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Special focus on the activities of the Comet Group of Companies and Interview of the chairman of Fivestar Logistics Ltd Chief Barrister Musa Danjuma on the occasion of the award of ISO 9001 to six companies in the group...
Chief Musa Danjuma.

“So, you find that the running cost of the trawlers is far more expensive than the income.” – Musa Danjuma.

Chief (Barrister) Musa Danjuma, the executive chairman of the Nalcomet Group of companies needs little introduction in many sectors of the Nigerian economy.  His chief foot print is in the maritime industry, not law, which he mastered as a profession.  Rising from the ranks, he assumed headship of the expanding empire founded by his older brother, General T Y Danjuma.  The foremost in that group of companies is Nigeria-America Line, followed by Comet Shipping Agencies Nigeria Ltd.  They were formed in 1979 and 1984 respectively.  But since then other firms have been added to operate in other sectors of the Nigerian economy culminating in the formation of Fivestar Logistics Ltd which the group added in 2005. The aim for the new comer was to bid in the seaport concession programme of the federal government which started in 2001. That programme succeeded in creating new terminal concessionaires for major Nigerian seaport terminals, with Fivestar Logistics winning the roll-on roll-off terminal at Tin Can Island Port in Apapa.
Although Chief Danjuma joined the Nalcomet group in 1986 as executive director, he has risen to become executive chairman of the group.  The other companies in the group are Plantgeria Nigeria Ltd, TethysPlantgeria Ltd, Danalec Ltd, Tarabaroz Fisheries Ltd, Best Trade Nigeria Ltd and Danalec FZE.  It remains a family business but managed by a multinational staff strength now in excess of 3,000.  Nigerian employees, of course, make up more than 96% of this number; so that the expatriate employment has been used by the management to engineer and integrate world-class service delivery methods usually found in multinational companies. 
Admirers of the senior Danjuma and his younger brother commend them for fostering such a combination of local touch with international flair and not succumbing to the usual tendency of most Nigerian family-owned businesses which allow blood relations to taint the complexion of business. In an exclusive interview granted DDH magazine recently, Chief Danjuma told what he usually did to employees who try to play the ethnic or familiarity card: “ I fire them”, he quipped.
No wonder the companies are doing well.  Since 2004, Comet Shipping Agencies has been in the leading position as the agency that handled the highest number of ships in Nigeria.  This year, six companies in the group succeeded with accreditation to ISO 9001-2008, considered in local and international circles as a mark of approval for quality service delivery.  Therefore, the group rolled out drums at the award ceremony at Sheraton Hotel Abuja last month with a high-profile attendance including the Obong of Calabar and a retinue of other big names and captains of industry.
Naturally, we began our exclusive interview with Chief Danjuma by trying to probe the depths of his satisfaction with these developments and to situate them, if possible, among any corporate achievement targets they have set for themselves.  Are the awards an end in themselves or a means to an end? We also tried to find out how other national difficulties, like the security problems around the country’s waterways and in the Niger Delta, are affecting the struggle for survival and profitability by many companies that are still active in the market place.  And on the human interest side of things, we covered role models. For corporate management tactics, we discussed retirement and succession plans, and host-community relations. 
For many well-heeled businessmen, the achievement of business success and a deep pocket easily become a jumping pad for elective office. But not Chief Danjuma. He parried our question in that regard, reminding us that “I earn more than the President, unless he steals”! In short, this is another installment in the usual no-holds-barred encounters which the 60-year old avid squash player has to offer once in a while when he agrees to be interviewed. Excerpts:  

DDH: With the ISO awards, the fame of the group of companies has increased locally and overseas and you are the executive chairman directing all the affairs on a daily basis.  Do you feel actualized by the successes of these companies and your other accomplishments in the corporate world?

Chief Danjuma: Sure, I feel excited with the awards and I feel actualized but of course, in service delivery business you can always do better.  So, I feel challenged to do better.  I believe that we should not be complacent. I feel that the award and recognition of the ISO are good omens but at the same time we should take it as a challenge to even do much better. And mind you this award is for a period and we won’t want ISO to come back and take it away. (General laughter).  So obviously we have to maintain steady performance.

DDH: And talking of more work, you also maintain directorships in other blue chip companies where you take active part. How do you share your time?

Chief Danjuma: Yeah I am a director in Berger Paints Plc and Mediterranean Shipping Line.  Well, one gets very busy with these activities.  Like anything else, when a company has problems which is regular, the board meetings are usually very long.  When a company is doing well, you only meet to share money (general laughter) and go away.  But Nigeria is a very difficult environment to do business, so there is always challenge from things which you are not responsible for.  Challenges caused by mismanagement on the part of government or government agencies, act of God and all other issues.  Our environment is pretty harsh to do business.  Forget about tourism.  Therefore it is a big challenge to captains of industry.

DDH: One of your big problems now is in fish trawling where pirates have rendered the waterways unsafe for sailings and fishing, etc. How are coping with that?

Chief Danjuma: Well, we’ve scaled down; as a matter of fact we had to get rid of some of the boats.  Apart from pirate attack which is an offshoot of the (Niger) Delta problem, we also have AGO (automotive gas oil).  It is very expensive. Maintaining the trawlers are very expensive.  And then, the catch are low, apart from the fact that sometimes the boat goes to sea and it’s supposed to go for one month but it just used one or two weeks and it comes back.  Either it has some electrical or mechanical problem or pirate attack as you said or it ran out of AGO. So, you find that the running cost of the trawlers is far more expensive than the income.  And, of course, this is business, it doesn’t justify the cost.  This is why we are now diversifying into fish trading through the importation of mackerel or other variety of fish from South America.

DDH: But your group plans to still remain in that business since Nigeria has natural resources in that sector?

Chief Danjuma: Absolutely.

DDH: As a barrister, have you found that your official roles are made easier because of your legal orientation?

Chief Danjuma: Of course the legal profession is versatile.  It exposes you to many other aspects of professions.  If you are a lawyer, you will also be a manager, an administrator and, in fact, a bit of accounting.  So, you find that all aspects of your discipline is reflected in many things that you do.  So, I always advise many young people to study law, not because am a lawyer but because it is a very good profession.

DDH:  But you don’t go to court?  You give out your matters to other lawyers.  Is it because of the time involved?

Chief Danjuma: No, I don’t go to court.  Well, obviously, in litigations the system is not the best because of the long duration it takes.  It puts a lot of litigants off.  Apart from the court processes, also there are other issues of corruption.  But there is still faith in the judiciary as one of the three arms of governance. 

DDH:  Especially the reversal of flawed elections in the country seems to point that out now?

Chief Danjuma:  Absolutely.  So we rely on the judiciary to save the country.  The politicians (laughter) have failed and there is a lot of problems with governance. Many of us don’t even care who is in charge in the country provided we have peace, security and all the social services, roads, electricity, etc.

DDH: But your group of companies are succeeding in many strides and one cannot deny that you contribute greatly to this as the power behind the throne. What aspects of your life experiences do you think most prepared you for maintain an even keel at all times in the operations of the company throughout Nigeria, even when pirates attack your trawlers or when militants assail your Niger Delta operations?

Chief Danjuma:  Well, still the legal profession. I have been a lawyer.  I have told you how helpful it is.  It prepares you that you are able to face things that maybe  other professions do not offer.

DDH:  In role modeling, did you have role models?

Chief Danjuma: Well, sure I did.  My school principal…he’s late now. Even my brother. I lived with him, I was ten years old. And he is a soldier, a disciplinarian. I learnt a lot from him. 

DDH: When you say he is a disciplinarian, do you mean he didn’t give you much room to maneuver as a young man?

Chief Danjuma: You know a  soldier’s life.  They are straight.  They don’t waver, you know.  He’s not a politician.  He calls a spade a spade and if you do wrong he dresses you down.  And if you do right he commends you.  Sometimes, he doesn’t.  But all said and done, when you are around him, you make sure you are straight.  

Chief Danjuma at his desk.

DDH:  And your school principal, who was he?

Chief Danjuma:  O! he’s late now. He was my principal in school when I was in Gindiri (missionary secondary school, Plateau state).  He was in charge of Boys’ Brigade and he was a very good man, also a disciplinarian.  He was a role model.
 
DDH: Now, operating in the Niger Delta requires the so-called social license to operate (LTO) in terms of community relations assistance projects.  How much of this do your companies do in their host communities?

Chief Danjuma: We do a lot.  Most of the demands we get from the communities are for social services.  Usually we get a list from them (saying) we must employ their sons and daughters, and they even demand for the positions (general laughter). They want them to be accountants.  They want them to be managers in the company, even if they are not qualified.  And then when they have social events, whether it’s a new yam festival or a wedding or celebrating titles, they make demands for contributions.  Always as part of us having peace with the communities.  The demands are not little, to the extent that we had to keep some administrative managers to be in charge of all that because you can’t ignore the community where you work.  They could waste your time, they could mess you up if you ignore them.

DDH: But in a situation where they give you somebody who is not fit to be an accountant to work as an accountant, how do you manage that?

Chief Danjuma: Well, we talk to them, we explain to them.  We will put him in the accounts department as a clerk to appease them but we explain to them that he cannot do the job.  But just to let you know how far they can go in making demands from the company. 

DDH:  But aside from that, things like schools and hospitals…?

Chief Danjuma: Yes but to be honest the people are selfish. You give money to an individual who is a chief, another group comes over and makes demands.  Most of these monies go into private pockets.  You do it in good faith but you can’t go and manage it for them, you can’t get involved. 

DDH:  Also as a successful family in the corporate world, have you been impelled to sponsor community development projects in your native communities in Taraba state as a sine qua non to maintaining good public and social relations?

Chief Danjuma:  Yeah, the same.  They do send me from time to time, requests for some schools running out of textbooks, churches, donations, some weddings, yam festivals, some death.  I must send a delegation or go myself with money towards funerals, etc, and that’s on a regular basis. 

DDH:  Do you feel the demands are justifiable?

Chief Danjuma: Well, sure, you are not an island.  You are a member of the community. Now, this company is not based in my home area but still they are aware and they also want their children to be employed.  But what I insist on is that whoever must be employed must be qualified and must also deliver.  Because you have situations where someone comes and feels that it is the company of their brother and therefore they will do what they like.  I don’t take that, I fire them.  I insist that they must deliver.

DDH:  When you say they must be qualified, do you feel that places a responsibility on you as an elite from that area to ensure that they are properly educated?

Chief Danjuma: Yes, they’ve been through processes.  Many of these are products of universities and polytechnics who come looking for jobs.  Those that not properly educated and could require some short courses, of course, I ensure that they do that.

DDH: That’s actually where I was heading, to see whether there are young men and women you go out of your way to aid towards good schooling?

Chief Danjuma:  Yeah, sure, we make sure they do that, get some courses to finish them up and put them in the right frame for them to deliver and do the job.

DDH:  Now on the ISO awards, how much work is required by these companies to maintain progressive quality service standards so as not to suffer the possibility of withdrawal of the awards due to non-performance?

Chief Danjuma:  Well, I cannot decide.  The award has been given to us.  As I told you, it’s a challenge and we will make sure that areas where there’s laxity in management, we shall update and make sure that there is an improvement so that at the end of the three years, we may be again recognized by the ISO for the award. It’s like looking at yourself in the mirror and somebody says you look nice and you are still making up your face.  We are aware, and now that the ISO is looking at us, we will be embarrassed if we don’t make it.  As I said, it’s a challenge.

DDH:  Are there plans by any of the companies to attempt new areas of products and services or to break into additional sectors of the Nigerian industrial marketplace?

Chief Danjuma:  Well, we have the niche business that we do, each company.  Of course, we always want new activity, why not?  But in so doing, we don’t want to lose grip of our core business.  Sometimes, you bite off more than you can chew and you can’t be jack of all trades as well.  So we want to retain a balance.

DDH:  Are you thinking of retirement and what are your thoughts on this important phase of your career life? Has your group of companies made good succession planning to maintain an ongoing system in these companies?

Chief Danjuma:  Well, my niece is executive director of the group.  My first son and first daughter are working in the group of companies. So, it’s a process. Nobody is indispensable.  I go off sometimes, on leave.  The MD goes off sometimes for a month or two weeks. And the companies still go on and everything is smooth.  So, one would not work for ever but at the same time, you want to keep busy and contribute.  When retirement comes, you don’t even need to be asked, your body will tell you. 

DDH:  Are you trying to say that as a company you have prepared for that? That the periods of going off by the top management is a kind of testing the system?

Chief Danjuma:  Yeah, absolutely. As I said nobody is indispensable. It’s so stabilized that things work.

DDH:  As the executive chairman of the group, what is your charge to all your 3,000 or so employees at this critical stage in the growth and expansion of the companies and what do they stand to gain by doing a good work?

Chief Danjuma: Yes, I mean in the private sector, if somebody earns N100,000.00 he should do work of N150,000.00.  And you always be on their neck to make sure that they deliver.  The problem is that when you employ so many people some bad eggs come in.  We’ve had cases of not just mismanagement but also theft, fraud, you know.  These are all part of the case that we have so many staff; it’s not so easy to manage these people.   

DDH:  With regard to socio-political situation of the country, how can government do more to aid the steady growth and smooth operations of companies in Nigeria especially in terms of infrastructure and security of life and property across the nation?

Chief Danjuma:  Well, this is part of what I told you that many of us in the private sector don’t care who is president, who is vice (president), who is the minister, provided they deliver, you know. When you are here and most of the day you are running on generator power, and you are also paying PHCN bills, you start asking yourself what is happening?  Roads are not motorable, all the social services (are down), you find there is no water, you have to buy water and yet you get water bill.  So are many other things, we have to avail of private hospitals for ourselves and our staff, all because facilities are not in place.  But then we also should look at ourselves because the attitude is every time we blame government.  And you start asking yourself who is the government? 

DDH:  But they were elected?

Chief Danjuma:  Yes, but the people too need to wake up and contribute because if you count the number of the elite, those in government, compared to the entire population…, so we should also look at ourselves as a people.  Because there’s the leadership but also the followership.

DDH:  In the maritime sector, the indigenous maritime industry has struggled to maintain some hold of the business but seems to be relegated to the background by the big international shipping lines.  In what ways can the federal government assist local maritime operators to succeed more in the sector?

Chief Danjuma: Well, you know we have political independence but economic independence is far-fetched in many aspects.  Look at even the carriage of crude oil, which we as a shipping line for years (campaigned for).  NNPC says crude oil is the life line of the country and that Nigerians are not capable, and yet the foreigners come and they charter.  They don’t own ships.  You are talking about between $500m to $1 billion a year carried away, and so many other aspects of the economy.  You find our leaders, once the multinationals go and settle them on these issues, they turn the other way. We have so many aspects of these kinds of situations where the economy would have very much generated funds for the people but it’s all money going down the drain.

DDH: Are you saying these are issues that still have to be revisited?

Chief Danjuma: Absolutely.  It’s just like cabotage law…the problem is just the implementation.

DDH:  Now there is the cabotage vessel financing fund said to be now nearly $75m in accumulation and ready to be disbursed.  Did your company apply? Are you going to be apply?

Chief Danjuma: No.  Well, we take those issues seriously. We don’t want to apply because we feel that taking money of the people is a serious thing.  So many times, people take this money and they don’t use it for what it is meant for and they don’t pay back.  Until EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) visits them (general laughter).  We don’t want that, we are serious people. For us to take such money we will strategize that it is meant for a purpose and that we will not go wrong in investing it for what it is meant for.  We don’t want to go take it because it is free money.   

DDH:  Do you see yourself aspiring for any elective position in Nigerian politics, to transfer your service for the benefit of the larger society instead of that of the NALCOMET Group alone?

Chief Danjuma:  No, thank you.  We can’t all be politicians.  We can’t all make noise. Some people have to be there and listen, you know.  As I said, am satisfied with my contribution so far.  People go into politics for the wrong reasons and this is why the country is where it is.  Right now, I earn more than the President unless he steals. (General laughter).  So what do I want? To be known or what?  But then you see how people are being killed for political reasons. All is because of the money that passes under the table, security votes and being in position to corner all sorts of deals. Not to talk about influencing activities of people’s lives.  That’s all.  And at the end of the day, these are the driving forces why people are running and killing themselves over this and that. 

DDH:  So you are saying if you have these perquisites in the private sector why worry?

Chief Danjuma:  Why should I border?  I don’t envy them.  My concern is that they take responsibility and don’t deliver. As I said, I wouldn’t care who is there provided that he delivers. 

 

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