Photograph — Health News Nigeria

In February, the Nigerian Senate began a holistic probe into the state of manufacturing and importation of needles and syringes into the country. Two months later, the Senate asked the federal government to implement a policy that will ensure all government-funded hospitals and health centres in the country procure their needles and syringes from local manufacturers. The reason for this is three-pronged; 

  1. To encourage local manufacturing of needles and syringes,
  2. To stop the loss of foreign exchange, and
  3. To protect the lives of Nigerians. 

Nigeria’s syringe manufacturing industry is a developing sub-sector with ample economic potential. According to minutes from the Senate hearing in April, investment in the sector is estimated to be about N64 billion with a potential local market value of about N100 billion and a direct employment opportunity for 3000 Nigerians. 

It is also estimated that over a billion unit of syringes and needles are imported into Nigeria yearly, resulting in the loss of huge foreign exchange to the tune of $150 million per annum. Worse still, these imported needles and syringes are often substandard and recycled, putting the health and lives of Nigerians at risk.

To change this narrative, Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Company (JSM) was established in Akwa Ibom in 2017. Since its establishment, JSM has grown to become the largest manufacturer of disposable syringes in Africa, producing about 1.5 million syringes daily with ultra-modern technology. And boasting a market reach beyond Nigeria. 

In an exclusive interview with Ventures Africa, Mr. Akin Oyediran, the Managing Director of JSM, talks about JSM’s progress so far while buttressing the company’s impact on the economy of the state and country.

What prompted the establishment of  JSM in Nigeria?

The investors saw an opportunity in the market; the fact remains that in Nigeria we use a lot of syringes and we didn’t have good world-class local manufacturing of syringes, so the investor decided to invest in that. The mission is to provide good healthcare products in the health system as opposed to cheap imports from China. 

As a company, how would you describe your journey so far?

The journey so far has been good, and it’s interesting because, like any other marketplace, there are challenges. Based on the fact that we are in Nigeria and we are situated in Akwa Ibom, we have unique challenges but they are things we can work over and find solutions for. 

One of the issues we had to deal with initially was power, but we finally have public power, and we will also be using gas as a backup soon. Also, there was an issue with the availability of raw materials locally. However, we have created a supply chain to make sure we get our raw materials on time. For instance, we empowered some printers to ensure we get boxes and cartons when we need them. 

So, we are just working with different companies, working around the logistics to make sure our products move. Bottom line – there are problems and solutions. 


In terms of factory location, why Akwa- Ibom and not Lagos or Abuja as is often the case?

I always tell people, Akwa-Ibom is the best-kept secret in Nigeria right now. And the reason is that logistically, it makes sense. First, our proximity to the Port-Harcourt port makes it easy for us to import or export. I can clear my containers from Onne and get them to my factory in three days. Meanwhile, if I was in Lagos, it would take me at least six weeks to get my containers. 

Secondly, it is easier to distribute our products all over the country from Akwa-Ibom than from Lagos. The logistics are much better and faster. Thirdly, the road network is fantastic here in Akwa Ibom. You can move in and out of the southeast and towards the north very quickly. 

The quality of people here is great. People here are hardworking and the cost of labour is cheaper here compared to Lagos. The cost of living is also lower. The cost of land is lower. The state government has also created an enabling environment for us to operate here. We have several concessions granted by the government. The governor, Dr. Udom Emmanuel, has created an enabling environment for investors to do business in Akwa Ibom.

There is no doubt that Lagos has a market place but for a product that we market throughout Nigeria and Africa, the logistics do not make sense for us to be in Lagos. I think the question should be why not Akwa Ibom? 

What countries do you export your syringes to?

We have gotten our Ghana FDA, which is the Ghanaian equivalent of Nigeria’s NAFDAC and also America’s FDA. So we ship to Accra, Ghana by sea, and then from there to the rest of West Africa with trucks. Our products have been widely accepted, and we are excited to see some government hospitals using them. Currently, we are working on getting our CE certification so that we can export to Europe. That is our next goal.


Given the issue of the importation of recycled syringes in Nigeria, what will you say is the attitude of the government towards the health sector?

As we all know, the health sector has its challenges and the only way to take care of these challenges is for each segment within the health sector to fix itself, just like we have taken up the challenge to ensure the provision of quality syringes in the marketplace. 

We are working with the federal government, and the Senate has told the government to ban syringes from coming into the country. Since we already have a world-class syringe manufacturing company, why should we continue to allow the importation of inferior products into Nigeria? So these are different ways of taking care of the problems in the health sector. Let each division tackle its issues. NAFDAC and SON are playing a very important role in making sure that the products available in the market are quality products. 

There is no doubt that we have good quality doctors, we just have to ensure that they are taken care of. The federal government should increase the amount of budget for the health sector because when you compare us with other countries in the world, the percentage of our national budget for health care is far lower than everybody else, so we need to improve that. 

The government is doing its best. There is a National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) that companies can sign on to. Improving the health sector will take a while, but improvements are happening. COVID has shown that we can’t always fly out of the country if there is a problem, so we need to improve things here.

People have innovative, problem-solving ideas in this country, but the issue is often a lack of finance to execute them. How were funds raised to set up JSM?

We have foreign investors. It is part of Dr. Udom Emmanuel’s initiative to get foreign investors to invest in Nigeria. They did and invested in us, which is the syringe factory. They also invested in a flour mill. There is another group of investors getting ready to invest in a fertilizer factory. Foreign investors are looking for opportunities here in Africa, you just have to be able to reach out to them, and let the government create an enabling environment for the investors. 


Are there regulations in the health sector that are not business-friendly? 

Because of the nature of the health sector, dealing with health and peoples’ lives, the sector is highly regulated. As a company, we are used to working with very strict regulations and at the end of the day, these regulations are there to protect the citizenry of the country. We have groups like the Nigeria Medical Association that are doing a fantastic job in trying to ensure they regulate the quality of drugs and other medical products. We also have NAFDAC doing a great job, although it is quite challenging for them.

Nigeria itself is a big challenge, but so is every other developing country in the world. We look at these challenges and just come up with solutions. You can’t grow a country or company by worrying about the problems, you need to come up with solutions to make your country or company work and that is what we have been doing.

What is the strength of your labour force? And what economic impact does JSM have in Akwa Ibom and Nigeria? 

Currently, we have about 209 employees in the company. When we started, we had about 28 expatriates, now we have about two expatriates because we have trained Nigerians to do the work. Our labour force is very young; out of our seven senior managers, five of them are below the age of 30. Our workforce is dominated by young women who are doing a fantastic job. 70 percent of our employees are from Akwa Ibom and the other 30 percent are from other parts of Nigeria. 

As for the economic impact on the community, by the time our people get paid, they spend the money locally and that goes into the economy here. Concerning our market reach, we have good market penetration in Nigeria, and as I mentioned earlier, our products have also gotten to Ghana and Mali. We are the largest syringe manufacturing company in Africa and that makes us unique.


You just mentioned gender parity at JSM, was it intentional or by chance?

I worked in the US for 27 years in top management in technology. Working in technology means working with young people, so by the time I took over Jubilee Syringe and started hiring and replacing expatriates, it was just natural to go towards young people and it just happened that a lot of young, smart women applied and went through our training. We sent some people to Turkey for training. 

I will say it did not happen by chance, it happened because of the quality of women we have in the labour force in Nigeria. We have a calibre of good quality women in our labour force so if a company does not discriminate against women, they will find that it is just easy to find smart women. Let us just say what a man can do, a woman can do better. 

Other than syringes, do you have plans to start manufacturing other medical equipment in the nearest future?

Yes, before the end of the year we should have about four new products including nose masks, infusion sets, surgical gloves and single needles. 

What other plans do you have?

Well, we plan to introduce four products before the end of the year and another four products in 2022. As for market reach, we intend to expand our market and continue to grow our business in terms of the quality of our employees. We will continue to penetrate the Nigerian market, letting people know about our products and getting hospitals and medical providers to use these products. We will also continue to maintain and improve on the world-class quality products we are producing and at some point start exporting to Europe. 

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