Chief Daniel Chimezie Okeke’s meritorious rise to fame as a formidable entrepreneur, philanthropist and politician of note is legendary. As a disadvantaged young man at his time, Okeke could be likened to a serial optimist with never -say -die attitude towards life anchored on his belief in God’s ability to bestow destiny to whom he pleases. Chief Dan Okeke(Omereoha) is one of Nigeria’s youngest and most successful CEOs and sits atop one of the largest Shipping and Logistics Company in Nigeria, Express Concerns Limited with bonded warehouse terminal in Port Harcourt and global chain across key world economies. This is besides his huge investments in other sectors such as hospitality, water bottling plants, furniture, education and many more. He is also a notable politician and chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and has impacted lives through his philanthropic activities.
In this interview, the Abia state born top business mogul bared his mind on sundry issues especially in his area of proficiency : transport and logistics. Okeke who despite his very tight schedule is completing a PHD programme in a leading global university is also of the opinion that his party the APC has to handle with care the contentious leadership of the 9th National Assembly noting that anything short of Deputy Senate President for the Igbos in the present political arrangement may not augur well for the APC especially in the South East. Excerpts….
As a notable businessman and politician, can you please give us a little background of your foray into business, especially transport and logistics?
Well my story is a very interesting one. I started shipping and logistics at the age of 20. I am sure you know about Panalpina World Transport which was number one in the whole world then and also number one in Nigeria as well. That is where I started my business and anybody that worked in Panalpina and does not know much about shipping, I don’t think I can boldly say he actually worked in Panalpina because I always tell people that Panalpina is a training ground for people who want to be entrepreneurs of their own business in shipping and logistics. So I started there and grew from there. Therefore, shipping and logistics is part of me. There is no aspect of this business today I am ignorant of. It is what I have done for many years and by the grace of God, I have been able to do a lot to move our business and company forward. We are one of the best shipping and logistics firms in Nigeria and in the entire world because we have a global chain, a very high global chain that gives us comparative advantage to handle shipment from anywhere in the world.
Talking about Express Concern Limited, the global logistics company that you oversee as Group Managing Director /Chief Executive Officer, what can you say is the area of strength and how has the company leveraged on this strength in a competitive business environment such as Nigeria?
What confers advantage on us over all other logistics companies in Nigeria and even beyond Nigeria is because we have a bonded terminal and having a bonded terminal is an added advantage that you have over other logistics firms because if you have a bonded terminal it means clearance is very easy, you have Customs Officers attached to your bonded terminal who are on ground 24 hours to handle your shipment from the air or seaport and from there transfer directly to your bonded terminal which makes clearance very easy . If my competitor is clearing in five days from the port, I can clear within 24 hours. That is an added advantage and one other thing that we have against other competitors is communications, we are very good in communications because I can tell you, without communication you can’t move forward in shipping and logistics because the client you are working for also have a client. For instance, if you are working for SAIPEM, it has a contract with Total and if a shipment is needed urgently and you don’t give them information, it means they do not have information to feedback to their client and this could leave them in the dark. So that is what we do. I once bided a job with a multinational, I was given that job for the fact that we were good in communication and we are still good. Like I said before, we have global chain advantage over other competitors. Our global chain is scattered around the world that we can pick any shipment, any time, any day from any part of the world and we deliver to your door step, that is what we call “door to door services”. A lot of companies don’t have such global structure. We are in partnership with a lots of freight forwarders in the world which makes it easier for us.
Talking about communication can you explain on how this is done as it is a major edge over competitors?
Two major areas of communication are phone calls and emails. A customer will send you an email asking for the status of the shipment, if you don’t feed him back in few minutes, he is in the dark; he cannot also feedback his client. We had a situation few years back that a customer sent us an email in less than five minutes only, the email was not responded to and he made a statement which I can never forget “This is not Express Concern I know, what is going on” . Because he knows that in five minutes, he is going to get reply from us and that is why I made it compulsory to staff that every email messages should be attended to in less than five minutes and I must be in copy. Why I am in copy is not just because I want to witch hunt anybody but because I want to monitor everything that is going on and make sure that mails are replied within five minutes and whereby this doesn’t happen automatically, I will push for it. So that is another advantage we have. We make phone calls too only that email has advantage over phone calls because you might have a situation tomorrow that will come up, phone calls might be denied but emails can never be denied. I have a case with one company now and they were trying to be funny about it, I had to upload all the emails and they could no longer do anything about it. This is a backup for you as a freight forwarder, if there are issues tomorrow, if they are delays you can refer back to mails. We also have what we call KPI, Key Product Indicator. If you don’t deliver within the number of days expected of you, say five working days , you must ensure that customers are aware of the reason for that delay. Because if you don’t meet up with the KPI and you don’t have tangible reason to deliver within five working days, the customer can come back tomorrow and make a case with you asking you to refund whatever money he agreed with you because his products are not delivered to him but if you have an email to back up transactions showing necessary points of delay, he has nothing to do, so that is why communication is very important in this business.
Looking at clearing and forwarding business in Nigeria, there are two issues in the industry that have caused problems and I want you to take a position on them given your experience. It is believed that the industry is going down because of economic situation and a lot of people believe that there is quackery and fraudulent activities within the industry. How in your expert opinion can we eliminate quackery and fraud from the industry?
Well the point is a lot of people do not know the difference between executive corporate clearing and normal clearing services. We have quack clearing agents scattered around the country who just go to the ports, who may not even have license to operate, some may have, some may have license to operate because with money you can get anything but they do not know the processes of the job, they did not pass through the training. For Express Concerns Ltd, we are ISO certified and for a company to be ISO certified means you have satisfied the process to do business. We do not handle every customs clearance business that is given to us. We do what we call corporate custom clearance whereby we work with oil companies and other corporate companies. We have what we call existing frame agreement, which has laws, rules and regulations guiding payment terms and you must work in line with that contract. It is not so with the so called cut and nail customs clearing agents. Standards are ensured because these companies are there to do the right thing.
You are also known to be involved in other business interests such as hospitality. Can you give us an insight into those other businesses?
Well like I said I started from logistics and I am going to remain in logistics but that doesn’t mean that one should not diversify. And like you rightly mentioned, logistics business is tied to the economy. So if the economy is not doing well, your businesses will not do well too. For instance we have issues of foreign exchange a situation whereby dollar was N170 few years back but now it is N370 which makes it difficult for people to import and that affects our business and that is why a lot of logistic companies are folding up, because if you don’t have the importers and you don’t have the customers you cannot operate. So that is why I dimed it fit as a business man to try to diversify so that we can one, create employment for people and also get some source of livelihood outside logistics business and that made it possible for me to go into hospitality and other viable business interests and I think I am also doing well in those areas. Recently as you know, we just opened a water bottling factory. Even if we are not getting money at least people are gainfully employed and that is one sure way we can contribute to the national economy.
We are also aware you are in partnership with a global hospitality brand, The Swiss Spirit, which already is running luxurious hotel and suites in Port Harcourt. Can you also give us insight about your involvement with the Swiss Spirit brand and your expansion programs in the nearest future?
Well for me I like having quality stuffs. I like doing things that will be talked about town and at the same time rendered the value expected of such investments. I like also doing the right thing, my hotel is one of the best if not the best in Port Harcourt as we speak. We just won Trip Advisor award last week and we have won several awards just few years in the business. Our hotel is highly secured and it is known around Port Harcourt that it is one of the safest resorts around given the security challenge thrown up after the recently held general elections. Kidnapping is on the increase in Port Harcourt, we have a case where two mobile policemen were killed in Port Harcourt two weeks ago at GRA and because of that GRA is like a desert now. People no longer go there from 6 pm up and that increased our patronage in Swiss Spirit Hotel DANAG and because of that we were forced to beef up our own security. We are running a global standard luxury hotel and we have a pool area where people that are not in house come freely to drink and spend time with their friends. We constantly restructure our security apparatus to ensure safety and comfort of our customers.
You are a chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and your party is believed to have lost support among the majority of people who supported it to come to power in 2015. This is more so as the party is also said to have lost focus in terms of governance. What is your take on this and what do you think your party needs to do to relaunch into public reckoning.
Let me start by saying that before APC came into power in 2015 a lot of damages has been done and people tend not to understand that part and when you want to remedy a situation, things that are bad, it is not always that very easy. As you know, while it is easy to spoil things, it is not that easy when you want to rebuild. So APC is doing their best to ensure that we come back into limelight in terms of security, economy and otherwise. Don’t forget that we inherited an economy that is already under recession and we were able to bring it back on track. But I must also say here that the challenge APC has is in the area of publicity. The party needs to work on their media team. President Buhari is doing a lot in this country. He has worked on security, he has done much in the war against insurgency in the North East like the Boko Haram. The media outreach and platform he has is not working well I must say . APC really need to improve on that because all he is doing, people are not seeing them. For me I am from the South East, I do tell people during the last administration, the South East (the Igbos) were highly favored and empowered in terms of political appointments but what did we gain as an Igbo nation? Our roads are bad, second Niger Bridge was more of a propaganda tool to win election, talking about it every four years when there is elections that it has been awarded but that has never been done. But now we are seeing roads in the South East, now I can walk on a tarred road to my house all thanks to APC government. Now there is a road from Port Harcourt to Enugu apart from minor parts that are still being worked on. You can see people, see contractors working, because now people are afraid of being jailed for failure to deliver on contracts all thanks to President Mohammadu Buhari because it wasn’t like that in the past. People can now go to 2nd Niger Bridge and send pictures of work that is ongoing. They have their own challenges but don’t forget that democracy is now working in Nigeria, it’s no longer business as usual. Any state Governor that is not working risks been removed. For the first time in the history of political parties in Nigeria, we have seen a situation where a Governor was not able to install his choice candidate to replace him, it has never happened before. So this means we are growing and so let’s not forget that part. APC is doing well but it need to really work on that aspect that I just mentioned and this is a trying time for president Buhari at the party leadership, because he has to enthrone justice and equity. Like in the case of the National Assembly, we have a president who is from the North, a deputy who is from the South and we know that Nigeria is divided majorly into three ethnic grouping : North, South and East, that is Hausa, Yoruba and Igbos. If the Hausas have the president, the Yorubas the vice president, it is expected that the Igbos should be given at least the Deputy Senate Presidency and I must tell you that Senator Orji Uzor Kalu is well qualified to wear that cap as ranking member of the national assembly. We can see lots of contentions and arguments here and there that he is first time National Assembly member but that is not true, he has been in the House of Reps for two years and was a high ranking officer at the National Assembly so he is well qualified and the only APC senator right now from the South East and if we cannot even get the Senate Presidency, at least the Igbos should be offered the Deputy Senate Presidency. Anything short of that then APC will lose recognition in the South East. What I am trying to say is that there should be justice, equity and fair play in managing relationship with the major ethnic groups by the party.
You are from Abia State, but do you think as it is today; APC stands a chance of winning governorship in Abia State in future elections.
Well the last election was an eye opener for all of us in APC in Abia State where a family divided cannot stand. We were highly divided because of some issues. Like you know, poverty is a disease where people were offered peanuts and were able to sell out. Because APC was ripe to have Abia state in all ramifications considering the fact that PDP government in Abia state has not done well, we all know that. In a situation where there was free and fair election, we were supposed to win that election squarely without any issue but unfortunately, we had lots of sabotage here and there. People were not supporting us but were playing double game and double standard and at the end of the day we lost, quite unfortunate. So I think that we can still win the election 2023 if we come back as a family and take it as a goal to liberate Abia not for personal reason but let the goal be that we want Abia to move to the next level, because Abia I can say in the South East is the worst state we can talk about. So if we can come together as a family and work as a team, we can get it done, it’s possible.
Let’s move a bit to your personal life, your book: Destiny Deal is believed to be a life changing story of your entire life from humble beginning. What informed the writing of the book and can you give a synopsis of the book for the benefit of our readers that have not read it.
Thank you very much for that and I was expecting that Destiny Deal is an inspiring and emotional book. Each time I tell the story I shed tears but the only consolation is that like I always tell people like the topic of the book “ Destiny Deal” suggests, destiny can only be delayed but cannot be denied. If I can make it, anybody else can make it. Whatever God has planned for you, keep your hands straight, serve God with all your hearts; it must surely come to pass no matter how long it takes. I never believe that I can rent a house but I have houses today because God has destined it to be, from grass to grace. I always give God the glory for everything. I used to tell people that I am a lazy man, but God has destined me to be rich. I am big today not because of my hardwork . If people read that book, I am sure that lots of suicide cases we are having will reduce drastically. Because a lot of people go into suicide missions because they have lost hope, because they no longer believe in God, they don’t believe that God can help them and that the future is bright for them. But when you read the book, you know that the future is bright for most people who have lost hope because I passed through a lot and suffered much. I was hopeless, but God gave me hope so if God could give me hope, God can also give any other person hope, you just have to believe in him and thrust in him.
You are known to have garnered lots of awards and laurels. Do you think you merit those awards and what you think singled you out for those awards?
Yes I can say I merited those awards and as a matter of fact , I have thousands of awards on the line but I don’t just take any awards, I only take awards that I know I am qualified to have. Like you know few days ago I was given an Integrity award, I know that I have integrity. I know that I have never been involved in any government contract and I know that all I represent today is God and my efforts towards my goals. So I merit them and I have been able to engage a lot of people, I have been able to empower a lot of people, I have been involved in numerous humanitarian services. I have built schools, customary courts, empowered the widows, the youths. I have done a lot with my little resources and not government money and so nobody can come and say I don’t merit the integrity award, I merited it even more than that.
In that same book “Destiny Deal” you were quoted as saying that you are not interested in partisan politics, meaning not interested in contesting political office, has anything changed or you still maintain your resolve on that.
I always tell people that going into politics is not to go and make money but to go and serve, because I know that as a business man, I cannot give up on my people. There are things I cannot do as a business man, there are projects I can’t embark upon as a business man, but if I am in government, I will attract those projects to my people, so the perception we have about politics in Nigeria is entirely different from what we see in the developed world. People go into politics for instance in America to serve and to make name, Nigeria has not gone into that point. I see people these days going into politics just to make money and not to serve. So I am looking forward to that day when Nigeria will get to that point, where they will go to serve and to make name. When we get to that point be sure I will be there but until then, I am not interested.
So what is your advice to young people especially those that want to make it by all means, ride the best cars, build big houses.
Whoever wants to make it on the fast lane may not live long so if you want to live long, you must wait on God, you must work hard. You must wait for your time. If I didn’t believe in God may be I wanted it the fast way, maybe I won’t be alive today. But I am alive today because I waited on God and God gave me the best.