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Interview with Mrs. Toki Mabogunje, President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Posted by: CT Productions
Category: Interviews, News

“Finance is the blood of the business. FINTECH is driving access to finance and helping to boost aggregate demand and investment”

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) for many years now promotes a healthy business environment. How important is digital technology for modern business health?

Obviously, we are in the age of advancement in technology. Technology is a catalyst for business growth. It is, therefore, important for businesses to embed technology as a core driver of growth, to gain global competitiveness and enhance profitability. Business must embrace technology for an improved operational performance. We at LCCI acknowledge this fact and therefore strive to leverage on technology in carrying out our activities as a leading Chamber of Commerce in Nigeria.

You have over 2,000 corporate members which accounts for most of the industrial output, general commerce and financial services in the country. How involved are all these businesspeople in working as a pressure group through the LCCI?

The LCCI has 24 (twenty-four) sectoral groups covering all sector of the economy. These groups articulate the concerns of the business community and all also generate issues for advocacy that help in stimulating policy change and direction as it concerns private sector. The activities of these groups have resulted in policy formulation and execution. For instance, advocacy initiatives by the chamber resulted in reforms at the Lagos ports. It has facilitated monetary policy changes such as improved access to credit particularly for SMEs, exchange rate management, etc. Activities of the sectoral groups within the chamber has impacted positively on Nigerian business community.

The Primary Objective of the Chamber is to promote, support or oppose legislative or other measures affecting trade, industry, commerce and agriculture. However, Nigeria has a turbulent political situation. How best to navigate the sensitive nature of your role?

The activities of the chamber over the years has been apolitical and nonpartisan. We have over the years ensure that we maintain political neutrality in our efforts in promoting industry, trade and commerce. We have often time align with the efforts of the government in promoting commerce and collaborated with business community without showing bias for any political parties.

In Nigeria over the past few years we have seen amazing innovation in terms of smartphone applications which greatly assist in agriculture or other sectors. Do you think that we can be global leaders in IT maybe sometime soon?

Yes, following the explosion in smartphone, Nigeria has made giant strides in IT sector. There has been a sustained increase in the number of youths that are IT entrepreneurs, providing different services ranging like sales and repairs. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the IT sector contributed 9.2% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the third quarter 2019, the sector the fastest growing sector at contribution (8.54%), growth (9.2%). One interesting fact about the growth of IT sector is this, it has become a source of employment for the youth. If this growth trend continues, Nigeria can become a leader in the IT sector. That is why at the LCCI, we are keen on promoting IT sector and support IT entrepreneurs to continue to innovate and create more IT products and solutions to enable business growth… the more IT solutions are produced to drive the economy.

You are supported Public Private Partnership (PPP). Why do you think they are important right now?

PPP is very important to infrastructural development. It is obvious that government alone cannot fund development expenditure, that is we collaborate with the government to unlock the potentials of the sector. Nigeria’s infrastructure deficit is estimated at $S3 trillion, and the private sector remains a formidable platform to leverage. We have recorded success in some cases already. The lekki-epe road construction is a good example of the private sector collaborating with government to provide needed public goods. Another case is what the Dangote Industries with reconstruction of federal highways across the country underpinned by Executive Order (EO) 007, which allows private companies to invest in road infrastructure. That is why the LCCI is advocating for increased PPP arrangements to deliver the benefits. Business cannot thrive in a challenged environment.

The LCCI has very actively promoted fintech as a potentially important sector of the economy. In these times of youth unemployment and final exclusion why is finance so important to business in Nigeria?

Efficient financial system is sine qua non to development. Growth in the financial sector has been enabled by FINTECH. Growth has impacted businesses with regards to the ease of financial transaction, payment, etc. Finance is the blood of the business. FINTECH is driving access to finance and helping to boost aggregate demand and investment. Though lending rate is high however, it will normalize overtime. We support these initiatives in line with policy of CBN to promote credit.

Much is said about the size of the informal economy and how best to get this activity out of the black. Over-regulation and inflation have dampened small and medium-sized businesses’ desire to play by the book. How can Nigeria best deal with this internationally charged political environment?

According to the IMF (2017), the informal sector accounted for between 50 – 65% of economic activities in Nigeria. However, since the advent of this administration, efforts has been on to increase their mainstreaming into the formal sector. It is important for us as the chamber that this economy is captured and formalized. In our membership structure, we have category “D” to accommodate this kind of businesses to help them formalize and build structure into their model. Incentives created by the Finance Act is also expected to encourage many to join the formal sector. We also believe that the recent efforts to improve access to credit by the CBN through increased Loan-to Deposit ratio of 65% will further provide necessary impetus for these informal businesses to transit into having formal structures. The LCCI is always at the fore front in engaging the government to make regulations effective and friendly enough to allow buisnesses thrive so that there would be growth in the productive sectors of the economy.

You are the defacto voice of the private sector through your sustained public policy advocacy, stakeholders’ engagement and trade promotion activities. In this challenging age of the internet, social media and constant changes in the way people communicate, how is the chamber finding its voice, how can we help?

The Chamber acknowledges the importance of the internet and the social media in her advocacy activities and continues to leverage on social media in carring out our advocacy mandate. This is because the social media provides a veritable tool in reaching the younger generations and provides us the ample opportunity to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit into the coming generation. In addition, the Chamber sees social media as an easy way of pushing out messages and getting the attention of appropriate authorities in some cases. Through our social media handles/platforms, we interact and reach out to our audience. Talking about how you can help, your esteemed organisation can support the Chamber in drawing attention to our publications, follow the chamber, join conversation on our social media handles to give the chamber’s more visibility worldwide. Through the internet, a reputable organization like yours, our activities can reach a wider audience, informing them of the LCCI activities in promoting trade and commerce in Nigeria and this can engender collaboration from other chambers/partners across the world with LCCI.

Too often in Nigeria we have inadequate access to reliable, up to date facts and figures about business activity. How is the LCCI helping address this in order to help local and international decision-makers?

Over the years, LCCI recognize importance of reliable data in decision making especially as it concerns buisness decision making. That is why we have equipped our research and advocacy department with competent staff. we also collaborate with other agencies/stakeholders and Institutions in the area of data. We also work with partners and donor agencies in carrying out research and data gathering in specific areas to ensure we have reliable data for business decisions. For instance, over the years, we have worked with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) in carrying out research surveys in target areas of the economy. We also collect data from time to time and write report to draw the attention of local and international decision makers to areas of interest.

Corporate social responsibility and business ethics are very much the buzz word lately. How is the LCCI ensuring its own internal standards in this respect and how are you helping the rest of the Nigerian business world get up to speed on these important aspects of doing business in the modern world?

LCCI has always been at the fore front of CSR as we take CSR very seriously. This is so because we strongly believe that businesses should give back to the community. One of the CSR initiatives of LCCI is our Mentee program that has been running for the past 7 years. It is a platform for nurturing ideas and initiatives to viable commercial ventures. As at today, we have mentored about 300 young entrepreneurs in Lagos under the LCCI Mentoring program at little or no cost to the mentees using the wealth of knowledge and experience of our members. Through this, the Chamber nurtures young entrepreneurs.

A major issue for the Nigerian economy is the ability to produce locally and reduce dependence on foreign imports. What are the most important ways to achieve more self- reliance?

The ultimate objective of our activities at the Chamber is to promote and protect the interests of the Nigerian buisness community and in essence drive measures to achieve self-reliance. Government should incentivize production, provide enabling environment for businesses to thrive, ensure locally produced goods and services compete in the International Market and ensure that necessary infrastructures are put in place with these Nigeria will be self-reliant. In other words, there is need to Identify areas where we have competitive advantage, then develop required and necessary policies and most importantly ensure proper implementation of developed policies. These are important ways to achieve the much needed self-reliance in the Nigerian economy.

Between pressuring the government and getting businesses up to speed on so many different topics, it is clear that your role is a difficult one, to get all this done in a unifying way while brokering deals that move us forward. What do you bring to the table in this respect? Are you optimistic?

Our role as a Chamber of Commerce has always been to ensure that we are always at the fore front of bringing all actors together. While we acknowledge that this is not an easy task, however, we have over the years gained the needed reputation and integrity that commands respect in the Nigerian economy. The LCCI has been in existence for over 131 years and is the foremost Chamber of Commerce in West Africa and second oldest chamber in Sub-Saharan Africa. This gave the Chamber the advantage to constantly engage the government and relevant agencies until results are obtained for the benefit of the generality of the business community. This is also coupled with our fact-based advocacy approach that ensures we confront the government with the needed facts to press home our advocacy activities. Also, we are constantly encouraged by previous successes attained in bringing about positive changes in the economy. As a result of these, we are optimistic that more results can be achieved. We are confident about our reputation, pedigree and experience in ensuring that the interests of the business community are well protected.