How I became a billionaire from selling sand — President, Azikel Group
The Group President of Azikel Group, Dr Azibapu Eruani, shares with Austin Ebipade in Yenagoa, how he got into the entrepreneurial space, as he advocates for a synergy of the industrial and political actors towards the industrialisation of the state.
At what point did you decide to venture into business?
Well venturing into business was not an accident, I set a road map for myself while in the university that I would go into the civil service. I also worked as an industrial doctor with the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), as a medical doctor and get a romance with the political space, and did I accomplish this.
I became a civil servant and later retired in 2007. I rose to the level of a political office holder as a commissioner, when I disengaged I have actualise my objective; and at that point, I decided to take the next step which is to venture into the entrepreneurial space and interestingly, in Bayelsa building was a critical challenge at the time because the state was below sea level.
I then decided to provide sand to Bayelsans but my mother never supported the idea, as she reminded me that I am a celebrated medical doctor that has travelled all over the world. But because I knew from the outset that I was going to re-define the business I was not deterred because I had a burning desire to support infrastructural development of the state and the Niger Delta, by easing the difficulty in getting sand.
Also, I’m aware that mechanised production of sand would lead to availability of stockpile sand made accessible to private builders and then the Bayelsa State government and the Niger Delta for massive construction and infrastructural development in our environment which is constantly battling with flood.
When I started this business, I had didn’t have a dredger so I hired people that were mining sand through help of local canoes.
In the long run I did not only change the business, I took the driver’s seat and my company, Azikel Dredging, became the leading dredging firm in the state. I must let you know that Azikel Dredging started the entire conglomerate called Azikel Group.
Most Bayelsans in business are known for investing in hotels, but you came and change the industrial space, how did it happen?
Quite frankly, our people are basically traders from the old Rivers State and they are used to a particular kind of business, our people are not docile but limited by what they know, but someone has to start a change movement and owing to my exposure and civilisation, I decided to lead the space for the industrial growth and development of Bayelsa state.
However, when I came into business, a lot of Bayelsa businessmen saw the need to change. I have made great success, I became a billionaire from selling sand and thereafter I switched into other big ticket investments, I am the Group President of Azikel Group comprising Azikel Dredging, Azikel Power, Azikel Air and Azikel Petroleum and this feat did come easy.
What ignited the diversification was that the federal government put up the National Integrated Power Plant (NIPP) Gbarain in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State for sale and 961 businessmen bided. Although I did not have the initial sum but I challenge myself that I can do it, but I failed as a second reserve (second best bidder), thereafter I re-assured myself that I can build my own plant and that propelled me to seek license for power generation.
Our effort paid off when President Muhammadu Buhari administration in the later part of 2015 granted us (Azikel Group) an on the grid 500MGW power generation license. The success made was critical for the group, and from this we saw need to expand our industrial base, and as such when the President Muhammadu Buhari administration also decided to deregulate the downstream oil sector towards ensuring sufficiency of refined petroleum products, 22 successful companies was granted refinery licenses, Azikel Petroleum Limited inclusive out of several interested businessmen that bided.
However, Azikel Group at the time had already acquired land close to the Gbrain Ubie Gas Gathering Project operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), where it can get feedstock for her refinery. More so, it is gratifying to note that only four companies have moved from License to Enter (LTE) to Approval To Commence (ATC) operation, and out of the four, we are ahead and hopefully in later part of 2018 or early 2019 Azikel Group would sell the first refined petroleum product to Nigerians from the Azikel Petroleum Limited, a private owned refinery.
How did you source for fund to start your business?
Not many people knew that I took a loan when I started business, but I did. I took the first loan of N30 millionto buy my first truck and I took the second loan of N70 million to buy other trucks. Interestingly, when I started the dredging business, I didn’t even have up to N5 million in my account but then I came up with a strategy and partner with one Akpe from Sagbama LGA who own a dredger that wasn’t in use. I told him “come and dredge sand for me on my land and I will pay you”, of course, I paid him from sale of the heaps of sand he dredged for me. What I’m I saying is that I deployed my business acumen to source for money when I started and it worked. Therefore, I dare to say wealth is a function of right thinking and the application of thought out plan to action.
How many people do you have working for you?
Azikel Group as a company has over 500 staff. We have over 270 Bayelsans working and not fewer than 50 expatriates. For instance, for the refinery I am building, I have sent the first set of over 24 engineers all Bayelsans to the United States of America (USA) for them to interact with the company abroad in building the ISPO because I believe in domesticating work at the refinery. Like I said it is financial freedom, liberating the people and creating the desired empowerment.
How do you think government can encourage young entrepreneurs?
Well there should be government regulation. I remember facing challenges starting the refinery with community people. In the area of taxation, there should be an incentive for those starting business that allowd for the business to to grow because heavy taxation could be critical to stability of a business.
Bayelsa State people have continued to call on you to become the state governor, based on your achievements in industrialising the state, what is your take on this?
Well, I thank the people that want me to be their next governor, but I want to state emphatically that I am not a politician. I am not even a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or All Progressive Congress (APC). I ceased been a politician when I concluded my assignment as a commissioner and that was why I quit the political space and ventured into the entrepreneurial space.
I believe that for the state to create a sustainable environment, we need to have the interplay of the industrial and political space synergise to actualise it. Sadly, our industrial leaders from Bayelsa are not very strong in the country. I do not want to be a governor, I don’t want to take political office. If I am appointed a minister today I will reject it because changing the Bayelsa landscape is a journey that takes time to build, moreso, leading Azikel Group of Companies require a lot of concentration, therefore, I want to devout my time and energy on the expanding the business frontier of Azikel Group, as well as the industrialisation and entrepreneurial civilisation of the state.
However, I must let you know that I have friends who want to be governors, I will support them but for me I want to be the industrial leader of the state and the Niger Delta from the South-south extraction.