Group Managing Director, Courteville Business Solutions Plc, Mr. Adebola Akindele, in this interview with MOTOLANI OSENI, speaks on effects of foreign exchange regime on indigenous businesses, the need for government to encourage local businesses, how small business enterprises (SMEs) can thrive and why it is necessary for the Nigerian economy to adopt the right technology for growth, among other topical issues. Excerpts…
Tell us more of Courteville business solutions development Plc?
Courteville business solution is a foremost business solution development entity across West Africa. We pioneer essentially the listing of some businesses on the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE). On the NSE, and we are listed under the ICT services section. However, what business solution development means is that, we look at what issues there are in terms of providing solutions to improvement an efficiency challenges with businesses or processes of how you get to do things on a day today bases. So, we look at what you do and we determined in a way that we can introduce an application or a system or a platform that would help the improvement on the efficiency of a service delivery to the end users. So, all stakeholders are happy with whatever it is that we end up doing.
So, that is what Courteville is and that is what we've been for 11 years now, because we started operation in January, 2005, we were 10years last year and we got listed on the NSE in 2009, we became public company in 2008 but we got listed on 1st of April, 2009. However, we promised our stakeholders certain deliverables and each of these not only met but consistently met and surpass over the last seven to eight years of our listed on the Nigeria Stock of Exchange.
Have you been able to consistently give dividend payouts to your shareholders?
Shareholders are very prominent member of our stakeholders’ community. So, we've consistently up on till 2015 paid out dividend every year to shareholders and we've remained profitable all through these years, despite the downturn in the economy even in 2008 up on till this year. The rest of the stakeholders community around us which include our environment; community where we operate; Our Staff; Board, the regulator even competition we have always done right as far as we can and better than we actually thought we could, we have always done right by every single stakeholder.
What are the challenges facing your kind of businesses, and how do you think government policies can enhance your services and contributions to the Nigerian economy?
Up on till lately, we really do not have too many challenges in the area of government policies per say, until lately when the foreign exchange regime became so disorganised and unstable, but some of our processes and activities, most importantly our major expenses are in foreign exchange, and with the current regime that is so expensive it became very-very necessary for us to begin to look inwards, and then work very hard towards achieving the same level of quality service provision without having to pay the kind of exorbitant cost in order to be able to guarantee that by subscribing to some of these costs, services that are foreign based and also not dollar denominated. Aside the foreign exchange regime, the government policies regarding the opportunities available to local entrepreneurs especially the ICT industry is also discouraging. A lot of us in this business understand the challenges in Nigeria; we understand the requirements to be able to supply solutions the problem and the challenges. And that is because we are Nigerians, our challenges as Nigerians and Nigeria are very peculiar to us because they exist mostly in Nigeria, so when you go out there and discourage entrepreneurs in this industry, from getting to the business most from government and the private sector, then you end up having to go abroad to source for all these plug and play solutions and they eventually don’t work. It is not only discouraging the entrepreneurs but also discourage the industry even the students when they come out of schools, as well as discouraging creation of employments and industry growth.
It is discourages innovation industry and I’m not just talking about the ICT industry alone but general economy. It is difficult for us to compete as a single local entity, even though Courteville is an ISO certified company, meaning that we are international in our outlook and processes. We’ve been certified as of international standard by the International Standard Organisation of Nigeria regularly over the past six-seven years. Courtville has won so many awards, locally and internationally, in terms of quality of service and innovation. As we speak, we have been invited by the common wealth ICT minister’s forum to come and speak about some of the unique services that we provide, and some of the things we do are designed, develop and executed locally, first and foremost. Before we can exporting and that is why in Zimbabwe, we are in Sire loan, we are in Jamaica and to set up in the rest of Africa countries but locally there is no encouragement because the first inclination including private sector operators is that the Nigerian solution will not be good enough for what we need to achieve. And we have to go beyond that so that we encourage ourselves, we encourage what we do, grow the Naira, grow Nigeria and move to grow the local industry as well, and encouraging the local providers of the solution to the needs of the country and the population of the country as a whole.
What is your reaction to the last Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting on adoption of flexible forex regime?
They only came up with a statement but they haven’t executed it till now, it is still of lip services to a lot of things that we should be doing, it makes it all unclear. MPC or no MPC, nothing is clear. Even though I believed so much in the Nigeria as a nation, I also believed economy and the Nigerian government, also in Nigeria person or people but policies must be clear cut, we need to know where we are headed and need to know what we are doing, we need to be able to plan for these things, we even need to input all these issues policy somersault. You need to include in your budget so that you know where you are headed. You wake up today and because of different reasons such as the recent happenings in the banking sector. Where some of them are laying off, industry are letting people go, companies are closing down because of FX. So, if we know we are going on flexible FX regime let us immediately start, 10 days after they made that pronouncement nothing like that has been effected. You still apply for business travel allowances and you don’t get everything thing you wanted. They should just make up their mind on want to do and effect it, so that where we are headed.
What are the implications of retaining lending rate at 12 percent on the Nigerian economy and more importantly the growth of SMEs?
What I will say for the government is that even before now they have always attempted or made efforts by providing separate window of funding for the for the SMEs. Bank of Industry (BoI) has gotten together to accumulating funding for the SMEs. Everybody is talking about the SMEs but really it is not out there for people to access all these monies. It is a very difficult thing to do, even though the funds are there but what we need to do is ensure easier access to these funds. That is on one side. On the other side, the challenges the SMEs have been acing by themselves for years and it hasn’t change.It is the mentality of the average SME proprietor is to look at it as one man business, as a family business as the one that must continues to work the way it has been working; keeping money under the pillow, not been transparent about his financials; being unable to explain what he has been doing over the years. You see, bank will not deal with you; fund providers will not deal with you. Because if they are not sure that you can account for what you’ve done or what you will do with do with the money. But the earlier we started training them on a lot being being transparent their business and operations. Also, about exposing their business to further stakeholders, about ensuring that whatever it is that you are going to do with the money is clear to everybody and putting yourself beyond immediate environment on what you want to do.
SMEs make up the core of any economy that thrive in the world, because it is easier and better for you to have many of small-small entities as at aggregate than you have queue of very large entities and stand alone individually, because if anything happens to a very large company like Dangote, it affects a lot of things in the economy, but when you have very-very many of small companies that are green and thriving as an aggregate, in terms of SME because they small businesses should provide nothing less than 70 to 75 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of any economy. But that is not the case in Nigeria, because there are no records to really documented properly. People still keep money in their homes; they still do records all their transactions properly; they still do not have the mentality that if I borrow money I need to pay back, among many others and all of these are the training that we need to give the SMEs. When we are asking the government and the providers of funds to give them access to fund at cheap rate, 12 percent or not, I know that there are funds available for the SMEs at less than 12 percent. Cuts in…I understand that there are different kinds of intervention funds? But whether it is easy to access these funds or not is a different ball game, but also on the other side, the SMEs have to be trained, so as to become better at what they do and enable them have access to these funds.
What are the expected roles of ICT in growing the Nigerian economy?
I think is the only way to go for everything that we need to do. It is the only way to go, if we want to cash-up with the industrialisation levels of the digitilisation of the economies of the Europe, Americans and the Far East. The only way to go and the cheapest way in achieving industrialization or development even though, revolution of improving your economy you cannot go back to the brick and mortal model building houses and all of that. That has to invest in real sectors; ICT is the way to go by making sure that you catch up with the rest of the world. In providing services to the population because Nigeria is so large and getting these services across to different areas of the economy. For instance, if you want power to get round in most part of the country, you are not going to start building wire lines from Kanji dam or Egbin in Ikorodu all the way to the villages inside Ondo State or inside Delta State, because there are better models and they are all rise from the technology and beyond hard wares.
There are applications that are requiring delivering all these things via broad bands, via the clouds and they are available now. And these applications are not about how strong you are, not about how rich you are but about intelligent you are about what you need to do to achieve solving your problems. And that is what Courteville is all about, providing business solutions to the daily needs of everyone. Our vision is to touch the life of everyone in the world, in doing we need to be able to say when you wake up in the morning, sometime during the day or during the month or during the week or during the year, you would need to do something, though which we have provided a solution for. For example, you will need to renew your vehicle license, you don’t need to start running all over the place, but walk into any nearest bank branch and they will get it done, eventually you will be able to sit in your room or office and do it. You can top your phone, shop online and be able to do things by yourself.
When you don’t have to spend money on transportation, on renting offices, cots come down and when costs come down production is cheaper and when production becomes cheaper you have better revenue. And for Nigeria to actually get to that level and sustain its so called biggest economy in Africa, it can be grown be ICT. You can see that has grown in the leads and bound in Nigeria. In terms of contribution to GDP, before telecoms came it was practically zero, now it’s going towards17percent but I believed we would get there. But government needs to focus on where we are lacking on what we needs to do in the area of ICT.
What is your advice for the government on what needed to be done in the area of ICT and prospective entrepreneurs?
Just stick with what you know you are competent in doing, stick with where your competency lyres and do not expect too much too early. Don’t be discouraged because these are tough times, and they never last but for things to get better eventually tough times will come first and we are all facing it. There is hardly anybody that has not complained about earning money or sustains business to even continue to feed yourself, but that is what we have to face when we’ve had all these past years of waste. But one thing I can guarantee anyone is that this government will not waste funds. So, if we stick with that and pray that they do the right by coming up with the right policies, because they are still unsettle in terms of policy, but they won’t waste fund and pray that the rest of it fall into place by applying the funds into proper places, and tings would improve very soon.