‘Trade Fair Will Fast Track Economic Growth’

Babatunde Ruwase is the Chairman of the Trade Promotion Board at the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI). In an exclusive interview with FinIntell, Mr. Ruwase, who is also a Vice President at the LCCI, shed some light on the Chamber’s choice of the 2013 trade fair’s theme –Harnessing Trade Potentials for an Inclusive Economy; and what participants at this year’s fair stand to benefit.

The 2013 Lagos International Trade Fair’s theme is “Harnessing Trade Potentials for an Inclusive Economy.” Could you tell us why the LCCI chose the theme for this year, which is its 27th edition?
One of the major shortcomings of the Nigerian economy is the disconnection between economic growth and the welfare of citizens. So, the 2013 Lagos International Trade Fair is aimed at addressing the disconnection between the country’s economic growth and the welfare of its citizens. We want to make people see that there are ways that this malaise can be remedied. The import of an inclusive economy is the value of indigenous participation and sectoral linkages. These are the channels through which the benefits of growth could be transmitted to improve the well being of the citizens. A country that is prosperous must reflect that prosperity in its citizenry.

The Chamber intends to showcase the various opportunities for trade, investment and industry in the Nigeria economy, with a view to promoting greater integration and synergy between players in the various sectors to boost Nigeria’s economic and social development.

The fair would provide a platform where entrepreneurs could showcase their goods and services as well as interact with stakeholders from different sectors of the economy. It is our belief that with a more cohesive integration and interaction between all sectors of the Nigerian economy, we will be able to fast track our nation’s quest for sustainable economic development and affirm the recognition of Nigeria as a fast growing economy with various investment potentials and opportunities.

With the choice of the theme, we are also sensitising the policy makers to the importance of domestic production and citizen participation. The fair will focus on the promotion and development of indigenous and international trade to increase the volume of trade and boost activities of industrialisation, which we believe, is critical to the achievement of a sustainable economic transformation.

Apart from the trade fair strategic approach, how does the LCCI intend to continue the promotion of an inclusive economy?
The LCCI also does a lot of advocacy. Quarterly, we conduct presidential briefings. We also issue press releases on matters of national and economic importance. These are some of the means in which we draw government’s attention. As operators, business owners and a group that is representing businesses in Lagos, and by extension, Nigeria, we make our perceptions known to the government regularly. And from time to time too, they come up with their own understanding of the problem.

Apart from advocacy, we develop capacity for businesses. Many businesses, particularly the small and medium enterprises, do not have sufficient capacity to move their trades to the next level. They have challenges getting the right information for business development. So, we provide management training, marketing, financial planning, succession planning, etc at highly discounted fee, both for members and non-members.

Also, occasionally, we receive trade missions from abroad. Whenever foreign investors come to Nigeria, they appreciate the fact that there are a lot of opportunities here. However, because Nigeria has serious perception problem, in terms of credibility and integrity issues with our citizens, most foreign investors don’t know who to talk to. They are always very cautious. That is why they are more comfortable dealing with the LCCI as an institution. Whenever they want to visit, they tell us and we mobilise relevant companies to discuss with them. Through that means, they have more confidence relating with us. Quite a number of our members and foreign investors have benefited from such relationships.

We also organise seminars and symposiums for our members. We have members that cut-across virtually all sectors of the economy, and this necessitates the need for intersectoral relationships. So, we provide networking platforms for them because there is a lot of value in networking.

With the continued recognition of the role of the private sector in the nation’s economic development and the move by the Nigerian government to transform the nation’s economy, we use different platforms to support government concerted efforts and provide avenues for beneficial business relationships.

How cordial is the LCCI’s relationship with the government? And do they take your suggestions into action?
Our rapport with the government has always been cordial. But whether you suggest a thing and they do it is a different thing. If we make suggestions and they don’t implement them, they will always see the resultant effects when they are out of government.

When you are in government, you are sort of immune from the general problems because solutions are created for you. You have people to clear the roads for you with siren. You also have access to limitless funding. Those in government have the ways and means. Whereas, business operators are limited to whatever fund is available in their accounts.

The truth is that, what we use to run governance alone is a lot of problems for us; not just at the federal level, but also at the state and local government levels. For instance, if you look at the presidency, the number of aircrafts in its fleet is enough to form a company. Some operational airlines in the country don’t even have up to what the presidency has. And this is a country where people can barely eat.

It is when people are out of government that they realise the reality of the problems we have been clamouring about. Those who have been in government even feel the problems more than those of us who have gotten used to it. Many of them suddenly become antagonistic of those in government, not because they will do better, but because they are now feeling the pains.

So, the LCCI will continue its advocacy programmes because if we don’t advocate at all, then it will look like everything is ok and that nobody cares. We believe that this country is endowed. There is a lot of money in this country. There is enough to go round and to make people comfortable; at least, to meet our needs, not our greed.

What is your message for participants this year?
Exhibitors and visitors are assured of adequate security. Arrangements have been concluded for the provision of good security cover for all visitors and exhibitors alike. We have engaged a reputable security firm, which shall work in close collaboration with the Nigeria Police, the Federal Fire Service, among others. We are engaging the services of anti-bomb and the anti-terrorism units of the Nigeria Police in addition to deployment of Close Circuit Television (CCTV) camera for surveillance around all locations of the fair arena.

The Chamber has also taken cognisance of the challenges faced last year as regards to spaces for exhibition. This year, plans have been made to provide both indoor and outdoor exhibition spaces at the venue. The LCCI has procured over 6,000 square metres, fully air-conditioned marquee tents, which will be used as indoor exhibition halls.

In addition, all exhibitors must ensure that all goods for exhibition meet the country’s regulatory requirements. We are working with various government agencies such as the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Standard Organisation of Nigeria, Consumer Protection Council, amongst others to ensure that products at the exhibition are of the highest quality. We are therefore using this opportunity to appeal to all exhibitors, local and foreign, to ensure that only products of high quality, duly certified by Nigerian regulatory authorities are displayed and/or sold during the Trade Fair.