Dr Emmanuel Okoroafor’s credential in management consultancy is as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, having worked these past 31 years in Nigeria and overseas, notably as managing director and CEO of Hobark Consultant Management Services Ltd and in academia in the UK and France.
He recently deviated from his known metier of human capital management when he founded Mepon Ltd, a company that provides online platforms for global equipment and facility monetisation. In this interview, he explains how AfCFTA is an open vista for Nigerian businesses and how Mepon and businesses on the continent can optimise the big opportunities inherent in the initiative.
There has been a lot of buzz about AfCFTA in the past three years. What are the likely ways AfCFTA is going to catalyse meaningful gains for Africa?
AfCFTA is akin to economic integration that should allow the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labour among member countries, accompanied by shared policies and regulations.
The removal of trade barriers and lowering of costs for cross-border transactions will prompt everyone to participate and benefit, and so, deliver prosperity across the African continent.
The obvious benefits are the free movement of goods, services, and labour. Because of the free access to markets, the flow of trade will be increased among different member countries, allowing much higher consumer potential for businesses, and leading to greater economic prosperity and job creation within the continent.
Nigeria’s initial reluctance to sign the agreement was partly out of concern for the country’s entrepreneurs. Now that we have signed the agreement, how is AfCFTA going to benefit indigenous companies in Nigeria?
The initial reluctance from Nigerian businesses and, hence, the Federal Government is understandable. Nigeria had inadequate infrastructure to support her domestic companies to compete favourably within the competitive environment AfCFTA will create.
The number of competitors will increase, not only domestically but also from companies in other member countries. Although increased competition promotes innovation and efficiency in which companies must operate more competitively, it also increases the failure risk of domestic firms trying to survive.
Understandably, inefficient companies will eventually close. That creates more unemployment and reduces business tax revenue. The most vulnerable are companies that usually receive government subsidies or protection. These are the fears, hence the reluctance to sign up.
Now, that Nigeria has signed the agreement, it gives Nigerian businesses free access to the bigger market area, where they can freely sell in member countries’ markets without worrying about unfair competition due to trade barriers. A broader market allows them to achieve higher economies of scale, reducing average costs.
To bring it closer, tell us how, for instance, your company, Mepon Equipment, will take advantage of the AfCFTA.
The Mepon Equipment platform was created with AfCFTA in mind to optimise asset utilisation across Africa. An E-Market platform where African businesses can source for available underutilised or unused equipment within AfCFTA before looking to North America, Europe, or Asia.
Africa cannot develop if businesses and governments continue to waste scarce funds to procure new equipment and/or assets from other continents when numerous equipment and facilities are lying fallow with AfCFTA.
The Mepon Equipment platform was set to help owners of underutilized/unused equipment within AfCFTA, to market and monetise their assets. This will allow those who need the equipment to undertake projects, to find and access such available resources.
It is essentially a digital trade to increase efficient optimisation and distribution of equipment and services, enhancing connectivity between people, businesses, and government, and driving socio-economic transformation within the African continent.
Being an oil and gas professional, what motivated you to go into the equipment E-Platform Marketplace?
Experience played a great part here. Contracts and projects generally last for about two to five years. Often, new equipment are bought for these projects, and at the end, the equipment are shelved, and stored away in yards exposed to the elements, while we hope for a new contractor project, which often does not materialise. In the meantime, the equipment are wasting away in storage. When you go around industrial hubs, you will not fail to find yards filled with underutilised, unused equipment, assets, and facilities, that the owners have not been able to find use for or monetise. This sprouted the idea of the e-platform marketplace, to facilitate monetisation and subsequent utilisation of underutilised and unused equipment and assets.
To what extent has Mepon Equipment achieved its mission?
Since the release of the Mepon Equipment platform, there has been significant interest. Equipment owners have gradually been uploading their wares onto the platform. Non-African businesses have also expressed interest in placing their equipment and assets on the platform. To take advantage of AfCFTA, we remind them that their equipment must be available within the African continent to be accepted on the platform.
The current campaign is to make more businesses within AfCFTA aware of the Mepon Equipment Platform, so they can also take advantage of AfCFTA by registering and uploading their available equipment for monetisation onto the e-marketplace platform.
What is the scope of your operation?
The Mepon Equipment Marketplace is an innovative online platform dedicated to helping asset owners and manufacturers monetize their assets (equipment and facilities) effectively and efficiently. We offer a suite of services, designed to streamline and simplify the process of monetizing idle equipment and facilities. We undertake equipment and facility inspections, whereby our experienced team conducts thorough inspections to assess the condition and market value of available assets, ensuring accurate representation and optimised pricing.
We leverage our market reach to conduct targeted campaigns to showcase all available assets to a wide pool of potential buyers, ensuring maximum exposure and interest. We also offer logistics support and services by facilitating seamless transportation and delivery and ensuring a hassle-free experience for both vendors and customers. Other things we do include installation and commissioning of new assets.
Mepon Equipment supplies well-trained and qualified personnel and crew needed to operate newly acquired equipment, machinery, or facilities.
Through our dynamic marketplace, we also facilitate direct equipment sales and efficient auction processes to ensure fair and transparent transactions. We do all these and more.
Which industry stands to benefit from your services?
Upshots from Mepon will include increased business within the AfCFTA for insurance companies, banks, fintech, equipment service centres, and logistics providers, among others.
Nigeria has entered a new phase of re-engineering its economy. The new government has fashioned a new tax regime. It has recalibrated the forex system. The fuel subsidy has been removed. What are the key reforms that you think are required to turn the Nigerian economy around?
Business drives the economy, and the new government should, among other important things, pay needed attention to the ease of doing business (EoDB) in Nigeria.
In terms of ease of doing business, Nigeria ranked 131st out of 190 countries in 2019. At the country-wide level, the 2023 report shows a marginal increase in Nigeria’s overall EoDB satisfaction score to 5.69 on a 10-point scale from the 5.45 recorded in the inaugural report.
The issues relate to access to capital, inadequate infrastructure, such as unreliable power supply, poor transportation systems, limited access to high-speed internet, insecurity and corruption, frequent changes in government policies, tax regulations and trade policies, and are just a few of the factors that affect the ease of doing business in Nigeria and negatively impact the economy.
A holistic approach to these issues—not just a new tax regime, a recalibration of the forex market that is not settling down, and the removal of subsidy—may give Nigeria a chance to become a producing and manufacturing economy, which encourages and assures domestic investors and customers, attracts foreign direct investment, and facilitates and sustains export trade. This will improve the overall economy of the country.
On the specific issue of taxes and levies, there are numerous agencies harassing businesses to collect a disparate range of levies. For most of the agencies, it is no longer clear whether they are regulators or cash collectors. Most of them act like touts and there is no proper accountability. These frustrate the business community, who would have preferred a single taxation/levy for the government to distribute and share as she wants for various purposes.
Some of the collections are morally wrong. For example, they collect funds from an oil and gas operator, collect the same from her contractors, collect the same from the subcontractors, collect the same from the sub-subcontractors, ad infinitum. It only happens in Nigeria. That is unfair to the business community.
As a seasoned entrepreneur, what are your tips for aspiring and budding entrepreneurs on how to survive the Nigerian business environment and remain competitive?
Look out for things that are needed in Nigeria and within AfCFTA, either as products or service solutions. Go after them with gusto and take advantage of pioneers or early entrants. Then keep innovating and maintain awareness of changes in government policies that may affect your line of business and align accordingly. Maintain focus, and earn a reputation as a business with integrity, transparency, and customer satisfaction—don’t cut corners with your customers.
Look after your staff’s welfare and training needs, and they will look after the business. With growth, look for opportunities to diversify your business.
As a global businessperson, what is your prognosis of how Africa’s businesses will compete on the global stage in the decades ahead, given the prevailing economic trends on the continent?
All successful global businesses have a large market share in their home country and home continent. Exporting human capital, as we currently do, is not enough to compete on the global stage. African businesses should aim to start with domestic capital, domestic customers, and domestic distribution. Improve on processes to provide quality products and services to capture and ensure a large market share within the home nation and the AfCFTA, or African continent. Excellent quality products and services will capture significant local market share, attract FDI, find the export market, and hence enable Africa to compete on the global stage.
In conclusion, how will this equipment e-platform impact Africa?
Currently, Africa wastes scarce funds to procure new equipment or assets from other continents when numerous pieces of equipment and facilities are underutilised, unused, and lying fallow within AfCFTA.
Mepon Equipment will help optimise equipment and facility utilisation within AfCFTA, before resorting to buying new ones from North America, Europe, or Asia.
It will enhance connectivity between people, businesses, and governments, and drive socio-economic transformation within the African Continent. Thus, a tool that will help drive buy-in and integration of AfCFTA at both the domestic and intra-Africa national levels.