Government Has No Business In Business- Gbenga Daniel

what makes Kresta Laurel stand out as one of the leading companies building elevators in the country?
It is not an all-comers business. There are quite a few people who have tried in the last 20 to 30 years, but not many of them have been able to survive. Contrary to what people say, it is not a money-spinning business. The satisfaction is not in the money, as the first thing is the professional satisfaction. Do we get fulfilled? Yes. Why? In my previous experience, which is part of the driving force of Kresta Laurel Company, we operate in an industry where Nigerians are not given any pride of play.
There is no respect and they don’t think we can do anything right. So, that is where we are coming from and that guided me when I was working with them. If you contrast that to the culture of the Germans, for them, it is not about aesthetics. It is about efficiency. It is a taboo for something to fail in their own psyche. What we set out to prove was that that is not an exclusive preserve of the Germans or the Europeans.
The believe that given the right frame of mind and determination, we, also as black people, and Nigerians, can do it as equally good, if not better, then came in place. So that is really our driving force and the key ingredient of our company over the years.
It is not necessary that all the jobs that we take are economically beneficial. Anything could happen on the job. So for us as a company, it is like a wrestling bout with the forces of you will not be able to do it, versus it shall be done. Once we get that the job, it becomes an ego thing. We must deliver, no matter what. It is not a matter of go and bring additional money before it could be done. I usually say that unlike what has happened to other companies, there is no single project that we have done that was not done well.
You left your company for eight years to govern Ogun State. What did your company suffer while you were away?
I wouldn’t be able to say what we have lost, but I can say what we have gained, because what we have lost is in the conjecture and you can only imagine if you have lost something. But I think that if we measured the growth of the company even while I was not there, it was quite phenomenal. The company has experienced growth, not decline. So in that regard, we must give kudos to the people who held forth while I was away and by the way, they are still holding forth, because I am not the operations person; I am the founding chairman.
Many people often complain these days of how the government is not creating an enabling environment for private sectors to thrive. How would you react to that?
When I got into government, one of the things that I observed, probably because of my background in business, was that government is not organised and trained to run businesses. And that was what influenced some of the steps we took.
First, we decided that all those businesses that the government was involved in should be discontinued. And, if we are not able to get out of it completely for political reasons, let us then outsource it. Although regrettably, some of the things we did while outsourcing is that a number of our people were not well informed. They looked at outsourcing as if we had sold them.
Without any doubt, the best hotel in Ogun State today is the Park Inn in Abeokuta. When I got into office in 2003, Ogun State was completely dilapidated. So, we started the struggle to see how we could turn it around on our own, by appointing administrators and other stakeholders. Unfortunately, things didn’t work.
The state of those things had become so dilapidated that nothing short of rebuilding and repackaging them could turn it around. A number of people did not also know the challenges we were facing. By 2003, Ogun State government had not completely paid the loan that was taken by the Onabanjo administration to fix the hotel. We were paying money every month for a hotel that since its inception has not declared profit for one year, so it was running at a loss. Over the 20 years that it was established, government was still paying the loan. And, we were supposed to pump in money into it again, because that’s the language of the civil servants running the hotel at that time.
The question is where is the money to pump? That was what led to the process of outsourcing. Rather than sell the hotel at that time, we were looking for people that we could concession the hotel to. We came to a conclusion that for us to be able to get the hotel to the standard we wanted, we needed to spend at least N2billion to N3billion.
If I had that kind of money as public fund, I would expend it on other projects in the state that were begging for attention. The business of government is not to run hotels. We were able to successfully concession the hotel out. I have been told that October 12, they want to formally commission what has become the best hotel in Ogun State. Now, Abeokuta can boast of a hotel that can host the most powerful President in the world. That was what I meant when I said government has no business in business, but it has a responsibility to facilitate business. What we have done is to facilitate business and we facilitated it through various ways.
Still on development and technology, as the president of Nigerian-Finland Business Council, how do you think Nigeria can gain from you to lift her technology?
Finland is a very lucky country with about five million people, and probably the richest nation in the world. Most people don’t know that the amount of the money they have is more than enough for their population. But Finland has something that is working for them; they are clinically efficient in everything they do.
There are not too many industries in Finland, but the few ones they have are the market leaders. When you talk of Nokia, you talk Finland. They have a very serious wood industry because they have an expanse of land, and there is no single person who doesn’t have a farm at home. Agriculture is very well developed and their engineering is superb. We must as a people see what we can learn and know that whatever we touch should be done efficiently.
The biggest problem in the Nigeria’s construction company today is that everybody wants to cut corners. Why can’t we develop that industry here? One day, a lady called Awosika came to Ogun State and advised that we could start a furniture village, instead of sending our woods abroad for furniture and processing.
I loved the idea and I asked her where she wanted the land that I would give her. She picked somewhere along the road, we gave her the land, and she even paid. And then somebody else came and said she should get out of the land. That was the end of the story. That is another story I don’t want to go into today. I am just saying that the solution to our problem as a country is in our hands. With next to nothing, a lot of things can happen in this country. It baffles me that we now award contracts that Ogun State cannot sustain. We keep imitating Lagos, forgetting that Lagos’s IGR is more than what they get from the Federal Government in a month.
What can the government do to stop incessant collapse of buildings in the country?
It is very simple and that is largely because of the lack of professionalism in the building industry. In other climes, if you submitted a plan that you want to build, it is not an easy process. All the people in the industry must be certified. You cannot build without the certification of a Structural Engineer. You cannot wire a building without the certification of a certified electrical engineer. You can’t do your plumbing work without the stamp of a certified plumbing engineer. And these professionals will not allow themselves to be associated with failures because the consequence of failure is grave.
In the United Kingdom, if a building catches fire, it is not just about putting off the fire, there would be an investigation into the cause of the fire. If the cause is attributable to the carelessness of the electrical engineer, he doesn’t just lose his license to practice, he is prosecuted. And if there is a life that is lost, he is in the dock for murder. They will not even allow a substandard cable because there is no cable manufacturer that will not have correct certification. If by chance they now find out that it is the quality of that cable that is substandard, that manufacturer of that cable cannot escape justice.
So I believe it is about standard and adherence to do standard. That is what we need.

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