High Chief Julius Abuda, a businessman with a very strong philanthropic disposition is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Bonjul Hotel and Suites, Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi.
In this interview with Moshood Karim Olawale, he speaks on the challenges of hospitality business in Nigeria and how he was able cope with the impact of COVID-19 lockdown.
You are very busy. Where do you find energy?
Well, I learnt that from my late uncle. Late Dennis Abuda who just passed on. He believed in hardwork for success. He always say, if you want to succed, work.
The Coronavirus pandemic has presented a lot of challenges to businesses across the country. What has been the impact on your business?
It has not been easy at all. This is because most of this investment we do, are done on loan. Say for instance, you took aloan of #200 million to put in the facility and once there is a wave of Coronavirus, the first point of call is the hospitality business. Clubs, restaurants and hotels are closed.
Those are the first places they closed and the moment they are closed, you have some direct cost you run. You cannot leave the facility alone like that without ventilation, security and lightning, right?
Secondly, people were not coming to the hotel because they are scared of the Coronavirus because of the emphasis people placed on its transmission. I did a personal analysis on Coronavirus in Nigeria and I found that the pandemic kills an average of five persons daily.
That’s my personal analysis. So, when I tried to convince some people that it is not as bad as it is being emphasized, they said, why won’t I better stay in my house instead of coming out. So, you see, it has really wreaked our businesses.
In a business where you cook and nobody eat it, in a place where you have just two guests in a hotel of 30 to 40 rooms and you have a generator you must run, receptionists to pay, housekeeper must be there. You can also not say security guard shouldn’t come to work or half number of them should come.
So, there are constant expenses you must run. Those things are never reduced.
There is this friend of mine who came from America before the lockdown, he was in Nigeria when the American government sent money to him. I don’t know what they call it, but it was a relief for him. Atleast to take care of himself.
Here, for the business to thrive, I have to buy a generator to run the business because there is no stable electricity. Government is not assisting us at all.
So, the impact of Coronavirus lockdown on our business is much and glaring for everyone to see.
How were you able to cope with the wagebill of your staff and other expenses during the lockdown?
I have to borrow more money. This is because in business, for you to save what you have borrowed, you borrow more. It is like you’re owing #200million and the facility is there, people are not patronizing it. If you leave it without generating a Naira or without making it lively, it means you will lose the property.
So, what we did was that, we borrow more at a higher rate because you cannot go to the bank that lend you money in the first instance for more fund. You go to another.
And when you’re borrowing from someone you wish to convince that all is well, you have to play to the gallery.
Sir, are you aware that the Federal Government has put in place a stimulus package through the Economic Sustainability Programme (Survival Fund) to cushion the effect of Coronavirus pandemic on businesses like yours
No, no, no. I have not been able to access it. I am not even aware of it. So, I don’t know the rules. But, I saw something like that on the internet. You know, this social media of a thing, there is a lot of criminality in there. Sometimes, they will send you an alert that you have won, which is not. So, we don’t know the one to believe and the one not to believe.
What is your advice to Federal Government on how to move the hospitality industry forward?
Government should assist. They should create employment. Take for instance, like me now. I have created employment for about eighty-eight persons here. I should be encouraged. If you have about ten other people creating employment of this nature, we will have eight hundred and eighty-eight people employed within the vicinity.
They should also cut the tax collected from us because we pay a lot of it.
I think the best way to do it (Survival Fund), is for the government to channel it through the bank that you bank with. Like if I go to my Fedelity bank now, they (the bank) will know. They will be able to market it on behalf of the government. This is because the banks know the customers (KYC).