Clement Chukwuemeka Chukwu is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (MD/CEO) of Emekus Logistics Concept Limited, a start-up that deals in bitumen delivery and other road construction materials in Nigeria. In this interview, Chukwu speaks about how non-interest financing is easing access to finance across Nigeria and the challenges of start-ups.
How does Nigeria source bitumen?
Bitumen products are mainly used for road construction works. 98 percent of the bitumen we are using in Nigeria is imported. We have about four companies that import it.
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Bitumen is a raw material that can be used to produce products like cutback bitumen, emulsion bitumen and polymer-modified bitumen.
What role does your company play in the bitumen value chain?
We have 20 fleets of customised trucks at Emekus that deliver hot bitumen, ready to be used on delivery, to road contractors at construction sites all over the country. The innovations introduced by the company have eliminated the need to re-heat bitumen supplied by the company before use, thereby saving time and energy hitherto expended by contractors in re-heating the product before use. Thus, bitumen has become readily available all over the South for road construction projects.
At present, the company has qualified engineers besides its workforce of about 20 workers, including trained and untrained artisans, as well as labourers. Our company is also into civil construction, electrical and mechanical engineering works in Nigeria, and our project delivery model is client-focused; which describes its objectives. The company’s delivery system benefits from adopting best practice project management principles and implementation from years of experience.
The supply of bitumen and other allied products is often seen as capital intensive, how would you describe this venture in Nigeria?
At least 98 percent of the bitumen we use in Nigeria is imported. We do buy 60/70 grades of bitumen from importers and produce other components of bituminous products like cutback bitumen with solvents like kerosene. We buy our solvent from Conoil and other petroleum marketers in Nigeria.
Emulsion bitumen and polymer-modified bitumen are also produced from bitumen and other raw materials we buy locally. However, with the support of Jaiz Bank, we intend to commence importing from next year. This kind of non-interest financing partnership with Jaiz Bank is helping start-ups with more access to funding.
How do you describe the business environment where you operate?
Currently, we are in Rivers State as our head office and production site, but the environment is not too friendly due to certain issues like bad road network and high levies from state and local government agencies. In our delivery nationwide also, we encounter lots of challenges, especially bad roads in some parts and insecurity.
Is your supply chain limited to the South, or does it cut across Nigeria?
We have a lot of clients who work on-road and other construction activities across Nigeria; not just in the South. We source the highest quality bitumen to ensure excellent durability under extreme weather and traffic conditions, and hence the continued patronage from famous local and multinational construction companies in Nigeria.
As a business with an expansion prospect, are you into construction also?
We are yet to start construction work fully, but we have the intention and potential. The major barrier is funding. However, with our relationship with Jaiz Bank, we hope to surely achieve our dream.
Funding is of the essence in this kind of business, can you elaborate on how you source funds?
We currently have a line of financing with Jaiz Bank. The major challenge that nearly removed us from the business before we met Jaiz was finance. We established a banking relationship with Jaiz in 2017, and since then the relationship has been mutually rewarding and we have grown into a large provider of road construction materials.
Many Nigerian banks are not helping entrepreneurs to grow, that is the major challenge we are facing. The relationship will always end up in a very bad way because after all the promises made by account officers, they won’t fulfill them.