In this interview, he speaks about his efforts in expanding the market for clean cookstoves. A journey that even though hasn’t been rosy has brought a fulfilling experience to him.
What motivated you to start your business?
To properly answer your question, I will need to give you a background on where I am coming from. I came from a very humble background where I had to see myself through schooling. Consequently, I had to always work during the holidays to raise money for the next session. Leventis Motors Ebute Metta in Lagos was one of the places I worked then and I saw what unpredictable life can be.
A particular manager’s employment was terminated and within one month of losing his job, he came to the Company to process his entitlement and alas; the man was a sight to behold, he had emaciated so much that I told myself there and then that I will never allow this type of uncertainty in my life. I decided that I will run my own business and practically take my destiny in my hands. No human being should exercise such power over another; I told myself by God’s special grace, I will try my best in life to an extent where I will help shape my life and destiny. In 1989 I registered my company name and subsequently became a Limited Liability Company in 1996.
What does your company seek to achieve in Nigeria’s cooking energy market?
First of all, I believe personally that food is a means to preserve life. If you do not eat for a reasonable number of days, even your immunity will diminish and you may become vulnerable to external attacks that may lead to sickness and even death; therefore cooking to me represents the means to preserving that life. However, the irony is that people cooking with ‘three-stone fire’ in a bid to preserve their lives end up meeting their untimely death as they inhale smoke from cooking. Statistics has shown that cooking is the third highest killer after malaria and HIV/AIDS in Nigeria.
Our vision as a Company is to confront this menace by introducing our low emission stove. Our stove comes with firelighters for igniting the fuel and completely removes the need to fan the stove. The stove also comes with a ceramic insulation that helps channel the heat from a small amount of charcoal or briquette. Having started with the poor and the rural dwellers, we decided to extend our horizon to include the urban and everyone especially as the product has been redesigned to accommodate all. Ultimately, our vision is to be at least in 25% of all the homes of urban dwellers and 75% in the homes of the rural dwellers.
What are the opportunities in the business environment that have supported your business over the years?
The main opportunity is the population. Nigeria is the most populous black nation on earth. Whatever you produce that is acceptable to the Nigerian populace will automatically turn you into a successful businessman/woman. Apart from the problem of power supply and inability of most SMEs to access funding from our financial institutions, our environment is extremely friendly for business operations. For example, MTN within 2 years of operation in Nigeria moved their Head office from South Africa to Nigeria. Alhaji Aliko Dangote, President Dangote Group of Companies, has about 10 different product lines because his product is acceptable to the Nigerian market.
How are your customers reacting to your products in the market: Benefit of using your products?
Our customers’ acceptance of our product is actually our greatest motivation and the reason why we are expanding our production.
Initially we wanted to meet the energy needs of rural people and the poor. However, the growing demand for our products has acted as a catalyst in expanding our production. Our customers today include but not limited to State Governments, Schools, Hospitals, Nigeria Army, Nigerian Police, Federal Road Safety Corp, Nigeria Prison Services (Oyo and Osun State Commands) and a lot more. Today we have a solid customer base.
Right now, our product is no more just environment friendly fuel efficient stove, we are selling a novel concept. Inside the carton of our product, you will find a packet of 32 cubes firelighter – which replaces kerosene during cooking; and you will find a 2kg charcoal/briquette bag that burns nonstop for 20 hours. This allows you to start cooking instantly. You will also find in the carton, a mesh for barbecue, roasting and other outdoor cooking activity for your cooking pleasure.
Job creation and the empowerment of women seem to be increasingly important. How can your company help drive employment generation and the empowerment of women?
To put the answer again in proper perspective, let me start by saying that we are currently a Partner with Rural Women Energy Security (RUWES) Initiative in Nigeria, an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Environment to empower women in the 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria. Each Local Government could give us 200 women to train in stove production, marketing, entrepreneurial skill etc. If you multiply 774 x 200, you will have 154,800 personnel within the next 1 year. If each of the women will produce as little as 2 stoves per day for 4 years we will have 92,880,000 stoves per annum!
If you are asked to advice the new government in Nigeria on policy options, what are the most important things the government needs to do to expand the market?
First, the government should formulate a policy that the 774 Local Government Areas in the country should work with the Federal Government through the Ministry of Environment to ensure compliance in the use of clean cookstove throughout the federation.
Secondly, the Federal government should through the Central Bank of Nigeria make available funding opportunities at a single digit interest rate to partners of the Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves according to their various capacities. With these, many jobs will be created, GDP will increase as local content will be developed and livelihoods will be made better.
If an enabling environment is not created by Government, what future risks do you envisage?
I think it is in the interest of Government to create and encourage a conducive and enabling environment for the local production and market for the business to thrive. Our forest, environment, climate will be further endangered if government does not encourage us. Unemployment is enough problem on its own.
Encouraging and creating a conducive environment will make the Nigerian Alliance a natural partner with the government in fulfilling his promise of job creation to the people. Sincerely, I do not see this government as one that will not embrace such laudable ideas and vision.
Where do you envisage being in the next 5 years in terms of production?
Without sounding immodest, we plan to produce a minimum of 10 million stoves within the next 5 years and not only produce but also effectively distribute same.
What risk does your business face and what is your biggest challenge?
The biggest risk is piracy and the greatest challenge is funding as well as getting the right personnel to work for our company. With the right enabling environment by President Muhammadu Buhari, we can deliver economic, health and environmental value to society and empower our youths.