Khaled El Dokani, the country Chief Executive Officer of Lafarge Africa in Nigeria, has apologised for the company’s role in admitting the deadly coronavirus into Nigeria.
Mr El Dokani made the comment during a chat with Channels Television on Wednesday after a visit to the Nigeria Stock Exchange in Lagos. The television station aired the interview Thursday.
Nigeria recorded its first case of coronavirus after an Italian who arrived the country tested positive to the virus, the Federal Ministry of Health said last week. The Italian citizen entered Nigeria on February 25 from Milan, Italy, for a brief business visit. He fell ill on February 26 and was transferred to Lagos State Biosecurity Facilities for isolation and testing.
The Italian had earlier visited Ewekoro community in Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State for a business transaction with Lafarge.
Since the development was reported across the media, the company has been in the news and across social media with attendant effect on its corporate image and stock prices.
But Mr ElDokani told Channels Television that the company’s operation is not really affected by the development.
“Frankly speaking,” he said, “the company is not going through any low periods. We are doing great. The intention is to bring it one step forward. So we are looking at our teams and strengthening our strategy with the support of our board members and teams.
To be honest, one of the things that has proven the resilience of Lafarge Africa PLC is the level of awareness and anticipation of our people that have been training for months and months since the coronavirus came out. And this is one of the things that shows the resilience of the company. We are very well equipped to meet such surprises. The reaction of our team on the ground and the way they reacted, the way they coordinated with our states, especially in Ogun and Lagos, was extremely prompt; it was very well appreciated.
“And I would take this opportunity to thank the Governors of Ogun and Lagos for their participation, their fast reaction and the very, very great achievement they have made to contain the situation and take the necessary precautions.
Asked about the possible ways the development has affected the company’s manpower, the Lafarge boss explained that the organization is big enough to weather the storm.
“We are a big company, a big organisation, we have a lot of resources. However, the health and safety of our employees come as a top priority. And if it is needed to sacrifice some of our results to make sure that our people are safe and healthy, this is what we are going to do. However, the current situation – and I have contact with each and every person who has been quarantined in one-and-one phone calls, they are all in very good health, the morale is high, they’ve got their phones with them, they are running the business from where they are.”
The Lafarge boss, however, apologised for the company’s role in the spread of the virus into Nigeria.
“I look forward to overcome this issue, which is unfortunate for all of us, and we apologise for any inconvenience that has been caused to anybody,” he said.
Commenting on whether the company’s plant was shut and if it would be re-opened, he explained that the major parts of the backlash the company faced came from social media misinformation, adding that the plant is “up and running.”
He said: “The plant is up and running, it has not been closed. We have our trucks shipping our cement, so this is part of the social media rumours or news which did not take place. We had visitors from the honourable Commissioner of Health, the World Health Organisation, they visited the plant and they commended each and every step we have taken so far.”
Stumbling share prices
On Monday, heavy price losses suffered by many highly capitalised stocks on the equities sector of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) dragged the index further by 1.53 per cent.
Specifically, at the close of trading on Monday, the All Share Index (ASI) fell by 399.89 points or 1.53 per cent to 25,816.57 points.
Accordingly, investors lost N209 billion in value as market capitalisation declined to N13.449 trillion, amid fear over the impact of the virus on the global economy.
The downturn was impacted by losses recorded in medium and large capitalised stocks, amongst which was Lafarge. The cement company (Lafarge) and Nestlé Nigeria, PZ Cussons Nigeria and Unilever Nigeria led the losers’ chart by 10 per cent each, to close at N13.95, N1,017, N4.05 and 13.50, per share, respectively.
But Mr ElDokani in his reaction dismissed insinuations that the stumbling share prices had anything to do with the performance of the company and negative press suffered since the development dominated news media.
He said: “Very soon we are issuing our year end result, which is very positive, very encouraging. We will restore the trust over our customers. I believe the drop in the share price has nothing to do with Lafarge Africa’s performance as such but it’s more of a global recession that people would be more cautious in trading.
“I will really not link the two situations together; it’s a general trend of the market which we all look forward that it’d recover very soon.”