By Anino Aganbi & Chris Onuoha
FOR the first time ever in the history of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, NACCIMA, a woman was recently sworn in as National President of the body. The 19th National President, Iyalode Alaba Lawson happens to be a well respected woman with a great title of Iyalode of Egbaland and Yorubaland. It would seem that Iyalode Alaba Lawson has over the last three decades contributed her quota to the growth and development of commerce in Abeokuta.
The contributions of Iyalode Lawson in the area of Commerce and Industry have indeed been outstanding. She became the President of the Abeokuta Chambers of Commerce in 1995 and since then, her climb up the ladder of Chamber of Commerce has known no bounds. Iyalode Alaba Lawson has, however, been known for her contribution in the area of philanthropy especially as it concerns the grassroot and the under-privileged.
To buttress her philanthropic nature, Alaba Lawson awards scholarships to indigent but brilliant students on a yearly basis.
Speaking to WO during a phone conversation, Barr. Emmanuel Cobhams, Director General of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, NACCIMA, stated, “She is coming in as the National President of NACCIMA and NACCIMMA has constitution or bye-laws that makes it mandatory that every two years, there has to be election, so every two years we expect a new president.
That is our law. What it means is that we are gearing up for a new person to come in. It is not strange, neither is it alien to our culture, it is part of our DNA. So we welcome it with whole heartedly and we have to extend our hands of fellowship to her and that is exactly what we are doing. Everything we do, we are in transition until she takes over.
“There is something I’ve always known: women count themselves as being equal to men in capacity, training, ability and capability. There comes a time in the evolution of man that women have to rock the cradle and if they have to, they say the hands that rock the cradle rules the world but of course, the hands that rock the cradle never get enough sleep.”
“It is a worrying hand. It has to make sure that things work well and so if it gets to a point where we have women leaders or women who find themselves in leadership positions, that is what has been curtailed in them. Sometimes women could be better managers. What is your training or preparation before you attain any position? People are endowed with various capabilities and so when it comes to situations like this; it is not as if it is given on a platter of gold.”
He concluded by saying, “There are some internal dynamic works that have gone over the years and Iyalode has been in the system for several years. She is not just coming in. So she understands the ropes and knows what it takes. I am sure her preparation towards making NACCIMA better is still in the plan for her to unveil.
“Earlier interviews talked about her passion for women, and the empowerment and development for women. If you talk about women, you talk about youth affairs, employment, placing people in places where they will be useful to themselves and society. There is a lot in the plate for her”.
Former Director General of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Remi Ogunmefun, also responded, “I believe having women at the helm of affairs for the chambers of commerce is a good thing. I do not have anything against a woman holding such a position.
“Anybody who is not capable cannot hold such positions whether at the federal or state level. I personally know both of these women at the state and national levels and I believe they have the intellect to hold such positions. Besides, having women there would do the economy a lot of good”.
Muda Yusuf, Director General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industries, while speaking to WO, revealed that one of the key mandates of the Chamber of Commerce is advocacy.
“Business generally operates in such a way that it does not discriminate. The issue of gender is not so profound, unlike what you have in politics, religion or something else. What is important is the right kind of environment to be created to ensure that whoever is in business should be able to operate profitably and sustainably.
What we do is create enabling environment for everybody to benefit irrespective of gender. But when you talk about gender specific issues, you can be talking more on the area of funding. What can be done is to encourage more women especially in the area of opportunities, for funding of their businesses.
“A lot of women carry huge responsibilities in many families today whether in the city or rural areas. You also need to look at gender discrimination in terms of maybe assets ownership. Those are areas in which through advocacy we can ensure that women benefit. The Bank of Industry, BOI, has a gender fund for instance. Central Bank also has specific guidelines for some funds to give high percentage on some of these SMEs to women. A bit or some of all these are already done.”
Yusuf further revealed: “One thing about business is that when your business is doing well there’s need for you to get the right kind of attention. Look at the distributive chain for instance; it is dominated by women all over Lagos City and beyond.
“If they are not doing good business, they will not be dominating the scene. They don’t have any confidence issue at all. In the retail business, especially the informal sector, they call the shots particularly in the South West and other areas.
“The factors that are driving influence in politics are different from the factors that drive influence in business. It is a completely different context. In politics, there are a lot of cultural issues. The male call the shots, notwithstanding that we have few females in politics. The gender dominance is still very much pronounced in politics.”
Oluwarotimi Adesanya is of the opinion that “Market women in the country enjoy some visible privileges because the agency has striven to create and expand markets for women who, however, control the retail sector. Currently, newly constructed markets are done in a way the petty traders that are largely women can afford instead of lock-up shops that are very expensive to rent. The ministry of commerce is also doing much for the women in terms of global exposure. Some women are being taken outside the country by the ministry during trade expos and other business engagements.”
He concluded by saying “These agencies have been helping the women in cross-border trades aside the global business fairs. It is working as long as their merchandise is not contraband. Loan grants, insurance and sometimes business counseling is what they offer to them to help facilitate their business. Women have nothing to lose having their own at the helm of commerce affairs”.
Ibiwunmi Akinnola, an entrepreneur based in Lagos said, “I have been an entrepreneur for quite a while and at no point has any member of Chamber of Commerce reached out to me. Most women because they go through the cheapest way of marketing, have their information online and they can easily be reached but they do not communicate. If you do not go to them they do not come to look for you. I am talking from my own experience.
“But I don’t think they go out of their way for any one. I don’t know if these women at the helm of leadership will do something about it. You have Wimbiz reaching out to women, they gather information, they call once in a while and even if you are not interested you will be curious enough to want to know why they are calling you. And they ask you questions or they do surveys and send to as many women as they want.
“Having a woman at the helm of affairs in the chamber of commerce will make a difference for women entrepreneurs, if she has enough support of the men that work with her. If she is alone, among many men and they do not support her, as much as she might want to support women she might find it difficult.
I would think she should try and get as many women with her so she will not be the only one voice because women are compassionate normally, they also understand how women operate their entrepreneurial businesses. So they have a better understanding on how to deal with women entrepreneurs. Women are the back bone of the business. We are the ones selling everything and anything. We are always looking for ideas to do things.
The economy is being held by women no matter how little. Even the woman selling tomatoes is doing commerce. It is still the women. If for example you are being helped and you have small contributions you are into, people do not look for millions, some of them need N200,000 or at most N250,000 and you would change their lives completely. We have little corporations and banks. Even the banks do not want to give women money because they do not understand how women operate.
The thing about women is that every woman wants to feed her children. So she wants to sell. We might not know the tricks of making money so chamber of commerce should have a workshop for women, from the lowest of us to the highest of us,” says Akinnola.