Can you lets us into the various trade missions the chamber attended last year and its impact on businesses in Aba?
Our first trade mission last year was to Istanbul, Turkey, where we met with the City chamber and the chamber of industry and organisation of businessmen in Istanbul. In each one of them we were able to meet one-on-one with businessmen in the area based on interest lines.
So, it was a great opportunity for all the people that attended that trade mission, as they are using it now to increase their businesses.
We also traveled to China for a trade fair at Guangzhou. We had discussions with businessmen there and equally made purchases. Our members are utilizing contacts made in that fair also to boost their businesses.
The Chinese embassy now allocates some slots to our members annually for trade missions. Qualified members are screened and their documents forwarded to the Chinese embassy for visa. S, we present their documents to the embassy in Abuja and based on our recommendation, the embassy offers them visa. So these are some of the opportunities our relationship with China has created for Aba business people.
Also talking about China, they have also offered us opportunity to train our people in China. So, for our members and even their relations interested in learning one trade or the other in China. We present their documents to the embassy and they grant them the opportunity. And the Chinese Government will pay for everything including their flight tickets, accommodation, feeding and even some stipends for assistance. Personally, I have been there for training on human resource management. Some of my colleagues have benefited also, including Chidi Obiefule, the director of the Chamber.
In fact, the opportunity is still open to our members and their relations, who may be interested to go for this training in China. So those are the things we were able to do last year in terms of trade missions.
What are your programmes this year ( 2013)?
This year, we have also another trade delegation, which we would attend. In fact the arrangement has been concluded. We will be visiting Adana in Turkey. We will be visiting the chamber of industry there. Adana is an industrial area of Turkey, so it will provide great opportunities for our members too.
The chamber hosted the commercial councillor of Thailand, Boon Intiratana, on February 7 and Also on February 25-26, we are also expecting the Embassy of Vietnam to be here in Aba. The arrangement has been concluded also.
He would also meet with the State Governor before coming to Aba to meet with the Chamber. He will also tell Aba business community the business opportunities in Vietnam.
We have also extended invitation to the new Chinese commercial chancellor to Nigeria. He will visit us in Aba this year. That invitation has already been sent and he has promised to honour it after the Chinese holiday, but we are yet to conclude on the date.
The former Chancellor, Ron Yan Song visited us last year and he was really amazed by the volume of business we have in Aba. We took him to St. Michael’s and jubilee roads and he was highly impressed. Some of them do not know that Aba people are serious minded business people, until they came and saw things themselves.
And that is why we are attracting these embassies to Aba, so that they can see things for themselves. So that when our members go for traveling visas, it won’t be a problem. Those embassies will also help link us up with their own businessmen, who may have interest in the country.
Consequently, we invited the Thai embassy to assist Aba people to have good contact with Thailand and that was why we decided to invite the Thai embassy to visit us here in Aba to enable Aba businessmen to have contact with their counterparts in Thailand, so that we would be able to attract investments from Thailand to Aba and also for our people to have opportunity to export and import from Thailand.
Do you think you can attract direct foreign investment from Thailand?
Yes, his Excellency, Minister Councillor of the Royal Thai Embassy, Boon Intiratana has told me that we have to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between us and Thailand and with that MoU, we will open up trade and investment with Thailand.
In fact we have taken him to Enyimba Hotels, because we believe we can attract investors from Thailand to develop and manage the hotel. He was amazed at the structure we have there and wondered why that place was left for 20 years. We believe that with his visit, that a lot of opportunities will be open to Aba business community.
How do you see Aba business environment?
The environment is now conducive. Thanks to the State Government that has done so well in restoring security in the commercial city. Remember that Aba was under siege for sometime, which prompted most of our members to relocate to other more peaceful towns in the country. Our patrons also stopped coming to the commercial city as they were not also safe.
However, that is now in the past. Aba is now one of the safest towns in the country. We wouldn’t have thought of hosting important dignitaries in this city, if there is no security in place. I call on our members, who are yet to return to do so, as normalcy has returned to the city.
Power remains a major challenge to manufacturers and artisans in the town. However, we have been assured by Geometric power Limited, that its power plant in the city will be completed this year? What impact do you think efficient power will have on manufacturing?
It will have a great impact and that is why we are eagerly waiting for the day they will turn on the plant. Efficient and constant power supply will not only resurrect dead industries, but would also attract fresh ones.
All these industries depend on power. There is no way you can run a big factory without power. If you depend on your own generator, it will be expensive for you. You will notice that the price of diesel has gone up; a litre now sells for N150. And you don’t talk about diesel alone; you’ll also talk about oil for the giant generators. Some people use 1,500 kva generators and some can even use about ten of that size at a time, depending on the size of your factory, which means, if you are consuming 33,000 litres per week, if you multiply it by N150 per litre, you are talking about millions of naira, just to provide power for your factory.
But if you are using public power supply, the cost will be less than half of that. So, you can plough the savings to other things. And you can’t plan when public power supply is not available, because some factories work round the clock and you know the nature of our people, if there is no proper supervision, they would abandon the work and tell you there is no power, because when they are producing and electricity goes off, most of them will go and lie down and possibly sleep off and even if power is restored, to get up again to continue production will be difficult.
How’s your relationship with the State Government?
We have a wonderful relationship with the State Government. In fact Governor Theodore Orji has shown great interest in our activities. One of the cardinal objectives of his administration is to revive moribund industries as well as attract new investments in the State and this he is doing by partnering the organised private sector (OPS). It will interest you to know that our office complex was donated to us by the present administration in the State. So, we are happy with the present administration in the State.
Do you still think that Aba can bounce back and regain its position as the “Japan of Africa”?
Yes, I am very optimistic about it. We will encourage people, give them the confidence to come back to Aba and invest. Aba is a good town. There are so many good things about Aba and the good thing about the city is the entrepreneurial spirit of the people. The people are hard working and that is why it is called the “Japan of Africa”
Micro and small entrepreneurs are everywhere, using small spaces and producing beautiful products that you can take to any part of the world and be proud of it.
If you go to Ariaria and see Aba made products, so beautiful. Go to Bakasi Line and see shoes and bags produced in Aba, you will be amazed. Even those at the Technology Incubation Centre, they are producing beautiful products. So, the people have the zeal and wisdom, all they need is a little encouragement. If we encourage them, they will bounce back so, Aba will surely rise again.