Second Recession: Any nation that neglects commercial sector will die — MITC President Tony Okeke

Posted by News Express | 25 November 2020 | 2,015 times

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•MITC President Tony Okeke

 As Nigeria slips into a second recession within five years, the President of Mandilas International Trade Centre (MITC), Lagos International Trade Fair Complex, Lagos – Badagry Express Way, Chief Tony Okeke, has said that the main reason for that is because Federal Government is not paying serious attention to the commercial sector of the economy.

Okeke, who most of the time acts as the spokesperson for all the markets in the international shopping complex, says that no country in the world would treat its commercial sector with disdain and survive.

In this interview, the University of Lagos, Akoka, graduate of Public Administration also speaks on the exemption that was given to Dangote Group to be transacting businesses across the closed Nigeria/Niger Republic border, the palliatives that Federal Government is giving to some sectors of the economy to cushion the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the price of commodities in the market as Christmas season approaches, among other national issues. Excerpt:

What is your view on the second recession that Nigeria is in now?

Well, it is unfortunate that we should be talking about recession in a country that is abundantly blessed with human and material resources like Nigeria. Countries that are not half as blessed as Nigeria are flourishing. Japan, for instance, has no natural resources but it is a super economy and a super power. Without mincing words, I want you to know that the main reason why we are floundering is because government is not taking the commercial sector of the economy serious. See the fight that is going on over the Director-General of World Trade Organization. The crisis between the United States and China, the two largest economies in the world is because of trade. That shows the importance of trade. But, here, in Nigeria, traders are being treated as if they don`t matter. So, the truth is that no country in the world that neglects its commerce and survives. To stop this back and forth in the economy, Federal Government should make the trading community a priority, because we are the bedrock of the economy as well as the largest employer of labour in the country. Any government that neglects its commerce does so at its own peril.

Recently, it was revealed in the Senate that Dangote Group was given exemption to be transacting business across the closed national borders, what is your take?

Well, some time ago, I gave a lecture on the border closure. It was an intellectual discourse that had who is who in the society in attendance and I made it clear that blanket closure of national borders is not a good business decision. Even the United States has not closed its borders with Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and the other Latin American countries where hard drugs that are being sold in the United States come from. What they did is to put strict vigilance on the illegal commodities; that is, the things that it does not want in their country and allow the legal ones to be coming in. Again, it is not only importation that is going on across the borders.

Exportation is also going on. So, if you say that illegal products would not come into your country and at the same time, your own country cannot export legitimate products to the other countries that need them, you are simply harming your economy. This is what I mean by blanket border closure. Then on the question of the exemption that was given to Dangote and BUA, I want to say that it is partial. It is not right at all. Even, if there is any organisation that deserves exemption, it is the business men at Lagos International Trade Fair Complex; because, it is statutorily built to be transacting businesses with the countries in the west coast. It is because of this that Badagry Expressway was chosen for the location. Most of our customers come from the neighbouring countries like Ghana, Togo, Niger, Cote D’Ivoire, and so on. We export to them and earn foreign exchange for the country. So, when government was considering those to exempt, Lagos International Trade Fair Complex should have come to mind. But I know that it is not too late. Government can still do the right thing because today, the complex is the highest employer of labour in the country. Government should always be conscious of this when taking decisions that borders on trade and other businesses.

Recently, CBN announced N5 billion bailout for aviation industry. Do you think that is fair?

What I want to say is that what is good for the geese is also good for the gander. The Aviation industry is not the only sector that suffered losses through the lockdown. The trading community was also hard-hit. The markets were shut down. Those of us who used to go abroad to import could not travel. I know that CBN is also aware of this. It should try to extend the bail-out to the trading community, because we are also affected. If you go round the markets, you would see that many of the shops are still under lock and key. A lot of the owners lost everything to the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of the people in the markets who were doing very well before the outbreak of the virus, can no longer pay their children`s school fees, let alone their house rents. So, CBN should try to be magnanimous in this regard.

Small business owners, in short the traders, are the bedrock of the nation`s economy. They are not supposed to be neglected or treated as if they are not important. It is even because of this that we formed Ndigbo Amaka Progressive Association as a pressure group to be making our voices and plights heard and known to government. The fact is that the so-called formal sector depends on the informal sector to survive. The informal sector is the livewire of the economy, but the so-called formal sector is taking the shine from us. No country in the world can survive without commerce. Let me put it this way, any country that neglects its commerce is dead. So, the Federal Government and CBN should try to be encouraging those of us in the commercial sector of the economy.

The Christmas season is here with us again. How are the prices of goods in the market?

Well, it is the market forces that usually determine the prices of goods in the market. In Mandilas International Trade Centre, Lagos International Trade Fair Complex, we mostly deal on fashion and you know that the demand for fashion is usually more during the festive periods, most especially Christmas. This simply means that there would be a lot of demands. People are already trooping into our complex in their numbers, because we are the hub of fashion materials in the whole of West Africa. It is at Mandilas International segment of Lagos International Complex that people buy and go to the other parts of the country to sell. That simply shows that our prices are far more affordable than any other market in the country. The reason is because we deal directly with the manufacturers, so we enjoy the advantage of large scale purchases. Another thing is that we are very customer conscious. In our complex, we value relationship far more than money; so we make sure that we keep our customers coming back and the only way we do that is by selling at pocket-friendly prices.

Why should I come to Mandilas International Trade Centre for my clothing materials, instead of the other markets?

Well, that is a very good question. You should bear in mind that Christmas season shopping is always chaotic and hoodlums, most of the time, take advantage of that to rob people. Mandilas International Trade Center is the most peaceful market in Lagos State as a whole, if not in the country. Our environment is very serene. Since inception, we have not had any case of stealing, pick-pocketing or even burglary. But even upon the serene environment, our security is very tight. We have cameras installed in strategic areas in the market that monitors everybody within the complex. So, it is where you should come and shop with peace of mind, unlike the other markets, where your heart would be in your mouth while shopping.




Source: News Express

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