changing, it is not only in Nigeria that this happens. It is all over the world that it happens. What we have tried to do is that we try to run a very lean organisation. Number two is that we practice the Jugaad management method. In the Jugaad method, we don’t waste money. We are not top-heavy at all, and we spend a lot of money on training and on research and development. That is the core of any business concern.

Yes, a lot of companies have folded up, but a lot of these companies wasted a lot of money by being top heavy and lacking basic efficiency practices. They wasted money on other things. We have plugged all such holes, and what we have also done is that we try to run the place with minimal overheads, because when you start producing volume, then you can make your money, and it will sustain you.

Can you be more specific on some of your products at your Ode-Remo plant?

We armour SUVs. We make a lot of tactical vehicles, cash-in-transit vans; infantry combat vehicles, armoured patrol boats, unmanned ariel vehicles, UAV’s, and architectural armouring. We are now putting together a prototype military tank.

Majority of these vehicles are second to none when you look at the quality. We have brought in expatriates that have a combined 70 years experience in armoring, and these are people who were the top guys where they were working before. They have transferred the technology to Nigerians who are coming up seriously fast. In fact, we have a couple armoured personnel carriers, APCs, that the Nigerian team put together and when you look at the quality of the finish, you can match it in quality with the APC’s the expatriate team made.

So, gradually, what is happening is that the Nigerians are taking over, and one day the expatriates will leave it to Nigerians. But I can assure you that our products are just as good as all the products that are imported into Nigeria.

Moreover, all we defense products manufacturers import raw materials from the same select group of companies such as glass from the same world leading Armoured Glass company in Peru. Likewise, we all import steel from the same company.

The type of welding we do is mig-welding – the expertise of welding two ballistic metals together. If there is a joint, there could be a weak area. So we have perfected the mig-welding because of the presence of the expatriates that we have around, who have transferred that technology to the Nigerians.

You once tested your APC with policemen on board as shots were being fired with AK 47. Was there any incident, and how did the vehicle perform?

Yes, that was at Osun State. The policemen were inside the vehicle as it was shot times without number, and there was no penetration at all. What that shows is that we know our products, and we are confident of our products. Even I can sit down in our vehicles and have it shot at as I will be fully protected. All our vehicles are 360 degrees protected.

No part of our vehicles can be penetrated. Even when you have gun shots on the tyres, what you will discover is that the run-flat that are inside the tyres can take the vehicles for over 50 kilometres and take you out of that danger zone, which is excellent and second to none. So, that is what we have done. The policemen, the military, the armed forces and the paramilitary, all of them have given credit to our products. They find it un-believable that this is happening in Nigeria, but it is truly happening.

Can you mention some of your clients in this country?

Our clients are the military, the police, the paramilitary, the immigration, customs and multi-national companies that bring their vehicles here, because they realise that a lot of the vehicles they imported and are having serious after-sales problems. In fact, one of the biggest companies making armoured vehicles in the US just called me for a meeting very soon, saying they want us to handle their after-sales in the country and they want us to handle their armouring for them here for some of their clients.

That shows you the level of confidence they have in us. Apart from that, we had an inquiry from one of the huge European countries i.e. France. They want to supply armoured vehicles to a Francophone African country. They want to sub-contract the building of the militarised Landcruiser to us. We will do the building of the Land cruisers, and they will put the ammunition on them. The western world having so much confidence in what we are doing shows that Nigeria is going places, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan has done so much to encourage us, and it projects the government in good light all over the world.

What kind of support have you been getting from the government since inception?

Proforce has been recognised by government. In fact, there was a time the President sent a delegation of all the security outfits within the Presidency to come and look at what we are doing. At different times, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga, and the Minister of State in the ministry have been to the plant. The military has been there.

Commissioners of police of different states have also been there, and they all appreciated what we were doing and were impressed.

Not only that, the Federal Government has just come out with the new automotive policy as part of the transformation agenda. The automotive policy is the best thing to ever happen to this country. Look at a country like Iran where the auto industry contributes 10 per cent to the Gross Domestic Products, GDP, of that country. That is what is going to happen in Nigeria. The auto policy will transform this country completely into a manufacturing nation.

Look at financing, the Federal Government has now provided an intervention fund for manufacturing. This fund is one that is accessed easily. The Bank of Industry people are always ready to help. We thank God for them. The National Automotive Council too has been so good to us and the industry generally. They have given us their backing. So, what else? The new fiscal measures for the auto industry will allow us to bring in our different parts at zero duty from next year. There is nothing as good as that. What it means is that we will be competitive anywhere in the world market.

But some stakeholders in the sector feel it will draw back the country economically, what do you have to say on this?

For goodness sake, we have been on this for years. We have been trading for years; just importing and selling. Nigeria has been converted to a dumping site for imported vehicles. Look at all the Chinese vehicles all over the place. Look at countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. They are manufacturers of vehicles. This is the time we should rise to the occasion and stop all this trading. It can never be counter-productive.

Look at the amount of foreign exchange we are going to save. Trillions of naira in foreign exchange will be saved for this country; this is what they have been using to import vehicles every year. Look at the employment opportunities that it is going to create – close to 500,000 jobs or more.

How can it be counter-productive? Look at the effects downstream; several specialist manufacturing outfits will spring up, making brake pads, suspensions, and general spares for these locally manufactured vehicles. Let each one of the traders go there and get these companies to come and set up assembly plants in Nigeria. If you go to Malaysia, you will see an assembly plant for Mercedes- Benz, for Suzuki, for Honda, and others.

How will the policy and the new fiscal measures impact on your own sector of the auto industry?

In the case of Proforce, you know we import most of the things we use. We import the steel, the suspension, the glass and virtually everything that we use in building the vehicle. Definitely, by the time we start paying zero duty, the prices of our vehicles will be cheaper. We will be able to compete favourably with all the APCs and other armoured vehicles made all over the world. People will now be queuing to our factory here in Nigeria to build armoured vehicles and we will be exporting.

We will be earning foreign exchange for the country. Even within Nigeria, customers will be getting the vehicle at cheaper prices than those made abroad. So, nobody will go to America or Turkey or anywhere abroad, to buy armoured vehicles. They will buy from Nigeria, because the quality is the same, if not better. We have even started the process of ISO 900 certification. So, what else do we need?

How are Proforce’s products when compared with imported competitors in terms of price?

As of now, we are able to match their prices. For instance, if you want to armour a Landcruser with us, it is about $100, 000. That is just to armour. The cost of the vehicle is not inclusive. If you go abroad to armour a vehicle, it is $100, 000 too. If you want to armour a BMW 7 Series with us, it is only about $100, 000; that is, about N17 million. The cost of the BMW 7 itself is about N24 million. N24 million plus N17m will give you N41 million. So, you can see that we can compete favourably as of now. By the time the auto policy takes effect, we will be cheaper than those made abroad. So, Nigerians are even going to get armoured vehicles at prices way cheaper than what is imported.

Does your company have the capacity to satisfy local demands?

Our facility in Ode-Remo has the capacity for 40 armoured vehicles per month. It is designed and built to produce 40 vehicles per month. The one in Port Harcourt, which we are starting by January can do 20 vehicles per month. So, we are talking about total of about 60 vehicles per month. We are in the process of putting up another one in Abuja, that will do close to 120 per month. So, by the time they are ready, we will be talking about 120 to 200 vehicles per month. That is more than enough. In fact, we will have excess vehicles for export.

Nigeria is said to be among the top four countries importing armoured vehicles in the world. Does this worry you, especially when we are that group with Iran and Afghanistan that are known for violence?

Yes. It is a major concern. Insecurity is a major concern. But one thing I will say is that Nigeria is not isolated when it comes to all this. When you look at the political situation in the country, don’t forget that we recently transited from military to civilian rule. We are still trying to find our feet under the civilian rule. All these things add up. We are having another election in less than three years time. Politics in this country is a bit of do-or-die. A lot of people just feel that they would be insecure. So, they want to protect themselves. That is one reason.

The other reason is the level of threat to life in the northern area. I am talking about the Boko Haram issue and all that. Unfortunately, the insurgency situation is escalating, so people feel threatened in the north, and it is even spreading to the south due to the fact that we are talking about kidnapping. This is the reason why people feel they have to be protected. And then, even petty armed robbery is also a factor.

How many armored vehicles are imported into the country annually?

When you talk about the normal passenger vehicles, I think it is about 500 and 800 in a year. There are armoured personnel carriers imported by the Police. The Customs too. Add the ones imported by the military. By the time you add up all that, you will be talking about 1,500 in a year.

What are your targets in the next couple of years?

You see, we believe that Proforce will make Nigeria to become the number one armouring country in the world. We are working hard on it, and we know that we would achieve it. This is because of the speed at which we are moving and the support we have from President Jonathan’s government, which is more than enough for even a dumb person to be able to get up and work hard. We want to be the number one armouring company in Africa, and then from Africa, we take up the whole world. I am sure by next year, we will start bidding for all sort of jobs all over the world. And, I am sure you known that by the time we get to that stage – when we start bidding for jobs all over the world – every single person will be proud to be a Nigeria. By then, we can bid for United Nations jobs, and others.

 

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