Brilliant, bold and brainy are the best words that best describe Ben Elfrink, the managing director of First Aluminum Nigeria Plc also known has FAN. Under his exemplary leadership, the company just like its name connotes has scored many first in terms of quality and productivity. Introduced into the Nigerian market in 1960, the company became the country’s first indigenous provider of aluminum roofing sheets. And since then, it has continued to provide Nigerians tons of roofing sheets. In this interview with BENCONEWS.COM EDITOR, DEOLA ADEOTI, A Chemical Engineering graduates from Holland speaks about his love for Nigeria, quality of Aluminium products in the country, bane of the industry among other interesting topics. Enjoy the excerpts:
People said that you mix well with Nigerians, how were you able to achieve this in your short spell in Nigeria?
I came into Nigeria two and half years ago. I love Nigeria; it is a beautiful country. Nigerians are very nice people. I’m very often in Port Harcourt. It’s very amazing to see what Nigerians have done with Nigeria. Nigeria is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. There is everything. There is oil, there are minerals, and there is also good soil. I want to say if Nigerians would have used their land better; every Nigerian would be dollar millionaire. Dubai has nothing except oil and everybody earns good living there. The problem with Nigeria is unemployment. All Nigerians spend a fortune in trying to get their children educated. But when they come from school, there are no jobs. But Nigerians keep on being positive. One of the things I’ve learnt from Nigerians is tomorrow will be better. There is a lot of hope and determination.
What do you think the government can do to create a better Nigeria?
One of the things is to explore Nigeria is oil. And also education is very important to develop a nation. And when you educate people, you have to give them jobs. Government should invest and promote Nigerian companies, Nigerian initiatives to generate jobs. In general, Nigeria has importation culture. It is very easier to import than to manufacture. But in importation, you don’t generate jobs. In manufacturing you generate lots of jobs. In Nigeria, manufacturing is only fifth percent of the economy and where in other countries, it is twenty percent. If Nigeria gets a good manufacturing base, it will also get a lot of employment. The country also needs to promote small businesses. The small businesses will generate lots of employment. There are also good initiatives ongoing in the area of agriculture. If that industry is being explored, it will also create lots of jobs. I must give kudos to the minister of trade and investment, Mr. Aganga, he has taken some initiatives that really go in the direction of unemployment. But he still has a long way to go and I must say that there are lots of forces also in government who don’t want a change. But we as ministry keep on pushing; we see that some people are being grateful with what we are saying.
The 2013 budget has just been signed; does the budget affect your company in any way?
Absolutely! In the last two years government has spent very little money on job initiatives. If government does not invest, nothing happens to the country. What I learnt in Nigeria is there are lots of good ideas, big announcements without proper follow up. So let’s hope they don’t do big announcement, they just invest in the right way.
How has it been running First Aluminum?
It has not been easy. The economy in Nigeria is not growing as the official statistics shows. Nigerians don’t get money enough anymore to buy goods due to the economy. All market has been down. By the end of last year, we had to take the decision to reduce the amount of production we do in Nigeria. More people do more of importation in Nigeria which is a sad development because basically what they are doing is exploiting jobs. But we hope government will act considering this as to protect local Nigerian industries
What is the way forward for Nigerian industry?
The culture in Nigeria is that they prefer to import than to manufacture. Government should protect against countries that are simply dumping materials in Nigeria.