My name is Olugbenga (Gbenga for short) Arenola, and I run a roofing sheets business in Abuja. My business has grown from infancy over the course of eight years now, and presently, when I take on a deal from a client, I exude that assurance – from my demeanour, confidence, poise, dressing, and portfolio – that tells my client that if they left me to find another, they either would not find one good enough, or it would cost them time to find one. In these past eight years, I have not performed any magic to get me where I am today. I simply had progressively added foreign business partners and associates into my product delivery and service rendering chain, and before long, I became known for being that roofing sheet and accessories provider that gives clients the best material at the most competitive price.
I now have local and foreign partners who I bring business to, and who bring business to me. We work together nearly every day, taking on all those same hassles you know traders take on and somehow making it work– flaky clients, unwilling distributors, untrusting international raw material producers, customs delays and surcharges, currency conversion drama, international payments processing bottlenecks, local payments processing ledger balancing, the whole nine yards. We do not have a 100% percent success rate, but situations like what happened six days ago are what give me assurance that our small cross-border community of business partners understand our assignment. We have come to stay.
My phone rang, I picked up, and by the end of the conversation, I had begun the process of supplying 200 yards of bitumen roofing sheets and 200 yards of black corrugated roofing sheets for heat absorption to a client in Kano the very next day– the biggest bulk deal I had ever gotten since I began this business. It was already 12 noon when the call came in. The client would need to begin using the materials two days later. I had become so trustworthy in delivering that I was the only one he could call to get this done. The money was good for it, and so I hopped on it; schedules for the next 36 hours completely changed at the spot, and my brain began calculating. There was a lot to navigate, and the worst issues I face with urgent deals like this is unavailability of suppliers and, when international, payment and currency conversion bottlenecks. These would not get the best of me in this instance, I assured myself, buckled my belt, and, starting from home, I began placing calls.
I rang Kabir in Kano first. The strategy was to start with trusted suppliers closest to the client. Eight years ago, when I started, Kabir was there. He was still an apprentice to an Igbo ceiling tiles dealer in Lokogoma, Abuja back then. He began his own outfit three years ago. Proximity to me has made his start so much less tenuously as most startups. I knew his capabilities. I doubted he would have what I was looking for. But these young ones can pull a good surprise, you know. I was half-right. He could get the goods, but he would have to import the next four days, as his stock had finished a week ago. He did not have pricey clients who needed that quality of material all the time, so he did not restock quickly, and his international supplier always takes four days to begin and complete transactions like this due to payment hurdles. Kabir’s angle was a bust. I expanded my search.
I reached Nneka in Lagos. Nneka was one of those females who knew exactly how to prove that women can thrive in this building materials production and supply industry without lifting a finger. She says it should not be a big deal that women know these things in the 21st Century. That it should be a norm. That boldness and raw bite is what has kept her in the game, and boy, this game she did know how to play. Nneka’s angle did not completely pull through when I called because of one thing and one thing alone: She did not have up to 200 yards of both materials. She could offer me 80 yards of the bitumen and 150 yards of the black corrugated. I took it. Simply meant I had to split the supply direction in two. It was at this point I had to think international and call Tunji. Tunji Ige had been in this business 10 years before I began. He had leg. He grew up in Ghana, despite being Nigerian, and established his headquarters there, with branches in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, the UK, Turkey and Malaysia. Tunji is a big boy. Tunji is also my guy. But I avoid Tunji at times because his prices could be scary, even if I was the one calling. Business is business, they say. I risked Tunji this time because I was sure he would have what I was looking for and there was no time or luxury to scout for alternatives. He indeed had what I was looking for, no surprises there. He had the materials in his UK office though. He would be able to provide the supply on time from the UK. I just had to pay private shipping fees that also covers customs clearance, added to the cost of materials and haulage.
Here comes why I have been telling this story: the payments made and the revelation Tunji gave to me after I processed his payment. Tunji is also somewhat of a financial enthusiast, so, after I sent money to him through the International Money Transfer Operator (IMTO) I have an account with and he promised to ensure the money cleared in the morning of the next day before he began processing, he changed the discussion topic from our business to eNaira.
He told me the Nigerian CBN was planning to launch the eNaira on October 1 as its own Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), told me that he had been wanting something like that, some better alternative to cryptocurrency (as crypto had truly dealt with him in the past), and told me how eNaira has been promised to make transactions faster, safer, easier, and cheaper. He said a lot about eNaira, I began to wonder if he was the one who gave the CBN the idea to create it. Among all he said, I picked out a few things I took to heart, swore to not forget, promised myself to preach the gospel of and write articles about (like this one), and decided to try out once the eNaira launches. Those things bordered around the business that I do.
First thing I noted was the statistics Tunji gave me on how much havoc cryptocurrency international transfers have wreaked on businesses because of the volatile price fluctuations and the risky unknown transaction mediators who have more often than not disappeared from the scene the moment they found a “maga” and “hammered”. Tunji said that, on a monthly basis, popular cryptocurrencies can gain or lose 50% of its value. Someone who traded in bitcoin in 2017 and relied on bitcoin for trading today would incur 1200% more risk than he or she did in 2017. Over 76.5% recorded Nigerian businesses trading with cryptocurrency through exchanges have not had positive turnover in their balance sheets. They are all still pushing and waiting for when it would happen, but it does not seem to want to. After the phone call, I did my own research to verify Tunji’s numbers and they all checked out. But I did not trade in crypto; He did, at certain points, and regretted it. I have always relied on fiat money. Then Tunji told me that while fiat money is known, reliable, and fairly steady, the eNaira offers so much better for Nigerians.
With eNaira, I could buy any amount of goods I wished to buy from him without worrying about whether or not the IMTO I use is the same as his, or has affiliation with his, or is linked to his bank, or if his IMTO is linked to my bank. I would simply enter amount, and send straight to his wallet, and he receives it in the Cedi equivalent instantly. The processes between my sending and his receiving was no longer my worry and would happen nearly-instantaneously. Even as I had just made purchase for goods in the UK, the reality of eNaira would be that I simply send and the Pounds Sterling equivalent pops up at his UK office, and they process the payment immediately. I would not have to wait till morning as I was doing then any longer. Even with local trade, when I go to the market, there would be no need to start finding fifty Naira “change” or a hundred Naira “change”. It is pay, receive, and then you’re on your way. It sounded incredible. That was the moment I made up my mind to become the volunteer eNaira ambassador I am today. What I pray for now is that eNaira comes through with its promises, because if it does, it would truly be a game changer. Roping Nneka and Kabir into the eNaira train would not be something I would regret, if eNaira comes correct. My plan to introduce this my wealthy client in Kano to eNaira after October 1 would be a good move if it comes correct too.
Oh, and, the supply went well. We nearly missed my client’s deadline, but we could make it. I suppose though, with eNaira, we would not be so close to missing the deadline as we were with this.
Olugbenga Fakoredele Arenola is a business man, supplying bespoke roofing sheets for all house needs. He has been in business for eight years now, and in that time with good progress, he has become a known voice in the industry, especially in Abuja where his business is domiciled.