Mr. Onur Kumral is the Managing Director VKS group of companies, with its subsidiary, Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Limited, set to establish the first ever syringe manufacturing company in sub-sahara Africa, in Akwa Ibom State. In this interview with Journalists recently in Uyo, the Turkish spoke on several issues, including the reason behind the coming in of Jubilee syringe in Nigeria.
QUESTION: VKS Nigeria Construction Limited has been in the country for three years now, undertaking major construction works in Akwa Ibom State. In 2016, your company made some strides in the area of road construction in the state. What are some of those achievements you recorded last year despite the recession experienced in the year under review?
ANSWERS: The year 2016 was a tough year for growth not only in Nigeria but everywhere in the world. There was recession globally. The economy of the world was not in good shape. But for our company VKS, we had to grow. We do not mourn about setbacks, we make steps to correct and prevent setbacks. ‘Yesterday was good, tomorrow will be better’, this is the principle of our company.
We always make conscious efforts to grow and make progress. Every year we have our projections and work assiduously to meet our projections, prospects and benchmark. We are growing as a company in all the countries we have presence and we will never stop growing. The year 2017 is the year we have chosen to bring industries to Nigeria. These we have started with Akwa Ibom state as our first destination for industrialization. Governor Udom Emmanuel is keen about bringing industries to his people. And like we have been doing, we will achieve our targets before the year runs out. So it is not just growing in construction, we want to go in to other sectors and start taking actions against the recession. We always choose an enemy to win, and this year our enemy is the recession. And we will win against recession; I am hundred percent sure about that. In VKS, we do not accept any excuse. If my company can grow, then any other company can grow and give employment to the people.
VKS in 2015 employed about 250 Nigerians. In 2016 we raised it up to 650. This year our target is to give employment to over 2000 Nigerians.
QUESTION: Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Limited, a subsidiary of VKS, is establishing the first Syringe factory in sub-sahara Africa, with its headquarters in Akwa Ibom State. Why is this state the choice destination for the industry and not other huge cities in Nigeria?
ANS: The academicians when talking about development, says; ‘development comes by policies’. The truth is that Akwa Ibom has good development policies. Gov. Udom Emmanuel has good policies for sustainable development in his state. You know that sustainable development is the development that answers current needs of the people and not just looking at the future needs only. With what he is doing now, he is clearly providing answers to the present needs of his people, which will subsequently open the gates for the future and future generations. For the year 2017, Udom’s goals can be compared to the United Nations sustainable development goals. Can you imagine that Akwa Ibom development goals came out long before the UN sustainable development goals came out? This shows the thinking pattern of the government in place and this is the boost we got moving into the state.
Jubilee Syringe upon completion will be the first syringe company in Nigeria and the second in Africa after that of South Africa. There is this situation in Nigeria right now. The country is losing huge dollars daily through importation and there must be deliberate efforts by all to stop it. If you are losing your dollars, you arrest the situation by simply stopping importation. And this arrest is possible only when you start producing and manufacturing inside your country. If you manufacture, you save huge dollars and use it for something else. That is why we are trying to encourage manufacturers to come into the country by establishing huge firms first. Do not forget that these syringe factory raw materials are in Nigeria, produced by Nigerian Petrochemical companies.
QUESTION: When are we likely to see the take-off of Jubilee Syringe and what production capacity are you targeting for a start?
ANS: We are working towards getting the company commissioned by September which will coincide with Akwa Ibom state creation day. Between August and September this year, we should be able to hand over the company to Nigeria fully functional. The trail productions will start in May while in August full production will commence. This is possible because the raw materials are in Nigeria only the machineries would be flown in from abroad. We are looking at a capacity production of 350 million pieces of syringe per year for now. This company is conceived and built with the full option of expansion because of the growing population of Nigeria and of course, Africa. The present population of Nigeria needs about 4 billion syringes per year. With this, you can imagine how much you spend importing these products outside. It is our belief that in three years, we would be able to triple our production capacity to a billion syringes.
QUESTION: As an investor with huge reputation, what is the inspiration coming into investing in Nigeria and the assurance that the country will be a fertile ground for such huge investment?
ANS: Of course we were inspired by the track records of Mr. Udom Emmanuel who has been in the financial institution for quite a long time with huge reputation. He gave us the assurance that Nigeria is the right market for such huge investment. His support has been quite tremendous and we are quite encouraged by this. We assured him that with such support from his government, we were ready to swing into action in the state. There is great potential in Africa. The continent is blessed with lots of wealthy people, well educated and knowledgeable individuals scattered all over the world. But the people, maybe because they are sitting in Africa they cannot see the potentials in Africa. One of the examples of these great leaders is Udom. When you are discussing with him, he discusses with you as a technocratic. He gives you the figures, not just support; he shares your problem with you. And this is the greatest encouragement we need to invest everything we have. This is the only remaining market in the world, Nigeria recession is not because of Nigeria, it is a global phenomenon. But it can be overcome with deliberate policies and political will.
QUESTION: Is this initiative that of the Akwa Ibom State government or a privately driven initiative?
ANS: This is a hundred percent privately driven initiative and investment. But to attract investors to your country, you must encourage them; investors need encouragement. This is what Akwa Ibom State government has provided us, and this explains why we have come to Akwa Ibom State to invest. Apart from the encouragement through partnership with the state government, the state is the safest place in the country in terms of security. And of course, you know that no investor would risk investing in an unsafe environment. In Akwa Ibom, we are quite safe and our investment is safe.
To some people, Akwa Ibom State might look far away from the market, but the good policies of the government on ground have given us the confidence that this is the best location to do business.
QUESTION: Would you say that Jubilee Syringe will compliment the Ibom Specialist Hospital in terms of medical tourism?
ANS: This is absolutely correct. Of course every investment brings others. The Ibom Specialist Hospital is a very huge boost to bringing this investment here. I think this is possibly the best hospital in sub-sahara Africa, with huge facilities and some of the best medical man power. If the best hospital in sub Sahara Africa is located in Akwa Ibom State, why can’t the number one syringe factory be found in the state?
QUESTION: How far have you gone in terms of the physical infrastructure of the factory?
ANS: We started the construction works some three months ago. The factory is about 8000 square metres. All designs were made abroad, because this is a medical building. We could not just design it ourselves or just with our team, we had to consult everywhere in the world. The physical structure has been completed; the roof system is beacon space frame, a very unique roof system. All the machines have been ordered, the most important machines which are the injection machines, will be ready by February. As I have always said, establishing this factory here is not the end of the story, it is the start of the story. It is not just bringing in the syringe factory alone; we intend to bring more investments into the country. Our confidence is in Udom Emmanuel and we are very attracted to his vision. People keep telling me the factory would make more sense in Lagos, but I say no, Akwa Ibom need the factory more.
QUESTION: Do you think that Akwa Ibom State has the man power to mount this investment or do you intend to bring in foreign expatriates?
ANS: This state is blessed with trained personnel. You have young and educated people in the state. As part of our company’s policies, we intend to take some of the locals to Turkey to let them see the auto machineries for themselves, learn how to use, install and know the workings of the machines, so they can operate the equipments when operation begins. This means we are training potential staff of our company and preparing them for the task ahead. We believe in local man power, we don't believe in bringing expatriates. Yes we can inject few expatriates, like Mr. Zubire Gulabi, who is the MD of Jubilee Syringe. You know this factory is the first in sub-sahara Africa, so someone with huge experience needs to be at the helm. But I can assure you that in ten years, Mr. Gulabi would possibly be retired, or drafted to another factory, while the local guys would take up the managerial responsibilities. What am saying in a nutshell is that proficiency in the job is all about training. This is why we are not bringing people from abroad; we are taking people from here abroad to train.
QUESTION: What is your relationship with Gov. Udom Emmanuel?
ANS: Our relationship is quite cordial and purely on professional basis.
QUESTION: Do you think the state has adequate power supply needed for the smooth take-off of the factory?
ANS: Initially we were thinking of generating our own electricity, but the governor said that was not necessary since the state-own power generating company – Ibom Power can supply us with adequate power simply by putting up a substation where the factory is located. Akwa Ibom has 198mega watt of electricity to use for industries. So power won’t be a challenge. So in answering your question, we will buy power from Ibom power plant, we are still discussing on the technicalities, like sub stations and how much is needed and all of that. Hopefully by March, we will be having our own substation and the issue of power, like I said, will definitely not be an issue.
QUESTION: Apart from the factory your company is bringing into Akwa Ibom, has VKS handled any major infrastructure in the state?
Ans: Yes, we have done some road construction in the state and there are other jobs VKS is still working on which I cannot let it out just yet. We still have lots of plans that are still on the pipeline. The main focus when we came was construction but now we are focusing on industrialization which is the main focus of this administration.
QUESTION: What should the average Nigerian expect when the factory finally commence full operation?
ANS: The truth is that this development is coming far too late in the country. What we are trying to put on ground here is what should have been done years back if the political will was there. Establishing a syringe factory in Nigeria is definitely not something we should be celebrating at this time and age.
The market is here. There is the potential for four billion syringes to be sold in this country. You have raw materials, the local man power, very educated doctors, pharmacists, and with all these there is no production line? It means we are late; I am putting myself also to that. So bringing this factory to Nigeria now is not something that is unbelievable. What will be unbelievable is if Nigeria produce syringe and also the machineries used in the syringe production. So Nigerians should expect the best and get ready to work because, this factory is here for them.
QUESTION: What will be the production standard, can you guarantee a world acceptable standard when production begins?
ANS: VKS Group of Companies is a Turkish company with a great reputation and cannot possibly go beyond its standard. The technology we are bringing is the best and the latest anywhere in the world. We will be producing in the European standards. Why are we doing that? First, the Nigerians deserves it, so we give it to them; the highest quality. You know what? People keep asking me if the price of the product will be affordable and I say yes it will be affordable even with the high standard of production. Jubilee Syringe is going to be the cheapest and the highest quality. This is possible because if I do not import products, I do not pay importation tax which is about 30 - 35 % difference. Again, the raw material is just an hour away from me because I am buying it directly from Nigeria. So why can’t it be the cheapest? When you consider importing the products abroad, and going through the process of clearing with the Nigerian Customs and going through other processes, you will understand why Jubilee Syringe will be the cheapest. Like I said, there is a huge market here, huge potentials, Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, this could not have come at a better time.
Those in the business of medicine will be quite happy about this development. Towards the end of this year, you will see huge traffic in the state because of this factory. Akwa Ibom State is going to be the hub of medical equipment in Africa, not just West Africa. The distributors are all happy and impressed. Syringe manufacturing factory is not an easy thing, but we can say that this would be found in Nigeria. Some distributors stopped the importation of injection syringe two months ago because of dollars rate, but with the coming in of Jubilee Syringe, that will be a thing of the past.
QUESTION: What is the working relationship between your company and Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Works?
ANS: Ephraim Inyangeyen, the Commissioner for Works is the most hand working guy I have ever met in my life. His passion and commitment to seeing this vision come to reality is second to none, and we are encouraged by such drive and sincerity of purpose. We have great working relationship with the Ministry of Works in the state.
Let me use this opportunity to appreciate the people of Akwa Ibom State for the hospitality and friendly disposition. I want to plead with the people of Nigeria and Akwa Ibom in particular to be a little patient with their leaders. Industrialization is not like building of roads or building houses. Industrialization takes time, resources, patience, finances, markets, training and all of that. That is why I would love to say that, please be patient; I am not talking about being patient for ten years, no! I can assure you that Mr. Udom is very sincere about bringing industrialization to his people, and before long, you will all appreciate the leader in him.