Why Governor Alia cannot have a drink on me, By ANDREW AGBESE

Let me start by asking the bar man to give everyone in Benue, except Gov Hyacinth Alia, a bottle of beer over the state government’s plan to establish a brewery in the state.

I certainly cannot ask the bar man to include Gov Alia in the distribution of free booze not because I expect him to be a teetotaler but because I don’t support the move by the state government to run a brewery.

My aversion to the plan is not (as many would assume) due to the nature of the products but it stems from my conclusion that government hardly runs such enterprises successfully, as we shall soon see.

It was for the same reason that the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration opted to sell most government-owned enterprises under the privatization programme.

More than 20 years after that, the Benue State government, through the Managing Director of the Benue Investment and Property Company (BIPC), Dr. Raymond Asemakaha, is announcing that it is set to build an N800million brewery in Makurdi to produce beer, packaged water, and bread.

Going by what the BIPC boss said on what informed the decision of the state government to set up another brewery in the state, the motivation can be summed up as strictly based on the need to harness the huge market potential that exists in the state and to trap the over N850 million lost to other companies that sell same range of products in the state.

N850 million? Wow! That’s enough to get a whole state woozy. But I digress.

No doubt there’s a huge market for alcoholic products, not only in Benue State, but in the entire North Central States of Nigeria where the average citizen sees alcohol as complementary to social life.

Owners of hotels and restaurants have since realised that one of the ways to increase their sales is to include a bar.

Having a market by all means should serve as an encouragement to production, but the temptation should not cover our eyes as to other debilitating factors.

Where it is considered that other underlying factors could threaten the gains of production, such efforts should be reconsidered.

In the case of Benue, one can start by trying to unravel why despite the huge market potential alluded to by the BIPC MD, Benue Breweries Limited (BBL), the producers of More Larger Beer several times had to close shop until it was acquired by another firm.

Several years ago, a friend who was doing his industrial attachment took me round the BBL facility and from my interaction with him and the other workers, I was able to glean why production had not only become epileptic but things had gone so bad that it affected the taste of the product itself to a level that some mistook it for an expired gruel.

From what I did gather, nepotism; corruption; bureaucracy; complacency and lack of competitive will were among the factors that stymied the company.

Appointments for various positions were made on man-know-man basis, staff attitude to work was akin to the one in the civil service, purchase of materials for production were unaccounted for and sales were not adequately recorded.

Soon, the plants began to malfunction due to lack of maintenance and the low power supply added to its woes

The irreducible decimal is the attitude of the average Nigerian towards everything owned by government.

Everybody comes with a sense of entitlement and certain assurance that they’re above discipline.

This flows from the top management cadre down to the cleaners where people act as if they’re the ones doing the government a favour by working there.

One of the most successful breweries has been the Plateau Bottling Company, producers of Rock Larger Beer, which was operational for several years and at its peak was buoyant enough to bail the state government any time it runs into financial difficulties.

But it had to close shop in the long run due to factors similar to the ones mentioned above.

Fact is, public-owned enterprises are not allowed to function in ways they could optimise production and break even. They are seen mainly as extensions of ministries were all sorts of laid-back attitudes are condoned.

When people assume that employment into a company would be based on clannishness and not necessarily competence, contactors selected based on connection to those in government; distributorship awarded based on friendship to those at the top rather than capacity, etc then it is one step towards failure.

I’ve worked in a state government-owned company and what I saw was not encouraging.

Once it is known that the government is supporting the company with an amount of money, the following day, various persons whose capacities cannot be ascertained would troop into the premises with various notes from the government house as recommendations to be awarded certain contracts.

A pretty looking lady in the junior cadre may appear after weeks of absence from work with a note from a top government official recommending her for promotion and the MD cannot say ‘no.’

Worse still, staff would prefer to engage in gossips and petition writing to prove that the CEO is favouring only people from his clan.

That is is not the kind of atmosphere that encourages businesses.

In 2021, Samuel Ortom as governor, had to put up 25 companies belonging to the state government for sale because they had all gone comatose and were not producing. They did not fail because there were no markets for their products.

Now that Alia wants to provide jobs for Benue indigenes and retain capital within the state , he should first of all understand the perception of the people towards government owned enterprises and see if the attitude has changed.

If the Alia-led Government wants to check capital flight from the state, the first step is to create a suitable environment for the establishment of private enterprises.

Once there’s security, adequate power supply, basic infrastructure and manpower, people would struggle to make the most of it by investing in different enterprises.

As at now, people have abandoned even farming because of insecurity. The farms would have provided the raw materials for the brewery.

Much as the government would like to do something to reflate the economy of the state, running a business appears meretricious to me. Let truth be told.

What do you think?


Written by Nike

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