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Baraka Ekpo

NIGERIA - Economy

Peace and stability key to improving business environment

CEO, Sarepta Nigeria Ltd

Bio

Baraka Ekpo is a leader with an uncanny ability to see the big picture. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, he has lived in and attended school in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and the US, of which he is a citizen.
After school in the US, he went on to pursue a degree in chemical engineering in his homeland of Nigeria and moved on four years later to enrol at the Prince George’s Community college, where he graduated in accounting and general education as class valedictorian and with honors.
In 2014 he enrolled at one of the US’s top 10 business schools, the prestigious Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, where he will graduate in 2018 with two degrees in Marketing and Supply Chain Management. In 2014 he founded Sarepta out of a love for his homeland of Nigeria and Africa. His vision is to grow Sarepta and its subsidiaries. He enjoys meditating on scripture, traveling and leading an active lifestyle.

"The biggest resource in Nigeria is human capital, as we are a truly a country with an entrepreneurial spirit."

How was Sarepta created and what has been its operations since?

Sarepta was created out of a love for my continent and my country, and to promote a different image of Africa to the Western world. The image of Nigeria and Nigerians abroad is not always positive, and changing this image is the passion behind creating the company. I always loved the idea of business and making money, but that philosophy changed when I realized that if I could help better the lives of others through offering gainful employment, the rewards of satisfied workforce/employees will lead to greater motivation and better business results which will bring with it the rewards of profit, eventually. We started by approaching state governments that had ideas for projects but did not execute them due to a lack of funds or had elephant projects that needed revamping. These included MROs, hospitals, or power plants that were not completely finished. I used my resources and contacts in the US, many of who were Nigerians who have lived in the US for a long time and were looking for places to invest. I wanted to make an FDI prospectus that would showcase information that is vital for any investor, foreign or domestic. Information like what were the investment opportunities for a region, what were the markets for these opportunities, associated cost, risk, profit, and return on investment, quantitative and qualitative data that can help a willing and savvy investor make a decision. To my amazement, there was little or no data on most of the projects not even on potential markets or profitability. I said we could do it as a service but governments did not have the funds. Therefore, I made a small foreign investment directory that I funded with the help of family members and banks. We received the capital we needed, and from that I established the other lines of businesses that we have today, which are the transport line, paint manufacturing plant and the construction company, which has since, through the acquisition of Massimo Saverio construction set up as an SPV that has been officially licensed by United Africa Company under its UPDC division as contractors and vendors for construction and our paints and doors, respectively. We are also to set to launch, through a deal with Root-Hub (a major player in this business line from the south looking to enter the western market in Lagos) an affordable office hub space of 25-30 capacity for consultants and entrepreneurs in search of a space where creativity can thrive, in a corporate setting, but don’t necessarily have the finances to dole out for office spaces within Lagos. We accomplished all this through our ability to network with existing firms that are key players in their line of businesses.

How do you act as a bridge between Nigeria and the international business community to promote Nigerian investment opportunities?

The documentary details the resources in a particular region and explains exactly how profitable a project is and what the market is. We focused on oil and gas and agriculture, where the byproducts can be used to produce a variety of valuable oils petrochemicals. For example, we have rubber plantations all over the south, so we detailed how the trees can be converted into rubber, which can be used to make tires and every other kind of rubber based product that drives manufacturing in other parts of the world and is a big contributor to their GDP. We explain to investors who the off takers are, for example, with one project, Cameroon was going to buy over USD1 billion of palm kernel from Nigeria just to receive the oil extract. I showed that setting up a factory is much cheaper in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world and here there is direct access to all the raw materials needed.

Where would you advise investors to put their money into in Nigeria?

I would direct them to agriculture. I wish oil in Nigeria was never discovered because it ruined our business models for everything. The UAE invested its oil revenues. Nigeria thought the cash cow was never going to stop delivering, but it is. Even if prices go up slightly in a few years’ time, everyone will still be looking for alternative sources of energy. Agriculture is our most untapped and most valuable resource because from north to the south and east to the west there is something we can grow, mass produce, and export, which we are not doing. Before oil, we were exporting peanuts, and the Naira and dollar were one to one. It can sometimes take longer to realize the returns on investment, for example with livestock, but not if there is a plantation that has fully matured palm fruits, coconuts, or rubber trees. Cassava is an example from which the extract is used to make spirits, which Nigeria imports for its hospitals and retail; we can make enough in just my state to supply the whole of Nigeria, Cameroon, and neighboring countries.

How would you describe the ease of doing business in Nigeria?

We are ranked by the World Bank as 162nd in terms of ease of doing business, which highlights the big problem of attracting foreigners to invest in our resources. To incorporate this company, we had to repeat several processes several times. In the US it took me one day, online. The government needs to improve the process of supporting entrepreneurs. The biggest resource in Nigeria is human capital, as we are a truly a country with an entrepreneurial spirit. On the other hand, however, starting a business does not necessarily favor entrepreneurship. The government needs to streamline the process of starting a business with a portal where a viable business can be registered online and then inspected. Our problem is not necessarily corruption but accountability. There is corruption everywhere in the world but when someone is given a task to do and they know they are accountable and responsible then they have to do it. If we want foreign and domestic investment we have to make the process less complex, in line with global trends.

What is your outlook for 2018?

I am optimistic. I hope our President gets better so he can continue to fight corruption, and I am looking forward to the benefits. We are looking to see the dollar fall some more in a positive sense to get a stronger Naira (to ease the stress on Nigerians doing business in Nigeria, but also to level the playing field for being able to attract foreign investment without the stain arbitrage), and I am looking to see unnecessary tariffs, taxes, and bans being lifted on certain items and goods that help people make business possible in Nigeria. Some more reform for the banking sector and more fiscal policy that regulates the banking sector in an astute manner. Peace and stability is another important issue, as the feeling of security and safety needs to be restored to present Nigeria as a secure environment where business can thrive. I want to see more emphasis on the education sector as that drives not just entrepreneurship and business, but will lead the nation towards greater achievements in all facets that make up a strong nation and economy like; healthcare, science, research, and development and most importantly good and efficient governance. People in the most remote regions need to be able to have access to a standard and well-rounded education. In business terms, I hope for the simplifying of processes that are costly for businesses, from SME’s to major corporations.

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