Akin Alabi, founder of Nairabet.com and philanthropist will be representing the Egbeda/Ona Ara Federal constituency in Oyo State as a member of the House of Representatives haven been declared the winner of the election that took place in March 2019. In this interview with BusinessDay’s Frank Eleanya, he speaks on his new mission as a lawmaker and how he intends to address multiple taxation and access to credit which affect many Nigerian businesses.
You have always been big on private sector until your election. Tell us a bit about your journey and why did you decide to become a public servant?
I am an entrepreneur. I started doing business in January 2003 after I completed the compulsory NYSC program. I have dabbled into different businesses. I tapped into the love Nigerians have for sports and started publishing a sports paper called Word Soccer News. I also published a business opportunity newspaper called Income. I also have a training and seminar company. I pioneered the sports betting industry in Nigeria when I launched Nairabet. I have my hands in so many other businesses.
Philanthropy has been a major part of my life as well. When I clocked 10 years in business in 2013, I launched my own NGO, Akin Alabi Foundation. A large chunk of my earnings goes into this. From financial support to small business owners to taking care of the aged and widows, not to mention the construction of public utilities like schools, roads, sports facilities, scholarships and infrastructure for rural communities like bore holes for better access to pipe bore water etc, our foundation has been very busy and resourceful. My life has been all about entrepreneurship and philanthropy.
Firstly, my dad is a politician so I grew up watching him participate in grassroots politics. I used to follow him to our village meetings, so I’ve always liked politics. In fact, my dad contested for a seat in the House of Representatives in the 90s but lost. When I started my foundation, I became convinced that there is a lot more I can do to have an impact in the society outside spending the little I have. Government is the biggest single entity that can make impact in the lives of the citizenry and I believe that is where I should be. I believe that we have to present our best minds in politics to change our collective fortunes.
Going into government is a big disadvantage for me financially. We have not even been sworn in and I am facing difficulties already. I have had to sell my shares in many companies because those companies do not want to be involved with politically exposed people (PEP). I have to close down bank accounts here and there. I am going to suffer it financially but it’s what I signed up for, this is a sacrifice for the greater good.
Why did you choose APC?
When I decided to join partisan politics, I criss-crossed nearly all the parties in Oyo state, looking for like-minds. I attended meetings in Accord, PDP, Labour parties. No party is perfect yet but I believe I have found my natural habitat amongst the progressives. We have a President that is willing to move the country to the next level and I look forward to achieving that with him.
A lawmaker’s constituency is one of his primary focus, but in Nigeria the focus has always shifted. How would you approach governance within your constituency and also the financial allocation that comes to the constituency?
There are three aspects to the duties of a legislator; lawmaking, oversight and constituency outreach. Even though lawmaking and oversight is very important, the man on the street is more interested in constituency outreach. We made a lot of promises during the campaign and we will be fulfilling them communicating with them steadily. We will be holding a monthly “Meet Your Rep” and also a quarterly town hall meeting. Of course there would be other electronic channels available. We will also reach out to internet savvy constituents via several digital media channels. Our Twitter handle is @akinmeansbiz and it is @Akinmeansbusiness on Facebook and Instagram. This will make constituents follow our legislative agenda through the next four years.
During our orientation program, we learned that no lawmaker is given money for constituency projects. What happens is that lawmakers will nominate projects for their various constituencies. When approved, the relevant government agencies will execute the contracts. This is not a bad thing if you ask me. I will make sure that I demand accountability and transparency; my experience in the no-nonsense private sector will help my constituents.
As a business man, what business friendly policies and bills will you be working towards?
I believe one of the biggest problems Nigerians face in business is multiple taxation and access to credit.
For taxation, I intend to sponsor a bill that will revoke the requirement for multiple taxation. The CIT imposes a minimum tax on companies where they have no taxable profits; these companies are forced to pay taxes out of their capital. This law is discriminatory as it does not apply to companies with significant imported equity capital; it discourages investments and increases the risk of failure of companies in periods of little profitability.
We also intend to stop the multiplicity of taxes by ensuring one tax for each tax base.
So Apart from Tax reforms, what other business friendly proposals should we expect?
For access to credit, I intend to facilitate a bill that will create a proper credit reporting system, what we currently have limits information sharing in the financial sector. This new bill will empower private credit reporting companies that can get proper credit scores for their clients, this will be properly regulated. We will also create alternatives to the collateral-based lending criteria.
Business registration is another issue I want to work on. It will be better to have a flat fee structure for incorporation and stamp duty, remove out-dated requirements like the need for a company seal or a statutory declaration of compliance and remove minimum share capital requirements. After working extensively with the CAC, we can also see how we can reduce or remove the fee involved in registration for small businesses so as to bring more people into the formal sector and expand the tax base to improve Government revenue.
What are your plans for the unemployed young People in Egbeda/Ona Ara?
I intend to work on skills acquisition and we are already facilitating a directorate that will gather data on unemployed persons in the two Local Government. This directorate will provide immediate internship opportunities within and outside the constituency after our several skills acquisition programs.
We are also working on the construction of an innovation hub for young people. This hub will create the platform for young people to come together to create solutions to local problems. We will provide the required access to credit, investments and grants to the solutions that will scale as proper businesses.
Human capital development will be very important in Egbeda/Ona Ara over the next four years and God willing, we will be able to deliver and also attract businesses to Egbeda/Ona Ara with my networks in the Business world.
As a Sports Lover and Investor, What are your plans for grassroots development of Sports?
One of the problems we have identified in sports is our lack of infrastructure and this is especially worse in rural areas. Rural dwellers do not have access to good sporting infrastructure despite their natural zeal for sports like football, basketball, table tennis etc. This is why I am building a state of the art sporting complex at Urban Day Grammar school in Ibadan. This complex will bridge the game and give rural dwellers equal access to sporting infrastructure that will not only be good for recreational use but also to create and develop new talents and careers in sports, taking our young people off the streets.
I have always sponsored our local sports club, Shooting Stars. I have also sponsored several grassroots tournaments where we have identified talents. This will continue as I represent my people in Abuja. We will only scale these activities up. I will be working on legislation and community outreach to improve sports all over the country.
How do you intend to mix your business and politics?
Months before the election, I resigned as CEO from my company. We have an excellent structure that keeps the company running well without me. My focus now is to give the people of Egbeda/Ona Ara the very best representation they deserve.