The Director of Trade Promotions and International Relations, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr Dele Alimi, in this interview with AKIN ADEWAKUN explains the reasons behind the Chamber’s decision to organise specialised exhibitions, noting that one of the attractions of such exhibitions remains their value-adding qualities.
This year’s event witnessed a much bigger attendance than that of last year. What did you do differently this year?
Well, lessons are supposed to be learnt. We had a lot of challenges last year because what we wanted to do then was to hold the event after the elections. But unfortunately, the election was postponed, and it later fell exactly within the period we rescheduled for the event. So we had to postpone our event again. That, of course, caused a credibility issue.
There is always a crisis of confidence when you have an event and you keep postponing it. Even when people know why you are postponing the event, they may think that maybe you were not well prepared for it. Also, the prevailing situation at that time didn’t help matters. There was fuel scarcity; we had a lot of trepidation in people’s minds, both local and foreign about whether the election would hold or not. So nobody was ready to commit themselves to anything at that time.
So I think that constituted greatly to what happened last year. We learnt from that and we thank God that the atmosphere is better this year. We also learnt one or two lessons because we’ve had what we call the general interest trade fair for years and we were foraying into a new area of specialised exhibition. So we learnt a new thing, that it is not a plug and play thing. You need to learn some new tricks in organising a specialised event, and I think that was part of the lesson we learnt last year.
We also ensured more engagement of stakeholders in that industry for them to see. We took a lot of lessons from them on the salient areas of IT and telecommunications that needed to be addressed, especially in terms of relationship with business and how IT will grow. And I think that has paid off tremendously because the show now went from being LCCI event to being a sector event. We had in our planning committee the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, the Federal Ministry of Communication, the NCC, NITDA, private sector bodies like the Nigerian Interbank Systems, ConnectNigeria and a host of other stakeholders.
We had people from all over the spectrum as members of the planning committee. So we actually dished out what the sector wanted. It is all about selling value. We sold this product to people, they saw the value in it and when we also went out to talk to people who are not in the sector, they were interested. And the result is what you see here in the last three days.
The presence of the Minister of Communication provided a big boost to the event. How would you interprete this as far as the exhibition is concerned?
As a Chamber of Commerce, we are at the forefront of advocacy, and advocacy involves the private sector engaging effectively, the public sector. What we have done with this is that, when we started the planning for the programme, we actually made a courtesy call to the Minister of Communication and the Minister of Science and Technology to also get their take on the situation in the industry and what their expectations are. When we asked for their nomination from the Ministry of Communication for this event, the minister nominated his Special Adviser, Technical as a member of our planning committee. So that shows you how far we had gone in engaging the public sector to be part of this.
So getting him to come, it was a show that he knew everything that was happening, from planning to implementation. So it was easy for him to come because it is almost like his own show and like he said during the opening ceremony, that anything that would lead to the development of IT is what he would work with.
Many participants at this event clamoured for e-governance, especially in the public sector. How ready are we for this?
e-government is desirable. In fact, it is either we do it or the world will leave us behind. We have done a bit of e-government, for instance the TSA, where there is only one single treasury account. But what we are saying is that there is the need for us to become smarter in everything we do. Our society will become better, easier and smoother. At the end of the day, we would have used technology to make living better.
So e-government is an opportunity for government to make its operations simpler and also ensure that it delivers on its promises. It is an easier way for the government itself, because when you use technology to provide solutions to issues, it ensures an easier way to do anything. e-government will ensure using technology to implement programmes for the people. It would even raise the profile of the government and enhance service delivery in every sector. That is the way to go, whether we like it or not.
Although the issue of infrastructure is there as a challenge, we will not wait until we have 100 per cent infrastructure before we start. So we start now and develop both. The major infrastructure that is not there now for e-governance is power. So as we work on power, there is need to also work on our e-government capacities so that both can grow at the same time. We cannot say that the e-government should wait while we work on power. Working on the two must go simultaneously such that at the end of the day, we will arrive at a conducive level on time.
One would have expected the nation’s financial institutions and telecom companies that depend on ICT to drive their businesses to be at the forefront of this event, but I could only see a few of them at the exhibition. What must have gone wrong?
For me, nothing went wrong. Nothing absolutely has gone wrong. We didn’t have only Diamond Bank, we also had GTBank. And in terms of the telcos, we had Airtel and MTN. But everybody was invited. People just chose different platforms to participate in the event.
We are doing some things with Etisalat as well with Glo. As far as the Chamber is concerned, we create different platforms of making things happen. We are doing some things with First Bank, as far as the advocacy programme is concerned. So it is a Chamber-wide thing.
So when you don’t see them here, it doesn’t mean they are not involved in what LCCI is doing. They have just chosen different platforms to support what LCCI is doing.
You have an exhibition that the Chamber is well known for, the Lagos International Trade Fair. Why veer into specialised exhibition such as ICTEL?
We are only reacting to the needs of the market, both local and international. The Lagos International Trade Fair is big, it is a general interest fair and some of the sectors have requested us to create a platform where they can discuss the issue that are germane to their own specific sectors and not be in the midst of many other sectors where they are buried. That is what led to this.
We are going to go to other sectors and even look at the tiniest sub-sector in each sector. We are doing something on agriculture and it may not be general agriculture. It could be a micro part of agriculture that we think is impacting strongly in the bigger sector. We are a chamber of commerce. We have members in different areas of businesses and in our discussion with them, we have received feedback on the kind of value they want, because right now, it is about value creation. People would only go to places where there is value for them. They are not going to come because it is being organised by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce, they are going to come because LCCI is presenting a product that is delivering value to them and that is what we’ve done with this.
Most of the companies that are here have never attended the Lagos International Trade Fair. Why? For them, their product is not a mass market product, it’s a specialised market product. So they need an area where they know that at least 90 per cent of the people that will come here are people from the sector they are trying to reach.
What are you doing now to make sure this specialised exhibition is not mistaken for the Lagos trade Fair?
It can’t. They are two different products. It is just like a company having different products in its portfolio. There is no way it could be mistaken. This is sector-specific and it is happening at a different time. People know that Lagos International Trade Fair happens in November every year, and there are distinct marketing and publicity processes, robust enough to ensure that there is no mixture.
As we speak, we are already running marketing programmes for Lagos International Trade Fair. People have started booking stands, we have sold almost 2,000 square metres of space. So there is no confusion between Lagos International Trade Fair and our specialised exhibitions.
What should we expect from LCCI regarding this specialised exhibition come 2017?
We expect a much bigger event. Many organisations have approached us now, we are already selling the value to members. So we expect a much bigger event that would even meet more the needs of the business community.