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We use trade fairs to grow manufacturing sector – Ruwase

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By Franklin Alli

With 65 days to go, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) is working frantically to host this year’s Lagos International Trade Fair which runs from November 2nd to 11th at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) in the heart of Lagos.  In this interview, Vice-President &  Chairman, Trade Promotion Board,  Babatunde Ruwase, spoke to Financial Vanguard on why they are dumping the International Trade Fair Complex, Badagry Expressway, for the TBS; their level of preparation so far, among other issues. EXCERPTS:

What is your area of specialisation, and how are you bringing your professional expertise to bear on having a good trade fair this year?

I am a chartered accountant by  profession. I have also been in the logistics business. I worked with Panalpina World Transport as an executive director. The company closed down in Nigeria four or five years ago. Today, I have a logistics company and also a chartered accountant firm, B. Ruwase & Co Chartered Accountants.  Well, I am privileged to be the vice- president of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI.  I have also been on the Trade Promotion Committee for the past couple of years.  We have a system in place and it is not about an individual.

What I am doing is to maintain the standards and also make sure that we do something better by building on past achievements that have been recorded by the chamber in the organisation and management of the trade fair. Being a member of the committee for years, I wouldn’t say there have been no lapses, but we always try to improve on what we have done in the past. There is always room for improvement even in human lives. That is what I would try to do, to surpass the standards along with the members of my committee.

For how long has the LCCI hosted trade fairs at the international trade fair complex and why are you shifting it to the Tafawa Balewa Square this year?

The chamber has been organising the trade fair at the complex for 25 years, and this year’s edition will be the 26th that we shall be organising. The Federal Government actually gave the franchise 26 years ago to organise the trade fair as a private sector, and that we have been doing for the past 26 years.  We have been going forth and back; it’s not the first time we’ll be staging the fair at the Tafawa Balewa Square.  We’ve been at the TBS and later went back to the purpose-built international trade fair complex. We are going back to the TBS this year because of certain challenges that we observed last year. As you know, Lagos-Badagry road is under construction.  Last year, it was a big challenge to participants and exhibitors to the trade fair.   That was when the Orile-Mile two axis was being constructed.  This year, it is from Mile two to beyond the trade fair complex. So, we decided to go back to the TBS this time around to avoid traffic difficulty along the trade fair complex. So, LCCI decided to shift the venue of the Fair, tagged ‘The Biggest and the Best’, from the Lagos Trade Fair Complex this year because of the ongoing construction work on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. The expansion of the road had posed huge challenges to commuters and participants at the Fair last year. This year’s venue offers a three-in-one interconnected Fair grounds through the main bowl of the TBS, the adjourning cricket pitch and the Club Arcade car park. Combined, these three locations have a total exhibition space of over 40,000 square metres, more than the required 35,000 to host the Lagos International Trade Fair.

Would you go back to the trade fair complex after the road construction?
Oh, yes, if it offers a better venue, we’ll go back but I can’t say that for now. We always take decisions considering prevailing circumstances at a particular time.   We are not leaving there forever; if it offers a better alternative, we’ll go back there. As I told you earlier, in the past, we held it at the TBS for several years.   The international trade fair complex is a purpose- built facility but over the years, the structural defects have been showing.  When it was built, it was a better venue than now that it has started having structural challenges. Other facilities that are not purpose-built are being of advantage.  The facilities there have gone down because of lack of maintenance; it was neglected by government. It needed certain upgrading and renewals. Today, it doesn’t meet the standard of a purpose-built trade fair arena because we have challenges there. The TBS too which I said we had used in the past, there is no much difference between the TBS and LITFC.

I can tell you that the space and size we have at TBS is far more than LITFC on Lagos- Badagry Expressway. At the LITFC, we have always used   little over 30,000 square meters maximally but the TBS offers well over 40,000 square meters; that is when you take the cricket pitch and the main bowl. So, talking of space area, it is not going to be a disadvantage and whoever wants to come should not be afraid. Exhibitors should not be afraid. We have enough space to accommodate everybody.

Has work started there now, I mean construction of pavilions?

We have not started and we can’t start now because we have to pay for the space.   There is a limited time to when you rent the space and for everyday you have it you are paying for it. We pay for the space for the duration of the fair. We will take over the facility two weeks before the fair, and that means we’ll be paying for over a month. We can’t move in now. It’s too early to start erecting pavilions.  We don’t start until when it is two weeks to the trade fair.  Constructions of pavilions are not done by us; even until the last day, people are still paying and three to five days to the end of the fair, people are still constructing their pavilions. It is not due to our own inadequacies or deficiencies; we have allocated the space.

What arrangements have you put in place for vehicle and human movement?
TBS hosts religious programmes where thousands of people attend and these thousands of people don’t have particular times. If there is service, people get there at nine o’clock, and close at the same time.  Trade fair doesn’t attract the same crowd at the same time, so, we don’t have problem of handling of visitors to the trade fair. We also know that the time people come to the trade fair more is at the weekends, and if you are familiar with TBS on weekends, it is scanty on Saturdays and Sundays.   With that, we don’t foresee problems of crowd control.

Also, in anticipation of huge human and vehicular traffic, the Chamber is working on the provision of ‘Park and Ride’ services from designated parks through collaboration with LAGBUS Asset Management Company. We also have arrangement with LASTMA, Police and other authorities for the management and control of vehicle and human traffic.

You are running away from Badagry Expressway traffic, what about that of Third Mainland bridge?

I don’t think the ongoing reconstruction will disturb people coming to the fair at TBS, and I’ll tell you why. We have been assured that they are ahead of time of the repairs that they are doing. The last time the Minister of Works inspected the repairs, it was agreed that they would complete the repairs before the end of October.  But even if not, people will still be able to find their way to Lagos. Thank God, there are BRT buses; people who ply BRT buses don’t really feel the impact of traffic gridlocks and since the construction started, there’s never been a situation of stand-still on Ikorodu road.  So, we don’t see any negative impact of the repairs on the trade fair.  Even on Saturdays and Sundays, the number of people that travel to Lagos Island is less, so the traffic is light.  As I have highlighted, most people come to trade fairs on weekends.

Why is LCCI not doing specialised trade fairs like the Canton Fairs in China, Messe Düsseldorf in Germany?

What do we see in those places?

We are talking of countries where there is serious manufacturing sector contributing to their GDP. We know that the manufacturing sector in Nigeria is comatose.  It’s like manufacturing doesn’t exist in Nigeria. So, the idea of a viable specialised trade fair in Nigeria is very difficult.  So we’ll continue to do what we have.  A maxim says “If the desirable is unavailable, the available becomes desirable.”

Even if we are going to do specialised trade fair, the framework  will still be built on a thriving productive sector but our situation now as a people and a country, we don’t see specialised trade fair being done like the Canton Fair in China. It is manufacturers that will come there in great number.   We have not gotten to that stage. Maybe, when we fix infrastructural deficiency, we would be able to do specialised trade fairs. It is easier to do generalised than specialised; specialised is a sector e.g. textile, oil/gas, leather and foot wear, etc.   Even if you do one for electrical and electronic sector, it won’t be easy to get them to participate because I know what they are. So, specialised fair is even more complex.  We are not doing specialised fair because it is not something that we consider viable considering the circumstances of the country.

What is your take on our domestic trade fairs being dominated by imported products?

It’s a rider on what I have just said. What do we produce? And even if you attend a trade fair in the U.S.A, you will find more of Chinese products because China today is the world’s manufacturing warehouse. So, if we don’t manufacture, we won’t have something to exhibit.  Presently, people come to exhibit products that are being sold by Nigerians not foreigners. Our country is an import-dependent nation and that is why when organising a fair, you can only show what you have. So, the fault is not on the part of the organisers. You must have something to exhibit. So, what we are encouraging is that Nigerians should use the trade fair platform to partner with foreigners to build the manufacturing base. But if we don’t fix infrastructural deficiencies, and cost of doing business in Nigeria; we can’t have it there; and if someone wants to exhibit, you only exhibit what you have.

You can imagine if our textile companies are working, if Nigerians are wearing made- in-Nigeria clothes and shoes, you can imagine the effect that would have on our economy. So, a trade fair is a place for people to show what they have. The organisers of trade fairs are not the ones that should determine what we have. So, if government says we should use it to promote indigenous products and technologies, we don’t prevent people from showing it if they have it. So, we use our trade fairs to encourage Nigerians and foreigners to enter into partnerships that are mutually beneficial.

What is unique about this year’s edition of the fair?

This year’s venue offers a three-in-one interconnected Fair grounds through the main bowl of the TBS, the adjourning cricket pitch and the Club Arcade car park. Combined, these three locations have a total exhibition space of over 40,000 square metres, more than the required 35,000 to host the Lagos International Trade Fair.

Lastly, how long has LCCI been in operation, and what are its thrusts?
Founded in 1888, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry is the premier chamber of commerce in Nigeria. It was incorporated in 1950 as a non-profit making organisation, limited by Guarantee under the Companies and Allied Matters Act of 1948.

The primary objective of the Chamber is to promote, support or oppose legislations or other measures affecting trade, industry, commerce and agriculture as well as representing the opinion of the business community on the above matters in particular, and the economy as a whole. The Chamber has grown impressively from a membership of 14 in 1888 to over 1,500 today. Since its incorporation, the Chamber has continued to play a significant role in the economic growth of Lagos in particular and Nigeria in general.

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