Chief Emmanuel Ekong, Asoju Oba of Aworiland and chairman, Briscoe Technologies, a telecommunications company with clients base spanning various sectors, including government, the military, aviation, maritime, embassies and petroleum, among others, believes Nigeria would bounce out of the current economic recession stronger and better.
In fact, he is of the opinion that the situation, as bad as it is now, would be a huge economic blessing for the country: “Every situation creates an opportunity. The present recession is not an exception.”
In this interview, he speaks on how Nigeria got itself into economic recession and the lessons thereof.
What has been your experience in the telecommunication business in the last 15 years?
Telecommunication is an exciting business because of its roles in society. Mine is a very specialised area of communication. My company provides communication to some key sectors because the resources we have are mission-critical ones. It is communication at the most secure level. The security communication is based on tetra platform. My company is the first and only company in Africa that provides an outsource service.
As for the competition from GSM companies, it is nothing to worry about. We complement each other. What the people in the GSM sector have is a different technology from ours. My technology is technically called narrow band while the GSM is broadband technology. But we have devised a way of using broadband technology to carry our narrow band resources. We’re taking advantage of the spread; we use broadband technology to give narrow band technology wider spread.
How are you coping with the recession?
The number of businesses that have either crashed out or are struggling to survive affects the business. The situation affects their ability to demand or pay for services.
How did Nigeria hit this low?
Recession is not a death sentence. Many major economies, continents and countries have been there before. The common denominator of recession is that you are utilising less of your capacity. It is a situation that built up over the years as a result of certain omissions and commissions. It didn’t just occur overnight. When this government came into power, there was a lot of hope. But all the things the administration promised have not happened. We have not seen much success in the implementation of government’s plans and policies, which should have triggered micro-economic response in the country. I am pretty sure government has close to its chest some of the strategies that they want to use to ensure that we come out of the situation.
What measures would you recommend to government as a way out?
Government has to have a selective targeting of renewed investment into the economy, because without investment in infrastructure, which is a proper and impactful thing to do, we cannot get out of economic dire straits. So, government has to put up a roadmap that would include investment in infrastructure, security, health care, education and power. If we strategically channel money into expansion, maintenance, establishment of infrastructural areas of the economy, it would help effect those changes that would catapult the country out of recession.
For instance, when America went into recession, what it did was to bail out some of those key areas like automobile. The American government injected money because the automobile sector is key to the American economy. They felt if that sector was allowed to die, the level of unemployment that would come with it would be humongous; and that would impact on the overall economic and security situation in the country.
So, the Federal Government has to create the enabling environment because nobody would come in to invest with all the menace of the Boko Haram, militancy and other security challenges. Once the proper things are done, they would help bolster the economy. Government also has to work hard to take us out of the mono-economy situation.
As an entrepreneur, what are the skills you need to navigate the recession?
You need perseverance. You also need to have the background knowledge that (recession) has happened before and would happen again, irrespective of what economic development level you operate in. We have to know that the money and economic activities that are not there are man-made situations and we need man to also unmake it. That process kicks in when it is collectively accepted that there’s a problem. The problem, in this case, is the fact that we don’t have investment in the right aspects of the economy. Once we do that, hope comes back, resourcefulness comes back and the result also comes back. So, we can’t bail out of this ship thinking that this is only happening here. Yes, at this point in time, our country is affected but, if you stay the course, you would not be a newcomer when things change. That is the reason some of us would not go anywhere because we know that we made it here when it was working well and we’d make sacrifices when it is not doing well. In business, you always have the upside, downside. You cannot always get it always up.
When you lose hope and you don’t key into that chain of activities because you withdrew too early, then you can never be a part of that growth. So, resignation is not what would help us but, rather, constant involvement. Stay the course, have faith, ensure you do it with passion because things that are not done with passion are things that are thrown to the dogs very early. You have to constantly evolve your technology, capacity and skill to remain relevant.
What are the lessons from this recession?
What this would help us establish is that you get to know your friends when you’re in need. The true partners are the ones that stick with you through the crisis. And I would hope that that resilience and determination are going to be complemented when things turn around. The downturn in the economy has in a way created an opportunity for us to expand. It all depends on how we want to adapt to it. Recession is not all that bad. It is not a death sentence, but only an opportunity to recalibrate and ensure that you remain relevant. Don’t stand still, be dynamic. There’s always an opportunity in every situation. Even when you go to war, undertakers are going to make a lot of money. Never say never, because the resources of this world don’t disappear, they just move to somewhere else temporarily. So, how do you move along with it? How do you take a fair share and advantage of those changes? How you react to these questions would make the difference. I am confident that this recession would bring out the best in us. It would unleash many Dangotes than you ever have imagined existed in this country. But Dangote didn’t become what he is overnight. It was through resourcefulness, perseverance, and passion for what he set out to do that gave him the cutting edge. We must never give up on ourselves, our economy and our government.
Have you rejigged your management policy, so you can ride the recession tide?
Obviously, if we’re to make any changes in policy, those changes would be ones that have to do with changes in the economy. Those changes would mean that we only invest in fundamental aspects of our service provision and ensure that a client get immediate benefit. So there’s no decorative investment consideration, like, let’s celebrate this particular achievement like we would have done in the past because there was money to do so. Now, we are seriously targeting those areas that have needs analysis associated with them. The first consideration is, does somebody actually need this or you just want to do it because you feel like having it? So, we’ve reshaped or rejigged our policies to ensure that what is desired is what is offered, because there isn’t capital throw around indiscriminately inasmuch as one would have wanted to, though this would have been the best time for us to expand our capacities because we get some processes, especially manpower, a lot cheaper. The labour market is thriving with a lot of capacity that you can get for less, unlike when things turn around, when those people would no longer be there. So, I wished I could absorb more people to be able to do as much, create new customer-capacity and also allow the trickle-down effect of that cheaper labour to the client to encourage them to buy.
We believe strongly that even in this dark tunnel, there’s a light. And that light is that government has promised it is going to make the relevant changes and investments to ensure we come out of recession as soon as possible.
With that in mind, what every smart entrepreneur should do is to continue to provide services to even those who cannot pay for their goods and services immediately, because by so doing, they’d remain your friends when the boost returns.