Iyalode Alaba Lawson is the first female President of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA). In this interview with AMINA ALHASSAN, she speaks on how NACCIMA is augmenting government’s efforts to boost the Nigerian economy.
It has been one year since your emergence as President of NACCIMA. How has the journey been so far?
My journey in the last one year as the 19th National President but 1st first Female National President of NACCIMA has not been a completely easy one but it has been filled with interesting events, insightful lessons and many enlightening experiences so far, all thanks to Jehovah. I have also been blessed with the support of family, friends and colleagues within and outside the Chamber Movement. I am a woman with a vision; I set high goals and work towards achieving them irrespective of the challenges I may encounter. As a result of my unwavering belief in the power of unified efforts and the fact that a tree cannot make a forest; I continually carry along the leadership and members of NACCIMA in decision making. In the last one year, there has been renewed awareness of what NACCIMA is and the critical role it has to play in promoting the Private Sector. Hence my administration continues to advance the Association’s Vision which is “To be revered as the pillar of business that supports the growth and development of Private Enterprise and Private Initiative”.
How do you feel being the first female president and what, in your opinion, is the reason why a woman had not occupied this position before now?
I feel really delighted and honored. With a high sense of responsibility, I acknowledge the charge given to me to pilot this great Association for two years. However, as we all know, all over the world but especially in Africa, there are socio-cultural inhibitions and expectations which have for many centuries created stereotypes of who women are and what they can do or are allowed to do. These inhibitions have over the years been influenced by socio-cultural beliefs which are still inherent in different spheres and contemporary organizations; NACCIMA is not left out. Consequently, it is not an easy accomplishment for women to get into leadership positions in the Chamber Movement whose leadership for many years was largely dominated by men.
The perception that women can’t handle leadership positions is fast becoming an old narrative. I am also glad to state that the 1st Deputy National President of NACCIMA is also a woman and the NACCIMA Business Women Group (NAWORG) continues to develop women for business and leadership opportunities. ô
What are the challenges you’ve faced since your appointment and what strategies do you have in place to surmount them?
As I often say, challenges make us stronger and wiser but that is if we decide to learn from the experience resolving them brings. As a go-getter and business woman with many years of reputable wide ranging experience, I know a critical aspect of leadership is finding solutions. I also know that I cannot resolve the challenges all by myself hence my continued call for unified efforts. Some areas of interest which my administration has been working on include; Improving NACCIMA’s Image nationally and internationally, influencing relevant government policies for the benefit of the Private Sector and strengthening the Organized Private Sector (OPS). Since I took over in May, 2017, I began with the task of giving the Association’s Secretariat a-long-awaited face-lift. The Association’s Secretariat had for so many years been faced with the issue of recurrent flooding especially during the rainy season. However, within the last one year, extensive renovations have taken place at the Secretariat, giving it a befitting look to match the prestigious Association it is. NACCIMA is now more involved and represented in many local and international trade facilitation activities. As a not-for-profit Organisation, generating enough resources to finance the many programmes and advocacy activities is a challenge which we are working diligently to surmount. Unifying the Organised Private Sector (OPS) is also another aspect of deep interest to the Association because a strong and unified Organised Private Sector (OPS) can greatly influence the direction of government’s policy and contribute immensely to economic growth and development.
Promotion, protection, and development of all matters affecting business is parts of the objectives of NACCIMA. Would you say Nigeria is doing better now than in the past when it comes to business dealings with foreign countries?
I would say yes. The reasons being Nigeria’s reputation has for several decades been affected by the negative activities of a few dishonorable Nigerians within and outside the country. This misconception affected the interest of genuine investors. I can, however, proudly say that this perception about Nigeria is fast changing as investors continue to see immense potentials in every sector of Nigeria’s economy propelled by activities of both Government and Private sector stakeholders. Also, Nigeria’s large human capital, vast natural resources and current Federal Government’s programmes to improve the Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria while promoting growth of the Non-oil sector are attractions to investors. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank’s recent positive projections concerning Nigeria are also positive indications. In NACCIMA for instance, we have received quite a number of business delegates from Finland, Morocco, Russia, Iran, India, Brazil, Ukraine, Egypt, Indonesia, Tunisia, Italy, Cote D’Ivoire, Benin Republic and Switzerland just to mention a few who have signified interest in signing MOUs, meeting credible business partners through NACCIMA, who came to the Association with the sole aim of looking for Nigerian business partners who are willing to partner with them. Some of the foreign business men even want to invest in our country. I have also led some very successful Trade Missions and partnered in the organization of many International Business Forums.
What is NACCIMA doing as regards to women and youths?
I am glad to inform you that NACCIMA has a thriving Women Group called the NACCIMA Business Women’s Group (NAWORG) and also a Youth Group called NACCIMA Youth Entrepreneurs. These two groups are of personal interest to me because when women are given the right support they have the ability to thrive in business and in many other aspects which are beneficial to their families, communities and the nation at large. It is in the same vein that I consider the importance of the youth who are our future. I’m the Global Convener, NACCIMA Business Women’s Group (NAWORG), one of Nigeria’s leading women groups made up of several industrious women entrepreneurs as the apex body of Women Entrepreneurs in Nigeria’s Chamber Movement. As a group created over 12 years ago, we have been able to facilitate members’ participation in commerce and governance, facilitate trade among women in the chamber development movement within the ECOWAS Sub-region and the world at large. We have also been able to organize successful editions of the Nigeria International Women Exhibition (NIWEX) which is an annual event attended by women from within and outside the continent. Since my investiture in May, 2017, I have successfully inaugurated three new chapters of NAWORG in Port Harcourt, Aba and Lagos Chapters, with more new Chapters to be established in Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Kwara, Imo, Delta, Kaduna, Kano and Abuja. We have Diaspora Chapters in Johannesburg – South Africa, Republic du Benin, Cotonou and recently in Zimbabwe. I therefore implore industrious women who are yet to join the Chamber Movement to do so because there are immense benefits.
The NACCIMA Youth Entrepreneurs was formally inaugurated on 30th of June, 2017 by my humble self, with members drawn from the three regions; West, East and North. The aim of creating this group is to establish a viable platform for promoting more Youth Entrepreneurs who will impact positively the lives of other Nigerian youth, reduce the high rate of unemployment and act as a positive support group for members.
What plan does NACCIMA have in place to assist Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and Agribusinesses who are finding things difficult due to our over-dependence on imported goods?
One of my administration’s priority area of focus is the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) considering the immense potentials they hold. It is a known fact that when SMEs are given the necessary support they have the potential to drive a nation’s economy and further reduce high unemployment rates. It is evident that Nigeria’s SME sector is made up of many resolute business men and women who still endeavor to thrive despite the challenge of limited access to finance, access to market, inadequate infrastructure and policy summersaults. NACCIMA, however, commends the initiatives such as the SME Clinic and intervention funds for SMEs. NACCIMA on its own part has a NACCIMA SME Trade Group and other Sectoral Groups actively involved in SME development programmes and activities. NACCIMA supports Public Private Partnerships. Hence, our membership cuts across all sectors of the economy and is made up of SMEs in Agribusiness, Manufacturing, Services and Mining to mention but a few. In our advocacy activities we promote the Made in Nigeria Campaign, through providing proper and prompt information to MSMEs while advocating for more policies to encourage local production and promote trade facilitation activities in line with one of our objectives which is to provide networking opportunities through which Nigerian businesses can have mutually beneficial business interactions with others on or outside the continent. NACCIMA is also in partnership with Development Organizations such as the United Nation Development Organization (UNIDO) on the National Quality Infrastructure Programme (NQIP) to ensure and promote quality and competiveness of Nigerian goods and services in line with international best practice. We have also partnered with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation’s (UNIDO)’s Investment and Technology Promotion Office (ITPO) through which some of our staff have been trained on their Computer Model for Feasibility Analysis and Reporting (COMFAR) tools which is aimed at equipping Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Nigeria with its methodologies for project appraisal. These are all to ensure SMEs are more productive, local goods are promoted and competitive.
Given the recent difficulty in accessing FOREX by businesses in Nigeria, what is NACCIMA doing to alleviate the challenges?
As we all know foreign exchange is required to consummate international business transactions especially for Nigeria which is largely an import dependent country, hence the consistent interest by the Private Sector in the Government’s monetary policies implemented by the Central Bank of Nigeria. I must however say that there is now some stability in the foreign exchange (FOREX) market compared to what it used to be in 2016. The CBN’s interventions in the FOREX market through continual injection of millions of dollars into the Retail Secondary Market Intervention Sales (SMIS) segment is a welcome development. This is in fulfillment of its pledge to sustain market liquidity in order to boost production and trade. The most recent intervention which was to handle demands for agriculture, airlines, petroleum products and raw materials, and machinery sectors is a welcome development. The exchange rates, however, remain very high and we anticipate more measures by the CBN to ensure better exchange rates both at the parallel and official markets. NACCIMA will continue to advocate for more stability in the FOREX markets while encouraging the government to put in place measures to encourage the promotion of the non-oil sector and diversification of the economy from mainly crude oil earnings. This will enable the nation earn more foreign exchange through exports than its spends through imports.
The Organised Private Sector especially manufacturers are against the singing of Continental Free Trade Area Agreement by Nigeria. What is your take?
The world has become a global village and countries who do not partake in the transformations, integrations and trade facilitation happening across the continent and other parts of the world will soon be left behind. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement offers a lot of opportunities to Nigeria so it is important that we intensely consider the benefits accruable to Nigerian businesses. There is, however, a need to consider the concerns of the relevant stakeholders.
In what ways have members of NACCIMA benefited from the Federal Government’s Ease of Doing business initiative?
The Federal Government’s Ease of Doing business initiative has brought more awareness to the Private Sector about the Government’s renewed interest to ensure an enabling business environment. It was created for the benefit of local and foreign investors as well as the economy of the country. More attention to areas such as registration of businesses, access to finance, infrastructural development can be seen but a whole lot more is still required. The most recent World Bank Doing Business report indicates improvements in areas such as getting credit, paying of taxes, registration of properties and getting electricity. NACCIMA commends the successes achieved by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) through interventions at the ports and other infrastructure. I must however state that the very deplorable state of roads around the Lagos ports and the resultant traffic gridlock continues to cause untold hardship to commuters and businesses which impact businesses negatively and increase the retail cost of goods and services.
A lot of businesses are dying while some other foreign businesses are relocating owing to harsh economic situation. What can NACCIMA do to halt the trend?
NACCIMA as ‘’ The Voice of Nigerian Business’’ our priority responsibility is advocacy, will continue to advocate for enabling business environment that promotes growth and competitiveness of businesses by providing proper and prompt information dissemination to ensure that businesses thrive in Nigeria. We will continue to contribute ideas of the overall economic stability of the nation and for the creation of a conducive business environment for the pursuit of enterprise.
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