Eniola Akindeko is a professional pharmacists with close to two decades of practice . He started Begets pharmaceuticals Limited in 2008, after leaving government paid employment so as to pursue his dreams in the manufacturing sub-sector. Begets which is arguably the only surviving drugs manufacturing company in Akure, the capital city of Ondo state, has been undergoing several challenges in its quest to stay afloat in its decade of operation. In this interview with Kris Obiaje, Eniola bares his mind on several issues affecting small-scale enterprises and what government can do to grow the sector and by extension, the Nigerian economy. Excerpts
Who is Eniola Akindeko?
I am pharmacist Eniola Akindeko. I have been active in the industry for over twenty five years. I am into manufacturing pharmaceuticals and as well as community practice. I am from Iju-Odo in Okitipupa local government of Ondo state. I attended St. Paul’s primary school and Methodist High school, both in Okitipupa, before going to federal school of Arts and Science, Ondo, where I did my A ‘level and thereafter proceed to the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife where I obtained a B. Pharm in 1992. I also obtained a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the Federal University of Technology, Akure in 2003.
How old is your Pharmaceutical Company, Beget?
Beget as a company is about thirteen years old. I started Beget manufacturing in 2008, and we actually started with authority approved products. Some of these products includes: Begets Mist magnesium Triscilicate, methylated spirit, beget vitamin C syrup and hand sanitizer. It is a product of necessity. Something that came about during the last ebola outbreak. Nigerians were in dire need of a hand sanitizer and we were among the first group of companies to come out with locally made hand sanitizer.
Between Lagos and Ibadan why choose Ondo state to establish Begets Pharmaceuticals?
Like every other young man, I actually went straight to Lagos after school. I was doing my internship with Johnson pharmaceuticals, Lagos and within months of working there, I was overwhelmed with the hassle and bustling of Lagos. And for someone who cherish his quietness, I got fed up and just one morning, I woke and said, I am no longer going to that place. I packed my things and returned to Akure.
This was in 1993, before I did my Youth Service. So I went straight to the ministry of Health, Ondo state where I was told they were not ready to offer an intern a job, but I offered to do my internship free of charge. The man in charge was taken aback, but he later accepted me, seeing I was serious. After the internship and Youth Service year, I started a pharmacy, but it was short-lived, because, I immediately got a job with FUTA, where I was for about twelve years.
This was in 2011, I actually left to go and do what I always have passion for – which is business. Thereafter, I set up the manufacturing practice, which is an arm of the profession people rarely want to thread. For obvious reasons, in Nigeria, the manufacturing of anything has its own challenges. But because of the stuff I was made off, I decided to give it a trial. I have been there and it has been very challenging, but I won’t back off. Off course, because of the challenges in the industry, overtime, I felt there was need for me to do something else so as to take care of my family – I had to survive. The only thing for me to do was to set up a community practice, which is the trading arm of the profession. This we are doing within the confine of its own challenges. So, we now have the manufacturing and the community practice working alongside each other.
Can you be specific about some of the challenges you have mentioned so far?
For the manufacturing, the challenges borders majorly on funding. When I started, I was coming from a low financial background. Off course I understood the fact that if you are coming into manufacturing, you have to come with loads of money, which I didn’t have. I have always been an ardent believer in myself and in God that whatever I set out to do and with him on my side, I can surmount all obstacles.
Funding, like I said have been the major challenge, in course of doing this, we approached the bank of industry who offered us a loan facility of nine million naira. But along the line other challenges equally cropped up, which made it almost difficult to service that loan. Of course we are making every effort to pay back. This isn’t a month we don’t service the loan. Patronage and competition from other bigger players, the challenge of electricity – in our facility, we have provided our own power and borehole for water. We have to treat this water so as to bring it to the required standard.
Staffing is another key issue where we are. You have to train your own staff. Mind you, we are talking of Akure, where you can barely find the required train and experience manpower. You will get graduates who have the requisite qualifications, but they lack the skill and experience. If you are talking of cities such as Lagos or Ibadan and because you have other companies, you can get skilled people.
Again, we look at the challenge coming from the angle of the regulatory bodies, the National Food and Drug Administration and Control NAFDAC, the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria, PCN. The major problem I have with these particular bodies is that they refused to differentiate between a micro, small, medium and large corporation. They place you all on the same pedestals. They believe you should be able to do what your competitors are doing and this is not helping us small scale manufacturers.
For instance, you want to begin producing on a small scale one particular product, you have to have two pharmacists and a minimum of one chemist, a microbiologist. This are standing condition, no mentioning other production staff. So I believe relevant bodies should look at this and make adjustments, so that small scale producers too can come up and compete with the big players.
Another thing is the challenge or patronage. Government is not helping in that direction. We employ people of the state and help grow the economy here. But government give jobs to people outside the state, that’s the irony of our time. Meanwhile, if government is not patronizing us in an economy like ours, then how do you survive. So you better pack up and leave.
How do you distribute and how’s Beget coping in market, considering known brand and big players having same products like yours?
Well, I must confess to you that we are not coping. That’s the only way to put it. It’s challenging and weighing heavily on us. You need more funds so as to increase your capacity. It is when you are able to increase your capacity and even if you are making small profit, if your turnover increases, then you can break even. But in a place where you needed to distribute your products, you need to put two to five vehicles on the road. Then the tax people are chasing the buses, the local government guys throwing sticks across the road are there, signage is after you because your vehicles are branded and your driver is making a mess of the whole process. We are not coping at all. Because between us and the large players, it is an unfair competition. It was in a bid to survive that I had to begin this community practising. Sincerely, many times I had to pay salaries from the pharmacy, when the factory isn’t making profit. It gets that bad. Its just that we have decided not to close down, believing that someday, circumstances may change. As it is today, the manufacturing aspect of this business is what it is.
We are hoping that government would change its policy and patronise us. Patronage is key in this business, especially coming from the government. We are also talking with the regulatory bodies to be a little bit lenient with us. Because they give us conditions that even the big players aren’t adhering to. I am a professional pharmacists and certain conditions are constant. Manufacturing is not rocket science. It is about following certain laid down procedures then arriving at a result. People have been manufacturing medicine for years, it is not the new technology the enable quality, but the process involved, once the process are followed, the sophisticated equipment only help increase capacity.
Aside from patronage, what can government do to help small scale industry such as Begets?
Government can help, first by providing patronage as earlier said. Ensuring that they give preference to locally manufactured products. Not just mouthing it, but taking action. Government could design a quota, say 40% or 50% of products they buy could be sourced from local manufacturers.
Secondly, I think the Bank of Industry is trying by giving single digit facility, but it can be better. Nine per cent currently being offered is high. Government shouldn’t look at the immediate gains from this policy, but how they can use the small scale industries to improve the economy by the level of employment they can generate and see how much we can reduce import.
How can government reduce the importation of fake pharmaceuticals products complicating health issues, especially as we understand most of these products are from the Far East and India?
Well, one of the ways to tackle faking is to go into local manufacturing. The local industries are within government’s reach. They can be controlled. But when someone is out of reach and can’t be control, how do you regulate him? And Nigeria has so many porous land border, and only the recognized seaports, what happened to other places? So the best approach is to help the local industries to become buoyant. There is no way we can eliminate importation, but a large portion if our products should be manufactured locally. That way you can check and regulate them, making sure they do the right thing.
What should Akeredolu-led government do to assist small-scale industry in Ondo State?
Let me say first that the government is trying its best efforts considering the circumstances they came in as per debts it meant on ground. For instance, the payment of civil servants salaries is a big leap. At least, that would impact on the local economy and have tremendous effect on what we are doing. Because if these people aren’t paid, you see that other people will be doing virtually nothing. And I will emphasize again that the government should patronize local businesses, especially local manufacturers like us. If they do that, it will help a great deal. Because this would help increase our capacity to pay better tax, employ more people, especially the young graduates roaming the street.
For instance, Begets has the capacity to employ about 40 staff, but at the moment we are just about seven. And if government could help us in terms of soft loan and with very minimal interest we will be happy. But patronage is the major thing. You see, what we are asking the government is to buy from us what they have been buying from other sources. So we are not asking them to do anything special, but the turn the tide towards local businesses so as to grow Ondo State economy.