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The Price Of Puff

It is still one of the biggest businesses in Africa despite all the efforts from the government trying to stamp it out. The tobacco industry makes over $700 billion a year and seems to survive advertising bans and restrictions. Part of this business is African children who work for a dollar a day.

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It’s 5AM in the northern hills of Malawi where its tobacco is grown. Chifundo Ndilowe is awake and ready for the day. Dressed in grey shorts and a blue NBA vest, still filthy from yesterday’s long day on the farm, Ndilowe has hours of hard labor ahead. He is just 15 years old and has been planting and picking tobacco since he was 10.

“I came here in 2011 because rural life is hard. We were battling at home and I had to start contributing for us to survive. I stopped going to school to work. It is very tough working under these conditions because it is hot and we easily get tired and I am often sick,” he says.

Ndilowe moved 567 kilometers from Mulanje to Mpherembe, 300 kilometers north of Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, to work in a tobacco farm five years ago. It means long hours, missing school and breaking the law for little pay. He earns a little more than $140 and $280 a year depending on the harvest.  That’s less than $1 a day.

“We work for the year and only get paid after harvest. During the year, we get 20 kilograms of maize for 12 days because we don’t grow crops for consumption. They also give us salt and then we have to figure out the rest ourselves. I get to eat once a day and I take whatever is there,” he says.

Ndilowe is just one of an estimated 800,000 youngsters in the tobacco fields; voices that are seldom heard. One of an army of children who sweat for millions of cigarettes lit all over Africa.

A study on child labor in the tobacco industry in two areas of Malawi, Suza in the Kasungu district and Katalima in the Dowa district, found 57% of all children were being used as child labour in the tobacco fields.

George Kube, an adult tobacco worker, works with Ndilowe and two other children.

“There is no money for the children to go to school and if they don’t work to help we wouldn’t survive. We farm on two acres of land and the produce is auctioned to tobacco companies. You have to be very strong if you are going to do this job because sometimes we have to cut down trees and look for water,” says Kube.

 

A study, published by the British Medical Association, says contract farmers, like Kube and Ndilowe, cultivating tobacco in Malawi, live below national poverty lines, while independent farmers operate at a loss.

“Even when labor is excluded from the calculation of income less costs, farmers’ gross margins place most households in the bottom income [groups] of the overall population. Tobacco farmers appear to contract principally as a means to obtain credit, which is consistently reported to be difficult to obtain,” says the study.

Tobacco farmers may struggle to make a living but tobacco manufacturers thrive. The world tobacco industry is worth billions of dollars. Cigarette retail values in 2014 were worth $744 billion and over 5.6 trillion cigarettes were sold to more than one billion smokers according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. But, very few farmers make money from it.

The market is controlled by a few international companies; China National Tobacco Corporation, Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Brands. They buy tobacco from cheap emerging markets, like Malawi, for profit.

For years, governments around the world have been trying to clamp down on smoking because of its health implications, through stringent laws and higher taxes, yet tobacco use is increasing in some countries, says Zambian economist Grieve Chelwa.

“African incomes have been rising over the last couple of years and we know that tobacco consumption responds to rising incomes. Further, tobacco companies have put in place strategies (subtle advertising) to take advantage of rising incomes.”

And they flourish.

This year, British American Tobacco (BAT) announced its revenue went up 8.1% at constant rates of exchange, cigarette volume from subsidiaries was 497 billion, up by 2.2%, cigarette market share in key markets increased by 40 basis points and its brands performed exceptionally well with cigarette volume up 9.8% year ending September 30.

BAT plans to merge with its US partner R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the company behind the famous camel cigarette brand, in a deal valued at $47 billion. It hopes to create a stronger global presence and move into new ventures like e-cigarettes.

Grieve Chelwa

In its third quarter, Philip Morris International reported net revenues of $19.9 billion, up by 2.6%, net revenues, excluding excise taxes, of $7 billion, up by 0.8%, operating income of $3 billion, up by 0.6%, and operating company’s income of $3.1 billion, up by 1.2%. In Africa, companies thrive because of weak regulation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a 75% benchmark of tax on the retail price, yet the African average is way below. Nigeria taxes cigarettes at only 20% of the retail price. Chelwa says ideally increasing taxes to reduce tobacco use should work anywhere because of the law of demand, increasing price reduces demand.

“But, the important point is the increases have to be real-inflation adjusted increments,” he says.

In Africa, high tobacco taxes are rare. WHO says only 33 countries, with 10% of the world’s population, have introduced taxes on tobacco products of more than 75%. Tobacco tax revenues are on average 269 times higher than spending on tobacco control.

Tobacco companies are also good at finding new markets, with new smokers and weak regulations. According to an article published by The Lancet, a UK medical journal, tobacco use is declining in higher income countries, but nearly 80% of the world’s smokers live in low and middle income countries.

“Tobacco control regulations are not strong across most of the continent. Countries have ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) but that’s all they have done. And sadly the tobacco industry is an important player in the setting of tobacco control policy in most African countries,” says Chelwa.

For years, tobacco companies argue they market merely to convince smokers to switch brands, but evidence published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows advertising drives smoking.

Christo Van Staden

According to a WHO study, smoking has increased in 27 countries over the past 15 years. Seventeen of these are in Africa. In Cameroon, smokers more than doubled from 7% in 2000 to 22% last year. Congo-Brazzaville has seen the biggest spike. Nearly half of Congolese men smoke. Last year, 22% of its people admitted to smoking regularly, up from 6% in 2000.

“Only 42 countries, representing 19% of the world’s population, meet the best practice for pictorial warnings, which includes the warnings in the local language and cover an average of at least half of the front and back of cigarette packs,” says WHO.

In South Africa, cigarette advertising is banned. There are also restrictions on point of sale product display, vending machines and sponsorship of events, activities, individuals, organizations or governments. Now, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has pledged to take it further by strengthening the Tobacco Products Control Act.

Motsoaledi says there should be no branding, no logos and no colors on cigarettes to discourage smoking. If the law is introduced, all cigarettes will be in a brown package with graphics that show the damage they can cause.

This is worrying for the tobacco industry. Christo van Staden heads the only primary tobacco processing factory in South Africa, Limpopo Tobacco Processors, that processes 12 million kilograms of tobacco. He says the effects could be catastrophic.

“The biggest impact [of tougher regulations] is the increase in illicit cigarettes which is a huge dent in the business of BAT and in the whole market. About 20 to 30 percent of cigarettes in Gauteng are illicit and they are paid way below the price,” he says.

As we meet, in Rustenburg, a two-hour drive from Johannesburg, Van Staden’s farmers have lost 30 hectors of tobacco to a passing storm. On this day, the sun blazes down from a cloudless azure sky. A sprinkler keeps the glossy lawns and flowers alive. Inside the factory, it is dark and you can hear a pin drop. The silence is almost tangible. There is no bustle and machines that usually crackle stand still. It is not tobacco season. All employees are upstairs in the offices working. Dressed in khaki shorts and shirt, Van Staden says tobacco farming is hard.

“For every hector, you need two people to work there and pick it by hand, it is very expensive. One hector costs about R130,000 ($9,500) to plant and the farmer needs to make at least 20 to 25 percent profit. Last year was a very tough year. There were very tough conditions and an average farmer did not make any profit at all.”

“Now they are supporting the local market but if they don’t get any benefit out of that, they have to compete with everyone else in plain packaging, then there is no reason for them to buy South African tobacco, they will literally walk out of here overnight and source their product from Brazil, India and China where they can buy a lot cheaper. We are not ready for that. We would close these doors,” he says.

For Van Staden, closing doors means 10,000 farmers lose their income. He thinks there should be more education about the dangers of tobacco and efforts to keep youngsters away from smoking.

“I am a non-smoker and will not advise anyone to smoke. Most of my staff members don’t smoke. Unfortunately, people smoke everyday but see the warning on the packets and turn a blind eye.  Because it’s such an unhealthy product, the governments around the world will try and eradicate it but I don’t think it will happen in the next 20 years. There are laws in this country that allow people to smoke and to close down the primary sector is not going to stop smoking overnight,” adds Van Staden.

South Africa will follow the UK, Ireland, Australia and France in banning branded packaging.

 

In Uganda, 4,800 kilometers from South Africa, it’s even tougher. If you light up in bars, restaurants or hotels, you will be fined $60 or jailed for up to two months. Smokers must be at least 50 meters away from public spaces, such as schools, hospitals and taxi ranks.

Uganda’s new laws also ban the sale of electronic cigarettes, flavored tobacco for water pipes, the sale of single cigarettes and tightened rules on labeling, advertising and selling tobacco to under-21s.

“We are strongly opposed to plain packing as we feel that there hasn’t been enough consultation and research on it. Our concern is the serious adverse consequences that it will have on the economy, jobs and investment; as well as potentially making counterfeit easier. It trounces fundamental intellectual property rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution,” says Joe Heshu, Acting Head of External Affairs at BAT.

According to Heshu, counterfeit cigarettes are a bigger issue. In 2015, South Africa’s Treasury lost R5.1 billion ($373 million) due to illicit trade. The trade accounts for about 24% of the market.

South Africa has been increasing tobacco taxes since 1994 and the big impact has been the reduction in consumption and prevalence, but Chelwa agrees there has been a minimal impact of the taxes on illicit trade.

“Illicit trade often has to do with tax administration and not taxes. Even if taxes were a cent, you’d still have illicit trade showing that it is not a tax level or tax rate issue but a tax administration issue,” he says.

On jobs, Chelwa argues “there are very few tobacco manufacturing jobs, very few given how mechanized manufacturing of cigarettes is.”

The big worry he says is in the field.

“Governments have to consciously find ways of transitioning tobacco farmers into growing other types of crops. This will require a lot of work,” says Chelwa.

Asked if he thinks cigarettes are killers, Heshu argues his company has launched e-cigarettes, which are supposedly less harmful products, in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Poland.

“We are committed to the research and development of Next Generation Products (NGPs) and globally have invested over half a billion pounds during the past five years. There is a growing body of evidence that NGPs do pose significantly fewer risks than cigarettes.”

For now, tobacco companies continue to thrive. Only 29 countries, representing 12% of the world’s population, have completely banned all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, according to WHO.

Some of Malawi’s tobacco, grown by the likes of Ndilowe and Kube, is shipped 2,000 kilometers south of Mpherembe. In South Africa, 19% of the population, over the age of 15, smokes according to the World Bank. That’s almost one in five people and it is dangerous.

Tobacco is responsible for six million deaths each year. Of those, 600,000 die from the effects of second-hand smoke. This number is expected to increase to eight million by 2030 if current trends continue, says WHO.

Alexandra chain smoker, Mpho Ndlovu, knows this, yet he goes through three packs of cigarettes a day.

“I have been smoking since I was 15. It started as just playing with friends at school because we knew we weren’t allowed to. It was a way of being cool. I got hooked and have been smoking for 40 years,” says Ndlovu.

What started as a game became a habit and then an addiction.

“Smoking helps me when I’m nervous and I just enjoy it. I have tried to stop many times but have failed. I know this might one day kill me but, at this point, there is nothing I can do.”

Ndlovu spends R110.50 ($8) per day on cigarettes. That’s R766.50 ($56) per week and R3,066 ($225) per month and R36,792 ($2,700) per year and R183,960 ($13,500) in five years. If he continues smoking the same number of cigarettes per day for another 40 years, at this current price, he will spend around $100,000 on cigarettes. If invested, he could buy a house.

Ndlovu spends close to half of his R7,000 ($500) salary he makes working as a driver for a logistics company in Sandton.

“By the last week of the month, I would be out of money and sometimes I have to ask people if I can borrow or take some on credit from the spaza shop,” he says.

“When I smoke, especially on weekends, I drink as well. So the money I earn is never enough. My children get angry because they think I should be using the money on them. I don’t know how to stop.”

Ndlovu buys his cigarettes from Ntando Debeza, a hundred metres from his home.

Debeza’s spaza shop sells cigarettes, pipe tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco, hookah and shisha.

“I make about R6,000 ($440)  a month from this small shop. Most of the money comes from tobacco sales but I also sell other day-to-day products like bread and milk. People come to buy and sometimes on credit and I collect money at the end of the month,” says Debeza.

This means Ndlovu’s debt grows. But, that’s not all. Smoking does not only affect the smoker. High levels of nicotine exposure from handling tobacco leaves may cause nicotine poisoning called Green Tobacco Sickness, with symptoms including nausea and vomiting.

Back in Mpherembe in Malawi, Kube says he is aware of the dangers of working in a tobacco field without protective clothing, and mostly its effects on minors. “I know children can get sick but what can we do? We need a lot of hands on the farm because this isn’t an easy crop to plant and prepare. It needs three times more people than corn but we don’t make enough money at all,” says Kube.

He is one of the few rural farmers who know this. And it gets worse. A 2009 survey in China revealed that only 38% of smokers knew that smoking causes coronary heart disease and only 27% knew that it can cause strokes.

“Among smokers who are aware of the dangers of tobacco, most want to quit. Counseling and medication can more than double the chance that a smoker who tries to quit will succeed. National comprehensive cessation services with full or partial cost coverage are available to assist tobacco users to quit in only 24 countries, representing 15% of the world’s population,” says WHO.

Cape Town-based entrepreneur Gareth Carter saw this crisis as an opportunity. He founded WeDoRecover, a company that helps patients who suffer from psychiatric and addiction problems.

“Finding the right addiction program to meet someone’s specific needs is a complex process. The crisis and chaos synonymous with active addiction are overwhelming and the multitude of choices in the marketplace adds to the confusion,” says Carter.

According to Carter, people who smoke are more likely to drink alcohol and vice versa. He says alcoholics frequently present with a co-morbid nicotine addiction.

“As many as 80 percent of people addicted to alcohol and other drugs are frequent smokers, but the bulk will die of smoking-related disease rather than alcohol and drug-related disease…”

The damage doesn’t stop there. Carter adds that major depressive episodes among adults are highest in those addicted to nicotine and lowest in those who have quit or never started smoking.

“With nearly 80 percent of the world’s one billion smokers living in low- and middle-income countries, this is a very real public health care problem for us in Africa. Making nicotine addiction prevention and treatment readily accessible to the youth counteracts a wide range of potential mental, physical and mood-disorder problems with far-reaching ramifications to families, communities and our economy,” he says.

Carter thinks if tobacco was “invented” today it would be classed with other illegal drugs. That’s not the case. The lucrative industry in Africa puffs on unfettered.

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Entrepreneurs

The Maverick In Tech

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The founder of some of Nigeria’s best-known startups on the mistakes and the millions that made him click in the technology business.


Sometimes, the simplest business ideas can come from strange places, or even strangers.

In his first year studying law at Waterloo University in Canada, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji was approached by a stranger who asked to stay in his house.

 “I was like ‘I don’t know you, you have long hair and you are white; I don’t know about this’, but I said, ‘ok cool’, and he stayed over and we became good friends.”

About a year later, Pierre, the friend, decided to head to Silicon Valley for his cooperative education term.

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“He told me about this amazing world of Silicon Valley, tech and investments, and I was sold. A few months later, we decided to start our own tech company called bookneto.com,” says Aboyeji.

It was a platform that enabled students to download past examination questions and work with a team of people at the school to help answer them.   

The company did decently for three years until it got sued by the university, but at least that marked a turning point in Aboyeji’s entrepreneurial life.

It turned out that the intellectual property for past examination questions belonged to the professors at Waterloo University, a fact that was “unknown” to the pair of entrepreneurs and they were found “guilty of piracy”. The venture was eventually sold to a professor who wanted to teach students not enrolled on campus, for a small fee.

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“We had it for three years, and by this time, I had graduated and looking for a new adventure and I was pretty sure I did not want to run another business in Canada, so I had started looking at other markets and Africa was a big one for me, Nigeria in particular,” says Aboyeji.

After graduating, he returned to Nigeria in 2013.

His proclivity for identifying opportunities inducted him into the world of massive open online courses (MOOCs). The dominant players at the time were Coursera and Udacity.

According to a report by Component, globally, the MOOCs market is estimated to hit $20.8 billion by 2023. Aboyeji wanted in. He set up a company in Abuja called Fora.com focused on incorporating MOOCs into the university environment especially for courses that were relevant but not provided by Nigerian universities due to a lack of quality resources.

“I was very naïve. I imagined that it would be a breeze to build that business and learned the hard way that anything regulated doesn’t operate rationally. So, the regulators didn’t give me any approvals and universities were skeptical and didn’t want to be laid off so it didn’t work out. We ended up pivoting that business and ended up selling online MBAs instead. Our typical clients were young bank managers who wanted to get an MBA or advanced degree courses to improve their chances of being promoted,” says Aboyeji.

READ MORE | Why Now Is The Time To Invest In African E-commerce

The firm began to gain some traction. People were paying for the application courses and Aboyeji decided to pilot a loan program where financial institutions would offer loans to students.

“So, we were making money but it wasn’t popping off. I went to New York with the team because we had just gotten some new funding and we had to meet the new investors. I had met a guy named Jeremy Johnson when he was in Nigeria earlier so I pinged him and told him what we wanted to do. I wanted to learn from his experiences. He agreed to meet for coffee in New York.”

During their meeting, Johnson expressed his idea about a new form of education geared towards skills rather than degrees. Aboyeji also talked about unemployment in Nigeria and how that represented a massive opportunity.

It was a match made in heaven.

“One of the things he told me was that he could not find a sales force engineer for $150,000 in New York. They just didn’t exist so I said, ‘man, I can train you sales force engineers’. And he said ‘if you decide you are going to pivot, what you are doing or adding to it… I would fund you and I will be chairman and we can do this together’. So, I said ‘someone is going to fund you to do a new business, why not’.”

Aboyeji had just stumbled on a new gold mine and Andela was born. He started with one person and began teaching him how to code. He repurposed the team from Fora into coding masters, bid masters and operational staff, and shifted the focus of Fora because they had the flexibility to do it.

“I don’t think at the time we had any idea how big what we were doing was. We did the first one, it was semi-successful, we trained the next four, which was really good. We put out a job description saying no experience required, we will pay you to learn how to program and we had over 700 applicants off Twitter and we knew we had something.”

They whittled down to about four or five people that completed that program. To find work for his new coders, Aboyeji used Upwork, the popular freelance jobsite, to bid for jobs.

“We didn’t know anybody, so we bid for jobs, executed it and before we knew it, we had about 150 people in the room. That was how the transition happened from Fora to Andela,” says Aboyeji.

The company has since gone on to raise $180 million in venture funding from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and other notable investors from Silicon Valley. Aboyeji left the company after three years in search of his next adventure but is still a major shareholder in Andela.

That voyage led him to co-found Flutterwave, an integrated payments platform for Africans to make and accept any payment, anywhere from across Africa and around the world. Under his watch, the company processed 100 million transactions worth $2.5 billion.

Turning his eyes firmly on future opportunities has led Aboyeji to set up his own family office called Street Capital, with a focus on identifying passionate and experienced missionary entrepreneurs with the integrity and courage to flawlessly execute in Africa.

With a solid track-record of unearthing diamonds in the rough, Aboyeji hopes to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs to achieve their fullest potential and help build some of Africa’s fastest-growing and most-impactful tech businesses.

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Entertainment

The Movie Buff With A Happy Ending In Business

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Kene Okwuosa continues to make profit selling the immersive cinema experience across movie halls in Nigeria.


If trailers of Simon Kinberg’s upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix have whetted your appetite for more action-packed cinema, you could take your pick from the likes of Hobbs & Shaw, John Wick 3: Parabellum or Avengers: End game. But as any film buff would tell you, watching these adrenaline rushes on DVD or TV is no match for a full-throttle cinema experience.

Kene Okwuosa is bullish about letting Nigeria’s 190 million population experience the thrilling excitement of the celluloid world. Using the theater to extract a sizeable profit from the Nigerian culture of socializing and communal engagement, his Filmhouse Cinemas has grown from just three screens to multiple locations across the country.

As part of the company’s strategic expansion plans, Okwuosa signed a pioneer deal to bring IMAX, the world’s most immersive cinematic experience, to West Africa in 2016. In doing so, Filmhouse has flipped a switch not just to beat competition from other local cinema chains, but also become one of the fastest-growing IMAX businesses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

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Quite a feat considering Okwuosa’s first stint at the cinema business did not have a happy ending.

The year was 2008 and Okwuosa and his partner at the time, also named Kene, were desperately looking for greener pastures beyond the borders of the United Kingdom (UK), where they were both employed as assistant general manager and general manager respectively at Odeon Cinemas.

“I had a conversation with Kene on the first of December 2008 and he was saying there is an opportunity with a friend of his who was an investor in Nigeria and we could go back, set up a company and create a great product in Nigeria. I resigned from my job on the second of December, I saw my family on the third of December and I caught a flight on the fourth of December after not being back in Nigeria for 11 years,” says Okwuosa.

And their voyage back home was favored by lady luck. A South African company at the time was exiting the Nigerian market and their assets were up for grabs. With the help of their investor, the pair bought up the assets and just like that, Genesis Deluxe Cinemas was born. It was a magical moment in the lives of the newly-minted entrepreneurs.

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With three chains of Genesis Cinemas under their belt, the pair were ready to reap the profits of their entrepreneurial pursuits until everything went belly up.

“A year later, that deal went so bad we had to exit. Myself and Kene exited the company to our dismay.  The private investor owned most of the business and there were issues between the investor and my partner relating to a slight misalignment of the company. We were torn between either staying in Lagos or going back to the UK. We decided to stay and tug it out,” says Okwuosa.

The pair had to downsize from the guest house they were staying in to a smaller flat and survived on noodles, while they hatched their next plan. They turned their living room into an office and went back to the drawing board.

Okwuosa believed there was still a market in the cinema theater business and he was not wrong. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Nigerian film industry is globally recognized as the second-largest film producer in the world. Total cinema revenue is set to reach $22 million in 2021, rising at 8.6% CAGR over the forecast period.

READ MORE | Will Cinema Just Disappear?

The cinema industry is one of the priority sectors identified in the economic recovery growth plan of the federal government of Nigeria with a planned $1 billion in export revenue by 2020. Furthermore, the National Film and Video Censors Board estimates the Nigerian movie industry needs at least 774 cinemas across the country for it to tackle the menace of piracy.

“So, for two years, I was literally waking up and going to every single office trying to pitch and raise money. We didn’t know anybody and we are not sons of rich men, we had already failed with Genesis, we had no assets or collateral. We were literally telling people we were going to modernize Nigeria’s entertainment scene and everybody was looking at us like we were crazy.”

In 2009, the Intervention Funds, created by then president Goodluck Jonathan to boost the Nigerian creative industry, would prove to be the lifeline Okwuosa and his partner so badly needed.

“I am proud to say we were the very first to access that fund in 2012, which was about N200 million at the time which, when you look back is not that much but considering the exchange rate, it was over $1 million. It was enough to help us kickstart Filmhouse. We had nothing, so that particular facility was largely uncollateralized,” says Okwuosa.

The fund took a bet on Okuwosa and his partner and it paid off. The loan was used to open their first three-screen cinema in Surulere, Lagos.

“It had a slow start but ultimately grew to be one of the biggest locations in the country and that organic growth led us to open two more cinemas prior to our second round of investors, which was private equity money from African Capital Alliance.”

The investment helped Okwuosa to scale to 10 operational locations across six states. The original vision when Okwuosa started Filmhouse was to be the biggest and best cinema and create an amazing space where people could escape into a different world.

Two years after, the company set up the production and distribution part of the business.

Filmhouse now represents about 50% of tickets sold in Nigerian cinemas, according to Okwuosa. With just a dream to conquer the Nigerian market, today, Filmhouse has a vision to become a media entertainment company.

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In addition to IMAX, the company represents other international brands like Warner Bros and Lionsgate. With the institutional investment, Okwuosa has strengthened his core team, which no longer includes his former partner, as well as providing the company the impetus to scale with the right mind and right trajectory.

With a GDP of $375 billion making the Nigerian economy the 30th largest economy in the world, Okwuosa believes there is still a big chunk of money to be made from the entertainment and media space.

“I think we haven’t even scratched the surface of this industry and we want to position ourselves at the forefront of Nigerian entertainment.”

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Entrepreneurs

Advances In Nigeria’s ‘Burglar Watch’ Industry

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The escalating safety and security issues in Nigeria raised the alarm for this innovative entrepreneur.


Today, organizations not only face escalating risks but also the certitude that they will face a security breach at any time, if proper precautions are not taken. Such was the case for Paul Ajibulu when his office premises were ransacked by thugs in Adeola Odeku, Victoria Island, Lagos.

“We had just got our office fully furnished with MacBook computers and the whole works. When we came in the next day, we found the locks broken and all the office equipment had been looted. I lost about $20,000 in all that day and that set our business back for a couple of months,” says Ajibulu.

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To solve his problems, he reached out to Extreme Mutual Technique, an automated digital systems solution and renewable energy service provider.

The company says it boasts top-tier clients such as MTN, the Embassy of Sierra Leone, South African Breweries, and Africa Finance Corporation, amongst many others.

Akpobome Ojoboh, its founder and Managing Director, is adamant his systems are a must-have for every organization in Nigeria.

“We initially started the business called Extreme Surveillance Systems limited. Coming from my previous background, we decided to focus on CCTV and digital security. Considering the fact that Nigeria was being terrorized by security mishaps, we decided to [resolve] that,” says Ojoboh.

Safety and security have never been discussed in Nigeria as they are now. Threats are from everywhere, and at all places. Routine security checking at offices and shopping mall entrances has become the norm.

The idea of preventing crime is an appealing twist in today’s times and although it’s comforting for many to imagine a competent police officer monitoring every camera in Lagos, the question remains whether CCTV systems really do prevent crimes from happening or do they merely help in nabbing a criminal once a crime has occurred.

In a city like Lagos where you have constant disruptions to power, the long-term success of these systems presented significant hurdles for Ojoboh in the early days.

“There are so many limitations to digital security vis-à-vis the lack of a proper database that even when you have [identified] the culprits, you cannot find them. Furthermore, there were limitations to how people took ownership of their equipment because there was [often] no power. So, you put a system and people say ‘what if there is no power’?”

To combat these challenges, Ojoboh decided to provide another solution, by moving into the world of inverters.

“Then again, these inverters run down when there is no power to charge them so we went into renewable energy called solar to back up our inverters and digital solutions. That is when we changed the business to Extreme Mutual Technique Limited,” says Ojoboh.

Security is one of the largest businesses in the world, according to Ojoboh.

He has seen an increase in more families opting for peace of mind by having big brother watching over their loved ones whenever they cannot be with them.

“When I first became a mum, I would always worry incessantly about my daughter left alone at home with my nanny. Then, we started noticing strange marks on my daughter and I had heard about people mistreating children they cared for but I never thought it would happen to me. I reached out to a security company to install a camera in the house and lo and behold, I saw the nanny hitting my daughter. My whole world crumbled,” says Rebecca Gyan, a grocery store owner in Accra.

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“You have to be prepared because if you are not, then you almost cannot stop any security breach. It helps you to know some proactive measures to protect yourself. If you have a CCTV system and you notice there is a particular group of people visiting your building, you will be able to notice and react,” says Ojoboh.

As organizations become familiar with probable threats and vulnerabilities, they will be able to establish both preventive measures and responsive systems, to decrease the likelihood of intruders and attacks.

Since starting out in 2007, Ojoboh has grown the team to a 40-member business spread across Lagos and Abuja. The company has also moved into IT and engineering services in the areas of energy infrastructure, home automation, fire safety and digital security solutions.

With power still an issue in Nigeria, Ojoboh sees the future of his business in the area of renewable energy to power his systems to provide that all-important peace of mind to his clients. 

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