Saturday, 22 October 2016


Daily Trust: You started your business with exporting toads, frogs and lizards. What pushed you in that direction?

Dr. Emmanuel Ekong: I did my studies overseas and in the process realized that the resources in the world are different. God has made it in such a way that what we have in excess in one part is actually scarce in other parts. Also, the things we could throw away where we come from are things people need in other parts of the world.

So, I decided that I would find out a place on earth where the lizards we chase around and kill for fun is something that people treasure and want to own. I travelled all over the world and discovered that these items are of extreme importance to some people because of the natural value it has for them. Some see it as a connection to planet earth and others think it is exotic, unlike us who have them all over the place.

You can imagine getting some tiny frogs from limestone water here in Lagos and exporting them to Japan, Taiwan and the United States. I mean, it was like going from zero to hero. When we harvest these little frogs or lizards, the people who sometimes assist us would look at us sympathetically, wondering what we intend to do with them since they have no food or commercial value in our part of the world. They look at you critically to be sure that you didn’t just escape from the nearest psychiatric hospital.

I know that our country still has so much that have not been exploited or explored. In tourism, there are places that we take for granted that others would marvel at. It is a matter of streamlining the system to ensure that we can get value for these things.

Daily Trust: Could you share some of your experiences on the import and export business?

Ekong: I exported items that fell under the category of natural endowments/resources we have in Nigeria. I tried as much as possible not to compete with the federal government so I have never ventured into oil and gas because the government has a very huge interest there.
On the import side, we competed quite favourably with the then Panalpina, DHL and so on in our logistics business. We were one of the pioneer one-stop shop which would procure, import, store and deliver to our clients. On the private side, I personally have interest in what people might call exotic things. I love vehicles. I love designs, creativity, anything that is done by anyone and it looks good. I like to share and get inspired by such craftsmanship.

Daily Trust: Have you had challenges in your businesses?

Ekong: Yes, earlier in the year I had a problem with the federal government for reasons that shouldn’t have been. I had imported some vehicles and men of the Nigeria Customs Service came to my house and purported that the vehicles were not properly imported and they needed to see documentations to justify the importation of the vehicles.
I provided them with documents and they confirmed that all the vehicles found in my compound were properly imported into Nigeria. They however said the import duties were lower than what I should have paid so I should pay more. At that point, I discovered that they were trying to embarrass me.

So, I took the Comptroller General of Customs to court to explain how his men could have missed getting me and everybody else to pay appropriate bill for what we imported, and released the goods to me without getting concessions or waivers from the government. I secured a court injunction and went ahead and started using the vehicles.
Suddenly, the guys went to my office, seized the vehicle and arrested my staff. They also came to my house, burgled the place, took away all my vehicles, and assaulted my domestic staff. They declared me a criminal for illegally placing a seal on my vehicle. I took them to court and got a court order allowing me to use my property pending when the prayers I sought from the court is heard.

The matter became a huge public interest case. The whole thing got heated up and wasn’t looking good for them. So, the then Comptroller of Customs asked me to withdraw the civil case against them and promised to withdraw the criminal case against me, and I agreed.

Daily Trust: You are chairman of Briscoe, a major telecoms player. What are your experiences?

Ekong: Telecommunication is an exciting business because of its roles in the society. Mine is a very specialized area of communication. My company provides communication to some key sectors because the resources we have are customized to cater to critical activities, and it is communication at the most secured level. The security communication is based on tetra platform. My company is the first and only company in Africa that provides an outsource service. We have established a backbone that covers most parts of the country. We have secured highway communication that allows somebody on the network to be able to communicate with other persons without interception. The network is akin to what is being used to guard President Obama and some world leaders. Obviously, it is not what the public uses.

Daily Trust: Nigeria is currently in recession. How do you think we can get out?

Ekong: Recession is not an infection which has not only hit African countries, but other countries in the world and we have to stem it. We have seen how other countries get out of recession because the common denominator of recession is that you are utilizing or instigating or inspiring less of your capacities.

When this government came into power, there was a lot of hope but they have not unleashed the impact of same. All the things the administration promised have not happened. We have not seen any success in the implementation of government’s plans and policies which should have triggered micro-economic response in the country.

For example, government has to build roads because when you build roads, you employ services and these services generate other services. The government has to lead by example. The template to get out of recession abounds everywhere. Other countries have been there before and they came out.

Source:Daily Trust Newspaper

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