Prince Adebiyi Adesina is a young and visionary entrepreneur who longs to change the narrative of doing business in Nigeria.
In 2011, Adeshina established Unique Autos with five branches across Nigeria. In this interview, the Chairman of Unique Group speaks on the need for businessmen to go the extra mile to survive. He urges government to create room for business and ideas to thrive. Excerpts:
Can you tell us what Unique Group is all about?
We are a group of companies involved in so many businesses. We are into automobile import, export and also sales, service and maintenance of automobile. We also deal in real estate development, sale of land; we also have other arms of businesses in oil and gas, as well as logistics such as haulage of goods and delivery in any part of the country.
As a businessman and investor, what do you think is not right that government can fix so as to improve the lives of entrepreneurs and business owners in Nigeria?
One of the areas they could look into is foreign exchange rate. I believe it affects businesses negatively. When we want to import, we don’t get foreign exchange. Also, bank policies don’t favour businesses, so government can do more by creating the enabling environment for us because, if you look at bank overseas such as Asia and Europe, you receive money or send money abroad through them directly; you don’t need to go to the BDC to change and send money abroad. Government should look into this because forex has been a standing challenge we are facing in this country. We have to source for forex and you need a lot of Naira to be able to do that, but this can be done without going through a third party.
Senator Dino Melaye threatened to sue Unique Motors after it was alleged that that there was money he owed your company?
We are waiting for Senator Dino Melaye to send his letter as he threatened to do as we are yet to receive any letter from his lawyer. He is indebted to our company. Our records show he is indebted to us on the purchase of five AMG 2011 he purchased in 2018.
So if he wants to pay, he has the channel and avenue to make that payment but if he feels he is not indebted he can send a letter through his lawyer and we will respond and wait for him to know how to get our money from him.
You are someone who is a deep promoter of the Yoruba culture and tradition. What is the motivation?
The truth is that it is just unfortunate that we have lost our heritage and culture. I believe we should go back to the way our forefathers did things. If you noticed, a Chinese man never wears the English dress the way a Yoruba man does. I believe it’s our duty to promote our culture and language; we should not be ashamed of our tradition. Whenever I’m traveling to any part of the world or having a meeting with any head of government, I prefer to dress in our traditional attires. It has always been a pleasure. I remember when I traveled to Dubai with my wife, someone approached her and asked where he could get the attire she was wearing; this shows there is power in our culture. Africans don’t value their own. When I put on my traditional attires, I feel proud because they are not things you find easily in Dubai mall or elsewhere in the world. For instance, whenever I am invited to a dinner or a cocktail and others put jacket and bowtie, I prefer to put on agbada.
So, I’m an ardent promoter of the Yoruba culture. It will interest you to know that I’m a lover of culture, that’s why you see me attend Aje Festival, Ojude Oba, and Isese Day. These are things that have existed for more than 300 years; we have to protect our tradition; if we don’t train our children in our culture, in years to come they would be lost totally.
You are seen as a socialite committed to philanthropy. What motivates you?
I am not philanthropic enough but giving is a natural thing to me, and that’s why God created us to be able to give and expect nothing in return. Whatever we are in this world, we should have the mindset that we would leave one day, and someone else will take over. So when we have the opportunity to give while we are still alive, we should do so whether monetarily or otherwise. We shouldn’t wait till we are asked before giving. Also it is not about philanthropy or giving, what matters is the heart of the giver. We at Unique Group, we reach out to the less privileged, widows and other vulnerable people in the society.
Amid the wobbling economy following the COVID-19 pandemic, how has business been?
It is the determination and commitment to excellence in business that has kept us going. The slogan that ‘Nigeria no dey carry last’ has kept me going. Also anywhere you go, you don’t see a Nigerian leave that place. I believe the average Nigerian has the never give up spirit. We survive many things in this country that the average person in the Western world can’t survive. We can’t say due to the way things are going we now leave our businesses and run away; this is where we were born; no matter how tough things are, you just have to be tough to survive
What are your thoughts on solar powered and renewable energy vehicles?
The future of automobile is electrical and solar powered vehicle and that is part of our plan; we are just waiting for the right time and investors too.
It’s a fact that in Europe, by 2035 most of their vehicles would be powered by renewable energy. Is Africa ready?
I don’t think Africa is ready to be solar powered but I think we have no choice but to forge ahead. Renewable energy is where the future is. The world is trying to save money and lower the effect of environmental pollution and climate change. Because of the pollution fuel, diesel and gas has caused, people are now searching for clean and renewable energy. For us in Africa, I think we are lagging behind Europe and other continents. Anybody that invents energy to power machines, gadgets and robotics, such person will make money because that is where the future of science and technology lies. Also if anyone is able to harness and convert energy from windows key to power train station, gas station or power a state search business of venture will be relevant in the future.
As the Chairman of Unique Group, what is the projection of the group and its subsidiaries in five to seven years’ time?
Right now, we are into sales, maintenance and servicing. But we are looking into manufacturing of vehicles. We want to be one of those companies that will start the production of vehicles locally or bringing in car components. We don’t want to assemble cars; we want to make the Nigerian made car 100 percent. We want to be the number one company in Africa to manufacture and supply cars to sub-Sahara Africa down to the South African region.
This is our plan on automobile. On the real estate sector, Africa is still an underdeveloped continent that is growing. There is deficit of houses not only in Nigeria but also across Africa. Africa is considered a third world continent and sometimes referred to as the cemetery of the world, but, unfortunately, if we look at the ratio per head, you find a large gap in houses deficit; what we intend to do at the property arm of the company is to bridge the gap.
We intend to build 1,000 units of low-cost houses for people in the private sector and civil servants. We want to partner mortgage banks so that they can remortgage houses to the public.
On renewable energy
We are looking into floating a company that will recycle energy. There is nothing bad if our company has a refinery as well; if Dangote can own a fertilizer plant, there is nothing impossible for us.
We are looking at expanding. Now that government has done a lot on railway, we are considering how to partner government in terms of franchise by having a reserve commercial terminal that can convey about one hundred containers to the North from Lagos. With that, you don’t have to put containers on trucks for nine to 10 hours, knowing the risks associated with such journeys by road. We are considering ease of doing business within Nigeria and Africa and trying to reach our numerous customers scattered around Nigeria.
Advice to upcoming entrepreneurs…
My charge is ‘believe in yourself’. Impossibility is nothing. If you have a dream, go after it; believe God because doing business in Nigeria is tough. For you to survive in business, you have to be tough and it takes the grace of God, prayers and will. You have to know what you want and the goals have to be clear.
You need to know where you are going and what you want to become and, like I said, be prayerful. It’s not easy to do business in Nigeria, even selling pure water is a huge task because if you are not careful, you could be knocked down by a moving vehicle. Now imagine one sitting in his or her office now delegating people; you have to understand that the mindset of an average Nigerian is corrupt. This is coupled with the socio-economic factors affecting Nigerians. So you find that everybody has one or two issues affecting them in their social or personal lives.
And those things they can’t discuss with you as the boss. With all of these, one has to consider humble management which is very difficult not just Nigeria but also in Africa. We have temperament, we have anger; all of these combined, as an entrepreneur, you need to manage to get results. You can afford to have a business in America, Europe or Asia and the business will move smoothly without your presence but here in Nigeria you have to be on ground, otherwise the business may collapse.
The point you made about the expansion of the Group and manufacturing Nigerian made automobile 100 per cent, I discovered that logistics and automobile business globally is worth over 149.5 billion USD presently and, by 2027 globally, it will be worth 222 billion USD. How is Unique Automobile able to leverage on this for partnership with like-minded investors?
The truth is that for every business in Africa or in Nigeria, you definitely need investors. You can’t borrow from bank because borrowing money from Nigerian bank is the easiest way to cripple your business. I’m not saying Nigerian banks are bad but the interest rate on bank loan is so high. For businesses to survive, the Central Bank should look into interest rate on loans given to businesses in Nigeria by banks. Our banks currently lend at 27% to 30% interest rate.
How do you encourage businesses with that? I remember in 2008 when there was global recession, UK lowered interest rate on borrowing to 0.5% so that people could borrow money. Why can’t our banks do that so that our economy can grow? Now imagine a bank giving me a loan of 5billion naira at an interest rate of 4% monthly, the business would survive because, with that, I will be making 10% to 12% profit and, from that, I’ll be able to service my loan.
The reason our banks have a lot of bad debts is because of high interest rate on loans people find difficult to service. That is why most companies go for foreign loans. I have a dream and shared it with a friend that I want to produce a car that runs on water. It is a dream but if I sell that idea to Mercedes and they start producing, who benefits? Of course Mercedes and the German government at the expense of the Nigerian government and business community.
But I have the dream and if I can get engineers in Nigeria together we can work on it perfectly and produce a car that runs on water. But it doesn’t end there, we still need investors. So I have an idea but it’s not enough; if the needed support is not there, such idea is dead on arrival. In other words, this government must create room for businesses and ideas to thrive to stabilize the economy.