Iyalode Alaba Lawson is the first female and 19th President of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).She speaks with ADETUTU AUDU on her achievements, challenges and other sundry issues.
Your journey started from Abeokuta Chambers of Commerce. You later became deputy president, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), President, Odu’a Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ODU’ACCIMA) and President, Federation of Business Women Entrepreneurs -Nigeria (FEBWE-Nigeria) till you became the first female president of NACCIMA. How would you describe the journey so far?
Well, my journey in the chamber movement has been great. It has been filled with interesting events and insightful lessons so far, all thanks to Jehovah. I must say that I have been blessed with the right support mechanism starting with my family, colleagues, community and well-wishers. In 1982 when I joined the Abeokuta Chamber of Commerce, I had already in 1977 established my school, the Lawson Childcare Nursery and Primary School which I ran successfully with my thriving trading and distributing firm known as Capricorn Stores Ltd. My venture into the chamber movement was encouraged by my brother-in-law, the late Chief Adeyemi Lawson of blessed memory who saw the unique zeal, enthusiasm and diligence which I applied to my business and all I do. By 1995, I had become the President of the Abeokuta Chamber of Commerce and I was very instrumental to securing ABEOCCIMA’s permanent site and secretariat building known as the ‘Commerce House’. In the year 2,000, I became the president of the Ogun Council of Chambers of Commerce and in 2012, I became the president of O’dua Chamber of Commerce (ODU’ACIMMA), the Regional Chamber of Commerce for the South-West of Nigeria. As a women leader, I am Chairperson of the Federation of Business Women in West Africa (FEBWE) and Global Convener of the NACCIMA Business Women’s Group (NAWORG). As the 19th President of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), I am also the first female president of NACCIMA and by May 2018, I will have completed a year from my 2-year tenure. It is pertinent to state that it has not been a simple feat for women to get into leadership positions in the chamber movement whose leadership is largely dominated by men. This impression has however changed with my election as the first female president of NACCIMA and I will also like to state that the first Deputy National President of NACCIMA is also another industrious woman. I therefore use this opportunity to state that the role of women in building businesses and the society at large is fast appreciating and changing for the better and with diligence, determination and team-spirit, women can achieve even greater heights previously thought unattainable.
What would you say have been your challenges since you assumed office?
Challenges are an aspect of life and change; what matters is the attitude used to tackle the challenges. I have a can-do attitude and I believe in the power of unified efforts. These have enabled me to a great extent to achieve commendable goals. Some areas where I and members of the executive are working on include: improving the image of NACCIMA. When I took over the mantle of leadership of the association in May, 2017, the NACCIMA secretariat had for years been faced with the issue of recurrent flooding especially during rainy season. The secretariat building was also in need of renovations and refurbishing. As a result, my vision of repositioning and rebranding of NACCIMA began with extensive renovations at the secretariat which anyone who goes to NACCIMA today can attest to. I must say these projects were made possible by the support received from the executive and members of NACCIMA. Other challenges which we are still working assiduously on at the moment are in the areas of generating enough resources to activate all the programmes and activities of the association especially in the area of advocacy. Another area where a lot of work is required is in the aspect of unifying the Organized Private Sector (OPS) in Nigeria to take their rightful place in positively influencing government policies and repositioning Nigeria’s economy to achieve the desired growth and development.
You inaugurated a platform for the training and development of young entrepreneurs to become competitive in the local and global business world. How would you rate the impact?
Since the inauguration of the NACCIMA Youth Entrepreneurs in June 2017, the group which is made up of young entrepreneurs has established several state chapters in the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria. It is important I state that the NACCIMA Youth Entrepreneurs was created in line with my vision of integrating the youth into all sectors of the economy, empowering Nigerian youth innovators, and entrepreneurs to create jobs and wealth as well as exploring partnerships with relevant government agencies, local and international organizations. The NACCIMA youth fully participated in the Lagos Fashion Exhibition organized by Atlantic Exhibition. They have also participated in the International Trade Fairs and Exhibition events organised by their local chambers, local and international organisations. These industrious youths also participated in youth enterprise development programmes such as technical trainings, agrobusiness and agricultural value chain development, food and bakery training. The group is currently partnering with Niji Farm, one of the largest producers of cassava in Africa. They are also working on partnerships with many development organisations. These are just a few of the demonstrations of the positive impact the group has had.
What has your office done to reiterate the promotion of made in Nigeria products?
NACCIMA’s membership is made up of entrepreneurs who are industrialists, manufacturers, farmers, educationist, merchants and the likes. So, the association will continue to champion the “made in Nigeria campaign”. We are in partnership with development organisations and partner with several strategic stakeholders to ensure local goods are encouraged competitively. At the moment, we are working with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) on the National Quality Infrastructure Programme (NQIP), to promote quality standards in line with best international practices and this will promote success in our export activities, develop the value chain development especially in the agriculture sector and to ensure the competitiveness of goods and services made in Nigeria.
Your organisation is made up of high powered and influential members that relate with government on a regular basis. What is the role of NACCIMA in nation’s building?
One of NACCIMA’s core roles and priority area of interest is advocacy. As the umbrella organisation for all cities, states, regional, bi-lateral and multilateral chambers of commerce, including business/professional associations and corporate bodies, the association champions the cause of businesses through its advocacy activities thereby influencing public policies that promote the free enterprise and the growth of business. NACCIMA’s membership is drawn from all 36 states of the federation including Abuja and can be found even down to the grassroots. These are the reasons why NACCIMA is called the “Voice of Nigerian Business”; because these activities are in accordance with contemporary global ideas of the Chamber of Commerce Movement in relatively free enterprise economies.
There is the notion that women don’t get along with other women. How true has that experience been for you?
I actually believe that it is a relative perception and not a general perception. I work well with any gender. Women and youth development are my major areas of interest. The deputy director general of NACCIMA is a woman and I work well with her not to mention, my first deputy national president and other reputable womenI work with. As women’s leader and from my years of experience, I know that women working together towards unified specific goals can have very positive results.
Organizations, what is your relationship with the men who work with you, because women leaders are generally regarded as bossy?
I would say I keep a friendly and cordial relationship with my male colleagues. I don’t see myself as bossy because I am a good listener and a goal-getter. I strongly believe in setting goals and thereafter working assiduously towards achieving them.
You have been a front line business woman, what challenges do you think confront women entrepreneurs?
In Nigeria and many parts of Africa, the perception of women is influenced by different cultures and beliefs which have been the accepted as norm for many centuries. Women are often considered subordinates to their male counterparts and it is widely believed that women are best suited as home keepers. These limitations have over the years prevented many women from leveraging visible opportunities to access and create better socio-economic lives for themselves, their families, communities, chamber movement, workplace and the nation at large. This narrative is however fast changing as women are becoming more educated and enlightened about the positive impact they can make in their families and communities through business and any profession.
Although you are a well accomplished woman, what is your greatest fear?
I would say my greatest fear is “the fear of failure”. This is the reason why I ensure that I put in my very best in all I do.