Akinlabi: Knowledge’ll Drive Nigeria’s Economic Future

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With International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently downgrading its 2019 forecast of improvement in Nigerian economy by 2 percentage points, it has become expedient that strong measures are put in place to boost small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and big corporates alike that rely on the nation’s resources to create wealth and value. On January 31, 2019, top business experts and bigwigs drawn from the corporate sector will gather to interact with business executives and entrepreneurs at the Vantage Forum organised by The Elevation Church (TEC), a fast-rising interdenominational Christian ministry in Lagos. The high-profile business summit themed ‘2019 & Beyond: Stimulating National Prosperity’ is geared towards analysing Nigeria’s economic and political terrains. In this interview with Eromosele Abiodun, Convener of Vantage Forum and Lead Pastor of The Elevation Church, Godman Akinlabi, speaks on why access to the right kind of information is key to business success while stating the reason TEC has consistently organised the free economic and business outlook event for five years running.

 

Based on your knowledge of business strategy and the economy, how would you describe the realities of doing business in Nigeria?

There are many reports to refer to that clearly give ideas about what doing business in Nigeria feels like. One of such is the World Bank Ease of Doing Business 2019 report where Nigeria ranked 146 out of 190 nations. The truth is that our economy as a nation is far from where it needs to be, but we are growing slowly and steadily. Over the years, people have become more aware and have come to realise that to build a prosperous nation, we must be willing to create wealth individually. Hence, we have more people embracing entrepreneurship and trying to solve problems with ingenuity rather than complaining and waiting on the government. So, yes, doing business in Nigeria may be tough looking at the current situation, however, when you look beyond that, you begin to see immense opportunities because there are a lot of problems to solve.

A new report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) shows that Ghana has recently upstaged Nigeria as number one FDI destination in Africa. What can Nigeria do to get back to the first place?

Foreign direct investment only increase when the investment climate in a country favours influx of investors. We need to look inward to fix our domestic encumbrances that prevent foreign businesses from integrating with Nigerian companies. According to the World Bank, business opportunities, as reflected in the size and growth potential of markets, are the most powerful drivers of foreign direct investment, but beyond this, the climate must be investor friendly. There are a lot of business opportunities in Nigeria, but these opportunities do not always translate into gains for investors because of lack of efficiency in our operations and bureaucracy. We need to look at critical aspects such as incentives, regulations and infrastructure to boost FDI.

As a body of Christ, what roles are you playing at TEC to address some of these challenges

Well, we have a mandate to make greatness common, and when we say ‘greatness’, it is multifaceted, it transcends the spiritual. Through the Elevation Church and the Pistis Foundation, a non-profit social intervention organisation, we have programmes targeted at improving businesses, especially the small and medium-scale enterprises.

Annually, we organise the Vantage Forum, a bespoke business outlook event and entrepreneurial advancement programme, where industry leaders come to discuss trends and strategies to excel in business with entrepreneurs and business executives. This year it will feature Toyin Sanni, CEO, Emerging Africa Capital Group; Femi Adeoti, MD/CEO African Operations, Inlaks Limited; Opuiyo Oforiokuma, MD/CEO, ARM-Harith Infrastructure Investment Ltd; and Dr. Biodun Adedipe; Economist and Chief Consultant, BAA Consults Ltd.

How do you think the upcoming elections will affect business and how can business leaders effectively manage the outcomes?

Election comes with uncertainties. Things can swing either ways and this makes potential investors and organisations delay some decision making until they are sure about who has won the election and the policy thrust of the administration. Therefore, we expect that things will be a bit slow until after the swearing-in. That said, Vantage Forum will give participants insights into projections on trends that they can leverage in their businesses and careers such that the impact on delayed decisions or policies are not adverse on them.

What key policy measures must be implemented to enable businesses thrive in the country?

There are so many. Presently, Nigeria is one of the toughest places to do business in the world, and not for lack of ideas or potential customers. Let’s take the issue of multiple taxation for example – many businesses are over-taxed or taxed more than once, this often affects the bottom line and makes doing business even harder. Government also needs to sort out our electricity problem, if there is stable power supply, many Nigerian businesses will do better, have better processes and save a lot on running costs.

Can you shed more light on what the Vantage Forum is all about?

Vantage Forum is an annual business and economic outlook initiative of The Elevation Church focused on empowering individuals to achieve the highest levels of distinction in their businesses and careers through provision of practical, actionable information. The 2019 edition will hold on Thursday 31st of January at the Pistis Conference Centre, Lekki by 9AM.

Vantage Forum is our contribution to corporate Nigeria, so, it is free. However, registration is mandatory to adequately plan for everyone. Interested participants can register on our website

We believe in doing whatever we do excellently. As such, we are positioning Vantage Forum as the annual go-to resource forum for business persons to gain deeper insight and mapping solutions that will greatly improve their businesses and the lives of the people they serve. 

The wealth of a country is in its people. Vantage Forum is focused on business development. We have realised that for the average Nigerian to lead a better life, the economy of the country must be good enough to support its citizens. Now what makes up this economy are clusters of enterprises that need to do well in order to impact the economy of the nation; Vantage Forum provides a platform for business people to access relevant knowledge that will grow their businesses such that the ripple effect can impact Nigeria as a nation.

Theme for this edition is ‘2019 and Beyond: Stimulating National Prosperity’. In your opinion, what can we do in politics and business to stimulate national prosperity, going forward?

Like I mentioned earlier, 2019 is an election year. Many Nigerians are tired of the same old cycle and there are ongoing discussions about getting the right people into office. However, talk alone isn’t enough. We all have a civic responsibility to cast our votes for candidates who have a vision to make our states and country a better place for citizens and businesses to thrive; so we must put in the effort to get our permanent voters’ cards to be able to cast our votes and also go out on the election days to vote our preferred candidates.

When the right people are in public office, they can engage experts to come up with sound policies that are relevant to our unique terrain and that can be realistically implemented. Political, social, technological, and economic policies all add up in stimulating national prosperity.

What is the rationale behind organising Vantage Forum and why is a church doing this?

Vantage Forum started in 2014 when it became clear that there was a knowledge gap between the policy makers, economists and those who are actually in business. We saw the need for a business outlook event that focused on the analysis of the economic and political terrain with a view to giving businesspersons a roadmap to run with for the year. It is hard to win a race when you are running blind. 

However, the kind of information one would get at a business event of this nature was typically the exclusive preserve of persons belonging to certain organisations or clubs that would not readily share such insight with the general public. As a result, a good number of SMEs did not have access to the kind of information that would take their businesses to the next level. I strongly believe that knowledge should never be hoarded; and with my team of leaders, we took on the challenge to plug this knowledge gap, and Vantage Forum was born. 

The Forum also provides an opportunity for a diversity convergence.  Past attendees have been from a broad spectrum of the society, from different market segments and varied religious persuasions. Regardless of the fact that a church organises it, Vantage Forum is primarily a knowledge resource that can equip Nigeria’s citizenry and contribute to the wealth and development of our nation.

And as to why the church is involved with an economic and business event; the church cannot be an ostrich in the face of obvious suffering. We are the salt of the earth and light of the world and this does not apply to spiritual existence alone. We must be positioned to be solution providers. 

What should attendees expect?

Attendees should expect to learn from industry experts and distinguished speakers who would be sharing from their wealth of experience on economics, finance, infrastructure, investments and so on.

There would also be a plenary session during which attendees can ask questions peculiar to their own businesses or industries and get expert opinions on such. Apart from these, Vantage Forum gives business owners and corporate executives opportunities to network and forge potential partnerships and connections.

Kindly give us a bit of your background? 

am Godman Akinlabi, the Lead Pastor of The Elevation Church. I have been a pastor for over 20 years, I am an author, a public speaker and a trained engineer. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Mining Engineering from the Federal University of Technology, Akure; a Master’s degree in International Law and Diplomacy from the University of Lagos and an MBA from Manchester Business School.