Mr Ikenna Anene is the Managing Director of Armida Nigeria Limited, a safety servicing company. In this interview with Safety Record Newspaper’s Associate Editor, Paul Mbagwu, he speaks about the company’s products and sundry issues. Excerpt.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Ikenna Anene. I am the Managing and Project Director of Armida Nigeria Limited. Armida Nigeria Limited is a project we are working on. We have quite a number of scopes which are all encompassed in safety. Because the company is actually a project that we are working on, that is why I double as project and managing director.
I am an administrator. I studied Public Administration in school for my first degree and subsequently had Business Administration for my second degree. We diverted into safety, but we were formerly into human resource services. However, we saw the potential in safety during our research program in Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) which we are trying as much as possible to harness and see how we would improve HSE services in the country. This is one of the basic reasons we are in the business of safety. While in this business of safety we try as much as possible to align ourselves with the best practices in safety by gaining more knowledge going through HSE training programs, like the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON), as well as the Institute of Safety and Health (IOSH) – there are quite a number of them that we have aligned ourselves with. We have got ourselves inclined with a lot of safety programs and have helped reduced hazards in Nigeria.
You said earlier that Armida is a project. Could you tell us about Armida Nigeria Ltd and her projects?
Armida Nigeria Ltd is an HSE company. We sell and service personal protective equipment (PPE). We do, sell and service road safety furniture. We sell, service, and install firefighting equipment and of course, we do high-tech mechanized road markings services. We do HSE training and development, and in some cases we do executive and management trainings for people who require such services. Armida was established in 2010, about seven years ago. We started full operation in 2012 as an HSE company with me and one other person on board. Right now, we have grown to a reasonable number and we are looking at expanding before the end of the year to a sizeable number of personnel.
The whole idea about Armida is a project, meaning it is a work in progress. We are looking at becoming the foremost safety company in Nigeria and in Africa at large, and gaining international presence. That is a project for us. More importantly, we are looking at zero tolerance for accident such that everywhere you go to there is safety awareness in the country, there is safety awareness in the workplace, there is awareness even in our homes, there is safety awareness on our roads, there is safety awareness in everything that we do. That is what we are preaching, that is our project, that is where we are heading to and that is what we belong to.
What does your clientele look like seven years down the line?
We have a diverse client base. Our client base is quit huge, and as a project Armida Nigeria Ltd is still looking at increasing her client base. We have clients in various industries: we have clients in the oil and gas industry, we have clients in the construction sector, we have in the aviation industry, we have clients in the manufacturing industry, we have clients in the road sector, and in diverse industries. I don’t think it will be good to mention our clients for some confidentiality reasons, and it is against our policy as a company. I must say categorically that we have good experiences with our clients over the years. It has been fantastic. The most important for us, like I have said, is the project, and for every project there must be sustainability. We have never had any client who had any reason not to do business with us again. That is where we belong to, that is what we are pursuing, that is our aim and that is what we stand for.
Do you feel organizations in Nigeria buy PPEs because of legal constraint or out of genuine desire to have a safe work environment?
Your guess is as good as mine. First of all, in terms of the purchase of PPE as a product, I must tell you Nigerians are not there yet. Our companies are not there yet. I do not know why it is so – probably companies are trying to minimize cost and maximize profit. However, the fact of the matter here is that your workers’ safety must be top priority. In most cases, with most companies or clients we have had experience with on the field it is basically because of legislation. Quite a number of companies wouldn’t want to purchase PPEs for their workers if not for legislation.
It is for this reason, like I said, that Armida is always a project, which is why I am the project director, and every member of staff of Armida is working towards a project. We are looking at how we can influence safety legislation before we can purchase PPEs or rather purchase the right thing for people to wear in carrying out their duties. That is where we are going to – creating high level of awareness for companies, creating high awareness for people, creating high level awareness in the homes, and all. We are helping people to enforce high safety standards in their organizations and to let them realize that they do not need to wait for government legislation to purchase PPE. It must be when you are preparing your budget for the business year. PPEs in your safety budget must be on top priority. We still must know that we have companies who do not depend on legislation before they purchase PPE. They have high HSE standard and they take their workers’ safety as top priority.
Did the recent economic recession in the country affect organizations demand for PPEs and approach to safety?
You cannot take away recession in this aspect but it still boils down to the fact that it must be on their top priority list. Irrespective of the recession in the country, there are industries that cannot tamper with the use of PPEs. Take for instance the construction industry where jobs are still coming in and people are still constructing now and then. Contracts are been awarded every now and then. Of course in awarding contracts like that you must take PPE as a topmost priority in carrying out your construction work for example. I wouldn’t want to go into the oil and gas sector where we have had terrible downturn in the last few years due to the international oil price fall which has attributed to the low purchase of PPE in the oil and gas sector. We have other industries, like the manufacturing industry and the construction industry where construction is ongoing. People must construct; there must be development. If there is no development, there is no nation. People are constructing, new ideas are coming up, and new concepts are coming in. Therefore, I think recession shouldn’t be an excuse for that. Safety should be a culture, a tradition and norm for every right-thinking and proper company and organization that desires the best for the people.
In the wake of weak occupational health and safety enforcement in Nigeria, what do you think is the future of safety in Nigeria?
The government needs to take that seriously in the Ministry of Labour and Employment. I think Lagos State is doing well now by taking Lagos State Safety Commission seriously. To say the fact, the government has not done well in terms of enforcement, which is why safety is not taken seriously. If you go to some plant sites you will be so amazed at what you see. You see people not properly dressed, not wearing the proper PPE to work and I ask myself what these people are doing here. I don’t have a problem with those working; I have a problem with the heads. And in the case of the government like I said, they need to do more. They need to get professionals involved in their enforcement. They need to get experts who are not just politicians into the system, unlike what they do now which is getting politicians in office to handle safety and some of them don’t know anything about HSE. They need professionals to work with them to give them the right guidelines, awareness and right way to go about the enforcement. I think the government needs to do more and help people also, because Nigerians, in some places, like the stick approach to issues. This is where the government needs to step in and make them understand why people should wear the right PPE at all time and enforce it.
You said earlier that organizations do not need to wait for government legislation to purchase PPE and you are embarking on creation of safety awareness to facilitate that. How are you going about it?
We try as much as possible to engage the social media, which is one of the platforms where we create high level of awareness for people. And also in our services to our clients and prospects, we try as much as possible to give them huge discounts to encourage them to purchase PPE for their staff and work force. So we have used the social media, we have used the print media, and the radio. In my introduction, I mentioned that we were expanding, and one of such moves is our use of the television media to enhance our services and create more awareness to people to see the need for a high level safety practice.
When you talked about selling and servicing PPE to clients, how does your company go about that?
Part of what we are looking at as a company, and as a project is not just the purchase of PPE; we are interested in what you are buying, why you are buying them, and what you are using them for. For example, somebody called you that he wants to buy a safety boot, we enquire, “what do you want to use the safety boot for?” “Is it because Mr. A is using the safety boot that informed your need for it?” “Are you doing the same job Mr. A is going?” We have various safety boots for various safety jobs, we have various safety boots for various industries, and various safety boots for various standards. This is why we must educate them on what exactly they are using it for, you don’t just buy safety boots because you want to use safety boot.
Can you use this medium to educate our readers on need for PPE and how to go about getting the kind of PPE related to your particular work industry?
Let me use the construction industry for this illustration. We have various brands and types of PPE and I will also use the safety boot and hard hat, popularly known as helmet, because that is what we are used to. In the construction industry, we know the high work-related hazards the industry’s workers are exposed to. They are exposed to tables, irons, rocks, stones, heavy equipment; as a result, they want to know what kind of PPEs they want to wear in such environment. If they are wearing a safety boot, they are not just going to wear any safety boot, but a safety boot with a high steel sole and the sole must be poly unit sole (PU). They must ensure that the laces are in proper dimension. The helmet, which is the hard hat, for example, we have various type of hard hats made in various types of shell. We have the PU shell, and the polyester shell. These are the various things that we need to look at. In the firefighting industry, we have different types of helmet for firefighting. Hence, the helmet the man in the firefighting industry will wear is different from that which the man in the construction industry will wear, just like the hard hat the man in the oil industry will wear. What is obtainable generally, however, is that a man in firefighting sees a man in construction industry’s helmet and desires to have it as his work PPE, which doesn’t serve the same purpose. The firefighting helmet must have a fire retardant quality, which the man in the construction industry does not need. All he needs is a proper hatchet and a jaw guard to guard you and help you hold the helmet to your head. So, it’s quite holistic, and a lot that I can’t exhaust here. Also, in the hand protection, we have the different kinds of hand protection for different industries. We have the hand protection for the riggers, for regular construction people. We have hand protection for iron benders; we have hand protection for fire fighters, and also for welders. But people make their choices because they like the hand gloves or because of its beauty. Our place as a company is to find out what you want to use it for and advise you on which to purchase.
Why is Armida, a PPE sales outfit, involved in safety training, and at what point of being in the industry did you start that?
I told you earlier that we have human resource experience before we decided to go into HSE. And you know any human resource is not complete without learning and development. As a result, we tried as much as possible to put in the learning and development into HSE. What we are doing is education, what we are doing is training, awareness is training, awareness is education, awareness is notifying people of what they don’t know or what they know or ignorant about and trying to make them understand what they need to do. Where we come in like a training and development company is our experience in training. We can train people on diverse managerial trainings; we give people HSE trainings, we give all forms of soft skill training to help them maximize their profits and help improve their work force in their company. So, looking at our HR experience in the aspect of training and development, we brought that into HSE to complement our services, to help us achieve our projects and make us move forward. This is because without training, we cannot achieve what we are looking at. We must train people; we must talk to people, educate them, and make them understand the essence of HSE and use of PPE.
What is your advice to people who want to purchase PPE and how to guide against fake products, and where do you source your PPEs?
I will say that is where we come in as a company, a project and as a servicing company. For PPE there are various standards: we have the substandard, we have the standard, we have the high standard and we have the highest standard. In some cases where your clients tell you their budget, we can’t go above or below their budget; we try as much as possible to work within their budget. We have various places where we source our PPEs. We have our local suppliers and foreign suppliers and part of the projects we are also working on is to set up our own plant in Nigeria where we can start manufacturing our own PPEs to encourage local content. By this, we are looking at bringing in experts to come in and help us establish a plant where all PPEs will be manufactured in Nigeria.
Don’t you see a problem where a client demands for low-standard PPEs?
That’s a sale and service we do. For various categories we try to make you understand the advantages and disadvantages. In substandard for example, the disadvantage is more than the advantage. In most cases the client will tell you it’s cost reduction, and at the end of the day you end up replacing those PPEs in a short while. A PPE you are supposed to be replacing in two years, you end up replacing it under two or three months.
And they do not constitute any safety hazards?
They may not; it’s just the replacement. They may still serve the same purpose. The issue is just the durability, which is the period of time it will take to worn out.
Your final word?
My final word is Safety! Safety!!Safety!!! That is what we preach. We want to come to a level and period where every home is safety conscious. At least, every home will have a minimum of a safety blanket. That is what we do and that is what we are preaching. Few months ago, we gave out quite a few number of fire blankets to homes. So we want to get to a level where safety is preached everywhere in churches, mosques, in schools, corporate organizations, and in the public sector; in our daily life, everything we think is safety and that is what Armida as a company represents. As much as we are in business to make money, we are also in business to ensure the effective utilization and effective maximization of safety products. Safety must be the watch word for everyone. As a matter of fact, everything about our life must be safety: we can’t afford to lose a life; we can’t afford to have any part of our body damaged for something we actually have control over. That is what we preach.