The Managing Director Erisco Foods Limited, Chief Eric Umeofia speaks on anti-investment policies of the Central Bank of Nigeria and the National Agency for Food, Drug, Administration and Control in this exclusive interview with the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Nigerian NewsDirect, Dr. SAMUEL IBIYEMI. Chief Umeofia, otherwise known as Field Marshal of Business reiterated his threat to relocate abroad and sack 1,500 workers over failure to encourage production of tomato paste in the country. The CEO of ERISCO Foods who describes certain government officials as incompetent suggested that the Minister of Trade and Investment Dr Okechukwu Enelamah, DG NAFDAC and the Governor of the CBN should be removed for poor performance. Excerpts.
Few days ago, you threatened to shut down operations and throw over 1,500 workers into the labour market over unfriendly policies of the CBN and NAFDAC. What is the update?
The update is still where we are and we didn’t just come up with the deadline. We have done all what is possible to help President Muhammadu Buhari to be successful because we meant well for Nigeria.
The people in government have refused to hear our complaints as it is done overseas. They refused to respect Nigerian citizens but respect criminals.
Why am I here if I cannot help my people to grow, reduce armed robbery and crime? I will leave because I am not here only for money but to create jobs and help my nation but if the MDAs insist that we must have foreigners in the whole country, I tell them they are too small to compel me to serve foreigners in my country.
I rather go to their country and serve them than to serve them in my country. What they are doing here cannot be done in their own country because they will be jailed or killed.
Some Nigerians are collaborating with foreigners and are supposed to be questioned. Normally, in any country, you see people love the country and put their country first.
I have businesses in some countries to help my people but I am not allowed to do so in my country because of greed and fabricated lies of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) thinking they are the owners of Nigeria. They can’t deceive us to agree with them.
Minister of Industry, CBN and NAFDAC can’t compel me to serve foreigners in my land. I will rather die than do so. They are pretending to help President Buhari but are actually killing his good intentions. CBN claimed to give me N2 or N3 billion.
That’s chicken change to what I invested here. I can use this same money and invest overseas with 10 big factories because banks overseas will support investors with maximum of five per cent interest.
They see me as a normal businessman with passion, zeal, a businessman with milk to give my brothers to taste. I am not money conscious, not that I don’t like money but money I work for is what I want. President Buhari must succeed because if he doesn’t, people like us will remain shameful forever. However, I have the confidence and trust in him that he is the only one to deliver this country, that’s why I am still talking about him. I want this nation to progress.
For example, I have been campaigning for Made-in-Nigeria goods before this government came on board. I am of the notion that the Minister of Budget who is championing Made-in-Nigeria products doesn’t know much about it. When I was wearing Nigerian suit, the Minister was wearing foreign suit. I have no English suits because of the love I have for this country. This is because he is a Minister and as such it will discourage other people from participating. It’s a pity that people like the Minister will not acknowledge me who have been there before because they want to take all the credit to get the President’s favour. I am not in support of that. You asked me if I was at the Nigerian Economic summit, what am I going there for? Who are the practical people like me that were there? Let them come out. I have more than 1000 people working for me. I gave over 80 vehicles to Fire Services in the past. We have lost over N3.6 billion in this company for the sake of Nigeria. So, if they later say I want to monopolize the market, I will like to tell them, if the environment is good, I ought not to have been here today. I will not talk of going because it’s not fair for me here than outside.
I am a patriotic Nigerian and nobody can stop me from doing the right thing and saying the right thing because the President wants us to succeed. If we don’t support him now, all of us will be ashamed at the end of the day because this country belongs to us all. We are all working for our future and we should not think we are helping Buhari to divert money. As President Buhari is working to fix the country, am working hard to fix industries.
If anybody is attacking me as a field marshal of business, I am sorry for the person because before the war gets to Field Marshal like us, casualties must have taken place and the casualties are the 1,500 workers to be thrown into the labour market. So, before casualty get to people like me, I am already out of this country with my family. This is because I have made enough money till I die. So, why am I wasting my time here? If Nigerians do not appreciate me, what’s my own? I will travel overseas and continue my business because my brand’s name is already in the market. I will go there, establish my business and create jobs because that’s what CBN, NAFDAC and the Federal Ministry of Trade and Industries wanted genuine entrepreneurs. If CBN, the apex bank in Nigeria can fabricate lies against me, by saying I am still importing from other countries, they are big liars. My target is to see that the money I make outside the country, I invest in Nigeria by creating jobs.
CBN refused importation of my raw materials after they had banned 41 items and I have deposited $460,000, they allowed the money to be eaten by foreigners till date. What kind of economy is the CBN planning?
Before then, I had $20 million in my company for supply of goods but I was not allowed to utilize it because they refused to give me foreign exchange.
So, I approached CBN to give me money to produce the raw materials needed in the country. They promised but didn’t fulfill their promise. So, how can the economy move forward if the same CBN can grant $15.1 million to an Indian citizen to import finished goods but refused to give Nigerians.
We have capacity to create jobs in the country but we lack the truth which is affecting us till today. I can’t stoop low to beg for what I know is my right because God bears me witness that I am doing my best to help my people. If I continue to do business in this country, I may die younger. I ought to have gotten over 70 per cent of what I invested here but the reverse is the case. It pleased CBN to see foreigners prosper and move forward than to see me who is an indigene and ready to help my country grow and prosper. If you tell me there is no money in the country to give to indigenes whereas they gave money to foreigners to do business, importing various goods that need not be imported into the country.
If we are going around borrowing money for the survival of the economy, we need to ask ourselves where the money is going. The country is wasting over N1 billion yearly importing tomato pastes into the country when Nigeria has the capacity to produce these things and even export. The management of the CBN doesn’t want to hear that because it can never be in their favour. The Nigerian economy can be good and buoyant only if we say and follow the truth. I am an economist and not a politician, so my main goal is to create wealth for the people in my country. I made my money from both overseas cannot be intimidated by anyone in creating jobs for my people. Look at the result NAFDAC claimed that over 91.9per cent of goods imported to the country are fake and substandard. Few days later, they compromised. How can I succeed if I am producing at N2, 000 and China is producing at N1, 350 and dumping the product in Nigeria? It is not possible. My best option is to leave Nigeria for them to kill the economy. If what we can produce in our country are imported into the country, then it is an abomination and sabotage but because they lack experience, they devalued the naira even after the President had said we don’t need to devalue the naira but this acrobatic foreign-ingested economist will continue to work for the foreigners to sabotage Nigeria’s economy. In their own country, they get 0.5 per cent on their bond but in Nigeria they get 10.5 per cent which is killing the economy. If truly they want to invest in the country, we have the Cocoa factory, the Rail Line, they can invest in those. They should not deceive us. I am calling for the probe of CBN management after they do, Nigerians will know that CBN, NAFDAC and Ministry of Trade and Industries are really behind the woes of Nigeria.
The Minister of Trade Dr Okechukwu Enelamah and NAFDAC said if we ban tomatoes paste now, there will be scarcity of tomatoes in the market. What nonsense is that? Scarcity for how many months?Will Nigerians die as a result of the ban? These people holding offices are not qualified to be in that office. Many companies have closed shop because of bank and government policies.
Nigerians outside the country have enough money to invest in their country but they are afraid to invest because of bad government policies. I can’t stay in the country and die out of frustration initiated by government officials in collaboration with foreigners. Nigerians are being stampeded every time. I have tomatoes paste factory but yet nobody acknowledges because I am not an Indian man, tomatoes are wasting in my factories. Because I have no support, I can’t buy my fertilizer and I can’t afford tractors and equipment needed. Government agencies are deceiving the nation.
So how do you intend to pay back the debt owed?
We are auctioning our goods to pay back, I have over N6 billion worth of goods to be auctioned, I will not owe anybody before I depart Nigeria. It is not that I am closing the company finally but I am only relocating to import goods into the country, so I will make more money.
What if they don’t allow you to import into the country?
They can’t exclude only me, if they do, we will go to court. They won’t exclude only me because if they say they ban my item and allow some people to import it, can they import than me?
Is the National Assembly aware of your relocation?
Yes they are aware; I copied them and some other governors.
What has been the response of the national assembly as regards this?
The Senate has been trying. The same thing with the leadership of the house, but the people under them don’t know much. It may be because Senator Saraki had one time being a banker and he understands the business. It could also be because Dogara was once a farmer before he understands some of these problems.
Many of these people under them think we want to stop importation of these goods in order to monopolize the country’s market. We are more than this producing in the country but today we are just two or three. So,if the senate president is saying this again, though this is not the first time I am hearing this, action must be taken not just by mere words.
In this country there is no indigenous manufacturer who had suffered more pain than I have done, my money is diminishing instead of rising up, I wont allow that to happen again
I won’t invest my money to serve anybody again. I never imported food items when there was no Forex restriction instead of the government to encourage us and thank us for helping the nation. I want to tell the government I am the one helping them because my idea in tomato business is richer than theirs. I can’t kill myself for them, that’s my position.
What is the role of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria?
The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria is on their own doing their business for foreigners not for Nigerians. Ask any Nigerian that wants to tell you that we’re suffering. If anybody tells you otherwise, please tell the person to please get exchange to pay my debt in Nigeria.
I have a right to produce and sell in my country. Instead of supporting us to stop the importation of goods, the Minister of Trade is in support of importation.
If somebody that reads medicine decides to go into trade, is he not being greedy? What does he know about trade? So he is after his own gain. What a pastor will do for his congregation, a manufacturer cannot do better, and even the Bible says you shall be remembered by your hand work.
Have you utilized other opportunities like using those close to the President to actually get needed help?
We are in discussion. Look at Dangote, the richest man in Africa. He could not run his tomato business for four months but I am sacrificing my own money to run. I have sacrificed for this nation a lot. If it is for money, I could have shut down and face importation. I have never imported any food items into this country. I am happy God is paying me back with good health, good family and my overseas business is making money.
I am the only Nigeria’s biggest business man in Angola. I wanted to invest in Angola as a manufacturer but they convinced me to come home and invest.
In UAE, I suppliedkkuukku eight countries export. We deal in electronic, spare parts, food items and import in other countries and we are doing great.
No Nigeria man has investment bigger than me in Angola and am making my money. I just invest in Nigeria for the love of my country. I have shouted and people are not hearing.
Is the Minister of Labour yet to respond to your threat?
I don’t need his response anymore. Only Mr. President can stop me from relocating now. No minister, can stop me. I advise the government to do everything possible before it is too late. My worth of raw materials is over $10 billion but if you don’t sell, how can you produce more?
I can meet the need of tomatoes in this country by December 2016. They didn’t allow me to produce 80 per cent of our 100 per cent target and how can Nigeria diversify the economy?
Some of these people are economic diversification jokers who don’t want the economy to move forward.
It is only the President and Vice President that want this nation to progress for now. The only thing that can save this country is to patronize our Nigerian goods. When America was in recession, their government begged them to come and invest in America.