Foreigners and business in Nigeria (2)
Continued from yesterday
THE Chagouris have blazed the way to show what can be achieved in Nigeria. They have vision about Nigeria which many rich people lack – the depth of their vision is shown in the boldness of the concept of an Atlantic City – a concept mimicking the Palm City of Dubai. The buildings they have on the side of the Eko Hotel, the expansion of that hotel betray a family with a profound spirit for the improvement of their investment and ultimately for Nigeria.
In Ibadan, the king of haulage for many years is Saffidiene; while they have other business, haulage has been central to their business. There are other Lebanese in Ibadan; which has been their home for generations – makers of confectionary, sweets, biscuits, and matches. The Greeks had pioneered transport and haulage in Lagos – Zapas, Armels – one time the most reliable transporter in Nigeria. The Greeks were also pioneers in Rubber and Timber especially in Benin, Sapele, Warri, etc their legacy being carried on by the Spiropulouses, the Thomopouloses-etc.
In Lagos Leventis, a Greek must take pride of place among the Greeks, followed closely by Mandillas, Karaberis etc. The Kawams who were (Lebanese) made towels (Nitol). Feisal, who brought in 7UP, Mirinda and today, owns eleven plants in Nigeria; Elias was in – Chemicals. Nabil Abu Hasan’s family came to Lagos at the turn of the century and has been here since. They have many companies – the principal was Metal Furniture – making office furniture – but is now facing serious competition – from the UAC group G.B.O – the modernization of office technique – computers, etc has reduced the need for filing cabinets and the like. They faced competition also from the unrelenting importation of Chinese office and home furniture. They are in other businesses .Eldorado who builds tank farms, storage tanks, silos, petroleum tankers etc. They are also in construction.
In 1929 the first Chellaram appeared in Nigeria with an umbrella and a cardbox Portmanteau; (that is why the company’s logo is an umbrella K. C.). From that humble beginning, he had laid the foundation for one of the largest conglomerate business, Chellaram is now in textile, chemicals, fast food (KFC), shops, shopping malls etc. The above really says one thing – it is possible to be enormously successful in business in Nigeria. Those who can do it grow to international standards. They are already here and could be joined by other new comers. Asian and Arab business are profiled by Nigerians not so much as their partners but as a source of ready money – easy money; they are looked upon as exploiters when in actual fact they are the backbones of business in Nigeria.
They are mercilessly exploited especially by officials but now they are beginning to fight back as Nigerians. They are going nowhere. The ministers should look to these entrepreneurs as part of the building blocks of the economy, not as the enemy. That some of them are seemingly too wise for their own good is not debated. The business place is a rough place – demanding hard nosed people. Ultimately it is better that these businesses grow in Nigeria than for us to continue the heedless importation of everything, including toothpicks.
The Raccah Brothers, Rex, Alex and George are the sons of Saul Raccah who came to Nigeria in 1915 to manage the business of his uncle that was already in existence. Saul Raccah was awarded medals by the British government and the Nigerian government for services to the economy. The brothers were born in Kano and speak fluent Hausa. Saul Raccah became the largest independent exporter of groundnuts until the creation of the Marketing Board of which he was one of the promoters in order to guarantee an income to the farmer. The sons branched into various industries employing up to 7,000 Nigerians at one time and contributed a great deal to the economic and social life of Nigeria in the sixties and the seventies creating and funding the successful Raccah Rovers Football Club that won the Challenge Cup. The Raccahs are now based in Switzerland of which they have become nationals and are mainly involved in Oil & Gas and International Finance transactions with sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union.
Many Lebanese in Northern Nigeria speak perfect Hausa. They built schools, hotels, made blankets, praying mats. Hussein Mansour and his wife Violet were A class occupants of the very highest cadres and status in Nigeria. The families were in manufacturing, entertainment and fed the most exclusive mouths in Nigeria for decades between the 60s and 90s.
Hussein Mansour had nearly a dozen restaurants in Lagos including the then exclusive Bagattelle in Broad Street. He had two factories – a carpet factory, a factory making bags, and plastic bags for Baggo and Eleme Fertilizer Company – and a host of smaller interests in numerous companies. The Israelis have also been here since 1960, their own country becoming independent in 1948. They came as agronomists, building construction companies; I think, they built most of UCH. They also had companies that built (Nairda) Hotels, JDP, airports (Nairda) air conditioners and a host of other companies. Other Israelis are in the shopping mall, businesses e.g. Mega Plaza. The main water engineering companies in Nigerian are Israeli – S. C. C., Gilmore, etc: S.C.C. also builds steel pipes for the relevant industries including oil and water.
There are, of course, Nigerians who are engaged in all these activities and have done well there from. There is, however, a gnawing feeling in the minds of most Nigerians that the Indians and Lebanese and Greeks and Israeli and Germans somehow cheat us when their companies are successful in Nigeria. We profile them as benefactors of some powers which we cannot quite fathom out – how come they are successful and we are not? We are convinced that they bribe our officials more than most; that they have access denied other Nigerians to people in power and places of power; that the scale as skewered in their favour in our own country (which is increasingly theirs also). We cannot readily accept that as fellow Nigerians they should be allowed cabinet posts just as in the United Kingdom, Mr. Umunna is the Labour spokesman for finance. Would the heavens fall in Nigeria, if Mr. Keith Richards, were to be made minister of Trade? Or Mr. Uval, minister of Water Resources – they have the qualifications and they are Nigerians or Abu Hassan, Minister of Steel? Or Chairman of a related industry or commerce? These people are a lot more “Nigerian” than our US/ Nigerian citizens, who, having spent the most productive part of their lives in the US, come here to tell us about the Nigeria they do not know about “our Iwealas, Agangas, Mustapha, Obis, Nnajis” and their motley crew.
These are fundamental questions we must ask ourselves – for 58 years we have been prospecting for oil, why do we still have the 10cs as operators of oil fields owned by Nigeria and Nigerians? Why is there no Nigerian Julius Berger? No Nigerian Bouygues, HFP, I was told that Nigerians were able to do the Turn Around Maintenance of our three refineries. I hope this is true: if so, there is hope yet.
• Dr. (Ambassador) Cole (OFR) is a Consultant to The Guardian Editorial Board.