Akabogu-Chinwuba: Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire Can Drive W’African Economy

0

In this interview, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, Mrs. Ifeoma Akabogu-Chinwuba, spoke on the first made in Nigeria Trade Fair being organised by the embassy in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and what both countries will benefit from the exhibition. Excerpts:

What informed this first made in Nigeria exhibition or Trade Fair being organised in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire from September this year?
The Nigeria Embassy Abidjan is responding to President Buhari’s clarion call to diversify our economy and seek other sources of revenue to increase our national income. We are facilitating the organisation of this Nigerian fair, to draw attention to the Nigerian businesses, to bring Nigerian economic operators to expand into Côte d’Ivoire.

Why is the Nigerian Embassy Côte d’Ivoire particularly interested in organising this important trade fair?
Côte d’Ivoire is the foremost Francophone economy and the second largest economy in our sub-region after Nigeria. Together, the two constitute the engine of economic growth in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). We think there are mutually beneficial gains to be made by bringing operators in the two economies closer together, and integrating our markets.

Who are your co-partners in the organization of this trade fair?
There is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that is partnering with the Nigeria Embassy to organise the Fair. It is called the Socio-Cultural Integration of African Youths Organisation (SCIAYO) for short and the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) Côte d’Ivoire. We are inviting interested individual and corporate entities to partner with us to make this maiden outing a huge success.

Considering the theme of the Trade Fair: “Exploiting Commercial Potentials for a Durable Economy,” what are the expectations from this Fair?
At the end of the Fair, we would want economic operators in Côte d’Ivoire to source what they can from Nigeria and vice versa. Instead of going outside the continent, let us engage in inter-African trade with each other in the spirit of South-South cooperation. Moreover, there should be greater exchange of ideas, comparison of notes on best practices. Nigerians could learn from Côte d’Ivoire, what has made it an agricultural power in order to accentuate our performance in that sector.

Are you saying that there are many business opportunities for Nigerian businessmen and investors in Côte d’Ivoire? Could you be more specific on such business opportunities?
It depends on your sector of operation. Take tourism for instance; there is no reason why Ivorians and the other nationalities that live in Côte d’Ivoire (Lebanese, Moroccan, French, Senegalese etc) cannot travel to Nigeria’s holiday resorts and carnivals. We have them aplenty: Obudu, Ikogosi Warm Springs, Zuma Rock, Olumo Rock etc. We need to sensitise the Ivorian public, let them know that these destinations exist. Tour operators could propose packages.

We already have daily flights from Abuja and Lagos to Abidjan. We have luxury buses plying the route. Why are there not more Tourist Packages between the two countries?
What of English books? There is a huge demand for Nigerian titles. Booksellers will have a field day because Côte d’Ivoire is Francophone and there is a dearth of English books or people eager to learn this all-important international language.

What of real estate? There are over two million Nigerians in Côte d’Ivoire including international civil servants in African Development Bank (AFDB), Bayer, Nestle’, United Nations (UN) agencies etc. They could be looking to buy a dwelling place in Nigeria. So estate developers can come and show the options available. Nigerians seeking to buy holiday homes outside the motherland can invest here instead of going far where entry visa is an issue.

What of Universities? Come rent a stand at the Fair. Many young Nigerians want to further their education at home. Come and answer their enquiries.
We are to think outside the box now, to examine non-traditional, non-oil sources of revenue. Come over and explore the possibility of exchanges here.
Furthermore, Nigeria produces vehicles, spare parts, machinery, plastics, cosmetics etc. These could find users in Côte d’Ivoire.

Who is eligible to participate in this trade fair?
Everyone is invited to visit either as an exhibitor or as an enquirer. You have something to sell? Bring it. You want the publicity provided by the Fair. Companies that are based in Côte d’Ivoire but seeking distributors in Nigeria will be there as well. We expect a myriad of visitors. Air Peace Airline will there. Newspapers will also be there to take your advertisements and publicise your products and services in the two countries.

What entitles one to participate in the trade fair? Are prospective attendees expected to formally register in order to attend the trade fair?
If you want to rent a stand, you will need to register. You could also go a step further by sponsoring so that your logo or message could feature in the Fair’s brochures. Visitors, buyers enter free.

Considering that the Nigerian economy has now slipped into recession, would participation in the trade fair by the Nigerian public and private sectors significantly contribute to the improvement of the Nigerian economy?
First, let me say that I do not think that the Nigerian economy has slipped into recession. It may be experiencing some hiccups and upsets. It will pick up again because it has been known to be resilient. In as much as participation will attract more visibility and more consumers of their products, we stand to gain from the Fair and improve our economic statistics.

Who else can benefit from this trade fair?
If you have something to sell to the Ivorian public, come to the Fair. If you are a farmer, you want to learn about the cocoa, Palm, cashew, Banana export from the Ivorian farmers, come. If you want to invest in farming, come, we shall introduce you to operators in the produce sector so you compare notes. We have B2B sessions where we advise potential investors who want to enter the Côte d’Ivoire market.

Can you name of some of the countries and companies expected to participate in this trade fair?
We have Reliable Steel based in Onitsha, Arik Air, Diamond Bank, MIXTA Africa, Gandour Cosmetics, etc. They are so many. More are still registering. The good news is that we have enough space to accommodate all interested parties.

The Nigeria Embassy in Abidjan is at your disposal to educate you, answer your questions and help you navigate into the Côte d’Ivoire market. Please come in your numbers. Take advantage of this opportunity. I should point out that the Nigeria Embassy has been taking part in trade fairs in Abidjan, all in the spirit of Economic Diplomacy. In March, we mobilised Nigerian businesses in Côte d’Ivoire to come together and collectively rent a Nigeria Stand.

The various Nigerian banks and companies were active- Diamond Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, United Bank for Africa, Arik Air, Dangote Group, etc. Nigerian SMEs were given space free of charge to exhibit. In April, the embassy also took a stand at the Abidjan International Book Fair where we exposed over one hundred books written by Nigerian authors.

Nigerians have won laurels internationally and locally so there is a treasure house of our books waiting to be discovered by Francophone bibliophiles. I could go on and on. The parting shot is: let us support President Buhari’s drive to diversify our economy. It is imperative now. Let each in his way, contribute to that effort. Let us support one another’s initiatives in this regard. From that perspective, we are waiting for you all at the Nigeria Fair, Abidjan, 2-6 September, 2016.