interviewBy Ahmed Usman
Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello is an international businessman based in Kaduna, Kaduna State. He has his finger in many good pies. Bello who is chairman of Millennium Air, a subsidiary of Millennium Travels and Tour, chairman of Properties and Estate Limited, and a Board Member of various other companies including Communication Services, Health insurance to general trading, spoke with USMAN AHMED in Kaduna on the Nigerian business environment and a host of other issues.
May we know you better?
My name is Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, I am a businessman based in Kaduna, and I run an aviation company called Millennium Air which is a subsidiary of Travels and Tower as well as Property Estate Limited. I have served as a board member in various companies from health insurance to general trading and stuffs like that.
In your opinion, how is the present security system impacting on businesses in the country?
Without a doubt I can tell you that the security challenge in the country has affected businesses drastically, especially in the area of trading, particularly in the northern states where we have seen turnover decline in different markets of between 40 to 60 per cent, and in some cases up to 70 per cent. It has affected cash flow seriously and it should not be surprising because for business to flourish there must be some sort of comfort in terms of security, and if there is no security, people find it difficult to invest money.
What is the remedy to the security situation?
For businesses to flourish, we must have an enabling environment, ensure security is good and have working infrastructure. I think the major concern is that of security, I believe the government is making efforts to see that the security situation in the country comes back to normal. I understand that various dialogues have been opened to people who have grudges or misunderstanding.
Also, infrastructure is a major requirement without which the cost of production becomes very high, I strongly believe that one of the major problems of Nigeria is unemployment because the private sector, particularly small businesses have not really developed to the extent they can sustain the economy.
So, I believe one area the government needs to come in is to see that we develop our infrastructures, and promote small and medium businesses. I mean if you create a lot of companies that are able to employ 10, 20 up to 100 people then you realise you have actually created a lot of jobs.
I personally do not believe that the government should solve the problems of unemployment by employing more and more in the civil service - QUOTE. What I think the government should do is to create an enabling environment for business to flourish and to allow the private sector to strictly take care of our unemployment issue. I have noticed that majority of our working youths are out of job. I think if the government is able to address the security challenges and to improve our infrastructure I believe everything will be good.
As an aviation expert, what is your view on the aviation industry, particularly in the area of safety?
The aviation industry unfortunately because of the history of crashes we have had in the past, many Nigerians have lost confidence in the aviation, but again to be honest, sometimes if you look at these crashes from the layman point of view, you will think it is negligence strictly on the part of the airlines. That is not always the case; these could be human error of course. To operate an aircraft you have a lot of checks and balances.
And everyone is responsible for particular function. You could buy a brand new air craft today but if you do not maintain it, it becomes riskier than the old aircraft which is maintained regularly. Most of these aircraft and most of their parts have a life span.
And as long as you do the necessary checks at the appropriate time, they continue to give you good service. These aircraft are designed for up to 50, 60 and 70 years, so it's not really the age. But I am aware the government is making a lot of efforts to make aviation safer.
The Dana Crash
The Dana plane crash made me speechless. Many people keep saying different things, but I believe there is no official report yet. Now the Nigerian civil aviation authority has become very strict and believe me, it is one of the strictest in the world. If you are able to scale their requirement you can scale requirement of any civil aviation in the world.
So, I understand the government is making efforts to encourage more airlines to operate. So, in the very near future, I expect to see some other new airlines coming up, including mine because we are mostly into cargo operations now. But soon we will start flight operation on passenger commercial services covering some parts of the country. I believe the government is doing everything to restore the glory of air lines in the country. The operators too are trying, because no pilot wants to fly a coffin. Such things happened but you can't tell.
As a well travelled businessman, what do you think government should do to move the country forward?
Well in my own opinion from what we see in other countries, the Nigerian government should encourage a lot of small and medium size businesses because majority of people survive on small scale and medium size businesses. A few people can afford big corporations. If the government will promote businesses, I think that gesture will create jobs, and of course when more jobs are created, there will be more revenue from taxes and the standard of living of the average man will improve.
The middle cadre holds the key to the economy not the top few or the small ones. So, government should support them by protecting them. Some of the items that are being smuggled into Nigeria are basically things we can produce here. So, we are sustaining the jobs of those people in those countries that manufacture these items. Imagine if these products are manufactured here, the economy will be better.
For example, the Kaduna textile it used to employ over 10,000 people, now it's closed down. What we have is a lot of imported materials. Suppose, we have like 50 or 100 of Kaduna textiles spread across the country. If these textile industries are working to capacity 90 or 100 percent, it means that there will be demand for cotton.
So, if you look at the links people will benefit from that; from the farmer to the middleman that make supplies to those manufacture and supply to different categories of Nigerians. I remember that in Kano State where I grew up, on my way to school I used to see these heavy industries working but now the story is different. Check out the number of jobs lost. So, one area I think the government should really help is to control the flow of some of these items that can be produced locally.