President, American Business Council (ABC), Dr. Lazarus Angbazo, who is also the Managing Director of General Electric (GE) in Nigeria, along with the Vice President of ABC, Darrell McGraw, and US Commercial Counsellor, Brent Omdahl, as well as other leaders of ABC, in this interview against the backdrop of the recent survey report of American businesses in Nigeria, spoke on a number of issues concerning the Nigerian business environment, and the role of American businesses in Nigeria. Excerpts:
WHAT are the focus, deliverables of the Commercial Investment Dialogue, CID, you are holding with Nigeria?
First of all though we are in business here, but we are not just here to cater for our businesses. We want to see a very strong local private sector, and that is really the point. Having said that, we have had a series of partnerships quite actively and impressively with the Government. We had series of partnerships with government agencies and officials, like the Minister of Trade and Investment, the CBN Governor, with the Presidency. We believe in having an on-going dialogue, we challenge them when we have to.
In overall we expect to heighten American Business interest and investments in Nigeria, to support the government’s economic policies, have deeper engagement with Nigeria. Coming from the office of US Secretary of Commerce, CID expects to have increasing American investments in Nigeria, support diversification, agric sector, the digital economy, improving regulatory framework, we hope to improve the overall climate, the business environment and facilitate private sector deals to take place.
You talked about support to government’s economic policy, what do you have to say on policy inconsistencies in Nigeria?
On policy inconsistencies and a whole host of regulatory constraints the business community feels the pain and not just the American business community. I think this is an area, quite frankly, I have seen a lot of activities on the part of government trying to address. For example, American Business Council works in collaboration with the NESG (Nigerian Economic Summit Group) and focuses on such regulatory constraints and proffers solutions and even go beyond and partner with Government on initiatives to begin to address the challenges. For example, theAmerican Business Council with other Nigerian companies has been supporting the Vice President’s Presidential Initiatives on Competitiveness and Industrialisation. All these regulatory concerns have become a major area of collaboration for American Business Council in Nigeria. There is a major engagement around this area.
On the ERGP (Economic Recovery and Growth Plan) the American Business Council put out a statement and welcomes the initiative behind that because we really believe that it was very tactical, it was an attempt to identify specific bottlenecks in the economy and unlock them, and deal with the underutilisation of the potentials of the segments of the economy. American Business Council plays the supportive advocacy and partnership role there.
I would like you to throw more light on your direct investments in Nigeria, the contribution to GDP and also the difficulties Nigerians have working with American companies
I think there is a number of publicly disclosed data in terms of what we have done. It is probably very difficult to aggregate all of that because some of the announcements are coming in piecemeal. We (General Electric) did announce some, Kelloggs announced a couple of such last year, and many others. But that spoke to the snapshots of 2017. There was a total of 1.6 billion dollars of investment flow by the American companies in capital expenditure not to talk about investment in other capacity building areas. Localisation is a big focus for us in American Business Council. So the idea that Nigerian companies are having big problem working for American companies, quite frankly, I don’t subscribe to that notion because there is a big focus on Nigerian local content at UPS, GE and many others, because we go out to recruit, train and qualify local Nigerian companies to become part of our global supply chain and we are doing that, but obviously, it takes time. We try to qualify local Nigerian companies so they can compete at the global stage. That may be onerous, but the idea is not to make Nigeria a sub-standard partner but to get them on the same footing as suppliers from India, China etc.
(Vice President, American Business Council, Darrell McGraw): One of the areas I would like to speak on is the skills gap. We like to ensure that people have the proper training for the jobs and are appropriate for their workforce. This is an area a lot of companies are having trouble and a lot of American companies are investing in this area in Nigeria.
What are the impacts of America’s business activities on the lives of average Nigerians?
American businesses and the American Business Council have a good sense of what it means to be a good corporate citizen. A year ago GE with UPS supported the IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps in the North East Nigeria. Since then we have gone beyond the immediate crisis to invest in SME development with GE garages which is purely on SME development initiative that generates no income for GE but provides capacity building to the corporate SME community. That for us is a good CSR programme. There is also a number of employee programme conducted in the health-care area and this all add up to a significant amount if dollars and the survey captured that. Exxon Mobil has a huge programme with the XLM Africa. We do it because we believe in the partnership model to sustainable business. In the end that is a sense of shared mutual benefits.
(Managing Director, UPS): Business is not just about profit it is about the people and environment and the community where you operate. Increasingly everybody is looking inwards because we believe in this country and that Nigeria is a sustainable project.
For us at UPS we partner with Cross River State Government on climate conservation, we have a very rich primate in different species in Cross River which unfortunately this type of species some of them are rare and we don’t find them in many parts of the world.
(Chief Executive Officer, Margaret Olele): What we have started to do in the last few years is to act as a platform to set the conversation on issues that are of critical importance to the private sector. An example for instance, is the breakfast meeting that was organised with NAFDAC (National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control) recently. At that meeting with the new Director General of NAFDAC we had other members who were not members of the American Business Council as well. We realised a couple of issues that other companies were inundated with so we had committed with working with NAFDAC to set up that platform where the private sector can share their problems and see where the American Business Council can make things easier working with the regulatory agencies.
Recently, we had the collaboration with the NESG to look at the challenges the private sector is facing in key sectors, we had a document and shared it with the Minister. We have been supporting the private sector in initiatives whether it is American or non- American because we believe once the business environment works, everybody, both the Government and the private sector and the people of Nigeria will be better off.
What is your take on Nigeria’s controversial position on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement?
(US Commercial Counsellor, Brent Omdahl): The US Government policy is very clear on opening its borders, when goods and people cross borders. It stimulates economic development and creates economic opportunities. It has been proven in regional organisations around the world. So this was an important topic of discussion around the AGOA conference. As complex as Nigeria is you can’t make a decision without going through the process through stakeholders. This type of integration is good for the companies, good for the individuals and it really raises the middle class.