‘NBGN will be repositioned for effective discharge of its mandate’

Chief Dr. Nike Akande

Chief Dr. Nike Akande, CON is a woman of many parts who has become a phenomenon and a key player in the nation’s private sector. She is a two-time Minister of Industry and the 2nd female President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) in its over 128 years of existence where she has propelled it to the forefront as the premier Chamber of commerce in the country. The Harvard trained accountant also has the honour of being the first female Chairman of the NEPAD Business Group Nigeria (NBGN). She assumed the headship of NBGN on 08 December, 2016 at the organization’s 3rd Annual General Meeting. The NBGN Chairman has made it clear that the main preoccupation of her tenure will be repositioning of NBGN for effectiveness in the discharge of benefits and values to members and the society at large, especially the business community. In this interview with The Guardian, she shared her vision and plans concerning the revitalization of NBGN to effectively play its role of mobilizing the organized private sector for the NEPAD’s initiative for socio-economic growth. Excerpts:

Could you let us into the origin of NEPAD Business Group Nigeria?
The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is a major Continental initiative aimed at the political and economic renewal of Africa. The key objectives of NEPAD are the promotion of sustainable growth and development, eradication of poverty, and ending the marginalization of Africa in this era of globalization. As an engine of growth and development in a market-driven economy, the private sector can make important contribution to the achievement of these objectives of NEPAD. The initiators of NEPAD recognized this and assigned the private sector to drive the initiative giving birth to NEPAD Business Group. The NEPAD Business Group Nigeria (NBGN) was formed in 2004 in response to the need to galvanize the private sector to support and actively participate in the implementation of the programmes of NEPAD at both national and continental levels. In essence, NBGN is like a private arm of NEPAD and its main objectives are to be involved in activities and efforts that promote business and the organized private sector as a whole to create jobs, wealth and alleviate poverty for socio-economic advancement.

It means NBGN has been in existence for over 12 years. How would you rate the organization with respect to success and achievement especially, its mandate and set objectives?
Without sounding immodest, I strongly believed, NBGN has done remarkably well considering the short period of its existence and other factors it has to contend with. More importantly, NBGN is a new and novel concept in the anal of relationship between the public and public sectors. During the period, NBGN has made efforts to further the lofty objectives of the NEPAD initiative particularly in the private sector with respect to jobs and wealth creation. The organization has made several interventions in different sectors of the economy since its inauguration in 2004. The interventions were basically promotional, sensitization with the overall objectives to further develop the target sector in a specific area(s). Our interventions included the 1st and 2nd International Business Fora, both in Abuja in 2005 and 2006 respectively. The1st exposed the business opportunities in the Nigeria economy to the world for Direct Foreign Investments while the 2nd has the theme “SMEs as a Vehicle for Economic Transformation in Africa”. The Public Private Partnership (PPP) Forum of 2009 looked at the implementations and challenges of PPP.

It is important to note that in the recent times, NBGN is focusing more on the agriculture sector due to its huge potentials to create the needed jobs and wealth. In this respect, NBGN has chosen cassava and rice as commodities of focus. You will agree with me that these two food crops are the most important and staples that cut across ethnic, religious and other socio-economic barriers. Along this line, three editions of the Nigeria Rice Investment Forum have been staged in 2008, 2014 and 2016 respectively. The Nigeria Rice Investment Forum is all about conducive environment for the attainment of self-sufficiency and export in rice. In the same vein, the 1st NBGN Cassava Investment Forum was held in 2013 and the impacts as well as the feedback have been tremendous.

NBGN equally has an initiative that addresses Youth Unemployment and it is tagged NBGN Graduates’ Employability Improvement and Development Initiative (GEIDI). We believe unemployment among our teeming youths is a serious problem with dire socio-economic consequences.

Can you throw more lights on the GEIDI of NBGN?
The NBGN Graduates’ Employability Improvement & Development Initiative (GEIDI) is another effort that furthers its lofty aims and objectives. GEIDI is an intervention from NBGN to purposely partner with the government to reduce the scourge of unemployment and the associated negative vices particularly among the teeming young Nigeria graduates. NBGN is worried by the high level of graduates’ unemployment in the country. Year in years out thousands of graduates are being churned out of the nation’s universities and polytechnics, all into the already oversaturated labour market. It is essentially to equip the young Nigeria unemployed graduates with both vocational/technical and entrepreneurial skills to address the observed mismatch in graduate training in the country and those skills required in modern workplace. The scheme has dual objectives of enhancing the employability of the trainees and as well to encourage self-reliability by becoming entrepreneurs. It is a 6 months training that comprises 4 months of vocational/technical skills acquisition and 2 months On the Job Training (OJT) at relevant firms. The 2 months OJT affords participants opportunities of familiarization with modern technologies and practices at their chosen trades. The first edition ran between September, 2014 and March, 2015 with 50 beneficiaries selected across the country. NBGN partners on the 1st edition included the Nigeria Opportunities Industrialisation Centres (NOIC), Small and Medium Development Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN). NOIC provided the vocational/technical training while SMEDAN was responsible for entrepreneurial skill. Other partners are Honeywell Flour Mill Plc, John Holt Plc and Guardian Newspapers.

The first edition of NBGN GEIDI was concluded in March, 2015. Why has the organization not launched the second edition?
We actually planned the 2nd edition for 2nd quarter of 2015. There are however some challenges that need to be addressed. These challenges were encountered in the 1st edition and affect the full realization of the objectives of the initiative. The major challenge was the inability to facilitate grants or loans to participants to establish in their chosen trades. This particular challenge greatly rubbed on the program. We are also not unaware of some schemes that abandoned trainees after the programme. GEIDI was designed to be different from other training exercises. It was holistic as we believe training without equipping or supporting the beneficiaries with facilities to establish will leave them in worse state than before the training. We are however taking steps, especially adequate collaborations with relevant bodies, to address the observed challenges in the next edition that will hopefully kick off in the third quarter of 2017.

With all these interventions and achievements, will you say all is well with the organization?
Yes, we have done well. However, there is still a lot of ground to be covered and we will not rest on our oars until the objectives of NEPAD are achieved for socio-economic development of African Continent. It is critical that NBGN remains effective in the discharge of its mandate and responsibilities to members, private sector and society at large. In this respect, NBGN clocked ten years in July, 2014 and we believed that was the best time to evaluate performance and review activities for efficiency and sustainability. The result revealed that the organization is at low ebb and not the one inaugurated in July, 2004. The acceptance was high in 2004 and the dreams of founding members were great for the new organization to play a vital role pertaining mobilization of private sector for NEPAD’s programmes and projects for socio-economic growth. At the moment, the organization experiences dwindling interests and participation from members and other stakeholders.

NBGN equally needs to be more active and engaging in the area of adding values and concrete benefits to members and their business concerns. This is the only way to sustain patronage and support of members.

It means the organization is passing through low moment in terms of visibility and activities which you are definitely not comfortable with it. This was a major concern you promised to address in your acceptance speech at the last AGM. How have you been going about this and what are your plans and strategies in this respect?
I have been part of the organization right from inception as one of the foundation members. I am therefore aware of the challenges the organization is passing through and as well prepared to confront them. In this respect, upon assumption of leadership of the organization at the last AGM, I assured members of my determination and commitment to revive and reposition NBGN for effectiveness in the discharge of its mandates as it concerned value addition to members and their business concerns.

Concerning strategies, the most important step to me is consultations with members and stakeholders for ideas and support to reposition our dear organization. This has since started and courtesy visit has been paid to First Bank Limited, Nigeria. First Bank is one of the foundation members of NBGN and the organization has enjoyed continued support from First Bank.

Another step taken is the reviewed of the relevant documents of NBGN with respect to mandate, vision & mission statements, activities and programmes for effectiveness and efficiency. We equally compared our operations with similar organizations such as the NEPAD Business Foundation South Africa (NBF). A Committee was set up by the Board to do this. The reports and recommendations of the Committee have also been considered and adopted by the Board.
All the recommended items are being put in place and in a short time, NBGN will be revitalized and reposition for effective discharge of its mandate for develop,ent as envisioned by the founding fathers.

A direct fall out from this is the resolution of NBGN to continue to improve and increase its interventions on different sectors of the economy. We will particularly be involved in activities that will directly impacts on the rural actors (farmers, processors, marketers and others) in the cassava and rice value chains. There is a training programme being conceived for these set of actors in selected States. The training aims at equipping the rural actors with modern technologies and best practices for improved yield and quality for improved income and standard of living. NBGN partners in this respect include Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Competitive Africa Rice Initiative (CARI) and selected State Agricultural Development Programs (ADP).

What has been the response of members to the repositioning efforts?
The response has been very favorable and encouraging. This actually gladdens my heart and encourages me the more. All the members agreed that the fortunes of the organization must be reversed and surpassed the tempo at inauguration in 2004.

On a lighter note ma, how have you been able to cope with the rigours of providing effective leadership at LCCI and NBGN among several other responsibilities?
I will give all the glory to the almighty God for the strength and the enablement. However, what has always worked for me is my believe and philosophy that whatever is worth doing, is worth doing very well. I am somebody that knows the efficacy of hard work. I always put in my best to any assignment or cause I believe in. I will therefore not take any responsibility if not ready for it physically and emotionally. At the same time, I am a team player who works and carries other members along adequately. Therefore, members of my teams in all these organizations have been largely responsible for my successes and achievements. More importantly, the large and strong networks I have been able to build in the course of my engagements at both public and private sectors have been my strong asset. I maintain and keep my contacts always fall back to them as needs arise.

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