Keynote speech at HAULMACE 2021

By Mr Elvis Chukwudi Okonji, Chief Executive Officer, GPC Energy and Logistics Limited

The Chief Executive Officer, GPC Energy and Logistics Limited, Mr Elvis Chukwudi Okonji, at the 2021 edition of the Haulage & Logistics Magazine Annual Conference & Exhibition (HAULMACE) called for strong bond among players in the haulage sectors.


Keynote Speech By Mr. Elvis Chukwudi Okonji, Chief Executive Officer, GPC Energy and Logistics Limited at HAULAGE AND LOGISTICS MAGAZINE ANNUAL CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITION (HAULMACE 2021) 26th October 2021, at The Stable, 41 Bode Thomas Street, Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria
“A winning Strategy in the Haulage and Logistics Value Chain in Nigeria”

 1.  Introduction 
Distinguished  Ladies  and  Gentlemen,  it  is  a  great  honour  and  privilege  to  deliver  the keynote  speech  at  this  year’s HAULAGE  AND  LOGISTICS  MAGAZINE  ANNUAL CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITION. 
I  welcome  you  all  to  this  gathering  of  champions  and  captains  of  the  Haulage  and Logistics  industry.  I  also  thank  the  organizers  for  according  to  me the  opportunity  to deliver the Keynote address at this year’s event.
To  enable  distinguished  participants, appreciate the theme of this year’s event which is Building Strong Partnerships, A Winning Strategy in The Haulage and Logistics Value Chain in Nigeria. In my keynote address, I will attempt to review the industry during and after Covid-19, evaluate the challenges facing the haulage industry in Nigeria, then link these challenges to the lack of collaboration amongst key industry players.
Haulage can be defined as the business of transporting goods by road or rail between suppliers and large consumer outlets, factories, warehouses, or depots. It provides the critical linkage between production and consumption. For this session, our emphasis is on the transportation of goods by road. The importance of the haulage industry in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Some of the  industries  serviced  by  road  haulage  and  their  contributions  to  GDP  in  Nigeria.
According to are: 
Manufacturing –   1.5 trillion Naira
Construction –   532 billion Naira
Agriculture –   3.96 trillion Naira
Mining –    1.2Trillion Naira
Unfortunately, the haulage industry in Nigeria has not received adequate attention from the government despite its strategic complementary role to economic development and critical economic metrics.
Due to the neglect of the industry by the government, it is important to stress at this event, that haulage expenses feed directly into the distribution costs of manufacturers. Therefore haulage  costs directly  impact the  retail value  of consumer  goods,  and increases in haulage expenses are directly transferred by the manufacturers to consumers via price adjustments. This is reflected in the persistent rise in food inflation in Nigeria to 19.57% % and transportation CPI to 350.4% according to the publication of September 2021.  
The Haulage Industry in Nigeria during COVID-19
The  advent  of  COVID-19  in  2020  spurred  movement  restrictions  and  lockdowns.  The restrictions  disrupted  supply  chains,  reduced  manufacturers  volumes,  and  tipped  the world into a global recession.  
While some industries experienced total crises, the haulage industry did not shut down due  to  the  essential  nature  of  haulage  services  to  humanity.  You  will  recall  that palliatives  and  essential  commodities  needed  to  reach  the  vulnerable  and  haulage facilitated this flow at the peak of the crisis.
On the energy side, the fortunes were mixed. Energy demand and oil prices slumped on the  back  of  Covid-19  to  about  $19pb  and  OPEC+  countries  had  to  agree  on  massive production cuts to stabilize prices. You will recall that crude futures traded at -$37pb during the lockdown. 
The misfortunes in the energy market transferred cost advantages through low energy prices to the heavy-duty truck haulage industry. For example, diesel, a major input in the industry sold at about N185.00. 
Overall,  the  industry  fared  better  than  a  lot  of  other  industries  which  has  triggered discussions and suggestions that it is recession-proof. I am of the view, however, that the level of permeability is relative to the individual company models and their product composition.
For  example,  industry  players  whose  models  centre  on  alcoholic  beverages  and construction  materials  segments  suffered  a  higher  level  of  permeability  compared  to their industry peers.  
The Haulage Industry Post COVID-19
Post COVID-19, the industry has shown signs of recovery, and it is projected to expand at a 4% CAGR by 2024. 
The  strong  cash  flows  have  also  enabled  industry  players  to  navigate  the  headwinds posed by the pandemic on debt service and operations.  As a fall out the pandemic, industry players must deepen their core competencies, build strategic reserves, diversify their portfolios and focus on risk management to guarantee sustainability.  The  primary  focus  for  all  players  now  must  be  sustainability  in  every aspect of the business, from contracting to sourcing and human resource management. 
The industry in Nigeria must also brace up for high energy and input prices stemming from  oil  prices,  inflationary  pressures,  Naira  devaluation,  threats associated  with insecurity and secessionist activities.   
With the permission of this distinguished gathering, I will now delve into the critical issues affecting the haulage industry in Nigeria.  
1. Unavailability of Industry Data 
Industry data is largely unavailable and conflicting where existing. In an era of big data and artificial intelligence, the haulage industry in Nigeria is still very unscientific despite its increasing level of sophistication and relevance.
Of great concern is the unavailability of industry data from reliable sources such as the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The  only  data  available  estimates  the  size  of  the  transport  sector  at  N300billion  with aviation, accounting for N190billion. Technically, the other subsectors account for the remaining N110billion.
Although  I  fault  this  data,  it  emanates  from  one  of  the  most  credible  data  sources, locally. Without reliable data on industry performance, trends and key indices, businesses must learn from experience, which is often a very painful endeavour.
2. Escalating Business Costs
Recently,  the  industry  has  witnessed  an  unprecedented  surge  in  the  cost  of  critical inputs. Practically all operational inputs in the sector are FOREX dependent and as such, Naira  devaluation  is  directly  felt  by  this  sector  than  almost  any  other  sector  of  the economy. For  example,  in  2021,  the  60%  escalation  in  diesel  prices,  up  from  N200  to  N320  per litre, translates to about 15%-20% escalation in its share of the revenue. By implication, diesel  now  accounts  for  45%  of  revenue  against  an  industry  standard  of  25-30%  per cent. 
Presently, crude oil trades at $85 per barrel and analysts forecast a further surge in the commodity’s  price  and  by  implication,  a  further  escalation  of  diesel  prices  locally. Domestically,  high  energy  prices  have  been  buoyed  by  the  gradual  exchange  rate convergence across markets. 
Tyre  prices  have  similarly  escalated  and  with  tyres  being  on  the  FOREX  exclusion  list, credit  lines  are  also  vanishing.  Consequently,  suppliers  are  no  longer  willing  to  lock prices for long periods as exchange rates continue to crash.
In addition to the high cost, the required FOREX is largely unavailable. Finding enough FX to fund your imports from whatever market is a serious battle always. This extends order  confirmation  and  fulfilment  lead  times,  causing  serious  disruptions  to  supply chains and leading to scarcity of critical stocks. This in turn drives prices higher due to demand exceeding the available stocks.  
3. Innovation 
The bleak assessment from the analyses of rising business costs,  affirms the need for industry collaboration and innovation. The questions before us are:
1.  Is the current structure of the industry sustainable?
2.  What critical components and elements require re-engineering?
3.  What are the industry’s approach and strategy towards re-engineering?
4.  What structures will support the re-engineering?  
4. Sustainable Funding/Financing
Due  to  the  capital-  and  labour-intensive  nature  of  the  industry,  long  term  funding suitable for truck acquisition and working capital within the industry is unavailable. 
The industry relies heavily on commercial banks whose pricing and facility tenures exert liquidity pressure on haulage companies. Depending on the size of the operator, interest rates from these commercial banks range from 18% – 26% while loan tenures are capped at 3 to 5years. 
In an interview I granted earlier this year, I envisaged a gradual switch in the industry’s heavy reliance on bank financing to the capital market for sustainability. However, within the alternative debt capital market, transaction fees could range from 2.3% to 4.6%.
The  similarity  with  both  markets,  however,  is  an  extended  processing  time  which exposes industry players to socio-economic and political vagaries.  The monthly operating need for a 100 30tons operation could range from N90million to N100million, while the CAPEX requirement for acquisition could range from N4.5billion to N9.0billion depending on the organization’s sourcing preference. 
These are asides significant investments in people, maintenance, and other  operating capabilities.
5.  Poor Infrastructure
Nigeria with a landmass of 923,769 square kilometres and a population of a 200million, has only 195,000 Kilometres of roads. This is grossly inadequate to support efficiency. Available  data  suggests  that  out  of  the  195,000km  of  roads,  only  60,000km  is  paved while 25,000 kilometres out of the 60,000 paved kilometres are in a bad state. Also, the rate of repair of the roads is not at par with the annual wear and tear especially during the rainy season
Consequently, the industry is confronted with extended journey times which translates to distribution inefficiency, and a shortfall in revenue projections. The Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) has estimated the cost to the Nigerian economy from bad roads and traffic delays at N1.02tn annually. 
6.  Inconsistent policies and regulations
This is common across all sectors in Nigeria.  An  example  in  the  transport  sector  is  the  reversal  of  the  2014  National  Automotive Policy  promoted  by  the  Goodluck  Ebele  Jonathan  administration  under  the  current administration by provisions in the Finance Act 2020.
The National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC) announced that automotive manufacturing companies in  Nigeria made over N360 billion investments into the country’s economy in the year 2019. This implied that Nigeria’s auto industry could build at least 408,870 vehicles yearly.
However,  under  the  new  Finance  Bill,  the  government  of  Nigeria  reduced  duties  on imported  vehicles  from  35%  to  5%  due  to  the  rising  cost  of  transportation.  The government also suggested that the action was to enable the country to leverage on the buffers provided by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), with a total market of 1.2 billion people.
Manufacturers have warned, however, that the finance act could signal the extinction of the local manufacturers and their investments. In a recent engagement with our company’s finance partners, we were confronted with the National Courier Regulation 2020. 
A  detailed  review  revealed  that  some  of  the  contents  of  the  regulation  were  very impracticable and lacked industry input.  For example, the regulation’s proposal  to  pay  a  2%  annual  fee  from  the  turnover  of haulage companies, is in bad faith. It demonstrates a lack of market understanding by
its proponents given the thin and shrinking margins within the industry associated with spiralling  inflation,  rising  energy  costs,  double-digit  interest  rates,  local  currency devaluation, paucity of foreign exchange for raw material imports, congested ports, high incidence of touting, and double taxation. 
7.  Insecurity  
Insecurity  arising  from  escalating  unemployment,  poverty  and  misery  index,  terrorist, and separatists’ activities, has rendered certain routes impassable. We  are  all  familiar  with  current  events  in  the  eastern  parts  of  the  country.  The  sit  at home  order  of  the  Independent  People  of  Biafra  (IPOB)  has  resulted  in  a  50-100% increase in journey turn-around-time (TAT).
The global terrorism index for the Country has been steadily rising from 6.13 in 2011 to 8.31 in 2020. With the activities of herdsmen, bandits and unknown gunmen remaining unchecked, this index may not improve in the short to medium term.
NOW, LOOKING AHEAD, How can the industry leverage collaborations develop winning strategies?
Verily, I say to this gathering, that collaboration is the key to a sustainable haulage industry in Nigeria.
I define industry collaboration as the practice where companies of similar structures work together for a common purpose to achieve business benefits. 
An example of a collaborative industry is the downstream oil and gas sector in Nigeria. Through  associations  like  Independent  Petroleum  Marketers  Associations  (IPMAN), Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), National Union  of  Petroleum  and  Natural  Gas  Workers  (NUPENG)  and  so  on,  the  industry  has reaped benefits along 
1.  Standardized  prices,  products,  and  processes,  made  possible  by  standardized industry templates 
2.  Competition on quality, capacity, and innovation
3.  Reduced cost of production and operation due to the easy replication of proven business models 
4.  Data Gathering and Processing within this industry 
5.  Talent attraction, talent engagement, and talent retention   
Recently,  collaboration,  made  it  possible  for  The  National  Union  of  Petroleum  and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) through its Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD) to threaten strike action to bring the deplorable state of the nation’s highways and other issues to the attention of the federal government.
Subsequently,  the  NNPC  committed  to  spending  N621billion  to  rehabilitate  16  roads through  the  Road  Infrastructure  Tax  Credit  Scheme  in  collaboration  with  the  Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).  
Bringing it home, I will create linkages between the industry’s issues and collaboration as a winning strategy for the industry.
Regarding data paucity, an association of key industry players has become a necessity. 
The industry can collaborate to establish an industry statistics bureau charged with the responsibility  to  mine  and  process  data  into  robust,  factual,  and  verifiable  statistics through its secretariat.
Big data and artificial intelligence (AI) are modern-day sustainability tools and as such data  gathering  and  sharing  will  create  access  to  verifiable  information  which  will position the industry as structured and forward-looking.  Processing the data will:
1.  Highlight the attractiveness of the industry 
2.  Enhance industry perception and credibility 
3.  Establish industry norms and benchmarks 
4.  Foster sustainability through accurate planning and forecasting 
5.  Enhance the valuation of haulage firms because critical valuation parameters like
levered beta, average debt/equity ratio of the industry, will be relatively accurate and reliable. I envisage an EBITDA multiplier of 10X; a levered beta of 1.5; and an industry D/E ratio of 2.5 to 1.  
On innovation, an interesting exposé during COVID-19 was that while investments in oil and gas fell steeply, investments in renewable energy soared supported by a rise in green bonds.
Industry  collaboration  will  cause  adequate  resources  to  be  expended  on  extensive research into renewable energy as a game-changer regards escalating and uncontrolled business costs. 
Already, truck manufacturers such as Mercedes Benz and MAN have made giant strides into the research, design, and development of electric vehicles. One notable breakthrough in the short truck segment is the development of a 400km range battery pack. That is the equivalent distance from Lagos to Delta state on a single charge. I envisage that the replacement of batteries will rank relatively cheaper in comparison to instability in prices of fossil fuels and 3,000 engine parts in the long term. It will also rank consistent with industry environmental goals on carbon and noise level reduction.
The collaboration will also trigger the commitment of joint resources into the evelopment of the critical infrastructure required to power this transformation.  
On  security, collaboration  with  regional  security  outfits  like  Amotekun,  the  Nigerian Police Force, and the Nigerian Communication Satellite Limited leveraging the Industrial  Internet  of  Things  (IIoT) will  enhance  security  through  live  video imaging, drone tracking and communication on journey routes. This will also result in operational efficiency and cost optimization arising from improved surveillance.
A model similar to the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) in Lagos funded through the Lagos State  Security  Trust  Fund  (LSSTF)  through  the  donations  and  contributions  from Organizations  and  well-meaning  individuals  may  advance  the  interest  of  the  industry regarding security.  
On poor transport infrastructure, the industry can establish a sinking fund from the pre-tax profits of key players. Contributions into the sinking fund will be utilized pre-commencement  of  the  rains  to  rehabilitate  critical  routes  in  collaboration  with  the Federal  Roads  Maintenance  Agency  (FERMA)  and  their  state  versions  like  the  Lagos State  Public  Works  Corporation  (LSPWC),  the  Ogun  State  Road  Maintenance  Agency (OGROMA) and so on. Although these rehabilitation works may not be long-term, they will provide succour on those routes by facilitating the free flow of traffic and preserving the industry’s core value proposition of speedy, and efficient distribution of goods. 
Subsequently,  we  will  jointly  approach  the  government  for  tax  waivers  and  other benefits arising from the collaborative repairs. Although,  a  lot  of  attention  is  being  given  to  road  reconstruction  and  rehabilitation countrywide utilizing proceeds from N669billion SUKUK bonds. The industry must take the bull by its horn to collaborate and complement the efforts of the federal and state governments given the burden placed on roads by the haulage industry.
With  the  advent  of  Infrastructure  Company  of  Nigeria  (InfraCo), Nigeria’s proposed N15trillion infrastructure development company, industry collaboration will present the industry  an  opportunity  to  control  critical  road  and  transport  infrastructure  under  a public-private partnership.   
On financing, permit me to add that the haulage and logistics value chain is expansive. Consequently, the industry is rife for a closed value chain which will facilitate the direct extension of credit amongst industry players. For  example,  any  of  the  major  players  can  acquire  trucks  directly  from  a  local manufacturer  under  a  7year  hire  purchase  or  operating  lease  arrangement.  This will minimize the industry’s dependence on banks and unfavourable loan conditions while deepening the capacity of the local truck supplier.  This will also reduce industry leverage and default risk.  Note  that  the  enhanced  trucking  and  manufacturing  capacity  will  spill  over  to  other inputs and subsequently increase industry working capital and liquidity.   
On Manpower development, the collaboration will help to standardize the manpower needs and skillset within the industry. The increasing sophistication of the industry also requires standardized recruitment criteria for drivers and technicians.  The antecedents and excesses of drivers and technicians will also be checked through the establishment of a Driver’s Registry. This will borrow a leaf from the Credit Reporting and Management System (CRMS) obtainable in the financial  services sector  for borrowers. 
To  achieve  this,  Information  such  as  BVN  and  NIN  must  be  mandatory  recruitment provisions for drivers and their guarantors as an industry risk mitigant.  Collaboration  can  also  enhance  our  capacity  to  engage  law  enforcement  agencies  to seek redress against erring drivers and technicians. The industry is also ripe for a jointly owned and managed training and skill development centre to improve its human capacity  
On inconsistent policies and regulations, the collaboration  will  cause  regulators  to consult the industry before enacting regulations. It will also afford the industry a voice and an avenue to partake in the formulation of policies and regulations that affect the industry at large. Through collaboration between truck manufacturers and haulage companies in Nigeria, the industry can derive competitive and comparative advantages from the reversal of the automotive policy leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. 
Intra-Africa trade is currently estimated at 15%. This indicates a very weak intra-regional value  chain  when  compared  to  Asia,  where  it  is  at  80%.  With  the  introduction  of  the African  Continental  Free  Trade  Agreement  (AfCFTA),  which  is  the  world’s  largest  free trade  zone  signed  by  54  countries,  Nigeria  now  has  free  access  to  the  entire  African market, which will improve the trade between the neighbouring countries and impact the logistics sector in the future. 
Also,  industry  collaboration  with  the  Joint  Tax  Board  (JTB), touting  and  the  impact  of touts and various state revenue collecting agencies will be minimized thereby enabling the industry to standardize and streamline government taxes and levies.  
Regarding  escalating  business  costs, aside  from  the  Subsidy  Reinvestment  and Empowerment  Program  (SURE-P)  under  the  Goodluck  Ebele  Jonathan  administration, there has been no other direct intervention targeting the haulage industry in Nigeria. I  am  an  advocate  of  a  transport  bank  to  support  the  sector  with  tailored  financing solutions  for  transport  and  transport  infrastructure.  The transport bank should be capitalized from the N15trn Infrastructure Company of Nigeria seed capital.
The  industry  should  collaborate  to  advocate  for  a  transport  bank  that  will  isolate  the industry  to  accommodate  the  direct  transmission  of  economic  subsidies  such  as discounted interest rates and exchange rates, as well as forex availability.   
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in closing, I say to you, that a voiceless and non-collaborating  industry  will  witness  the  extinction  of  several  big  and  small  industry players within a short time.
Collaboration will therefore serve as a tool for business analysis and decision making to avert chaos or collapse. Most importantly, the collaboration will trigger a reflective price regime and convergence  within  the  industry  thereby  disrupting  exploitation  and  rent-seeking  by buyers. Pricing convergence will, in turn, de-emphasize price wars within the industry and foster competition on quality and innovation
I want to commend the work that the Haulage and Logistics Magazine has been doing for the haulage industry in Nigeria since its inception. The annual HAULAMCE programme is today the best opportunity for key industry stakeholders in the country to come together and interact and I look forward to attending each year.  An annual forum like this, however, is not sufficient to push real change and transformation as there is a lot that the industry can achieve together under a common forum and I sincerely hope that at the end of this event, there will be a deliberate call to action towards collaboration by industry players and watchers.
Thank you for your attention.

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