By Ebunoluwa Sessou

From a deficit in 2017  to a world class International Trade Fair in West Africa, Lucy Ajayi, immediate past Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex, LITFC management and board, has not only raised the standard of the Trade Fair but also ensured maintenance of the complex .  Having served for four years, she speaks on her experience and how she was able to make N1.6bn for the federal government during her tenure.

What was your experience serving as Executive Director at the International Trade Fair, in an industry dominated by men?

My assignment in office started with the task of repositioning the Trade Fair complex. Eight months after the appointment, I was able to repossess my office. Many thought I would not be able to end my tenure well because I drove out a furious litigant, the other concessionaire,  but I have added value to the trade fair. I believe I have written my name in gold.

It has been more than a year since your tenure ended at LITFC, yet awards and recognitions are pouring in as if you are still in office, what is the secret?

I am surprised too. It only shows that Nigerians appreciated my stewardship. I thank them all.

My greatest achievement there was to return LITFC back to the government from a concession that went wrong after nine years of non remittance to the government. 

My greatest challenge was how to remove the former concessionaire out of the complex for eight months during which I couldn’t access my office and was operating from Abuja.

 The stakeholders cooperated in paying their annual ground rents. We were able to lease some hectares of land lying fallow for their cluster expansions and that raised our annual revenue too, since those idle lands now had monetary value placed on them, rather than rearing reptiles and other animals  and paying to clear the forest.

Were your targets met?                            

There were lots of rehabilitations that took place including the administrative block, repossessing of some areas that were already occupied by traders. We had fully taken over construction of the bridge.  We took over the 100 chalet motel, although not in full operation and rehabilitation of roads. I did almost three quarters before I left and the final one is in progress because I have already signed out the 5km road to the Chinese Company CCECC and the construction is in phases. Two phases have been successfully completed and they are on the third phase which is dependent on last year’s budget. The fourth phase according to the Chinese’s report will be done based on the year’s budget. I am sure by the time they complete the fifth phase, the 5km road would have been rehabilitated. Over the years, the trade fair had never felt the impact of governance. There was a lot of training and re-training for our staff members amidst the meagre overhead that we received, I think I have done well, considering I took possession after eight months so all these were done within three years and a few months.

How experienced were you. Did you ever work in a market before?

It was a great experience. I have never been trained nor have I had an appointment as a CEO of a market before. When the appointment came, people called it a federal agency but I saw it as running a market, because the concessionaire had changed it from its original structure of a trade fair to a market and we are trying to bring back the glory and sanity. It can’t take just three and a half years to restore sanity but I tell you, the stakeholders are really awesome. They show understanding and they are only protecting their business and trying to obey the government’s laws and policies.

Holding sway in a male dominated environment, how did that go?

Trade fair was not the only place I worked in. I had worked in a different environment where men were predominantly occupied. Many petitions were written against me questioning my position, yet I scaled through. When the merger came up, out of the 18 member committee that Buhari instituted, I was the only woman. The petitions were so many, yet I am still standing. Perhaps I was dragging what seemed for men. I am grateful to President Mohammadu Buhari, who spotted me and gave me a chance.

I thought I was coming to a corporate environment but I became a market woman because you can feel their pains and gains, manage them as well before bringing government policy and make it as friendly as possible.

Does that mean there were no challenges?

There were trials but most times I do not look at the challenges, maybe that is why I could pull through. Rather than looking at the challenges, I see solutions and how to address issues appropriately. Many times, I received distress calls on fire accidents; yet, we were able to pull through. Maybe the feminine aspect of my life played out. Just take it or leave it, women bring their warmth into every situation. If you have a committee without a woman I feel it is going to be very strict; even at the merger when the men were quarrelling I used to beg them. I was like a tea girl to all of them. They were like my fathers too, and when you give them respect I think it is reciprocal.

For example in the Trade Fair, starting from arrears rather than starting from on a new leaf was a big deal. The concessionaire left nothing so you have to go back to take care of the past like me. I had so many inherited litigations but if I didn’t meet litigations, probably, I would have done better.

I made the sum of N1.6bn for the federal government in three years and prior to that time, the few stakeholders that were very magnanimous with their payments could only turn in 44million.

That was what the government was making per annum then, all because the stakeholders felt it is better for them to pay to the federal government rather than pay to the concessionaire. The records are there, it was 44million.

I would however have done much better if the structure was already in place, and if we were not thinking of concessioning the place again, because that is causing a lot of misunderstanding and some things are lying fallow. The mini stadium is there, the halls are there and the motel. If the new administration can consider a Public-Private Partnership, PPP arrangement, it will make more money.

It is said that the Igbos are much more in population than other ethnic groups at LITFC, and that due to their republican nature, they are ‘unmanageable’ but they were loyal to you. How did you do it?

The Igbos are not unmanageable. It’s a misconception. They are only protecting their businesses, which is not out of place. I must commend them in the Trade Fair, they are awesome. They were loyal because I was humane to them.

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