By Olusegun Awolowo and Arancha González
These are challenging times for the Nigerian economy. After a decade of solid growth, output shrank earlier this year, mostly on the back of a steep fall in oil prices. But Nigeria’s most important commodity has never been its oil. The country’s most important asset is its dynamic, entrepreneurial and innovative people. And one of its most underutilised assets is the economic potential of Nigerian women.
This latest bout of commodity price volatility underscores the need to boost diversification and productivity to generate lasting growth and jobs for Nigeria’s fast-growing, young population.
Beyond generating foreign exchange, trade can play an important role in shifting people and resources out of subsistence agriculture and informal self-employment into more productive activities, in agro-industry, manufacturing and formal services. For this reason, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) was set up to promote the development of a diversified export sector.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for the vast majority of firms and jobs just about everywhere, and Nigeria is no exception.
For growth and trade to lead to poverty reduction, it’s essential for these smaller businesses to share in the gains. The International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations, is working together with Nigerian private sector firms and public sector stakeholders, including the NEPC to empower Nigerian SMEs to become more competitive and connect to international trade and investment.
As it seeks to diversify its economy, Nigeria must invest in its people and the SMEs that employ most of them. But the returns on these investments would be much higher if accompanied by specific efforts to bring women more fully into the country’s economic mainstream.
Nigerian women are already playing leading roles in politics and the economy. Women own an estimated 30 per cent of the country’s registered entrepreneurial businesses and are behind 41 per cent of business start-ups. Yet a mere six per cent of parliamentarians are female, and women account for only 24 per cent of non-agricultural employment.
The cost of gender discrimination to world economy is staggering. McKinsey Global Institute recently estimated that raising women’s wages and labour force participation to match those of men would boost global output by more than 25 per cent.
For businesses, too, greater gender equality translates to better performance. The Peterson Institute for International Economics surveyed 22, 000 companies around the world, and found that having more women on corporate boards and in leadership positions is associated with higher profitability.
Some of the biggest consequences of women’s economic empowerment are felt far away from corporate boardrooms, in the poorest households and communities. When women are paid for their work, and have control over how the money gets spent, they invest much more of their income than men do in their families’ education and health. The positive effects endure for generations.
Gender-based discrimination, for countries, companies and societies alike, it is simply unaffordable: ‘economic malpractice’ on a grand scale. This is why ITC and NEPC place special emphasis on empowering women-led businesses – such as a shea butter cooperative in Oyo state – connect to international markets.
It’s also why the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, NEPC and ITC are teaming up to host the Women in Export Stakeholders Forum and Exhibition in Abuja today. The gathering will bring together policymakers, the private sector, and representatives of women-owned businesses to catalyse ongoing efforts to empower women to drive trade-led development in Nigeria.
On this occasion, Nigeria will unveil national commitment under ITC’s “SheTrades” initiative seeking to connect one million women entrepreneurs to market by 2020 worldwide. Participants in Abuja will share experiences about what has worked and what hasn’t – to connect women-owned businesses to markets. They will look at how businesses have taken concrete steps to expand sourcing from women-owned business, to improve women’s access to finance, and to help women entrepreneurs overcome supply-side constraints. And they will come up with concrete suggestions for how to And they will come up with concrete suggestions for how to do even better.
Last September, the United Nations adopted the Global Goals on Sustainable Development. This ambitious agenda aims to eliminate extreme poverty and achieve gender equality in education and work by 2030. Either goal cannot be attained without the other. And neither can happen without Africa’s biggest economy. ITC and the NEPC look forward to working together to empower women to trade for a better future – for Nigeria, for Africa, and for the world.
• Arancha González is the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation; Awolowo is the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council.
The Dutch are still coming
It has been said over and over again that the key to meaningful economic growth and development in Nigeria is intensive private sector participation. Even so, there is a consensus of opinion in several quarters that Nigeria must take deliberate steps to attract foreign investment to their countries as a necessary condition for launching themselves into sustainable economic development. Already, this clarion call is yielding results.
Apart from individual-to-individual contacts and business relationships, such efforts have come inform of trade co-operations between the locals and their foreign counterparts. A few years ago, a Nigerian private sector operator, Kleef &VTS Oil Limited, led a few others to form the Nigeria-Netherlands Economic Forum, with the key objective of galvanizing their counterparts in the Dutch nation towards developing more interest in their native economy.
Such platforms for trade and economic co-operation are not new in Nigeria but the Nigeria-Netherlands Economic Forum chief facilitator, Dr. Cliff Ogbede, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Kleef & VTS Oil Limited, says the forum is poised to introduce a fresh vista in bi-lateral economic relations between Nigeria and others. Ogbede says the forum will employ more creative ideas in channelling information about Nigeria’s business environment to potential investors in the Netherlands. To this end, he says, the forum will partner with the relevant government agencies in Nigeria to ensure that not only are more information about her disseminated in the Netherlands but also that such information puts Nigeria more on the positive side than the current trend wherein Nigerians, themselves, both inadvertently and deliberately, de-market their country abroad.
The second edition of the forum held between June 1 and 3, 2016 at the World Forum Marriott Hotel, at The Hague. While welcoming the participants, the Minister Counsellor of the Embassy of Nigeria in the Netherland, Mr. Obinna Onowu, harped on the need for more Nigerian businessmen and women to participate in the forum, adding that the Netherlands, being a strategic and important country in the European Union, offers a lot of potentials in Nigeria’s quest to attract the attention of European private investors.
The participating foreign companies are involved in businesses, ranging from manufacturing, agricultural and agro-industrial, waste recycling, food packaging, health care, medical equipment, engineering infrastructure, transport and logistics, oil and gas, housing development, power generation and transmission etc.
Interestingly, among the key foreign participating companies was Ajere Foods Limited, based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands and which specialises in the dehydration of fish and the fish products. The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Steve Ajere, who made an incisive presentation on Nigeria-Netherlands trade relations, sought for Nigerian government’s support to enable it realise its dream of establishing a factory in Nigeria. He got assurances from the representatives from both the SON and NAFDAC, who advised him to take advantage of the current Nigerian government economic diversification agenda.
Another Nigerian participant, who runs a Netherland-based company that specialises in importing Nigerian foods into the Netherlands, Musty Ahmed, shared his experience in importing food items from Nigeria to the Dutch country. Ahmed, who is the CEO of Aisha Investment Limited, told the forum that there were big prospects for Nigerian products in the Netherlands but enjoined the regulatory authorities to enforce standards on the country’s exports as required by the European Union.
Similarly, Dr. Adisa Lasisi, managing director of Givadaun Food Company, also based in the Netherlands, disclosed that he was willing to share knowledge and expertise with interested Nigerian young entrepreneurs.
Leading the Nigerian participants was Hon. Obinna Chidoka, Chairman, Committee on Environment in the House of Representatives. Chidoka, while delivering a goodwill message from the Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, assured Dutch investors of maximum support from the Nigerian government, while charging them to key into the new economic blueprint of the Muhammadu Buhari administration which is anchored on zero tolerance on corruption.
Also present was the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Budget & Planning, Mrs. Nana Fatima Mede, who represented her ministry. In her presentation, Mrs. Mede reminded participants of the importance of the forum and enjoined the Dutch to endeavour to take full advantage of the administration’s economic diversification programme. There was also Dr. Samson Adigun, who represented the SON, Abubakar Jimo and Mrs. Doris Akalusi both representing NAFDAC.
Also present was Tony Ojobo, who led the Nigerian Communications Commission delegates as well as the duo of Dr. Patrick Ogiji and Dr. E.C Ezema, representing the CBN. The two, who are both directors at the apex bank, assured the Dutch investors of full repatriation of proceeds from their investments while debunking fears that funds are trapped in Nigeria due to stringent foreign exchange control measures.
While addressing participant at the end of the two-day event, the Charge d’Affairs of the Nigerian Embassy in the Netherlands, Mrs. Grace Shia Sani, commended the organisers of the forum for their patriotic commitment in helping finding solutions to the current economic challenges facing Nigeria. Mrs. Sani advised Nigerians to remain steadfast and resilient even in the face of the current challenges and support government efforts to turn situation around.
Ogbede draws attention the fact that many investors in Europe are desirous of moving into emerging markets in Africa but cautions that only countries “that are ready and willing to show-case their potentials will benefit from the expansion plans of Europe-based private companies.
The trade and economic relations between Nigeria and Netherlands dates over 100 years and covers trade in commodities such as palm oil, cocoa, dairy products, beverages, oil and gas, machinery and dredging etc. Notable Nigerian companies that have Dutch roots include Nigeria Breweries Plc, Friesland Milk, Uniliver as well as Shell Petroleum Development Company.