The Kewalram Chanrai Group has been doing business in Nigeria for over a century and half. In these 150 years, the company had been into commodity trading and manufacturing. One of the manufacturing companies was Afprint, a household name in textile industry in Nigeria until 2003. The first Nigerian Group Deputy Managing Director of the company, Victor Eburajolo, speaks to Correspondent, BAMIDELE OGUNWUSI, on the giant strides of the company and events that led to the collapse of Afprint, among others. Excerpts…
What sort of business do you do in the company?
First, when the group came in here 150 years ago, it was more of trading, and it traded for some years before deciding to go in to manufacturing. The manufacturing they went into was textile. That was how Afprint came into being. Afprint was a household name in the Nigerian textile industry. The company was operating for a good number of years and by 1998, the textile industry in Nigeria in general began to experience downturn in their fortunes and this spread through to the year 2000, which coincided with when Nigeria joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO). If you recall, one of the requirements was for the country to open its doors to manufacturers of goods from countries that are members of WTO. I want you to quickly note that China is just making moves to join WTO. You can imagine that Nigeria even joined WTO before China. This was a period when (Anthony) Ani was our Minister of Finance. We had several meetings with Ani. At that time I was executive director of the Textile Manufacturers Association.
At that time, the Minister of State for Finance was Alhaji Gidado (Idris), who was the General Manager of Arewa Textile before he was appointed minister. We had meetings with Ani on the need to reposition Nigeria. We said opening the door immediately for WTO members to bring in goods to Nigeria was going to cripple the manufacturing sector because we were not in a position to compete with the goods coming from the outside world. One of his arguments at that time was that we should be able to compete because labour is cheap in Nigeria. Some people still believe that labour is cheap in Nigeria. If you want to calculate the cost of labour, it is what you are paying as against what you are producing. In the year 2000, the current Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, and I carried out a survey and we found that in terms of dollars, the minimum wage in Nigeria was exactly the same as the minimum wage in China. But the Chinese worker was producing five times the productivity of Nigerians. So, if you look at it, where is labour cheaper? That was the major problem. And then there was problem of infrastructure and this was a big problem too. With all these problems, the textile industry could not cope. I remember at that time we told Ani that unless the situation is reversed and in 10 years we will be very happy to have 15 per cent of textile mills still operating. You can see now that the textile industry has collapsed.
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