Obi Emekekwue is President of DelReeve Konsult Ltd, and a former Director & Global Head of Communications and Event Management at the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank). His over 35-year professional experience spans corporate strategic communications, the media and public relations, event management and international civil service.
During eight years at Afreximbank, he established the Communications Department and led the development, design, management and implementation of the Bank’s communications strategy, managing an annual budget in excess of $10 million. He recently joined Zenith Exhibitions as a member of its Advisory Board. He shares his views about Nigeria’s manufacturing sector, the roles of exhibitions, and his position as an advisory board member in this interview with Zenith Exhibitions.
You’re a giant in the communications space, what are your views about Nigeria’s manufacturing sector?
The Nigerian manufacturing sector has served the country well in the past but continues to represent a huge untapped potential. As the largest market in Africa, Nigeria’s manufacturing sector is currently only scratching the surface in terms of meeting the needs of that market. There is, therefore, a strong need to focus on strengthening the sector to directly meet the needs of the market. Simply put, Nigeria needs to manufacture more of the goods and services it consumes.
What areas of urgent improvement can you identify in the sector to increase the sector’s contribution from 14.18%?
Improving the contribution of the manufacturing sector to the economy will largely depend on how effectively we succeed in addressing certain key challenges confronting the sector. Chief among the challenges is the dearth of critical infrastructure, in particular, power. It is no longer any news that inadequate and erratic power supply have been the biggest bottleneck holding back the country’s manufacturers. Because of the power situation, most industries rely on backup power for their production needs. The attendant cost of running and maintaining such power units add significantly to the final cost of manufactured products, often making those products more expensive than their imported counterparts and, thus, less competitive. This, without doubt, is an area crying for improvement. A similar story can be told about transportation and other such important infrastructure.
In addition, Nigerian manufacturers are confronted with an environment where access to financing is extremely difficult. Credit is often difficult to get and, when available, the cost is so high that many manufacturers are simply not able to meet the terms. Moreover, since a lot of manufacturers rely on imported equipment and raw materials, they often require foreign exchange to continue in business. Limited availability of foreign exchange, however, means that, in most cases, these manufacturers are not able to produce at their optimum.
There is also a need to address manpower issues within the sector by ensuring the training of technical, administrative and managerial personnel that meet the needs of the sector.
I am confident that addressing these challenges will help to position the Nigerian manufacturing sector to contribute more to the economy.
Can you tell us about joining the advisory board of Zenith Exhibitions and your role?
I am really excited about joining the Advisory Board of Zenith Exhibitions. Trade exhibitions are among the most effective channels for promoting the growth and development of trade. This is particularly true with the coming into force of the AfCFTA, given that, in the African space, not enough has been done to create awareness of the trade opportunities that exist. Zenith Exhibitions has taken on the task of helping to address this challenge. I am, therefore, happy at the opportunity to contribute to this effort as an Advisory Board Member, drawing on my past experience supporting major trade exhibitions across Africa.
How important are exhibitions to the manufacturing sector?
Exhibitions are important because of the awareness they create. One of the biggest challenges in the manufacturing sector, especially in Africa, is that there is limited information about what is available and where. Manufacturers require equipment, raw materials and financing in order to produce but they are often limited in terms of knowledge as to where such equipment and raw materials are available and about how to procure them. Exhibitions bring together the various players in the manufacturing value chain, enabling them to make contact and share information which allows them to discover new and better ways of doing business as well as new sources for their business needs. Thus, one cannot overstate the importance of exhibitions.
How can the government support the tradeshow in Africa as it seems to be an area less focused on ?
The most important support the government can give to a trade show is to create an enabling environment for it to take place. That means ensuring that there are no bureaucratic bottlenecks holding up the event and that necessary licenses and permits are granted to the organisers with dispatch. In addition, the government should make sure that participants are able to travel to the country without facing undue difficulties. I would also recommend that officials of relevant government establishments should attend and participate in the exhibition.