‘For effective economic diversification, government needs to glamourise agric to attract youths’
Prince Adedapo Adelegan is the President of the Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) and also the Chairman Celtron Group, comprising Benjamin Black and Co., PR Africa International Limited, Celtron Energy and Capital Limited. He is a serial entrepreneur with interests in media, real estate, oil and gas. As a young youth corper serving in Lagos, he pioneered the Lekki Sunsplash Musical concert in 1998 at the Lekki Beach which revolutionalised outdoor concerts in Nigeria and attracted the attention of brands and corporate bodies. He was elected President of NBCC in July 2015 having been a member of the foremost bilateral chamber in Nigeria for the past 25 years serving in different capacities. In this interview with Business Editor, ADE OGIDAN, he discusses strategies that could promote Nigeria’s trade ties with Britain and Federal Government’s economic diversification agenda, during the current fiscal year. Excerpts.
How have your exploits in the business world prepared you for the chamber’s leadership?
In all modesty, I can say that becoming the President of the Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce is one of the greatest honours in my entire business life. Before becoming president, I have been a member of the chamber for 20 years and I served in various levels, including being in the council, two times as vice president, deputy president and now president. So, you can see that the chamber grooms its leaders through various activities and levels. Therefore, one can say that I have graduated from the school of NBCC in terms of business. I am also a media practitioner. I have been in business for almost 29 years, from show business to advertising to media. It’s a chamber that every Nigerian should be involved in as its gives opportunities for its members to grow to become whatever they want to be.
Having said that, the chamber is structured in the following way: Patrons, which is the upper chamber made up of all the past presidents; the council, which consists of invited distinguished members of the society; and the executive council, which has the president, deputy president, director-general and critical people like treasurers and other committees that cover all aspects of the economy.
In terms of membership, we are about 300 plus, all corporate members. Individual members are not permitted by our constitution. Currently, we have 10 premium members, about six banks, two manufacturing companies and two oil companies. A major criterion for members is for them to be British companies or have business relations with Britain. After the premium membership level, we have the corporate plus members, corporate and then the emerging, that is, SMEs. As a matter of fact, 50 per cent of our members are between the emerging and the corporate.
How are your programmes structured to ensure achievement of the chamber’s objectives?
Our programmes are clear. We go on trade missions to the United Kingdom to create a platform for British and Nigerian businesses to grow. As of last year, the total volume of trade between Nigeria and Britain is about seven billion British pounds, it fell from about eight billion pounds. There is a projection that at least by 2020, we should be reaching about 15 billion pounds. Out of this amount, 70 per cent is oil related but there are serious efforts by the Nigerian and British governments to ensure that we increase the percentage of non-oil export.
As a chamber, we are giving serious attention to the SMEs because they are the people that can drive growth in the economy. As a matter of fact, 2 014 I can say with all confidence that the value of export of Nigerian goods particularly in food to the United Kingdom was N 1billion, that is, 30 million pounds. Items exported were garri, dried fish, and other consumables. Not a very significant amount of money but it shows the opportunities that exist, not only for the importation of British products to Nigeria but also our own products particularly food. Reason being that an estimated 1.5 to 2million Nigerians live in the United Kingdom, so it simply means that Britain has the largest population of Nigerians.
What is the main focus of the new Exco led by you as President?
One aspect of the objectives that and I my colleagues in the council and exco are committed to is to improve the amount of Nigerian investments that are built in the United Kingdom ,what I call reversed FDI( foreign direct investment). I think the country has matured to the level where it must encourage owners of capital to begin to look at strategic investments in the UK that we can invest in. I will give an example of a company in India called TATA they bought Jaguar/ Range Rover a couple of years ago which is a British heritage institution, manufacturers of Jaguar and Range Rover cars. What they did was to take the technology and the creative arm of that business t India and today India has joined the rank of net exporters of automobiles globally. So no technology is given for free. Rather than have our billionaires buy Rolls Royce, private jets and build houses in London, we are encouraging them to look at the British institutions and invest, there are a lot of effort in that direction to even develop what we call some diaspora investment fund so that we can use some of that money. Last year the World Bank reported that the Nigerians in the Diaspora sent $20.1 billion into this country as remittance and half that money came from the United kingdom.
Now imagine if one can capture half of that $10 billion and direct substantial part of it to invest in critical industries in the United Kingdom that will afford our people jobs, technology transfer, and bring more institutions to Nigeria to enrich our economy and our know how. Part of our plans is to have what we call Export Nigeria Club. We have seen the fact that the salvation of this country in terms of employment and income is in agriculture. Cocoa was used in building Western Nigeria; groundnut was a major determinant of Northern industrialization; palm oil and rubber for the East. I believe our export Nigeria club will provide a platform for everybody in the agriculture value chain of the chamber, that is, farmers, bankers, transporters, logistics control, clearing agents, exporters to engage themselves. Another is the professional service group which would have all professional groups, that is, estate surveyors, accountants, lawyers, media, film and the creative industry, etc. It is a platform to come together and interact from time to time.
Finally, we have the construction and real estate development group which we inaugurated in Lagos on March 7 during the NBCC advocacy round table with Mr. Hakeem Oguniran, Managing Director of UACN Properties Plc as chairman.
Why is the chamber creating all these groups?
Our intention of creating all these trade groups is the fact that we think that over the years the organised private sector has been too distant from the government in terms of policy formulation. We have allowed only the people in government to battle with the challenges of creating ideas and solutions to the problems of the economy. I must acknowledge the fact that the Nigerian Economic Summit Group for example, meet every year and various aspects of the economy are discussed, a document is given to Mr president at the end, and they all go back to their various destinations and focus on their businesses. The private sector should be involved at level of policy implementation without being in government. As a chamber, our trade groups will focus and work with the ministries relevant to their trade. For instance, our Export Nigeria Club is in partnership with the Nigeria Export Promotional Council and have a five year MOU with them to collaborate and find new ways of expanding export opportunities for Nigeria. So that program works almost every day to ensure output is given. Because at the end of the day, it’s the private sector that implements and also gets affected by the policies.
For an instant, our Construction and Real Estate group will be available to share ideas on housing. Why can’t we build houses with wood? America the largest economy in the world have 70% of their housing built with treated wood. If a regular building cost N5million building with wood will cost less maybe N4million. So, the mass housing can easily come if it’s affordable. Agreed cement is important, but for mass building wood can be used instead. This is very possible. We also want canvass about cheaper materials that can be found locally, materials cheaper than cement, so one can have a three bedroom house for a minimal cost as N250, 000.
The second issue to canvass on is mortgage. Why most western society looks so organised is because their government over the years have used mass housing and easy access to mortgage as a strategy of getting their people to increase productivity. Over there when a person is given access to a house, let’s say the person is given a house on five per cent mortgage and is given 30 years to pay, and has an option of paying the interest or principal within that 30 years. While here to even get a mortgage, 30 per cent must be paid and maximum is 10 years if not five years and interest and principal must be paid too.
With your background in entertainment and tourism being the founder of Lekki Sunsplash in the late 80s/ early 90, it is curious that you have not mentioned tourism as an area of focus by the chamber for possible collaboration with the government.
I don’t know if I can ever escape the Lekki Sunsplash matter, even in my old age but I am proud of the opportunity I was given when I was young youth corper in 1988. At that time, Lekki was all white sand, there was no Lekki Phase 1 or Phase 2. I did not talk about it because we are not ready for tourism, they (the west) are years ahead. Where do we want to start from? When we are still being kidnapped? When policemen were still asking for bribes on the streets? We have no mass transit. It’s a shame for this country that at this time of our development, Lagos with 21 million people, the current fastest growing city in the world has no railway, no tram that is the cheapest form of railway.
Lagos is the biggest city in the world without a zoo or amusement park. London has a zoo, first class international zoo, of about 150 acres of land! we don’t have it . The zoo we know here in the University of Ibadan is a botanical garden I’m sure, the animals there are very hungry. Lagos does not have one single dedicated convention centre. We use hotels as convention centres. South Africa said that since 1994 when she got her independence, seven out 10 investors that have invested in South Africa, first came as economic tourists, either for an exhibition or a conference. I have a PR company, when I had my exhibition in London it was at the African Centre, that can accommodate 5000 exhibition space, that is one out of 20 in London.
We are not serious, when we don’t have that how will the tourist come? How will big exhibitions come? How will people who come of such exhibitions know this town and come back again to invest? Like I said the problem in this country is that knowledge has been excluded from governance and that’s just the truth. We have closed the door of knowledge and information, ignorance has found its way to power, and has perpetrated it, even marginalised the space so that no knowledge can come in, no light can come in. So I cannot speak about tourism because I know what tourism is all about, we don’t have it. No mass transportation, no security, no electricity, no tourism outlets even! Lagos has no museum, the first place a tourist enters on reaching a country is its museums, we only an abandoned museum at Onikan, when Lagos could have built the biggest museum in Africa, there’s enough history in Lagos. During the time of Lekki Sunsplash, I approached the then government to adopt the programme as a Lagos State tourism agenda. I was having a million people every year at Christmas, the biggest musical concert in Africa then. They said no, I should continue to pay for the beach but the Nottinghill carnival in London, the Jazz festival, the carnival in Brazil are not bigger than this one and the respective governments over there have taken them over ,in partnership with the people organising it .
Lagos is going to be 50. I am going to arrange a meeting with the Governor of Lagos State to congratulate him on the occasion but we must build a tourist city out of Lagos. The 50th anniversary provides an opportunity to re-invent Lagos and we can help with the re-invention. So, that is why I did not mention tourism. It is sad and honestly, an emergency must be declared in that sector.
Let’s talk about the economy, how easy has it been getting foreign exchange? What advice can you give with the present state of the country’s currency?
I think the media in Nigeria and other parts of the world should lead the discussion about the future of Nigeria and I’m not sure we are doing enough. The media should set the agenda. Whenever there is dispute between the President and the people of a country, the media steps in, cuts through the clutter and say ‘look, this wrong, this right’. I have seen editorials, they speak to them but I don’t see it in the front pages saying this is your position and this is where we should go and I think that is important. I don’t support an economy that subsidises the importation of fuel when it is a crude-producing country. It is odd that we produce crude oil, sell it and then buy it refined? That does not make any economic sense and cannot be sustainable. what country does that? ,I support and I believe that the decision taken by the government on Forex is alright in short term and a good strategic move so that the naira does not fall irretrievably ,because if it does it’s going to affect everything and that’s not sustainable . Yes, sacrifices are being made; importers cannot access forex as much as they will love to. That also speaks to our consumption pattern in the country. Why must we buy everything from abroad? Why can’t we begin to consume locally made items? The states are not viable, they are bleeding currently. So, indeed, we are in an emergency and the way out, in my opinion, it is to quickly invest in mechanised agriculture because that will solve the problem on ground. There is a need for government to glamourise agriculture. It must be made interesting to youths. It is looking like something only old and poor people do but contrarily, agriculture is huge. Agriculture plays a dominant role in western economy. The richest people abroad are people in agriculture. Their governments have made equipment easily accessible to them.
On one of our UK export mission, we visited a storage facility for wheat in Cambridge, that company helps about a hundred farmers store their wheat and every week, bakers and breweries are booking for purchases and gives access to loans from that company to farmers. Our problem in this country is lack of organization and sustainability. And that’s why I said earlier that when knowledge is excluded from power, is like cutting your nose to spite your face. In other parts of the world when a politician comes in, it’s not politicians that he puts in the cabinet alone, he looks for the best brains .This country needs to be strengthened, and as a chamber, we want it to strengthen. There are people who are not part of the present ruling party, who have the requisite knowledge, exposure and contacts with world bank and IMF who know who to speak to in formulating positive policies for economic development. The President needs to sought these people out. It is critical for us as a nation to get it right for once and if Buhari does not get it right, I don’t know who will. Because the discipline and confidence to get it right, he has it. His personal life and history shows dedication and commitment, he should just put the square pegs in the square holes. A strong economic team will send the right signal to the international community. Huge support for youths to move back to the farms and this can be done by glamourizing it and the media has a role to play in this.
The entire academic curriculum must be changed to creative education, rather that BA this and that. Half of the universities in the country should be converted to universities of technology. In South Korea, 70 per cent of the universities focus on vocational education. Our oil industry imports undersea welders from all over the world, we don’t have them in this country and we say there’s no job. Finally, 21st century is not a century for jobs, it’s a robotic century. The job of 20 men is being done by a machine .In a recent article I read, it is stated that Toyota in its manufacturing plant in Japan has robots working for 30 days without rest. The world is moving. Our policy makers must understand that there is nothing like creating jobs, it should be about giving students the knowledge and capacity to be job creators. That is the future; any society that does not do that now may be doomed.
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