WELCOME ADDRESS BYP RINCE ADETOKUNBO KAYODE, CON, SAN, PRESIDENT OF ABUJA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY, OFFICIAL OPENING CEREMONY OF THE 2019 ABUJA INTERNATIONAL TRADE FAIR
@ABUJA INTERNATIONAL TRADE AND CONVENTION CENTRE
MONDAY, 23RD SEPTEMBER, 2019.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the official opening ceremony of the 2019 Abuja International Trade Fair (#2019AITF), the 14th edition.
Today provides another opportunity for all of us to meet to promote trade share ideas about our economy, make contacts and network for commercially and mutually beneficial relationships.
I am today more than ever assured by the quality of participation and subscription to the 2019 AITF that we are on the sustained path of building that much needed network that will place us on the pedestal of collectively contributing our critical input towards the tasks of putting our people to work, generating employment opportunities and creating wealth for them.
Our population is growing exponentially culminating in over 200 million people. To some this is scaring. To me and others, it is an opportunity. Scary because 200 million mouths to carter for is a tall order. A huge opportunity for growth, for development and for empowerment because the 200 million consist of more than 70% young people, vibrant, strong, intelligent whose energies could be unleashed to take Nigeria to the next level. The level that must propel us out of poverty. Out of been classified as underdeveloped unto a developmental stage that our natural resources and our intelligence make it natural for us to be. And this will happen.
In spite of all our daunting challenges, the whole world today, especially the developed world understands that they must trade with Nigeria. They must work with Nigeria and they must partner with Nigeria. All we need to do is to decide to trade with the world and partner with the world. We must make easy to partner with Nigeria. We must make it easy to come to Nigeria. Our traditional hospitality is acknowledged all over the world. So, we must encourage both old and new partners come to Nigeria and stay in Nigeria and do business in Nigeria.
In the past two years, the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been repositioned to play critical roles within the Organised Private Sector (OPS) to influence, shape and develop policies that affects the economy, to promote and industry in order to foster diversification of the economy; to support and enhance skills development; bridge skills gap, and help resolve the issue of skills mis-match and re-skilling; to lay a solid foundation for a National Commercial Disputes Resolution mechanism, to ensure expeditious resolution of commercial disputes.
We have actively engaged government to promote Public-Private Partnerships. This has not been easy. It was not supposed to be easy. But we have by and large succeeded. For Instance, we have signed with SMEDAN, Abuja Enterprise Agency, Nigerian Public Service Institute, Nigeria Institute of Animal Science and looking to sign Mou with Nigerian Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC), Ministry of Mines and Steel, NIPC, NEPC. We have also signed international MOUs with Sekondi-Takoradi Chamber of Commerce of Ghana, Busan Chamber of Commerce, amongst several others. We are looking to sign with the Nigerian-Russia Chamber of Commerce in Sochi next month. We have not rested because there is a lot more to be done.
We are developing a mini commercial city in this complex. We have completed our Corporate office block of 6,000 sqm office and exhibition space. We have completed the Abuja Trade and Convention Centre, where we are right now. We have completed 3 blocks, BEST 1, 2 and 3, our skills development centre. Some projects have taken off within our Business Park. We are sourcing developers for our hospitality and leisure development within the complex.
And also, to emphasise that, in line with his earlier promise, hosting economic activities at the Eagle Square, Old Parade Ground and International Conference Centre is no longer tenable. We have the facilities here in this premises and they are available for such purposes. We have to decongest the city centre.
In alignment with policy to diversify the national economy, we have applied to the FCT for the allocation of land for: (a) development of Agricultural Park, (b). Development of Industrial Park and (c). Development of Electronics Mart. We want to once more call on the Hon. Minister, FCT to consider and expeditiously approve these applications.
Our membership is about 1200 strong and we are encouraging them to work in sectoral clusters as is now vogue all over the world. We are supporting our members, being SMEs to formalise their businesses and enable them to grow. An advantage to government, Hon. Minister is, this will enable you easily tax profit made. The informal sector is almost impossible to tax.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Nigeria is an SME country. 99% of our enterprises are SMEs. This is why the theme is: Remodelling SMEs Financing: Options and Solutions. Financing SMEs is of strategic importance to our members in particular and the rest of the business community in the country.
SMEs are the main buildings blocks for critical development of any economy. We remain firm in our view that Government has a duty to provide a clear and distinct policy for the growth and development of SMEs Nigeria. These category of businessmen continue to suffer untold hardships, lack of support and complicated and complex but hardly effective intervention funding mechanisms.
The system of funding mechanism for the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is defective and this defect must be resolved expeditiously. At the last count, government has about 21 intervention funds with billions of Naira committed but very minimum impact either in terms of quantum or quality. Over the years, the federal government especially through the CBN have made very substantial funds available for SMEs. But the issues associated with the disbursement in terms of collateral, interest rates and short term nature have contributed forces to dwindle the marginal efforts to fund SMEs. Funding through the commercial banks has proved unproductive. The commercial banks are not programmed or structured to do long term funding or capital investment. They are into short term, quick return deals. So why do we continue to pass development funds through commercial banks, where experience has taught us that the essence and the aim of government is frustrated and or thwarted.
We will consequently urge government to consider and agree to a special funding vehicle for SMEs through the OPS. We prefer that Government embark on Finance Leasing, which provides for direct procurement of Capital Equipment (CAPEX) by funding agency to the SME and the provision of only Operational Expenses (OPEX) as against the prevailing instance where direct cash, where given become exposed to diversion into several other concerns. Since CAPEX is usually about 80% of total capital requirement, this leads to a de-risking of the facility upto about 80% especially with the covering of cost for delivery, installation, maintenance and insurance.
An OPS driven SME funding DFI will soon be proposed to the Governor of CBN by the indefatigable National President of NACCIMA, our own Hajia Saratu Iya Aliyu, who is lending her very substantial weight to this initiative. It will be great if the CBN will give serious consideration to this. At least let us try to do SME funding another way.
The second main challenge is the problem of multiple taxation and grey taxation procedures. Manifestation of multiple taxation is in many forms: corporate tax, stamp duties, property tax, tenement rate, infrastructure charges, environmental charges, water rates, to mention a few. We hold the firm view that businesses pay appropriate taxes and municipal charges. But multiple taxation kills SMEs. So also unearned and destructive charges on loans to SMEs like stamp duties, registration fees, consent fees, CAC fees etc.
To say the least, shocking and worrisome that governments, at every level, continue to take up to 10-15% of part of loans granted to SMEs in the name of consent fees, stamp duties, title registration fees, filling fees at the CAC, etc. While the banks also collect another 10% or more through administrative charges and documentation costs. All these have to stop in the interest of the economic development of this country.
It is when SMEs grow and prosper, that jobs maybe created and employment and wealth will be generated. Government does not, and we should not expect her to create all-encompassing job opportunities. How many jobs can government create? But a good environment, what in common parlance is now called, Enabling Environment, will enable the private sector (do business) create jobs and put our people to work. It is also called Ease of Doing Business. At the federal level, Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council, (PEBEC) was inaugurated to tackle some of the issues raised here. We salute the federal government for this. But as much as we do so, we must honestly stress that it is not yet Uhuru.
A lot still needs to be done. We encourage government to redouble its efforts in this direction. The State Governments have even more critical roles to play and they must also implement the ease of doing business and enabling environment policies. As Chair of the National Economic Council, I believe Vice President Osinbajo can leverage on the tremendous goodwill he enjoys with the states to get the states to put this issue on the front burner. All politics, they say, is local. I say all economy is local too.
Now back to the reason we are here today. Over the past 13 years, it would be recalled that the Abuja International Trade Fair has remained a most vibrant multi-sectoral trade event which has grown exceedingly in scope and size as a platform for international and domestic exhibitors to promote and showcase new products, innovations, strategic direction in their area of interest, access new markets and deepen or sign business deals. This year we have recorded a tremendous increase in the number of Exhibitors compared to 2017 and general arrangement of the Fair.
Year in year out, we have continued to record exponential increments in attendance and participation in our fairs. Kudos and appreciation is accorded to our secretariat as well as our EXCO and Council for their hard work.
Today’s official Opening Ceremony provides an opportunity for a good mix of key government functionaries, stakeholders, major players in the areas of Commerce, Industry, Trades and Investment. So it would be of immense benefit for us to re-echo this singular appeal that the public and Private Sector operators, must work as collaborators not competitors, as partners not combatants, these are the only sure ways to guarantee and achieve the ambition of developing our country’s economy. That is the only way we can build a lasting legacy of value and ensure shared prosperity for the next generation.
Before ending this welcome speech I want to put on record our appreciation of the FCT Administration and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment for the regular support to our Chamber. I also present my personal appreciation of all members of the Chamber, friends in the diplomatic community, associates and all the distinguished guests present here today. You are all welcome to 2019 Abuja International Trade Fair. The Fair will last from 21st till 29th September.
Please make time to visit and encourage your friends and associates to visit also. There is something here for everybody.
Thank you and I wish you a splendid 2019 Trade Fair and God’s Blessings.
Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, CON., SAN
President, Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Monday, 23rd September, 2019