Ease of doing business must improve for Nigeria to attract investment — Elumelu

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In a move to attract foreign investment, the Chairman of United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA), Mr. Tony Elumelu has expressed that ease of doing business is essential in Nigeria. Nigerian NewsDirect brings extracts of the interview the Nigerian economist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist had on Arise TV on Wednesday. 

You would think that the FBN Holdings, FBN and CBN would have adopted a different strategy to prevent this sordid situation that we have on a continent that gives impression that there is so much wrath in the banking sector?

I think you need to understand my unique situation here. I’m the chairman of a competing institution, United Bank for Africa.

It will not be prudent to express my judgement. I leave that to those who are not so involved to comment on the issue.

But I think basically, I know the shareholders in the bank. I also know the regulator wants a sound banking environment.

I believe they will be able to resolve the issue. It is not professional for me to make a judgement on another company.

If I were not the chairman of a bank, I would have made my comments. The Nigerian banking sector is doing very well I must say. The United Bank for Africa operates in 20 Africa countries. It is the only African bank that is a deposit license taking bank in the United States of America and a member of Reserve Clearing System.

We are also in the UK. Toughest regulatory environment in the world is the US. I will say that UBA of Nigerian background operating in the toughest regulatory in the world gets a 2-ratings 80 per cent in the US.

It is something that will bring pride into everyone and Nigerian regulators that an offshoot of its banking system is doing so well abroad. Regulations have changed totally in Nigeria and I commend all stakeholders. So I’m sure this will be resolved.

Nigerian businesses have had some challenges with COVID-19 pandemic. How has the bank dealt with the challenges and how do you want the government to approach ensuring that other businesses and that job are created?

Things have changed and we never anticipated this. We had a meeting January last and the HR organization were presenting our new working model. They said we needed to consider off-side working arrangements. That was January last year. Then pandemic started March and we had to work offline till today.

The digital revolution that occurred was unimaginable. It made us realise that human health is very important. We are trying to make sure that we embrace the new order though it has not been easy. I want to use the medium to commend workers generally. If you look at banking and some other essential areas, have to work. It’s like they are putting their lives at stake. May 1st this year is very symbolic.

For me, there is so much to be done. Government is trying but there is room to do more. The whole philosophy of  African capitalism is to pick up where the government left off for solutions.

Those of us in private sector what can we do to augment the government efforts so that we have a right environment? The CBN Governor put together CACOVID, Dangote, and few others came together to support the government through various means, putting money on the table to make sure that we survive that period.

Also, advising the government on economics policy and programmes that should be deployed to manage the situation. People see today that they can travel, people can come into Nigeria. A lot happened behind the scenes. We spent money. We engaged with the government.

How can you sell Nigeria to the world and what does Nigeria has to offer?

My heart breaks when I see conglomerates move their businesses to Ghana. Nigeria is a huge market. The micro-economic environment will continue to improve. The concern most of them have is the security issue.

For us, the private sector is the best way to sell the country to the world through investment that we make.

When I go out and people say things are bad in Nigeria, I say to them the glass is now full. That there is nowhere else you get the return on investment like Nigeria.

I speak to them like an investor. I tell them my investment in Africa, in the US and others. But the truth is we need to be totally aware of the trend of people moving out of the country to invest or relocate in other smaller economies. I know the Ministry Trade and Investment has plans that the ministry is doing.

The Vice president has been driving the ease of doing business. The finance minister, CBN Governor also are doing their part.

We need to keep working together. For us at the private sector when we invest in Nigeria we tell our friends outside country. We are making right economic decisions. For us to invest in Nigeria shows that there are opportunities in the country.

We just attracted $1.1billion. Only two Nigerian banks are in the funding, Fidelity and Union bank, the rest of the money came from outside the country. It signaling the confidence boosting that world needs to take.

But ultimately the ease of doing business must improve for us retain and attract investment in Nigeria. For those looking for investment destination, they will go to where they are most welcome and the aspirations of all us is to make sure that Nigeria is seen as that place where private sector can settle. All of us must bear huddle to making this a reality.

What do you think of foreign currency management situation in Nigeria?

There was a time the vice president conveyed a meeting of the few to talk about the economy. I took a position there. I was quite critical. If you are critical, you should be bold to say that things are moving in the right direction.

I support convergence a 100 per cent. I think we are there.

On the issue of convertibility and other things, a times,  it is easier to prescribe when you saddled on a seat, you see issue moderately.

Nigerian generates foreign currency largely on oil. We used to produce 2.5million, today it’s about 1.4million barrel a day.

That should make impact on our foreign currency. Also, there was a time oil was $100 per barrel. Today, it is $30, $40, $69. There is a basket of so many things you have to watch as economy manager in making decisions. There is a lot of pressure on our foreign currency.

They tried, but what people want to see from outside is what they know. In business world, what people want to see is productivity, that this should be available when I need it.

To a large extent, Nigeria is doing well. We need to improve our productive base as a country. We need to make sure that we diversify our earnings.

We need to make sure that the questions are affecting the easy of doing business, creating the right environment that will enable people, businesses, entrepreneurs to thrive to succeed.

Collectively, all of this will help in what we have in the basket of our foreign exchange and in the demand and supply.

If we had a lot of it, it will affect the price. If it’s few, the supply is short, and then demand is high of 200million populace, it will be a problem for us. It’s a convegence list. Are we there now? I do not hear again of different rates in the market today. But we need to fix the supply side.

On Tony Elumelu foundation?

Tony Elumelu Foundation was put together to help create more successful African business leaders. We believe the future of Africa is in our young ones. Entrepreneurship has a role to play in the development of our continent. The foundation was set up to support young Africans, male and female. And every year, we support with $5000 non-refundable capital. 8,000 people every year.

We train them for 12 weeks. We create platform and network for them to help and grow them. And then we give them $5000.

This is the 7th year. As a foundation, every year we support our continent. The whole advocacy is that, in the 21 century, we must engage with Africa, not from outside, within.

We want to create entrepreneurs who will feed themselves, feed their families. We have UNDP. The European Union just supported us with $25million which is going to be part of this year current campaign. We have started training people 2 days ago. About 10,000 Nigerians and young Africans have benefited from the scheme and we are still counting.

Every year, the participation in the support has been increasing. We give our own 1000 and our partner institutions like I said earlier, the UNDP, EU, the National Red Cross,  come together to support the young people. It is growing. But for us, the ultimate is all of us to fix unemployment. Our young ones are suffering. There is hopelessness. We want to, through the intervention, encourage them. We want give them hope. We provide them with training, mentorship and fund for them so that they can succeed. And collectively, all of us can fix the unemployment situation in the continent.

What’s it about Africa capitalism?

It is not an ideology. We can see poverty around us. I was born and bred in Nigeria. I have seen both sides of the coin. I have worked in Africa and made some money in Africa. I have come to realize that the private sector has a role to play in the development of Africa.

We all have a role to play in the development of Africa by investing in critical sectors, not training, infrastructures, power, railways. We need to do all of this to help the continent develop. By investing long term in these critical sectors, at the end of the day, it creates social work and social prosperity for everybody. It’s like a new way of investing. A new way of being involved in true and meaningful way of developing our continent.

We invest in power to make money but more importantly to capitalize on the developing of Nigeria. To help Nigeria improves in access to electricity.

No sector can do well if there is no access to electricity. Our young ones are multi-talented. What is holding our people down to a large extent is absence of power.

Africa capitalism is realising all of these and calling everyone to invest. You must to pay for the enabling environment that will make the investment to germinate and prosper.

You must help them nurture them to succeed. We are no longer briefcase business people. Come and let’s team up together to make a new project in Africa. That is African capitalism. It is not ideology. It is a way we must operate henceforth for the development of Africa with the support of our people and with government creating the right environment.

You are surrounded by women. How has that shaped your perception about girl child education, women empowerment and the role of women in the society?

I do not discriminate but to a large extent, my mom did a lot in shaping me. Even sometime my colleague would wonder why I don’t ever give up and relentless. This is because of what I picked up from her. I’m a direct beneficiary of intangible impact of women in moulding and shaping the society.

I want to continue to encourage. Beyond my mom is my sister, then my  daughters and wife are extremely supportive. In the work place, most of our CEOs, not by design, it just happened.

We want to appreciate the power of women. They get things done easily, loyal and reliable. They are extremely committed. All of us work together to make things done. A girl child education is beyond education. It is about making sure that all of us are at the table, male, female. And also in some Africa countries where we have this bad policies discriminate against women, I speak against it.

And some countries like Senegal are improving. The time has come for everyone to realise the immense potential of women in shaping and making a good society. The best thing to give is good education, good upbringing, let them know what is right and what is not. Right value that will lead to understand that life is driven by right values.