The President, Nigerian British Chambers of Commerce, Mr. Akinola Olawore, in this interview speaks on ways to attract more foreign investments into the country. He also says the Chamber’s forthcoming trade mission to the United Kingdom is aimed at promoting business and investment opportunities between Nigeria and the UK, whilst also offering delegates the opportunity to showcase their products and services to the UK market. Hamid Ayodeji presents the excerpts:
Can you tell us what your planned trade mission to the United Kingdom is all about?
Our main mandate is to facilitate trade between Nigeria and the United Kingdom and one of the major strategies to doing that is organising trade missions both in and out of the country. Thus, in June we have another trade mission slated. The importance of trade mission is for people to have an insight into Nigeria’s economy and at the same time for businesses to meet their counterpart abroad. We are now in a global world, thanks to the enhancement of technology and now Africa is the new frontier for investment, and you cannot talk about Africa without talking about Nigeria which is why there has been a lot of noise about the Brexit movement. So, between 10th and 14th of June, we would be in the UK hosting the ‘Opportunity Nigeria’ conference. We would also attend the London Tech Week, and at that conference we would have the Chief Economist for Africa in the Middle East, Standard Chartered Bank, Razia Khan and the Chief Economist for PwC Nigeria and others. In the last three to four years, we have had the trade volume between Nigeria and the UK increase between 30 percent year-on-year and we are glad to be part of this success story.
What can the government do enhance economic growth in Nigeria?
We have had a lot of Executive Orders which tries to tie all the organs of government together to make sure they are working together and speaking the same language. Unfortunately, if one organ is making things easy and the other is making things difficult, it creates problems for everyone. Yes, we need taxes to run a government, we need taxes to generate revenue, but if you telling people to pay tax but the taxing method is not transparent it does not go well with the business owners and this is one of the challenges business owners have been facing. Businesses have been complaining about this and we have had to intervene at a couple of times. In terms of emerging markets, Africa is the frontier for emerging markets because we have a lot of challenges in Africa and where ever there are challenges, that is where you have opportunities for business. Part of what our members would be doing is identifying what sector they are focused on and what they can do to help that sector grow. When people see markets, it helps them identify what they can input into the market.
What sectors do you see the most investment opportunities for Nigerian entrepreneurs?
As at now, where I see more focus is in the IT and agricultural sectors from external investors that are MSMEs and not necessarily those that want to play in the large energy space.
How is the Chamber involved in initiatives to attract and promote business investment in the country?
Part of the initiatives my office has put in place is to grow investment in Nigeria. Yearly, we have an inward and outward mission. We have realised it is important for businesses to meet one-on-one and transact which is one of the reasons for our mission strategies. Secondly, we also carry the message from here to our other counterparts and that is why the chamber belongs to the British Chambers of Commerce, which is about 54 chambers, has strong network, and from that network their minds are settled from which people are able to reach out to us for enquiries about business opportunities in Nigeria and its economy. So, it is like they know they have a trusted partner that gives trusted and accurate information which gives them the confidence to bring business into the country. Also we have erected a building which is going to have an incubator centre that helps businesses settle down before finding their feet in the country.
Do you foresee the US and China trade war impacting Nigeria?
If we look at the trade war between the United States and China, i think it depends on how we play our diplomatic card and also when there are such things, countries like Nigeria should be the one that benefits because everyone would have to look for a new partner to boost your economy and trade with, so we just need to keep our eyes and ears open, ensuring we are not taking the short end of the stake. In terms of the finances, US can decide not to deal with countries that trade with China. So, I also believe we can adopt the methods Europe uses to work around it so as to experience economic growth rather than suffering for it.
What channels have your Chamber put in place to get feedback from governments, organisations and clients?
One of our two major pipelines we have for feedback is the High Commission. We let them know as we are leaving the country and also when we are coming back we go there to be de-briefed giving them information about everything that has happened. The second is the Nigeria Investment Promotion Council (NIPC), because they are in charge of investment promotion and we have a working relationship with them. We interact with them and sometime leverage on their resources and influence to intervene for those who need to acquire visa to come to Nigeria. Generally, we have had feedback from some of our clients and members regarding reforms; we have had to make advocacy calls on some of the organisations and this calls have been helpful in terms of achieving our goals mostly. We have an advocacy group that has the main goal of going behind the scenes working with the likes of NAFDAC.
How can the financial sector and the government work together to develop the industrial sector of the country?
I think the Central Bank of Nigeria has been busy with a lot of things; there has been a lot of intervention in the aviation, power, manufacturing sectors and others. What we also need to look at is how we can create critical groups that help people to access these funds and that is what we have taken on board organising people to take advantage of the intervention funds that are available.
What are your expectations for the Nigerian economy in 2019?
Nigeria is to experience economic growth because we are making a lot of changes. We have seen the mistakes we have made in our power sector; we know it is not all about throwing money into it. It is a matter of seeing what is wrong and making it right.
What are your thoughts on the belief by some people that technology would be a threat to human resources in the nearest future?
When we talk about technology, I see it as another avenue to create employment. In the United States, they invested heavily and paid attention to IT sector and now their economy has benefited from it. Evolution is inevitable, change and growth are ever constant, so if you see IT as a threat to the economy based on the fear that it reduces employment of manpower you are wrong. If as a business or nation you are not ready to catch up with technological advancement you would go into extinction. Technological does not drive itself, it still needs manpower to be operated and also to function. Technology drives logistics and gives you faster and reliable access to things and information.