By Chuks OLUIGBO and Odinaka ANUDU
Sokka International is an exclusive distributor of Carlton chain saws and accessories (plugs, sprocket bearing, starter rope, guide bar, chain breaker, chain joiner, Carlton files, etc), AET ignition components, garden equipment, TILLOTSON, ODII products, TIGER and all types of forestry equipment. Every year, the company, reputed to be the biggest distributor of Carlton products and accessories globally, holds a forum with all its customers in Nigeria, Ghana, Togo and other parts of Africa. This customers’ forum usually provides an avenue through which the distributors and end users of these Carlton, ODII, and AET products meet on one-on-one basis and interact with the manufacturers of the products on the use, viability and workability of the products. The annual arrival of these manufacturers, who are business associates of Sokka International, and who often come from Germany, Australia, Switzerland, the United States of America, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and other parts of the world, is a clear demonstration of the genuineness, durability and first-class nature of products sold by Sokka International. In fact, nowhere in the world have customers demonstrated unparalleled faith in products of Sokka International than in Nigeria, Ghana and other parts of Africa. The theme of this year’s Customers’ Forum was “Afforestation: A Boost to a Growing Economy”.
Carlton was represented by Mr Geoff Peters from Australia and Mr Horst Braun from Germany, while ODII was represented by Mr Sechi Lorenzo from Switzerland. The activities for this year’s Forum spanned a three-day period, beginning with market visits on Wednesday, November 2, 2011. The three manufacturers’ representatives, alongside the Director of Sokka International, Mrs Nneka Ezeemo, who represented the CEO of the firm, Mr Godwin Ezeemo, traversed the length and breadth of Onitsha to interact with distributors and retailers in the market. They were accompanied by Barr Obinna Ezeanyim, the firm’s Legal Adviser; Mrs Ogechi Oguanobi, Manager of Union Haulage; Ogbuehi Barnabas Okonkwo, Special Assistant to the Managing Director; Mr Ikenna Ezeemo, Manager of Sokka International, Onitsha, and a retinue of journalists, members of staff of Sokka International, friends of the firm, and others.
The delegation’s first port of call was the Onitsha office of Sokka International located at 33/35 Uga Street, Fegge Onitsha. Thereafter, they moved down to the popular Bridge Head Market, where they had first-hand information from wholesalers and retailers concerning their products. There were smiles on the faces of these businesspeople who obviously came to the conviction that Sokka International products were first among equals. Mr Horst Braun and Geoff Peters took time to explain to these businessmen and women that Carlton products are reliable, durable and unequalled. They advised the businesspeople to stick to Carlton products as they have a lot to benefit from doing so. Sechi Lorenzo also gave the same indication that ODII products are indomitable and of superb quality.
Against the backdrop of the activities of some unscrupulous persons at the market who imported fake and substandard Carlton products into the country, Geoff Peters and Horst Braun advised the traders and users to be wary of such fake products as they have their own hazards.
The delegation was taken to the warehouses where some of the fake products impounded were packed. Mr Peters and Mr Braun inspected the products and urged the general public to obtain their products from Sokka International in order not to have regrets at the end of the day. They also inspected Carlton products on display and expressed happiness at the grounds that the products had gained, attributing it to the high quality and standard of Carlton products, a fact that was also attested to by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON.
There were also complaints by businessmen regarding the prices of Carlton products. In reaction to this, Mr Peters and Mr Braun explained that quality was paramount, as it was better to maintain high quality than reduce prices and manufacture substandard products. On her part, the Director of Sokka International, Mrs Nneka Ezeemo, acknowledged that the delegation had seen the fake products and advised the culprits to desist from such in order not to flout the law of the country. She also expressed happiness that SON is doing its job and encouraged the traders to stick to quality.
The second day of the programme, November 3, was as significant as the first. The delegation, led by Mrs Nneka Ezeemo, moved to the palace of His Royal Highness, Igwe G. O. Ezechukwu, traditional ruler of Umuchu, hometown of Mr Godwin Ezeemo. The palace was filled to the brim. Mrs Ezeemo, Ogbuehi Barnabas Okonkwo, Mrs Oge Oguanobi, Barr Obinna Ezeanyim, Ichie Muonago, the trio of Mr Horst Braun, Mr Geoff Peters, and Mr Sechi Lorenzo, and journalists from various media houses, electronic as well as print, were there.
When Igwe Ezechukwu emerged from his inner chambers, Ogbuehi Barnabas Okonkwo introduced the business associates of Sokka International to him. While presenting kolanut to the visitors, the Igwe prayed for long life, prosperity, success, peace, love and blessings of good children for all. He also expressed his appreciation to the visitors for their visit and welcomed them warmly on behalf of his community and the people of Anambra State. He assured them that since they are working with Mr Godwin Ezeemo, a prominent son of Umuchu, any investment they make towards the development of the community would be put to good use. He equally thanked them for leaving their places of origin to help uplift the economic fortunes of Umuchu and urged them not to swallow everything they hear or read about Nigeria in the media.
In her remarks, Mrs Nneka Ezeemo told the Igwe that she brought the business partners of Sokka International because they (partners) have a lot of interests in Nigeria. According to her, “We see them as members of our family. If things go the way we plan, we will always have them here. It’s always a pleasure to have them here.”
On behalf of the business partners, Mr Geoff Peters explained that they have a cordial relationship with Sokka and would always render as much support to the community as possible. The Igwe, as a sign of warm reception, gave the visitors various gifts ranging from wooden elephant to the symbol of a flutist.
At the General Hospital, Umuchu, the delegation’s next port of call, it was discovered that many parts of the hospital were overgrown with weeds. Nigerian OrientNews reliably gathered that the hospital was fenced round by the UK branch of the town union, known as UKASS. An American philanthropist, Mr Michael Tachet, a family friend of one Chief Sam Nwigwe, also made efforts to fix up a section of the building. Some of the buildings at the hospital were also said to have been erected by the late Chief MKO Abiola, while some others were built by the age grades. Harping on the urgent need to rehabilitate the hospital in order to bring efficient health system to the community and its neighbours, Ogbuehi Barnabas Okonkwo, who is also from Umuchu, said: “If you go round, you will see three buildings lying waste. Our people are crying for help.”
While addressing journalists, Mrs Ezeemo corroborated Ogbuehi Okonkwo’s statement, saying that if the hospital was renovated, it would help up to 30,000 natives living around.
On his own part, one of the partners, Mr Sechi Lorenzo, said that once the population of the community was growing, there was need for the hospital and other facilities to be growing. He stressed that it was incumbent on the Western nations to assist Africa to grow.
After a brief stopover at Mr Godwin Ezeemo’s country home at Umuchu, where the delegation was received by Sir Daniel Ezeemo, the delegation moved down to the office of the Anambra State Commissioner for Environment, Dr Michael Egbebuike, in Awka. After introducing the guests, Mrs Ezeemo told the Commissioner that Sokka International was interested in joining hands with the state government in its afforestation programme and would want to be sure that the state government was behind Sokka. She also reiterated the appeal the firm had made earlier to the state government for plots of land to Sokka carry out its proposed afforestation programme.
In his response, the Commissioner, on behalf of the state governor, Mr Peter Obi, stressed that the importance of afforestation, saying it stemmed from the fact that trees take in what man gives out while man takes in what trees give out. He also enumerated efforts made by the state government towards controlling erosion in the state and stressed that the greatest challenge of his ministry was to stop villagers from encroaching into the forest reserves mapped out by the state government. Also, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Mr Obaji, in his remarks assured the delegation that the state government would partner with them. Mr Geoff Peters, while thanking the Commissioner for the warm welcome, advised the state government to stick to its afforestation programme because it provides opportunities for employment and long-lasting logging.
The Customers’ Forum proper held on Friday, November 4, 2011, at Grand Hotel, Asaba, Delta State. Nigeria. In her address of welcome, Mrs Nneka Ezeemo emphasized the importance of afforestation for a growing economy like Nigeria and stated in clear terms that felling of trees for industrial use or other purposes does not constitute any danger as far as new ones are planted for tomorrow. She urged the government to encourage the citizens to cultivate the culture of planting trees in order to replace the felled ones. In her words: “For as much as our company is engaged and known for the distribution of agricultural, forestry and garden equipment, we have always strived to maintain a standard by ensuring that the product concept is such that will help man in his daily effort to feed himself. We are calling on the federal and state governments to embrace and encourage agriculture at all levels. Our company is always engaged and ready for any duty assigned to her in this regard to help our dear nation that is in dire need of this now. To put into practice what we advocate, we would request the federal and state governments to provide us land for afforestation and provide their expertise and we will provide the finance and management. We will also partner/assist the government to organize seminars at local/grassroots level, not in Abuja or state capitals, to create awareness among the citizens on the need for afforestation and its benefit to our environment.” She also stated that Sokka International was not driven by profitability alone but also by the desire to create employment through providing services to the people.
On his part, the Anambra State Commissioner of Environment, Dr Egbebuike, who was represented by the Director of Forestry in the Ministry, Dr S. I. Ezike, said that between 2009 and 2011, after 17 years of total neglect of forestry, Anambra State government has invested more than N20 million on afforestation alone. According to him, the investments between 2009 and 2010 were focused on production and subsequent distribution to various local government areas of the state, of more than five hundred thousand seedlings of Jatropha, a tree which is a rich source of bio-fuel and also helps to fight erosion. On the need to preserve the forests, the Commissioner emphasized production function, conservation and protective values of forests as well as their ability to create green jobs, like in China where forests have been established and are projected to create more than one million jobs over the next ten years.
In a related development, the representative of the SON, Mr Olesanmi, alerted the audience of the presence of many substandard products in Nigerian market today. He, however, assured all that Sokka International products have been tested and trusted. “SON is a service provider. We always wish to implement programmes on standardization. We are recommending the products of Sokka to you. Mind you, many importers are not sincere. When they know someone is doing what is good, they go behind him to import substandard goods,” he said.
During their presentation, the representatives of Carlton took time to demonstrate to the dealers and users of the various Carlton products how some of the products are used. They also informed that the packaging of Carlton chain saw has changed, but it might take a little while before the new package would be brought into Nigeria. Equally, they drew the attention of the customers to the change in the Carlton logo, while also hinting that Carlton may soon consider taking some customers to the USA where the products are manufactured. The representatives also revealed that Sokka International is the largest distributor of Carlton products worldwide.
Highlights of the occasion included the wood cutting/hewing competition and the award of prizes, which included motorcycles, power generators, industrial fans, air conditioners, gas cookers, deep freezers, etc, to winners of the competition as well as to exceptional buyers of Carlton and ODII products. Outstanding buyers of ODII products who received prizes included Tico Nigeria Enterprises, Abuja, Iloha Holdings Nigeria Limited, Enugu State, Ik Junior West Africa Limited, Betmore Originator Investment, Ibadan, Oyo State, JC Engine Workshop, Rivers State, Demirock General Merchandise, Lagos, and Chibyke International Agency. For outstanding buyers of Carlton products, Odiuche and Sons Ltd, Noguoma Enterprises, Enugu, Tinco Nig. Enterprises, Abuja, and Ark of Peace Investment (Nig) Ltd received prizes. C. N. Iloha Holdings (Nig) Ltd and Nwodo Enterprises (Nig) Ltd also won prizes as outstanding buyers of ODII at Nsukka, while prizes for outstanding buyers of ODII products, Abuja branch, went to Ignatius Obichukwu who won a giant 6KVA generator and Daniel Chime who won an industrial fan. For Lagos branch, Demirock General Merchandise won a giant industrial fan, Fryo Global won an industrial fan, while Chinonye won a gas cooker. Prizes were also given out to outstanding buyers in Ahaoda branch and Aba branch. The prize for the overall outstanding buyer of ODII, a motorcycle, went to Mr Bertram from Ibadan while that for outstanding buyer of Carlton, also a motorcycle, went to Mr Chijioke from Onitsha, who also won a motorcycle in the 2010 Customers’ Forum. There were also many consolation prizes.
Early callers who won Carlton prizes included Akonye Andrew, Oliver Osita, Peter Otukwu, Mrs Ifeoma Ezejiaku, Mrs Nkiru Umegbo, Evang. Ikechukwu Ogidi, Mr Ansetus Okonkwo, Chukwukadibia, Hon. Sunday Chukwuemeka, Mr Emmanuel Ozoemena, Mr Chris Dozzy, Mrs Enukwu, Oga JC, Festus Ogugua, Tennyson Egbo, Emmanuel Ugochukwu, Benson Obasi, Eric Ezeani, Ik Linus, and John Bosco Igwebuke.
For the wood cutting competition, the first prize went to Festus Ogugua, the second prize went to Mr Tennyson Egbo, while the third prize, an industrial fan, went to Mr Christopher Obichukwu.
Important personalities who graced the occasion included Akogu Ojo Olesanmi, who represented the Anambra State head of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, Mmadubuike Nwajagu; Managing Director of Radio Nigeria, Mgbakwu, Mrs Chinwe Ononye; chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Anambra State council, Mrs Tochukwu Udoji; Venerable Ezeanya, Hon Chief Sunny Obi, Engr Ajagu, Barr Obi Ibe, and so on.
The event in Ghana, which took place at Golden Tulip Hotel, Kumasi City, was hosted by Kumasi Agricultural Tools and Accessories (Ghana) Limited, KATA, a subsidiary of Sokka International. The event was preceded by market visits to dealers in Carlton, Odii and AET products in Accra and Kumasi. The market visits in Accra, which took place on November 7, had Geoff Peters, Horst Braun, Lorenzo Sechi, and Mrs Nneka Ezeemo on the team, while Miss Beatrice Aboagye, marketing manager of Parts Direct, Accra, an affiliate of KATA, served as the tour guide. Shops visited included Adusco Enterprise, Akyekyede Enterprise, Jetcom Enterprise, Akwado Enterprise, and BaDark Enterprise.
On November 8, the team visited Bori Bori Enterprise, Fevotism Enterprise, Joedaws Newest Company (GH) Limited, Serwaco Enterprise, and Koti-Boye Enterprise, among other shops, in Kumasi. They were joined by Mr Jernej Rejc, a representative of Hidria AET, and Mr John Asika, Manager of KATA, who served as a tour guide.
In her address at the Forum proper, which held on November 9, Mrs Ezeemo commended the efforts of the Ghanaian government in the area of forest preservation. She said: “The National Forest Plantation Development Programme, NFPDP, launched by President John Evans Atta Mills on January 20, 2010 is already on course to provide 30,000 jobs. It is also on course to restore 30,000 hectares of degraded forest reserves from last year when it was launched as part of measures to improve afforestation in the country. About GH¢66.8 million was budgeted for this programme. We commend this effort led by Mr. Francis Amoah and we are willing to collaborate with the government’s desire to reduce rural poverty and improve the quality of the environment by ensuring we always supply only original agricultural tools and accessories.” She further pledged KATA’s willingness to embark on the process of cultivation of trees, saying negotiations were already ongoing to acquire land for the project.
She therefore called on the government to assist KATA to organize seminars to create awareness among product users and the various Ghanaians communities, especially in regions that have acute environmental problems; to provide land for KATA to actively engage in afforestation and provide their expertise; and to consider more education on the need for operators to license their trade for better control.
Also making their presentation, the Carlton representatives, Horst Braun and Geoff Peters, explained to the numerous dealers and users present some of the changes they might see in Carlton products in the near future, especially the new Carlton logo, the new packaging of Carlton chain saws, the change of Carlton bars from black to grey, and the introduction of Carlton safety kits. They further explained that these changes do not in any way lower the quality of the company’s products, saying they have become necessary because other range of products would soon be added to the Carlton family. While informing their customers about a new Carlton production outlet in China, the representatives also made it clear that the fact that the products would be manufactured in China does not make them fake, nor does it in any way diminish the quality of the products. They also said their company has enjoyed and will continue to enjoy a wonderful partnership with Sokka International and urged the customers to always get their products from Sokka.
Jernej Recj of Hidria AET, who was on his first time visit to Africa, also made a presentation on behalf of his corporation.
Mr Emmanuel Adu Sarpong of Ghana’s Forestry Commission, in his presentation, while highlighting the contributions of forests to Ghana’s national economy, clearly distinguished between afforestation and re-forestation. He said that even though both terms are at times used interchangeably, from the professional viewpoint, re-forestation means putting back forests where forests existed before but had been tampered with, afforestation is the process of creating forests where there was none. He also highlighted the various initiatives of the government of Ghana in the area of forest preservation and the many laws guiding the felling of trees in Ghana. According to him, forest reserves make up about one-fifth of the entire land area of Ghana. Also, there are a total of 266 gazetted forests and 21 wildlife reserves in Ghana.
Speaking further, Mr Sarpong stated that deforestation is a major cause of climate change. He therefore called on individuals, groups and communities to complement the efforts of government by forming associations to plant their own trees for future harvesting as this can generate a lot of revenue to the economy as well as ensure the continued preservation of forests.
There was also a wood cutting competition at the end of which winners were awarded prizes including microwave ovens, DVD players, and so on. The criteria for judgment included speed, accuracy and technique. There were six competitors in all. At the end, the first prize went to Markus Agyapong, Dramani got the second prize, while the third prize went to Benjamin.
Prizes were also given to outstanding customers. Those who won prizes for outstanding buyers of Carlton products were Third Force (Kumasi) and Jetcom Enterprise (Accra). Prizes for outstanding buyers of ODII products in Kumasi went to John 14:14 Enterprise, Sirroco Enterprise and Tom Lee Business Enterprise, while Yaw Ntiamoah Enterprise, Jetcom Enterprise and Asanteba Enterprise won the prizes for Accra. The prizes included motorcycles and different sizes of flat screen televisions.
The Forum in Togo was held on November 11, 2011 at Palm Beach Hotel, Lome, and was organised and hosted by Orient Merchants Sarl, OMS, a subsidiary of Sokka International. Present at the occasion were the director of OMS, Mrs Nneka Ezeemo; representatives of Carlton, Horst Braun and Geoff Peters; Marketing Manager of OMS, Mrs Desire Mifetou; representatives from Togo Ports Authority; and customers from across Togo and its neighbourhood.
Mrs Nneka Ezeemo, in her welcome address, explained that the Forum was the company’s way of keeping in touch with dealers and availing them of “the opportunity of meeting with the manufacturers of the products they trade on for purposes of exchanging views on the products for improvement to ensure a better service.”
On why the company is taking the initiative towards re-forestation, she explained that since trees are felled in the forests everyday for man’s daily use such as building of houses, furniture in the homes and offices, and so on, there should be a corresponding calculated attempt by man to replant trees for tomorrow’s use. “Felling trees to use in our industries or other purposes does not constitute any danger so far as new ones are planted for tomorrow,” she stated, citing the example of former President of Togo, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who emphasised that once a tree is felled, another tree must be planted immediately as replacement, and therefore set aside June 1 every year as tree planting day for all Togolese.
She therefore requested the government of Togo to provide land for reforestation and provide the expertise and OMS would provide the finance and management. She also promised that the company would do everything within its power to ensure that “the nation’s environment is kept secure from the hazards of felling trees such as erosion, green house emission, flooding, etc.”
As in Nigeria and Ghana, the Carlton representatives made a presentation to the dealers, which was followed by question and answer session. Customers used that opportunity to express their concerns over issues like quality of products, fake products in the market, among others. In his response, Geoff Peters assured that producers and dealers of fake Carlton products were being apprehended and their factories and shops closed down. He said that already, 3 factories and 3 shops had been shut down in Onitsha, Nigeria. He said that Carlton was committed to quality, while Mrs Ezeemo added that the only way customers could run away from fake products and be guaranteed of the quality of the products they buy was to come to OMS.
There was no wood cutting competition, and there were no market visits. Prizes, which included television sets, fans, etc, were given out to outstanding customers. Godwin Apochi won the Carlton prize; William Nweze, Hilary Ugwuoke and Kelechi Ibeabuchi won ODII prizes; while consolation prizes went to Emmanuel Ugwuoke, Chinwe Ibezimako, Cyril Eze and Ugo-God (from Benin).
in her vote of thanks on behalf of OMS, Mrs Desire Mifetou, who spoke to the audience in her native language, thanked the customers for finding time to attend the forum, in spite of their tight schedules, and promised that OMS will continue to guarantee customers’ satisfaction.
Speaking to Nigerian OrientNews at the end of the forum, Mr Geoff Peters observed that the 2011 Customers’ Forum was in many ways bigger than the one of last year. “The audience in Onitsha was more than 420 people; we had about 150 people in Kumasi, Ghana; and in Togo here we had over 60 people, about double the number that attended that of last year. We are excited about the progress we have made in the market and the continued acceptance of our products. And we guarantee our customers that the Carlton brand is ongoing,” he concluded.