Hajia Farida Dankaka is the President, Kaduna Chamber of Commerce Industry Mines and Agriculture (KADCCIMA). In this interview with Daily Trust, she speaks about the challenges facing investors, businesses, insecurity situation in the country as well as participation of foreigners at the just concluded 41st International Trade Fair organized by the chamber, amongst other issues. Excerpts:
How would you describe the Nigerian business environment today in terms of fiscal policy regime?
Things are a bit tight on the part of the private sector and what used to happen before is no longer business as usual in terms of excess expenditures that are not necessary. Looking at the situation now, we are in an environment where things must be accounted for, that is why there are some sorts of squeeze in the economy.
As a leader in the nation’s business sector, what would you consider as the two biggest problems facing investors/ business owners in the country and how do you think these could be addressed?
Infrastructure and security in my opinion are the biggest challenges because if you have good infrastructure like road, rail line and constant power supply, they will lead to creation of different factories in the country and there will not be any problem doing business. But the absence of critical infrastructure now results to additional cost of doing business in the country. However, if they are properly addressed, we will have a long way to go in making the country a destination for investors. Insecurity on the other hand is a major problem in the country. Though we have seen a reduction, it tends to scare investors both within and outside the country. Even though you said two, the others are access to finance which is still a serious problem, especially for small scale businesses.
One major challenge to farmers today is the huge post-harvest loss. This is being associated with rejection of Nigeria’s commodity in the global market as a result of the chemical application risks to consumers. What is your comment on this?
Post-harvest loss is a very big problem affecting not only Nigeria but also a number of countries, especially from the chamber’s perspective. That is why we introduced an exhibition that has to do with combating post-harvest losses. This involves food processing, storage and preservation. This is obviously a challenge but I will not agree that it is one of the major reasons that make our products not accepted in the international market. At times, the sincerity of the exporter matters. That is why they have to undergo a number of processes before they could export their commodities. While farmers want to export their commodities, they have to visit the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), which will facilitate the export and also visit the agriculture side of it in Kano for a lab test to know if the commodity meets acceptable standards. If they cannot get it cleared, then it means something is wrong. I know infrastructure is another problem they face because the commodities are mostly perishable so, it has to be taken to the destination as early as possible. In a situation whereby you have delayed flight it will definitely cause damage to the goods. For instance, a farmer that wants to export mango to the Middle East, if any form of delay occurs, that will cause quite a number of things. So, lack of infrastructure also affects post-harvest. It is important to note that when we address problems emanating from infrastructure and procedures in the way and manner farm produce are to be exported, I think post-harvest problems will be surmounted. In addition, the finished product matters. For example, we hear cases of contamination in some drinks and such discovery gives bad image to the content we are producing in the country. Thus, cleanliness must be upheld greatly.
In recent times, it is becoming very difficult getting foreign participants in trade fairs and organized commercial conferences/fora due to insecurity challenge in the country. Would you say that foreign participation in the just ended KADCCIMA Fair is satisfactory?
We do not have that. The problem we had before the commencement of the fair is the absence of the Chinese that wanted to come but later backed out because they were not allowed to leave China due to the Coronavirus outbreak. We tried persuading them, but along the line we were informed that the Nigerian authorities will not allow them in. A lot of them had the intent of coming and we had secured the participation of over 40 foreigners. For those that attended, we had large contingent of people from India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan, Niger, Cameroon, Senegal, and Mali, they brought in their goods and participated fully in the fair. But like I said earlier, the issue of insecurity is really affecting the foreigners’ participation in the trade fair. When people read the news, they feel they are risking their lives coming here. So, they back out.
The KADCCIMA just ended the 41st Trade Fair event. How would you describe the fair in terms of achieving the objectives or targets set by your Chamber as the organizer?
The objectives we set out have been achieved because the theme of the fair is “Unlocking Nigeria’s Economic Potential through Regional Integration.” We had a seminar, a round table and discussions were held afterwards which a communiqué was signed because the issues raised were germane and we will forward it to the authorities concerned, both at the federal and state government levels. The discussion made at the round table and the seminar, involved stakeholders from the Nigerian Customs Service, the NEPC and other stakeholders that have some concerns and fears, especially on the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA) through which Nigeria may be short-changed and what needs to be done. At the end of the discussions, recommendations were made.
What are your views on the recent hike in Value Added Tax to 7.5% by Federal Government and how the additional revenue from the VAT increase should be utilized?
We have made our position known on this. We said that the review is ill-timed as it will add to the economic hardships already being experienced by Nigerians who are in still trying to make ends meet. Already, what we learnt is that the additional revenue will be used to meet up with the salary review by both states and federal governments.
Which areas would you like Kaduna State Government to support businesses in the state, particularly the MSMEs?
The first is in access to loan at single digit interest rate. The government can support small business if such business can be given loans at single digit interest rate. That way, paying back the loan will not be a threat to their business and they can easily pay the loans while they engage in their da- to-day activates because such businesses are major drivers of the Nigerian economy.
Little is known about KADCCIMA’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. Could you speak on some areas the chamber has intervened to support the poor or economically challenged people in the state?
We have done so many and the chamber is still doing the same. We have distributed exercise books to all primarily schools in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State. We have made several donations to Jamaiyar Matan Arewa Orphanage Home, Berthtorry Home Zaria and after the unfortunate incidences in Kaduna, our chamber gives helping hands to the victims in form of donation of food stuff and clothing.