Adesegun Banjoko, former Manager of Wema Bank Plc, is the President-elect of National Association of Block Moulders of Nigeria. In this interview with NKASIOBI OLUIKPE, he explains why government should take the blame for the high cost of cement in the country
What is your view on the escalating price of cement in Nigeria?
The price of cement in the past 24 months has not been stable and it’s very unfortunate. Very unfortunate, in the sense that it affects the prices of products made from cement.
At what price does it sell now?
Dangote Cement is sold at N3,100 and N3,200, which is not supposed to be.
How about BUA, Lafarge and the rest?
The range is almost the same, it all depends on the one you are using for your production. The difference is not much.
So, what, in your view, is responsible for the instability?
Nigeria, as it is today, is in an era of high price in everything; so cement cannot be exempted. We are experiencing crisis in the energy and other sectors. Prices of virtually everything in Nigeria, including the ones that workers in the cement factories are using, have skyrocketed.
When workers experience a rise in the cost of living, they are forced to meet their employers for increase in salaries, and if you, as an employer, heeds to their plea, you will be forced to consider the expenses as cost of production. It is a vicious cycle. It just keeps connecting.
But in a situation where you claim to have a government, it is totally despicable. This is because there should be an economic advisory team to the president, who is to manage the economy. They should be able to make it easy for anybody to forecast the economy a little, at least for a short period. As it is today, you can’t predict the price of anything in Nigeria for just one week. That is too bad. I hold the government responsible for this vicious cycle, no one else.
In fairness to the cement manufacturers, they don’t give it out at the price it is sold in the market. The wholesalers add their own to it, because they, too, are living in an era of high prices for everything they consume. They have to increase the price, because they too, have to survive the situation.
The cement people used to talk about unstable dollar prices and the rest, but the wholesalers basically increase the price. So, when we are in the period of high prices for everything, it is the government we should look up to. You cannot blame someone that is reacting to a situation; you first get to the root of the situation and find a solution to it so that people will not react to it. If you slap someone and the person begins to cry, you have no moral justification to blame the person for crying. You should rather ask what informed the slap and seek ways to avoid it.
You mentioned exchange rate, but to the common man out there, cement is locally-produced and shouldn’t have any business with exchange rate.
Cement is locally-produced, but not all factors of production are locally determined. Yes, it is locally produced, but there are other ingredients used to manufacture it that are imported. Added to that is the manpower. You have expatriates who work with them that earn their wages in foreign currencies. For instance, during the lockdown, the expatriates went back to their home countries, leaving behind only the local engineers. The local engineers could not cope. So, you cannot remove the foreign impact.
How is the picture you just painted affect your members and the building public?
It is affecting everybody, not just the block moulders. If you have a budget to build a house within two years, you look at your salary or sources of income and then budget. Any increase in any of the components will affect your budget and might even force you to suspend building. Take sharp sand, for instance, just this week, they announced a N7,000 increase in its price. All these will lead people to compromise standards. There are many grades in every job, and you have. If people cannot afford the standard ones, they will come down to the ones their pockets can afford. Your pocket will determine the quality you will buy. Some people would even go and get hand moulds and use their hands to be moulding blocks inside their compounds, instead of using machines. And because they are doing it within the confines of their compound without supervision, they can mould anything and bring it out for sale, thereby jeopardising the lives of the end users.
Actually, you can hand-mould and still produce quality blocks. But when it is poverty that has driven somebody to do it, there is no way quality will not be compromised. This is really sad! That is why I am saying that a responsible government should sit down with the manufacturers and see how they can help them in promulgating policies that are people-friendly. But a government that is deaf cannot be responsive.
Rather than cut corners and compromise standards, why not sell based on what you bought?
If you sell what you bought, the buyer should be able to give you your correct money. Isn’t it? If the buyer does not have the correct money, he won’t buy from you . Is it not when customers come to buy what you have produced that you will then be able to sell whatever you bought? It’s only those who can afford to buy that will buy, those who cannot afford will go and start using different means to make ends meet.
Have you had cause to reach out to the manufacturers of your raw material for a reduction in price?
About two years ago, this issue of the rising cost of cement became a serious concern for us. Then, I was the chief of staff to the then national president of NABMON. We had to embark on strike, stating that we were no longer going to produce until the manufacturers do something about the price. Dangote, specifically, sent its marketing director totalk to us. At the end of the meeting, the man told us that they were selling what they bought. He told us they couldn’t be selling at a loss because they have to maintain their staff, service the machines and lots more.
In civilised climes, a responsive government that is not deaf to the yearnings of the people will address the issue. I mean, where the government is concerned about the plight of the masses.
How have you been interfacing with the authorities to address your plight?
Interfacing with the government? Well, I will possibly consider that after my inauguration. Right now, I am still a president-elect. Besides, do you think I should go to President Muhammadu Buhari and tell him I want to talk about cement?
But you can start at the state level?
When it comes to prices of cement, the states have no power. It’s totally a federal concern, and one of the owners of the cement factories is also part of the government.
What’s your advice to both the government and cement manufacturers?
The bulk stops on the government’s table. We are pleading with them to listen to our cries and that of the masses, so that they won’t believe the government is deaf to their cries or is not concerned about their plight. The essence of government is to care for the people. Their first responsibility is to provide security, but everybody knows they have failed on that. Then their other primary concern should be the welfare of the people, which is the area we are talking about now. In this era of rising cost in every commodity, a responsible government should be able to sit down and find a way out of it.
The manufacturers are just reactiing to the environmen; to the situation on the ground.
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