Accelerating African Women’s Economic Participation By Wofai Ibiang

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has significantly affected growth in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). According to the World Bank, SSA is heading for a recession. The growth forecast in the region shows a sharp fall from 2019’s 2.4 percent to -5.1 percent in 2020. A recent study in 2020 has demonstrated that the current pandemic will have a disproportionately negative impact on women. For most low-income women, entrepreneurship is a means of escaping poverty. Millions of micro and small businesses are shutting down globally due to the pandemic, including those owned by women. These highlights are indicative that more than ever, women-owned and led enterprises need more support if the gains of women’s active economic participation that leads to higher economic growth, must be actualized.  

The African Development Bank (AfDB) acknowledges that women account for a majority of small- and medium-sized businesses in Africa and dominate the agriculture sector as primary producers and food processors. Women smallholder farmers represent 43 percent of agricultural labor in the developing world. If they have equal access to resources such as land, capital, and livestock, total agricultural output in developing countries could rise by more than 14 percent, and hunger rates could fall by 17 percent. In Africa, women are more likely than men to be entrepreneurs and makeup 58 percent of the self-employed population. Research supports the assertion that women farmers are as efficient as men farmers, and greater gender equality in land ownership and access to other agricultural inputs would increase agrarian output. 

In Nigeria, an article from the Council on Foreign Policy (CFR) shows that the nation’s GDP could grow by 23 percent (US$229 billion) by the year 2025 if women participated in the economy at the same level as men. Also, women-owned businesses significantly contribute to the Kenyan economy. They account for 48 percent of all MSMEs, which adds 20 percent to Kenya’s GDP. Because women usually re-invest in their children’s health, nutrition, and education, economically empowered women are significant catalysts for development. Reducing gender inequality in resources and improving women’s status is thus smart economics. Despite this relevance, women’s economic potential remains dwarfed by challenges, many of which can be eliminated. What has been done, and what needs to be done to facilitate African women’s economic participation? To answer these questions, the operations of some international financial institutions in Nigeria and Kenya are considered.

Challenges of Women Entrepreneurs 

The World Bank 2020 report on Women, Business and the Law, highlights the women, business, and the law 2020 index for 190 countries. The highest score is 100 and the least, 26.3. Nigeria scored 63.1, lower than Kenya’s 80.6 scores. Likewise, in its 2015 Africa Gender Equality Index, the African Development Bank ranked 52 countries in terms of gender parity. In that ranking, neither Kenya nor Nigeria came in the first 10. While these rankings may seem a fair percentage, more needs to be done to support women-businesses in both countries.

In terms of financial services, women-owned businesses are underserved. They are less likely to obtain formal financing and have been reported to pay higher interest rates, which often leads to their reliance on group loans or private funding for their businesses. A joint report by the IFC and Global Partnerships for Financial Inclusion, suggests that female owners of formal small and medium-size businesses face a credit gap of up to US$300 billion globally. An AfDB report indicates that only 16 – 20 percent of women in Africa have access to long-term financing from formal financial institutions. The SME finance gap in Nigeria is estimated at US$92 billion, and the women-owned SME finance gap at US$18 in 2017; however, only 5 percent of women can get a loan from a bank. In response to women’s lack of access to finance, providing micro-credit has been the default solution. While that has substantially increased access over the years and has brought about an improvement in welfare and consumption, it is not enough for growth-oriented women entrepreneurs.

Women play a vital role in agriculture, and equal access to agricultural resources will increase women farmers’ productivity by 20 percent and reduce the number of hungry people by 150 million. However, women in Sub-Saharan Africa own only 15 percent of agricultural land. In Kenya, women provide 70 percent of labor in the farming sector yet hold only 1 percent of registered titles and an estimate of 5-6 percent of registered titles held in joint names. Lack of access to land poses setbacks to agricultural productivity. Having access to property rights and land is also essential for women entrepreneurs as collateral for business credit. 

The types of businesses women operate in, impact their ability to access finance. In low-income countries such as those considered in this article, women-owned SMEs tend to concentrate on less profitable industries with their most significant share of involvement being in consumer-based businesses and subsistent agriculture. Compared to male-owned companies, women are nascent in extractive industries such as mining, oil, and gas.

Women are more likely to be home-based and operate within the household than are men heading enterprises. In Sub-Saharan Africa, there is more proclivity for informal or unregistered firms among women entrepreneurs and a higher likelihood of working from home than men. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) cited the high rate of unpaid work as one of the obstacles to women’s economic participation. According to the report, 75 percent of global unpaid work is performed by women, and more time spent on outstanding care work means less involvement in the labor force.

Country laws and regulations also hinder women. Nigeria still has laws that make it harder for women to work compared to men. Bro and McCaslin highlight that Nigerian laws do not mandate nondiscrimination in employment based on gender. Their writeup mentions that it is also illegal for women to work overnight in manual labor. Other obstacles such as access to justice, access to education, and adequate financial management training and, access to the formal sector – business entry and licensing, amongst others exist. 

The World Bank Group

Based on consultations from more than 1,000 stakeholders, 21 countries, and working with the public and private sectors, the WBG studied the global landscape changes and the accumulation of evidence on the best approaches to close gender gaps. The Bank designed a gender action plan outlined in four pillars.

Pillar 1 is Improving women’s human capital, including health, education, and social inclusion. Pillar 2, removing constraints for more and better jobs. The report allusions that at the core of the Group achieving its strategy is an increase in women’s participation in the workforce, a rise in their income-earning opportunities, and their access to productive assets. Pillar 3 involves removing barriers to women’s ownership of and control over assets. Pillar 4, enhancing women’s voice and agency and engaging men and boys and promoting women’s participation and decision-making in service delivery. 

The International Finance Corporation (IFC)

The IFC strategy is to increase female representation in the recruitment of Fund Investment roles, increase female employment within the Fund and portfolio companies, and to enhance the pipeline development for portfolio companies that are women-owned and led. As part of its operations to increase access to finance in Kenya, the IFC partnered with AfDB to implement the Growth Women Enterprises Program, which was launched in 2006. The IFC initiative’s objective was to facilitate the growth of women-owned businesses through the provision of partial financing guarantees of between $20,000 and $400,000. The program also included extensive business management training. By 2011, the program had approved 33 loan applications, trained 148 women entrepreneurs, and helped create more than 130 jobs.

The IFC’s Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (IFC We-Fi) program, a part of the World Bank Group’s We-Fi program: Creating Markets and Finance for All, works with private sector actors to enable women entrepreneurs, to start and grow firms. IFC uses We-Fi funds to provide investment and advisory support, in line with blended finance principles. The program partnered with Tide Africa to offer 20 women-founders structured mentorships and was projected to provide 10 percent Fund investment in women-led tech companies in Nigeria and Kenya.

To support the Bank’s lending to SMEs, in March 2018, the IFC launched a US$60 million investment in a regional risk-sharing facility to provide better tailored financial services and business support to women customers and to document the business case further. In Nigeria, IFC partnered with AXA Mansard, an insurance company, to design insurance policies that meet businesswomen’s needs and to recruit more women into the industry (IDA, 14).

In terms of providing data, the IFC has engaged non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to conduct case studies that show the relevance of women entrepreneurs in Africa. The Gender-Smart Business Solutions Case Studies, for example, highlight the importance of women entrepreneurs. Although not peculiar to Africa, the IFC’s report prepared in partnership with Rockcreek and Olivier Wyman on Moving Gender Forward in Private Equity and Venture Capital provides robust data that can promote women’s participation in entrepreneurship.

In Nigeria, The IFC, with support from the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) and in partnership with a private company, researched how the fast-moving consumer goods sector in Nigeria can support women entrepreneurs and optimize their growth prospects. The report Women Entrepreneurs Find Business Opportunities in Nigeria’s Fast-Moving Consumer Goods Sector. The World Bank and IFC’s Lighting Africa, Kenya program engaged Practical Action, a non-governmental organization, to conduct a case study highlighting innovative business models to ensure the inclusion of women in the solar energy value chain as both consumers and entrepreneurs. These case studies provide evidence for the business case in gender-lens investing.

International Development Association (IDA)

In 2018, The WBG approved US$100 million for Nigeria for Women project with IDA as the financer. The project’s objective is to support improved livelihoods for women in targeted areas of the country. This project also has a goal to support the advancement of dialogue, strengthen technical implementation capacity and coordination among implementing partners at all levels of government. The first part involves building the social capital of women by galvanizing them to become women affinity groups (WAGs). 

In terms of control over assets focusing on financial inclusion, ten IDA operations in countries including Kenya addressed gaps between women and men in access to and use of financial services through risk-sharing facilities for mortgages to women borrowers. It also included building institutional capacity to identify and target weaknesses and setting inclusion targets for female entrepreneurs accessing credit. In Kenya, an IDA-supported operation was also launched to address gender-based and student violence in schools in the primary education system.

Also, in May 2018, about US$4 billion was earmarked for operations supporting girls’ education. Another example of IDA’s operation is its commitment to provide tailored financial services and business support to women customers while also documenting the business case. Between April 2016 and May 2018, some US$4 billion, approximately 75 percent in IDA countries, was committed to operations supporting adolescent girls’ education, surpassing the pledge of US$2.5 billion made by the World Bank Group.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) 

The African Development Bank has a gender strategy based on three pillars. Through this strategy, AfDB’s priority sectors can be better aligned with the needs of regional member countries (RMCs), and the impact can be increased in the region.

Pillar 1 of the strategy identifies women’s legal status and property rights as vital to inclusive growth and gender equality. Pillar 2 is economic empowerment. Under this strategy, the Bank states its support for advocacy for affirmative action in support of women and women-owned businesses, increasing the productivity of women farmers and women’s inclusion in the market and providing skills training in science and technology for women. Pillar 3 is knowledge management and capacity building. Through this strategy, the Bank promised to provide technical assistance and the resources needed for gender equality knowledge management, improve the Bank’s gender reporting, and build staff capacity to promote gender equality in its operations. The report includes plans to produce better sex-disaggregated data and statistics.

Operations Supporting Women Entrepreneurs In Kenya and Nigeria

The AfDB has promoted women-owned and led businesses through several partnerships with both international institutions and private sector investment organizations across Africa. For example, in 2015, AfDB seeded Alitheia IDF, a fund for women-led African enterprises, with an equity investment of US$12.5 million to support its drive to invest in female-led businesses. The fund is targeted to provide between US$2 million and US$5 million capital to high-potential medium-sized companies in six Sub-Saharan Africa countries, including Nigeria. The company also plans to invest in 12 SMEs with the potential of scaling beyond their countries of origin. In the long run, it is estimated that the investments will create 5,000 jobs for women and also provide access to essential products and services for approximately 100,000 women through its focus on critical sectors such as agriculture, agro-processing, and essential goods and services companies.

In Kenya, AfDB, through its Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) program, collaborated with Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) to bridge the access to the finance gap experienced by women entrepreneurs. The World Bank Group hosts this partnership. In 2019, We-Fi approved the allocation of US$61.8 million to support AFAWA’s drive to bridge the US$42 billion financing gap between women and male entrepreneurs. Kenya and Nigeria are 2 of the 21 African countries targeted for the implementation of this program.

In March 2019, AfDB’s Board of Directors approved a US$8 million-targeted financing to Kenya’s Credit Bank for lending exclusively to SMEs in construction, agriculture, renewable energy, and manufacturing. The loan has a five-year maturity with a two-year moratorium and has the objective of providing access to finance. AfDB’s Board of Directors in May 2019 also approved a €100 million partial credit guarantee to the structured finance company, African Agriculture Impact Investment Ltd., for commercial agriculture development in Africa. According to AfDB, one of the benefits of this PCG is that it will have significant youth and women involvement and generate over 8,000 jobs across the region.

According to an AfDB press release in 2019, a partnership between the U.S International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and the African Development Bank was sealed. This partnership involves US$2 billion investment with plans to mobilize an additional US$3 billion from the private sector, using debt financing, equity investments, political risk insurance, and other financial tools. Priority sectors are targeted, including critical infrastructure, power, and energy, financial service, and agriculture.

In furtherance of their gender strategy, AfDB partnered with Microsoft to train young women to code through the Coding for Employment program. The program’s objective is to bridge the digital skills gap among women and increase women’s involvement in the ICT sector. It was piloted in 5 African countries. The AfDB’s commitment to promoting gender equality is also exemplified in its provision of US$20 billion to encourage women’s participation in large-scale agricultural businesses in West Africa, over five years.

Future Directions – Recommendations

Partnerships are vital to women’s development in Africa, especially as regards the promotion of women-owned/led businesses. It is commendable that most of the institutions considered in this article already incorporate partnerships in their operations. For example, besides We-Fi’s partnership with AfDB’s AFAWA, there is a collaboration with the UN Women and CARE international to reinforce initiatives of the World Bank, in favor of women entrepreneurs in various sectors mostly overlooked by financiers, donors, and governments. It is also impressive that the IFIs partner with AfDB to a great extent. These partnerships hold potential as the AfDB will bring its Africa-centric perspectives to the table.

These institutions can support the design and launch of gender lens incubation and acceleration toolkits. This will help incubators and accelerators in Africa create their unique fender strategies, providing case studies and strategic frameworks to build a gender-smart entrepreneurial regional ecosystem as done in Southeast Asia.

This research revealed that only IDA included an outlined mitigation action plan against gender-based violence and sexual exploitation in its operations. Although the WBG launched this mitigation strategy, it is recommended that all IFIs and MDBs clearly outline similar plans and provide periodical reports to show project updates.

It is observable that most of the operations of the international institutions are heavily focused on women’s access to finance and provision of training; while this holds the potential to promote women’s entrepreneurship, it isn’t a panacea to the challenges women in business face in the continent. Equal attention should be given to problems such as promoting access to land, robust laws, and regulations that support and protect women-businesses and gender norm change. Although the institutions provide gender-focused data, more is needed. Gender disaggregated research and data can increase awareness and increase gender-lens investments in the region. Hence more commitments should be made towards developing robust data and information dissemination. Also, projects can be bundled to target women with finance, training and skills development, mentorship, and digital financial services. This can be delivered in partnership with local commercial banks, who already provide most of these business support services.

In a working paper by Chang et al. 2020, on what works to enhance women’s agency, it was established that multi-component programs deliver higher impacts across more areas. The review emphasizes that studies of interventions similar to the Graduation approach in Ghana and Uganda suggest that the multi-component nature was critical. Providing access to financial resources alone, such as transfers or savings accounts, did not generate economically meaningful and cost-effective impacts in the way that the integrated packages did. The significance of the graduation model, which was introduced by BRAC, a Bangladeshi non-profit, focuses on solving multifaceted issues through all-inclusive problem-solving. The program’s components include consumption support, asset transfer, livelihood training, savings component, health, and business support services.

Conclusion

SDG 5 – gender equality and empowerment for all women and girls is achievable; there is a positive momentum from institutions and stakeholders that indicates that. However, scale is crucial; programs that create 100,000 jobs out of populations of over a million African women are not sufficient to bridge the gender gap in economic participation.

A wide range of policies and programs can stimulate women’s economic advancement – from strengthening economic rights for women under the law to providing women with greater access to land and property rights and financial literacy. However, it is crucial to critically examine the contexts for which any program is designed to ensure that their implementation leads to actual enhancement of women’s economic empowerment and, ultimately, poverty reduction.

Wofai Ibiang is a Gender Specialist and a Master of International Public policy (MIPP) Graduate.
The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Washington D.C

IA- Foundation Inaugural Black-Tie Fundraising Dinner held in London on 8th February 2020

All roads led to Colliers row in London, where IA-Foundation held its inaugural black-tie fundraising dinner, held on Saturday 8th of February 2020. Just in time before the lockdown! The Foundation was foundedby Mrs Ibironke Adeagbo a renowned chartered accountant in the UK.
All the guests were looking immaculately dressed as they posed for pictures on the red carpet, where the canape was served and lots of networking and camaraderie was going on. Over three hundred guests filed into the immaculately decorated hall.
The opening prayers was said by Pastor Kolade Adebayo-Oke. In her welcome address, the founder, Mrs Adeagbo said this Foundation was set up, because she was getting concerned about the number of out -of-school children in Nigeria.
UNICEF carried out a survey in Dec 2018 and the survey confirmed that there are 13.2 million children out-of-school in Nigeria.
She believes if we do not address this problem now, it is a potential time bomb that could consume the country in the next few years. She said that security challenges and poverty was the main reasons the children were out of school, stressing that over 92 million Nigerians were living below the poverty line.

While acknowledging that the government had done well to make basic education free and compulsory, she said other things like feeding, uniform, books amongst others needed for schooling were not provided, hence the reluctance of parents to release their kids for school.

Mrs Adeagbo reiterated the purpose for staging theinaugural fund-raising dinner was to raise funds to tackle the challenge of out-of-school children in Nigeria and to remove any obstacle that can prevent a Nigerian child from getting good education.

She asserted that the government cannot do everything,and she encouraged the guests to support the Foundation in getting a Nigerian child off the street and into the classroom. This would tackle the poverty cycle, improve social mobility and the Nigerian economy.

She thanked the 10-man organising committee led by Mr Tunde Falode. They had worked tirelessly to make the event a success. The guests were thrilled by Nigerian artiste Weird MC of the ‘Ijoya’ fame. The guests enjoyed the American Auction, which raised lots of funds for the Foundation.

The Raffle draw was excitingand lots of guests won prizes, especially the star prize of a 60” TV. The food was sumptuous, and the networking was superb. The guests all danced into the night to ‘old school’ and afro beat songs dished out by popular UK DJ Omo Whyte. It was indeed a night to remember and guests were asking what date was the next one!

AFRICAN DESTINATIONS MEET TO PLAN GROWTH AND SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR TOURISM

Recovery and resilience were the central themes as the members of the World Tourism Organization’s Regional Commission for Africa (CAF) met for the 63rd time today. Reflecting the extraordinary circumstances, the meeting was held virtually, bringing together Ministers of Tourism from across the region with representatives of the African Union, the West African Monetary Union and from the private sector, to plot a united course towards a stronger and better tourism sector.

Held as the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) leads the global restart of tourism, the meeting enjoyed the virtual presence of 140 participants from 30 countries, including 24 Ministers of Tourism. They were joined by representatives of 10 international organizations and by members of the UNWTO Affiliate Members network.

Priorities to unlock Africa’s tourism potential 

As well as addressing the immediate challenge posed by COVID-19, discussions also focused on the key areas of UNWTO’s Agenda for Africa, a roadmap designed to guide the sector in sustainable growth up to 2030. These priorities include enhancing Africa’s tourism Infrastructure, boosting air connectivity, easing visa facilitation, ensuring the safety and security of tourists, investing in the development of human capital development, and improving the image of Africa to the rest of the world.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Africa’s tourism potential is undeniable, as is the potential of tourism to drive inclusive development across the continent. The steady easing of travel restrictions, first within nations and then across international borders, will allow the many social and economic benefits of tourism to return. If tourism’s restart is managed in a responsible and coordinated manner, harnessing the power of innovation and entrepreneurship, then it can transform millions of lives and help protect and preserve Africa’s rich cultural and natural heritage.”

If tourism’s restart is managed in a responsible and coordinated manner, harnessing the power of innovation and entrepreneurship, then it can transform millions of lives and help protect and preserve Africa’s rich cultural and natural heritage

Realigning the Agenda for Africa

Joining Mr Pololikashvili for the 63rd meeting of the CAF was the group’s current chairman Roland Chitotela, who also serves as Minister of Tourism and Arts, Zambia, and the African Union was represented by its Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid. All participants welcomed the latest initiatives designed at growing African tourism announced by the Secretary-General, including the Brand Africa marketing competition and a fresh emphasis on showcasing African gastronomy and using this as a new market for sustainable tourism and job creation.

In the run-up to the meeting, UNWTO’s Member States took part in an online survey through which they were invited to share their thoughts on how the UNWTO Agenda for Africa can be utilized to accelerate recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and build resilience for the future. Participants expressed a strong desire to see the top five key areas of the Agenda for Africa prioritized in order to support swift and sustainable recovery. These priorities are: unlocking growth through investment and through effective public-private partnerships; promoting innovation and technology; visa facilitation and enhanced connectivity; advocating for Brand Africa, and fostering greater resilience, including through enhanced safety and security for tourists.

User-funded Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) for Scaling up Federal Road Infrastructure in Nigeria By Wofai Ibiang

With the advent of falling oil prices and its enormous impact on the Nigerian economy, the Nigerian government must consider strategies to increase productivity in other sectors of the economy like agriculture. The majority of Nigerians live in rural areas and engage in subsistent farming, so roads are the primary means of transportation. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of all traffic is through road transport. According to the Global Infrastructure Hub, Nigeria has a $221 billion investment gap in infrastructure, and road transport constitutes $84 billion of it. Given this considerable deficit, the government must seek non-traditional project finance models that leverage medium to long term funds from banks and development finance institutions. User-pays PPPs or concessions can be an effective procurement mechanism to solve Nigeria’s lag in delivering much-needed road infrastructure.

Federal expressways connect the major cities and seaports and stretch from the Southern part of the country to the North. Because urban centers depend on local farmers for agricultural produce, these roads are a critical part of food supply chains. Conversely, the rural communities depend on the urban areas for processed goods and machinery, which are mostly transported by road; thus, good roads are essential. However, the persistent dilapidation of Nigerian roads coupled with inadequate road networks cripple this flow and undermine efforts towards growth. 

Transportation infrastructure increases productivity and leads to improvements in standards of living and growth. A recent World Bank report indicates that the Nigerian economy could increase by up to 4-percentage points if there were an increase in infrastructure investment. 

The Problem

The government has cited budget constraints and competing needs as significant impediments to delivering infrastructure. Presently, government-pays models are popular for Nigerian infrastructure projects. However, past projects reveal that this model hasn’t yielded the desired outcomes. Most roads are poorly maintained or not maintained at all, and road networks remain inadequate to serve the burgeoning population. 

Although previous user-payer concessions such as the Lekki-Ikoyi toll bridge have been criticized for toll increases, the project provided an essential infrastructure for people living in the city. Rather than fixate on its shortcomings, the focus should be on mitigating the challenges of such PPPs. Nigeria’s infrastructure sector needs a funding model that ensures that project partners reap benefits commensurate with the risk that they are shouldering, as stated in the contracts, with minimum resistance from users, including citizens, local communities, and politicians. 

Most times, when new governments, especially of opposing parties, take over, there is a tendency to resist previous concession arrangements. They often create obstacles mostly for political reasons, and because the new governments do not get any direct financial benefit. The solution here is to establish a proper level and structure of tariffs before a concession is awarded, with clear tariff readjustment rules.

Concessions should also be awarded to qualified bidders by auctioning the lowest subsidy if necessary. Qualification conditions should include a minimum balance sheet, a solid financial performance track record, and experience and technical capability. For example, companies with the size and track record like Julius Berger would not only have the ability to raise long term financing for road projects in Nigeria but would also likely deliver quality projects that could drive down maintenance costs. The qualification conditions should be unambiguous and capable of being answered with a simple “yes or no” to avoid disputes. 

Because potential bidders will probably apply a higher discount rate to payments made throughout the life of the contract than the government would, the net present value of the concession fee to the government is likely to be higher if it is structured as an annual payment. Structuring lease payments as a flow of payments over the concession’s life, rather than a single lump-sum disbursement at the beginning of the concession, is a better approach. Moreover, this will facilitate new governments’ buy-in for the concession arrangements, because they will also benefit from the concession. Also, the resistance from the people toward toll projects will be minimized where the benefits are perceived to outweigh the cost of the toll fees. When the toll is capped, the government can issue complementary payments for low-income users or subsidies to investment after construction. The defining characteristic should be payment contingent on performance. 

User-pays PPPs have been used to fill deficits and increase service delivery in road infrastructure in many other countries with budget constraints. The success of these partnerships hinged on the professionalism of the contracting agency within the public sector. For instance, the Second Vivekananda Bridge and Tollway, Kolkata-Howrah project in India, which was executed through a public-private partnership, using a design-build-operate-transfer (DOBT) model. The 3.8-mile six-lane tollway project completed in 2007 is lauded as the world’s first multi-span, cable-supported bridge with short pylons. It was part of the country’s national program to upgrade essential infrastructure. To speed construction and achieve a faster return on investment, the Indian National Highways Authority opted for private financing, awarding the special purpose vehicle (SVBTC), the right to operate the revenue-producing bridge and tollways under a 30-year agreement. 

PPPs are unlikely to eliminate traditional public procurement mechanisms for the financing and development of infrastructure; they are not a panacea for all infrastructure projects. However, optimizing the advantages of private sector participation in infrastructure construction and management depends on the government’s effective contracting and procurement. Stakeholder management and communication are also vital. A mechanism that ensures that the stakeholders, including the users of the asset, are duly consulted and informed of decisions that affect them, should be set up for every project. There is an imperative for transparency. Citizens should have access to easy-to-understand information about projects, and accountability and redress mechanisms should be installed to give voice to the Nigerian people and allow them to lodge complaints related to the projects. 

Wofai Ibiang is an International Development Professional and a Master of International Public Policy (MIPP) Graduate of The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Washington D.C

SAHCO TAKES OVER BRITISH AIRWAYS GROUND HANDLING CONTRACT

The Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) PLC, a Public Limited Liability company, and a subsidiary of SIFAX Group has taken over the ground handling services of British Airways. By this development, SAHCO PLC will be providingPassenger and Ramp Handling services to British Airways at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja and Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.

SAHCO has been able to attract and retain the confidence of British Airways due to the seamless, safe and speedy service delivery which SAHCO is known for prompting British Airways to move her Passenger and Ramp Handling services to SAHCO. The move took effect with the handling of the evacuation flight which occurred on the 8th of May, 2020.

British Airways (BA) is the flag carrier airline of the United Kingdom, Headquartered at Waterside, Harmondsworth, near its main hub at London Heathrow Airport.

SAHCO is the only Aviation Ground Handling company that is present in all the commercially operated airports in Nigeria. In recent times, many foreign airlines have moved their aviation ground handling operations to SAHCO so as to enjoy being handled by a loyal and dedicated workforce who are well trained and whose integrity is undoubtable, delivering their activities in line with global best practices.

With constant investment in modern aviation ground support equipment fitted with the latest technology; a team of engineers that can build ground support equipment from locally sourced materials which is the first of its kind in Nigeria; a team that is versed in the best of Departure Control systems in the Aviation industry, World Tracer and BRS; world class warehousing services; unrivaled customer friendly service delivery in a safe, speedy and efficient culture; SAHCO treats its clients as partners.

In the same vein, Air France has signed another warehousing contract with SAHCO at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. This means SAHCO will provide Cargo warehousing service throughout the country for Air France. SAHCO has been handling Air France’s Cargo Warehousing inLagos and Port Harcourt which has influenced decision to include the Abuja operations due to their satisfactory first-hand experience.

The clients of SAHCO include the following; Aero Contractors, African World Airways, Air Cote D’Ivoire, Air Peace, Arik Air, Allied Air, Badr Airlines, Bristol Helicopters, Camair-Co, Caverton Helicopters, Dana Air, DHL Aviation, Ethiopian Airlines, Etihad Airways, Emirates Airlines, Execujets, Ibom Air, Inter Air, Max Air, Middle East Airlines, Overland Airways, South African Airways, TAAG Angola, Tarco Airlines, Value Jet, Virgin Atlantic Cargo.

It is worthy to note that SAHCO is also the recipient of numerous awards both locally and internationally due to its quality service delivery in aviation ground handling operations in Nigeria. SAHCO is an RA3 and IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO) certified company. These certifications make the company a preferred gateway to import and export to European countries and the world at large.

SAHCO, who is a member of the Airport Services Association (ASA), is an Aviation Ground Handling service provider involved in all the activities that takes place from the time an aircraft touches down on the tarmac at the airport to the time it taxis out to be airborne, to the delight of its customers and benefit of all stakeholders, utilizing state-of-the-art skills, procedure, equipment and facilities with a devoted workforce.

UANSOHIA   VANESSA ADETOLA (MRS),

MANAGER, CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS,

SKYWAY AVIATION HANDLING COMPANY PLC(SAHCO),

MOBILE: +2348060758584.

E-MAIL:uansohia.vanessa@sahcoplc.com.

12th May, 2020.

The Imperatives of Improving Women’s Health

It is another month of March, and globally it is recognized as the women’s month and the theme of this year’s celebration –“Gender Equality” — is quite insightful and instructive. This means that the international community has come to observe and realize that there is a difference between the sexes. We know that an active person in need of equality should be healthy. This is what has inspired this article. What is health?

Health as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) is a state of physical, mental, social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Women, by our very nature, are exposed to certain peculiar health issues which include but is not limited to our reproductive and sexual health; issues pertaining to pregnancy, child bearing, maternal mortality, complications in pregnancy, pre- eclampsia, eclampsia, stillbirth, mother-to-child transmission of diseases, infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, abortions, cancers of the reproductive organs, un-consensual sexual activity, and many more.

There are also issues with other causes of death in men and women which tend to affect women more. Today, lung cancer is a leading cause of death amongst other cancers in women. Whereas smoking is a known predisposing cause of lung cancer, the incidence is three times higher in non-smoking women than smoking men. Estrogen, the predominant female hormone, may fuel cancer cell growth or interact with genes that boost the effect of carcinogens. This may be one of the reasons why the incidence is high and the prognosis in women is poor.

Other leading causes of cancer deaths are breast cancer, cancer of the colon and rectum, ovarian cancer, cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb) and cancer of the uterus. Other health matters include raised blood pressure, cardiovascular disorders, osteoporosis, anemia, diabetes, depression, dementia, urinary tract infection, and of course there is also poverty, lack of good education, and absence of a skill she can rely on to provide for her family. Unfortunately, not much is being done in terms of research into peculiar women’s health issues as their representation in the research area is limited.

The moves by the World Organization of Ovulation Method Billings (WOOMB) to bring the good news to Africa are welcome. At its recent International Conference in Cotonou, Benin Republic, the need to educate women about their reproductive health was reiterated. Here, women in all stages of life from menarche when they start their menstruation to menopause when it stops are taught how to manage their reproductive health by observing their body signs and interpreting the findings she has recorded in a chart. It is completely natural and has no side effects. By so doing, she learns to know her fertile and infertile time and to utilize it as the family would need. She is not restricted by breastfeeding or any preexisting medical condition. She does not need to do anything new but just to pay attention.

What can we as women do to stay healthy? The basic minimum we need to do are things that we probably already know, but are not paying attention to. They include but are not limited to the following:

•       To have regular health checks, at least twice in a year. This should include physical examination, a check of the blood pressure, lipid profile, fasting blood sugar, and the blood chemistry. Women over 40 years will need to check their eyes for glaucoma, bone mineral density, thyroid function tests, Pap smear every three years and more. Persons who are at a high risk of STDs will need to do tests for Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV. Your physician will help guide you to do the needful.

It is important that we each have record of our medical history especially if you are seeing a new physician. This summary will bring the doctor up to speed on our health, knowing our current and previous diagnosis, any allergies, and what medications we are currently taking.

•       We have to keep the body moving by doing regular, moderately intense exercise for about 2 – 3 hours weekly; our ancestors were not sedentary, they were hunters and gatherers. These exercises should make us sweat and get our hearts beating fast.

•       Our diet should be tailored to suit our state of health. Basically, we need to avoid processed foods, as they contain preservatives. We need to drink adequate amount of water as it cleanses the body and removes toxins. We should eat foods in the right proportions, rich in fibers, low in carbohydrates and fat.

•       To avoid excessive use of alcohol and recreational drugs, for obvious reasons.

•       Ensure we have adequate sleep especially at nights. I will not put duration to this. Sleep is adequate if we wake up refreshed, on our own without the alarm clock. Our bodies get refreshed in sleep as lots of healing takes place then. And the things we had learnt are filed away in our memory banks during sleep. So sleep is therapeutic.

•       Our day to day life is already stressful as we are responsible for nurturing our families in most cultures, we should therefore learn to minimize stress. When we feel overwhelmed by the events going on in our lives, we should pause, take a break and count five things that are going on well with us at the time and we will definitely find things to be grateful for. We need to learn to take one day at a time and to be grateful very small change.

Sometimes, we take up more activities than we can cope with. It is important to learn to politely, say “NO” sometimes. We may choose to say not at this time which means that we may be open to assisting at some other time.

Finally, I like to advocate that we learn to look out for each other as every little help counts. Happy International Women’s Month to us all.

“We tell and retell Positive Africa”- Yomi Badejo-Okusanya (YBO), President of African Public Relations Association (APRA)

Truth be told that we all have a major role to play in the way other people perceive us. It is said that “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception,” thus for Africa to achieve its full potential and take its rightful place in the world, she has a lot to do in managing how she is perceived by the rest of the world. Therefore, some members of the Inside Watch Africa (IWA) team, recently paid a visit to the President of the African Public Relations Association (APRA) – Mr.Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, also popularly known as YBO in his office in Lagos, Nigeria, to get a first-hand information on what 

(APRA) is doing to corporately manage the image of Africa.

Mr. Yomi Badejo-Okusanya is a consummate public relations practitioner and the Group Managing Director of one of Nigeria’s foremost communication consulting groups, CMC Connect (Perception Managers).  With over two decades of work experience in the Marketing Communications and perception management industry in Nigeria and internationally cutting across Corporate Communications, Government Relations, Marketing PR, Financial Public Relations and Crisis Management, his work experience has seen him consult for many multi-nationals and national governments, such as the first woman elected President in Africa, H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.
An alumnus of the Lagos Business School and a renowned facilitator, YBO is the current President of the African Public Relations Association (APRA), the umbrella body for the practice of public 

relations in Africa.

IWA: The world sees Africa as one, but unfortunately going by what is happening on the 

continent, Africa cannot be said to be united. I would like to know in specific terms what your association – the African Public Relations Association (APRA) has done over the years to foster this unity?

YBO: When I first became the Secretary General and then the President of the APRA, the first thing we did was to integrate ourselves into the African union, because until then APRA had no tangible relationship with the African union; we were more or less just talking to one another. We then realised that if we were going to be talking for Africa, we would have to work with the African Union. This we pursued to the extent that the first conference under my watch as Secretary- General was hosted in Addis-Abba as part of the 50th anniversary of the African Union. Since then, we 

have been aspiring to become registered as a consultative arm of the AU, and I must tell you that it’s a long process; moreover, African Union with due respect has its own challenges, there is a lot of bureaucracy, so it has been a long journey for us and now we are at the point where we need to register with a body called ECOSOC which caters for such registration. 

We have actually started the registration to a certain extent. ECOSOC functions as the think-tank of the African Union and it is what they put together that becomes a recommendation to the foreign affairs ministers which is then ratified by the heads of government in Africa. We thought that it was the best place to be, initially we were working with the communications department but because they were not a policy formulating arm of the AU, we had to start again… the process is still on. All our conferences have now been endorsed by the AU and we have had attendance from a very high level – at the Deputy Chairperson’s level. 

We have made presentations to them and we are even proposing that we have an office in the AU complex in Ethiopia. We believe that one of the biggest challenges Africa has is narrative, its reputation and right now it is about war, strife, disease etc., imagine the kind of dent it would have had on our image if the Corona Virus had sprouted from Africa like Ebola. Therefore, it is expedient that as PR professionals we are at the driver’s seat driving the narrative of everything the AU is doing to foster unity amongst member states. As things stand now the visions, aims and objectives of the AU are only known at the government level. 

For instance, in Europe, the impact of the European Union is felt by the average man on the street. That is not the case in Africa, the impression out there is that the AU is only a body of government technocrats and administrators and that impression must change for both the continent and the AU. We have started working closely with the operating arm of the AU known as the African Union commission in this respect and our goal is to positively reshape the narrative by selling “Positive Africa”. We feel that Africa has a story to tell or re-tell, and who best to re-tell that story other than the key story tellers who are in this case – the public relations practitioners.  

We have then given ourselves a mandate as PR practitioners across the continent to equip ourselves by knowing what is going on. Before now, all that we have was to just talk to ourselves, but now we want to, and are really starting to influence our key stakeholders (government, business, NGOs and foreign interests). 

We have also taken steps to put African Public Relations in the main stream of global PR agenda such that our conferences are now attended by the President of the Global Alliance which is the largest body in terms of  communication. In fact, I have been informed that our up-coming conference will also be attended by the President of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) and several other dignitaries from across the globe.

We have been able to push Africa into the mainstream of the global PR agenda and we believe that if we take all of these things collectively along with contributions from various stakeholders in the field of PR, we will become a global force to reckon with, and possess enough juice to drive our campaign effectively. A good example of what I am talking about is the Tokyo Olympics where we should have a clear narrative for Africa globally; to create a situation where we would be able to situate ourselves strategically in these world events and leverage opportunities presented to sell a positive Africa. 

IWA:The recent frosty relations between South Africa and Nigeria has been a PR nightmare for both countries and has resulted in some level of disconnection between 

them, and this is typical of relations between several African countries because certain complexities of the situation are only appreciated at top governmental levels. What is your organization doing as regards embarking on campaigns targeted at the young and people in the streets in Africa to promote integration, unity and better understanding at that level?

YBO: The fact that we are trying to make Africa one market is one of those key points and we believe that if this is put into place, issues like this will be significantly reduce. We strongly believe in the economic integration of Africa; it has been one of our cardinal goals. Africa should be an economic zone which by all standards be a force to be reckon with. There are suppositions that the young South Africans who don’t know the historical ties that binds the countries together, are of the opinion that Nigerians are taking undue advantages of them and the Xenophobia is their response to it.  It is said that the key issues are that they are of the opinion that Nigerians are taking over their businesses, and in some cases, their women, in some other cases the Nigerians are perceived as offering better services at cheaper rates, and of course, not ruling out the issue of shady businesses that some Nigerians engage in whether it is fraudulent practices or dealing in narcotics.

There is a need to understand that in the growth of an economy, these things are inevitable. What we are doing about it is accentuating our campaign on the need for economic integration in Africa, which will see Africa become one market and all varied interests become one. We are also advocating social integration as an effective tool and an integral part of our campaign to foster oneness in Africa which underscores our official slogan, which is “One Africa”.

IWA: There is some skepticism about the success of African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCTA). What do you think about this and what are the things your organization has done or is doing to ensure that the success story not only holds true, but is 

also obvious to these skeptics?

YBO:There is an African proverb which says that “if you want go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together”. It is time for Africa to go together, because its strength doesn’t lie in each market trying to solve its own problem, but in the integration of the continent as a single market. I totally believe in the concept of a ‘United States of Africa’, not in terms of political structure or leadership; I am not saying that one person becomes the president of Africa. I am advocating that we go as a one in our strength which is massive and in my opinion the only way to go. It is what has made Europe strong and definitely what made America strong, because technically, each state in 

America could easily be a country by itself, but they decided to come together to form one country – the United States of America, they have a common market, security, currency, army and purpose. All these make the USA very strong and the superpower that they are today. So I believe that this is the only way Africa can go, we should have some form of economic and political confederation under which we can all act as one because that is where the real strength lies.

Looking at it, the AU has not been as effective as it should be in this respect and consequently, whether by error of commission or omission they have not achieved the lofty dreams and goals set by the founding fathers of the AU – the dreams and visions of the likes of Haile Selassie, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, just to mention a few, have not been achieved, and for us to achieve these goals, it is imperative for Africa to operate as one. The pertinent question to ask is; what are the fears militating against achieving these goals? The logical explanation is once there is a change of status in life, there is always a fear associated with it. For example, if you are getting married, you will be afraid; if you are getting a new job, you will be afraid; if you are setting up a new business venture, you will be afraid. So I am not surprised that there is some level of apprehension as to working together, but I believe that once we put our hearts into it, we will begin to see the advantages. What this means is that this publication of yours (IWA) can go across 

Africa, the skills you have here you can actually be transferred to Zimbabwe or Zambia. Let me give you an example, look at the United Arab Emirates, there are about seven countries that came together and you can see how strong they have become, some are more prominent than the others, but collectively they are strong. If each one of them had decided to go it on its own, I am not so sure if they would have achieved all that they have. There will be challenges associated with integration and it’s not going to be easy, but I think that is the way to go. 

IWA:Africa has always been blamed for a lot of things it wasn’t responsible for because we do not manage our narrative around certain issues well. So do you think Africa has managed the narrative around the Coronavirus 

well enough to the extent of not getting the blame that isn’t ours and what step is your organization taking to make sure that the narrative is properly managed from the African point of view? 

YBO:The most critical thing we should do regarding the Coronavirus beyond us repudiating the origin as Africa is that we should save our people and this has to do with a lot of enlightenment that and a lot of advocacy around it. My greatest concern would not be avoiding the blame, we are clear where it has come from, and my worry will be the virus containing, managing, and stopping the spread because it is so devastating to the extent that it is stretching the resources and capacity to cope for the most industrialized nations of the world. 

If it were to be unleashed here, it will be more devastating. So what should we do now is to move into the world of enlightenment and advocacy which is what we have urged all our practitioners across the continent to do. It’s not the time to get fixated on the blame game; it is simply the time for all hands to be on deck to help keep all our people safe. So we have to enlighten our people how they can take care of themselves and how they can avoid the virus at any opportunity we have, even in cases of suspected infection, teach them what they should do to curb it. This becomes more significant when you realise that Africa has the least literacy rate across the world. So this thing only needs to get into some places where it is difficult to disseminate information and we would have a huge epidemic on our hands. Our most important task as PR practitioners in this situation should therefore 

be to ensure that we communicate, advocate and give counsel to, not just the people, but also the government. We should make sure that the government, the people and the private sector are doing the right thing and support them. Just last week it was reported that the Nigerian Senate President said there was nowhere in Abuja where people could be quarantined and thatis sad. I hope at the end of the day this thing will not snowball into something that will get out of control, and we will carry the brunt of this whole thing because while the Western world has managed to contain the spread of the virus, we have not done much work towards our own containment strategy; that’s where the problem will be for us if we don’t get our act together.

IWA: We are definitely over-dependent on China as regards 

trade and economic cooperation Iis it not time for us to focus more on becoming more independent in all that we do? 

YBO: For me, it is important that Africa has an industrial policy and if we already have one, it should be targeted at what and where we have comparative advantage. As a continent we still some deficiencies in the area of infrastructure thus we cannot but be dependent on the super powers like China at the moment because we have no choice. It is simple, they are strong and weare weak now, so we need them. As PR practitioners, what we should be talking about now is that there should be as a matter of urgency an industrial policy for Africa which is well articulated and distilled down to address Africa’s needs. For instance, let us assume that a certain number of new vehicles are needed yearly in Africa and there is an African industrial policy in place where a Toyota plant in situated in country A, a Nissan plant in country B, and another plant producing Renault in country C, all located in Africa, then we are looking at it as a total trade or policy concept in which the demand for new vehicles in the West African Sub-region for example, can be taken care of by a plant located in Nigeria, Benin or Ghana. In fact it would mean that Africa is capable of meeting its total yearly demand for new vehicles for all its regions by plants located in these regions which are a big economic plus for Africa as a continent. I think this again brings us back to the issue of re-engineering the AU which is of present more of a political union and needs to be more of an economic one. Consequently, I am hoping that the African Free Trade 

Continental Agreement will help address this and reposition the role of the AU to be seen more along economic lines rather than political.

IWA: You will agree with me that these are long and medium term solutions to the problem and we need to immediately activate the short term ones that will trigger the principle of comparative advantage and at least at the level of producing the food we eat. For instance, are we doing enough to promote the things we are currently producing locally such as local cuisines and apparels?

YBO: I agree with you that as a first step and an integral part of selling Africa, we need to also activate the same narrative at the very basic level of the economy and using your analogy, I would say that as Africans we must as a matter of urgency, build some African brand assets across the board. A few days ago, I saw a video clip which is popular and I am sure you must have seen it, it features somewhere in China that someone was asking for fufu and egusi… and who was talking, – a Chinese man. The truth is, where there is a demand, there is always an opportunity. So we cannot blame the Chinese for institutionalising the Chinese brand of food or restaurants. It is onus on us to build ours. I have only been to china once and I was telling someone the other day that the Chinese food over here in Nigeria is better than the one in China. They have succeeded in commercialising their food because they realised that there is a demand for it and that is what we must also do with our foods, drinks and wears. For instance, if you are from Ondo, the Asun (grilled goat meat) that is served there is so different from the Asun we now have in places like Lagos. The popular Asun we have now is parboiled, they will cook it a bit before grilling it, but for the original Asun, they grill it straight without any par-boiling, so the meat is tough and spicy because they baste or marinate it with raw pepper before grilling. Not many people are able to eat it, except for maybe someone with acquired taste like my late uncle who did not mind and even craves the spicy nature of the original Asun.  For you to understand what I am saying, my uncle is capable of eating Garri and raw red Pepper as dessert while he is waiting for his food to be ready. So, we need some strong African brand assets around these products, and those brand assets are what we got to develop from what we have. The truth is that nature abhors a vacuum, if we don’t meet our basic needs using the African brand assets we have developed, the Chinese or some other persons will come here and meet those demands using their own brand assets. These type of development has taken place with foods such as pounded yam in which you don’t really have to pound yam anymore, you could just pick up Poundo-yam, which is actually pounded yam developed, packaged and branded for our consumption, and there just like that you have your pounded yam on the go to eat; these are the kinds of development and initiatives that we should drive. The pertinent questions to ask ourselves are, – Should there be a fund for small and medium scale enterprises across Africa to fund these initiatives, to make the difference? Should we help skills acquisition or skills development contrary to the situation where many of us are 

just looking for university degrees, and consequently we don’t have enough of quality artisans or technicians or technical knowledge to develop our continent?

IWA: In PR practice we will always ask people what is core character that they need to drive their business. So I ask you what is the most important character trait that is expected of a public relations practitioner?

YBO: I would say the biggest thing is integrity of purpose. Because sooner or later if you fail in that area you have failed in every other thing and it will catch up with you. Some people mix PR with Propaganda. A Yoruba adage says “no matter how far a lie has gone or spread, the truth will always catch up with it.’’ PR is not about spin doctoring, it is about telling a story and that story must be based on truth. Which means in many instances that our clients and principals have not done well, we should own up to it. Integrity of purpose is the bedrock of PR practice. 

Apapa Area Customs Command Hits Highest Revenue Figure in the History of the Port – Says Comptroller Mohammed Abba-Kura.

by Damilola Hammed

A landmark achievement was recorded by the Nigeria Customs Service, Apapa Area Command, with N413 billion generated in 2019, the highest in the history of the command’s operations. This figure is N41 billion above the projected N372 billion revenue target for the past year.
The Command’s Area Controller, Comptroller Mohammed Abba-Kura had told a news conference on 20th of December 2019 of the feat and the surpassing of the target even though the year had not ended.
As usual, Comptroller Abba-Kura had conducted journalists round the seizures made by the command in the outgoing year worth N12 billion.

A no-holds-barred interview by Inside Watch Africa (IWA) with the Area Controller is more revealing, and the following are excerpts of the one-on-one chat:

IWA: Nigeria is predominantly an importing and exporting nation, yet some people say doing import and export business in Nigeria seems to be problematic. Sir, what is your take on this?

Comptroller Abba-Kura: Let me start by saying that I do not agree with the assertion that import and export business is a problematic business in Nigeria. However, whatever business endeavour anyone desires to be involved in, it is compulsory that one should have very good knowledge of the laws that govern the business. Regrettably, I have over the years observed that most people, who go into import and export in Nigeria, go into it ignorantly. My advice for anyone that desires to go on this line of business either in Nigeria or in any other country for that matter, as it would be required in any other venture, is for such a person to first make enquiries and get sufficient information about the rules and regulations that guide whatever he or she wants to either import or export before jumping into the venture. It is only by so doing and strictly adhering to the rules and regulations that the person would be able to escape what I call “avoidable problems’’ in the course of importing into or exporting out of Nigeria.

IWA: Still on advice, what in your opinion should one do to become a successful customs officer? What are the salient things to be done?

Comptroller Abba-Kura: The customs job is essentially a very energetic one thus a Customs officer is generally expected to be up and doing and must possess the ability to face diverse challenges. One is constantly confronted with such challenges because of the nature of the job. The essence and practices of the Customs job is entrenched in global statues, treaties and laws, thus in order to be successful in primary duties of a Customs officer which entails trade facilitation, revenue collection and smuggling prevention, he or she should be willing to go the extra mile and get acquainted with all the relevant global statues, treaties and laws. Fortunately, the Nigeria Customs Service traditionally gives opportunity to its officers on regular basis to undergo on-the-job and off-the job trainings and courses in order to be properly equipped for the job as long as the officer is ready and willing to learn.

IWA: You are one of those officers who have had the privilege of undergoing many courses within and outside the country. Which of the courses do you consider the best and most rewarding?

Comptroller Abba-Kura: It is true that I have undergone a lot of courses within and outside the country on various topics and I must confess that I am really grateful to God for the opportunities that the Service had given me over the years in this regard. To answer your question directly, the course I have enjoyed most are the intelligence courses I attended at different times when I was in the Customs Intelligent Unit. The courses had exposed me to so many very instructive things about the job and about life generally. There was a particular course on risk assessment and management I attended for over a year which I consider all-encompassing as far as the Customs job is concerned. We did valuation, classification and also did non-intrusive examination. I must confess that even now as an Area Controller, I still draw from the knowledge and experiences I acquired on those intelligence courses.

IWA: Apapa port means different things to different people; to some it is just Africa’s premier port. Sir, as the Customs Area Controller of this port, how would you describe Apapa port?

Comptroller Abba-Kura: Apapa port is not just Africa’s premier port in the Maritime industry in Nigeria, Apapa port is the number one port and so much is expected of it particularly in the area of revenue collection, suppression of smuggling, and in many other areas. I must give kudos to my predecessors who had over the years raised the bar of excellent service delivery at this port.   However, since I became the Area Controller, we have continued to put structures in place that have seen us raising the bar much higher than my predecessors in all area of our performance. So far in the history of this port, we have generated the highest revenues and the figures are there for everyone to see. Understanding and realizing the pivotal role that human capital will play in our quest for success, we decided to take capacity building in this command very seriously. I am glad to inform you that we have finished the first phase of the training we organized in-house in the first week of November 2019 where we trained 350 officers.

IWA: This training that you mentioned organizing in-house for your officers sounds interesting, can you please tell us more about it?

Comptroller Abba-Kura: We took them in batches and the courses taught are as follow: classification, valuation, enforcement, examination, non-intrusive examination, risk management, fast-tracking, administration, Customs in the 21st Century, among others.

IWA: What is Customs in the 21st Century all about?

Comptroller Abba-Kura: The 21st Century Customs idea was introduced by the World Customs Organization (WCO) to essentially teach officers and get them ready for the eminent disruption that is already happening in the way things will be done in the Maritime industry globally, going forward.  As a responsible leader, I consider it pertinent to keep my officers abreast of the global goings-on in our industry because if the officers don’t know where we are and where we are going, they will lag behind. Let me also inform you that this capacity building training is not only for customs officers, we are extending the training to all the critical stakeholders in the industry so that all of us will be on the same page.

IWA: As customary with us in IWA, in your last word in this interview, you are allowed to and can say whatsoever you desire to say that we did not ask in the course of the interview?

Comptroller Abba-Kura: Going by the nature of my job, I am not expected to work on or base my judgement on rumours, hearsay or suppositions. So I will greatly appreciate it when people want to come forward with their complaints and do so with concrete evidence. I do not consider it fair for anyone to be judged or punished by mere rumours or suppositions. 

Having said this, my last word to the public will be, whatever the dealings they intend to have with the Customs Service, they should please try to always back it up with tenable and concrete evidence.

Bigbus Tours: The Perfect Introduction to The City – Shareena Ali, Head PR, Branding and Social Media

IWA: The first thing I will like to know is that in the past 23 years that your organization has been in business in four continents and about twenty-three cities around the world, what would you say are the main strategies that have given you the success you have achieved thus far?

SHAREENA: First, we operate in a highly competitive industry; there are lots of hop on, hop off sightseeing tour companies out there, but most of them are franchises and we are not a franchise. We are the world’s largest provider and privately-owned hop on, hop off sightseeing tour company and in the last four years what we have done is that we have consolidated all of our operations, all of our branding etc.  To make sure that we have a very tight operational model that can be transferable across cities where we operate, we have in the last 12 months launched out into Los Angeles, Berlin, Singapore and Dublin and we are able to very easily ensure the same high quality service, the same digital opportunities for customers and the same branding that we have in the other cities very quickly and give the same service and the sightseeing tour experience across all of our cities. This is something that the other sightseeing tour companies can’t do because as small franchise owners they are essentially working as small businesses, doing their own thing just under the licence brand of another competitor.

IWA: What are the new grounds that your organization is looking at breaking and conquering? What are the new frontiers?

SHAREENA: What we have done in the last few years is that we have dramatically increased the digital transformation in our industry. For sightseeing tour companies, hop on, hop off sightseeing tours, people don’t expect us to be very digital but what we have done is that we have a digital app where people can find out local city guides and also when they hop off they can track the next bus in real-time.  We also have a very consistent operating model where people can come on board and scan their tickets; they don’t have to wait and queue to have their tickets scanned. These are the things that none of our competitors are doing, so in the world of hop on, hop off sightseeing tour we can be regarded as the cutting edges innovators; something we have over the years continued to do in all the cities where we operate.

IWA: This is interesting to know because usually when you look at certain businesses, most often people kind of get very settled into the things they have always done. So it is good to know that your organization has decided take a lot of innovative steps in the way you do things. So if you were to describe the tourism industry in the UK specifically, and in the whole of Europe generally, how would you describe it?

SHAREENA: I think it is very mixed; it depends on season. We have got 23 cities, and London is one of our core cities; we also have three other core cities — New York, London and Paris, and obviously our high season is in Summer because it is warm as you know we are all about open top sightseeing and people want to see the landmarks and have the history of these landmarks told to them. The best way to do so is to have our tour guides telling the people about the cities and the landmarks so they can then hop off and explore. In London, 50 percent of our customers are American – actually African-Americans and Caucasian-Americans constituting this consistent 50 percent, while the other 50 percent being a mixture whose relative percentages vary depending on the season. For example, during Chinese New Year or Golden Week, we will have more Chinese or during Australian half term we will have more Australians so it really depends on the season and also the public holidays that different countries that are our clients observe.

IWA: So if you were to judge or rely on the various kinds of feedback you have received over the years, what are those feedbacks that have kept recurring over the years, and do you see them pointers to the fact that you are doing well?

SHAREENA: I think it is the fact that we have very strong trade partnerships. Recently we had Expedia, we have Tripod visa and Bookings.com. All of these are our trade partners. Last year, we also signed up with one of the biggest Chinese and Asian traveller’s app as one of our trade partners to sell our tickets via their platforms and the fact that these international trade partners are very keen to sell tickets is a key success for us and KPI as well.

IWA: It is very obvious that your organization appears to be very successful. However, what are those things that you consider as downtime, things that you feel as an organization you still need to work on?

SHAREENA: I think it is more of a perception issue because we are in a very competitive market and people are not as professional as they should be, except for very few establishments like us that take professionalism seriously. Therefore, when people start seeing many tour companies doing things in an inappropriate way we also get tarnished for the same issue. What we usually do is we play up our professionalism and this usually helps to fix the issues.

IWA: Are the youths part of your target market, if they are, do you have a dedicated product for them or how are you dealing with them?

SHAREENA: I am the global Head of PR, branding and social media, so the youths are my direct responsibility and target. They are the reason we are big on our social media platforms, mainly on Facebook and Instagram. On our social media platforms, we highlight the fact that we give you the perfect introduction to the city, by not only giving you an overview of all of the key landmarks to visit, but also giving you the history so that you can hop off and explore. Or where can it be better to take the perfect Instagram picture than in an open top bus where everyone can see you in the city with the landmarks behind you? However, I must confess that the youths are not our key customers, we have solo travellers, families, mission planners, and people who plan in advance and independent explorers. But millennials can be solo travellers and independent explorers and so for me they are part of our target and the best way to capture them is by showing how 23 cities formed the perspective of the customer who is uploading their images on social platforms.

IWA: How do you manage your loyal customers?

SHAREENA: We actually have multiple channels for selling our tickets, we sell our tickets via hotel concierges, via third parties like booking.com etc. and we have on the street sales. People tend to buy our tickets spontaneously when they come into the hotel or when we are on the street, so I can’t really say that we have a high percentage of loyal customers because it is whoever is selling. Obviously we have the opportunity to sell because we have got a strong brand but we believe when people have had great customer service from us and a great touring experience they want to go back on another tour in another city and that way we keep them on board by giving them great offers etc. via our CRM. We have newsletters where they get special discounts and we always have 10 per cent online booking discounts compared to street sales and when they sign up to our loyalty newsletter they get fare discounts.

IWA: How do you deal with sustainability? I am talking about health. I know that all over the world in the tourism industry, it has become a very big issue for people to look at health and all of that. As an organization do you have a corporate plan to deal with the health concerns of your clients?

SHAREENA: Yes, we have quite a few campaigns that we are collaborating with other organizations. For example, in Westminster, in London, we are collaborating with the Westminster Council to join their campaign called “Don’t be Idle”. It is a campaign where Westminster Council encourages people not to have their car engines running when they are at the traffic light point. As a bus company, we are a moving billboard so when cars see we are highlighting this campaign, it is another reminder that they should not have it on because it affects peoples’ lungs because of the air quality. So we also do not keep the engines running at the traffic light points as we switch them off. This is a big step towards air quality and helping with breathing problems when it comes to the traffic pollution. In Dubai, another city of ours, we actually use bio fuel which is a sustainable source of fuel and made from palm oil etc. So we have different campaigns and projects depending on the cities and what is available to us and we also have multiple electric vehicles, buses in Paris, in Washington which again goes a long step away from diesel buses.

IWA: On a final note, what are the key messages that you would like to pass to those who might be seeing this all over the world?

SHAREENA: I think people do not really understand what hop on, hop off sightseeing tour experience entails. What it entails is that if you come into a city and you choose to do a hop on, hop off sightseeing tour, the first thing is that you will get the perfect introduction to the city, you will get your bearings right, you will know how to plan the rest of your short period in that city in the very best way possible because not only are we giving you an overview of the city, our amazing tour guides also give you the history and the knowledge, not minding the fact that they also know the best places to have the best cocktails and the best food in that city. So you have got a local individual who has all the top tips of the city which they can give to you; so it is the perfect introduction to the city.

LET’S SACRIFICE FOR UNITY, SANWO-OLU URGES AS NATION REMEMBERS FALLEN SOLDIERS

…Lagos To Empower Widows Of Slain Heroes

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has charged Nigerians to always make sacrifice for peace and desist from actions that may divide the country along its fault lines.

The Governor said the citizenry had a responsibility to keep Nigeria on the path of sustainable prosperity and unity, saying such remained the best way to honour the patriotism and bravery of men of the Nigerian armed forces who died in the course of protecting the country.

Sanwo-Olu spoke on Wednesday after he laid the wreath in commemoration of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day held at Remembrance Arcade at Tafawa Balewa Square. The event is held yearly to honour soldiers and officers who died in the course of carrying out their constitutional duty.

The Governor observed that labour of the fallen heroes would not be in vain if citizens remained resolute in defending the unity of Nigeria.

He said: “Today’s event is very significant, because it is being held in honour those who laid down their lives to defend our country and keep it united. We will continue to celebrate their bravery and appreciate them for their efforts. As a nation, we must continue to ensure that all their efforts did not go unnoticed.

“The event is also an evidence for brave men and women that are currently serving in the armed forces, that government will certainly not forget their service to our fatherland. Therefore, to ensure that our fallen soldiers did not labour in vain, we must make sacrifice for peace and unity of this country.”

Sanwo-Olu reiterated the State’s commitment to working with security agencies to strengthen professionalism in the discharge of their constitutional duties. Lagos, the Governor pledged, will remain friendly and maintain non-discriminatory approach towards members of armed forces seconded to the State for duties.

He said the State Government had also been supportive of retired military personnel and spouses of fallen soldiers.

The Governor said no fewer than 2,000 members of Nigerian Legion, who are mainly ex-servicemen, had been engaged by Lagos Government to support security operations across the State. This, he said, underscored the Government’s readiness to continue to improve welfare of ex-service personnel and honour their bravery.

Sanwo-Olu also disclosed that his administration would be catering for the spouses of fallen soldiers through empowerment scheme of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

He said: “We do not want the wives of our fallen heroes to live in abject. Lagos Government will be supporting them through the little we can give out through our empowerment programme being run by the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation that deliberately looks for widows.

“We will correct their narratives and I can assure you that widows of our fallen heroes will be targeted in our empowerment scheme. We also can have a special social programme which will target them. We will extract information and reach out to them.

“We will make sure that in our next programme, we deliberately look for all of the widows of our fallen heroes and we give them empowerment. It is for the Government to be able to give them empowerment, so that they can continue to fend for their families and themselves.”

The event was graced by commanders of all security formations in the State, and top functionaries of the Lagos State Government, including the Secretary to the State Government, Mrs. Folashade Jaji, Head of Service, Mr. Hakeem Muri-Okunola and members of the Governor’s cabinet.