Emeka Okafor tells Clifford Agugoesi at a recent Connect Nigeria event in Lagos Nigerian Banks are suffering from myopia and this is not helping businesses
Africa Telecom & IT: What really informed the Connect Nigeria series of Exhibitions and Conferences?
Emeka Okafor: Our love for Nigeria. We believe that Nigeria will be a great nation when businesses are great. So we have a mission to build a million businesses from small businesses into big businesses and when that is done we know that it will push Nigeria forward, more people will be employed, unemployment will be down, more income will be generated by the government; more income will be generated by the business owners, more salaries will be paid. And the customers will be happy when their needs are met and solved. So we feel that we will play our part as the catalyst and join others who are doing a good job, thanks to our numerous sponsors.
AT & IT: The global Ecommerce market is estimated to worth over $1.4 trillion and banks are literarily falling on top of themselves to have a slice of the cake. What is your take on this trend?
EO: Well, banks are saying, but only a few banks are putting their money where their mouth is, from my experience. The thing is this: the amount of money that small businesses will make surpasses what, may be, our oil makes when one successful small business becomes a major player. I will give you an instance: Imagine if a bank bankrolled Microsoft when Bill Gates was 15-18 years old, imagine what kind of money they would be making. That is all we want them to do here in Nigeria. Let the banks bankroll small businesses who will grow into the Tony Elumelus, Jim Ovias of this world. If you bankroll them and make their vision possible do you think they will ever want to leave you? You keep that client for life. But the problem is: We are short-sighted. I feel that we are short-sighted in Nigeria. We are in for the quick buck; we don’t want to grow a business 5-10 years , we just want what can we get today, tomorrow? Although not all banks.
AT & IT: We understand there is no way the risk appetites of all banks will be the same. But from your perspective which of the Nigerian banks would qualify to be addressed as SME-friendly?
EO: Well, Union Bank signed up; last year was Diamond Bank, we have Skye Bank, we also have FirstMonie, which is a division of First Bank. I believe banks want SMEs badly. I know some other banks may have wanted to participate, but for one thing or the other, they did not participate; we are hoping that next year, they too, shall be on board, because, this is one of a kind in Nigeria, if not Africa. It is the largest gathering of SMEs in Africa.
AT & IT: Would you say eCommerce is radically changing the face of retail trade in Africa?
EO: Yes, it is. Anybody who does not get into (traffic could be a lot of hindrance to a lot of people) but to those who do eCommerce, it is wonderful to them. Why do I say so? Instead of standing for hours in the traffic, I could go online, look for an eCommerce site, buy what I want to buy and depending on where you live, they could deliver it in one hour, five hours, but if it is something you do not need immediately you can wait till the next day and have it delivered it to you. You will save energy and money and you do not need to burn your fuel, your time. So I believe eCommerce would change Nigeria drastically. It has already changed the way business is being done around the world, companies over 100 years old saw themselves collapsing literarily overnight because that was how small SMEs like Amazon started and today they dominate; there are no more bookshops in America, there were hundreds of them and they all went out of business because of one person’s website Craigslist put a lot of newspapers out of business. So if companies in Nigeria do not embrace it saying it is not working in Nigeria, in less than five years, they would see themselves out of business. Guaranteed!
AT & IT: What of those who have reservations on the efficacy of eCommerce?
EO: They will have no choice or chance because once better, cheaper gadgets-phones, laptops, IPADs, iPODs… come out, once the broadband penetration is doubled in Nigeria, the rest, as it is said, is history.
AT & IT: Let us come to brass tacks; are there no challenges to eCommerce in this country?
EO: Where in the world don’t they have challenges? They keep screaming about Nigeria being corrupt, fraudulent…. If anybody wishes they can log online and search how much America lost to cyber-theft, Britain, some of the first world countries. It is also happening in Nigeria; there will be criminals all over the world. Crimes, criminals, corruption, fraud, these are not Nigerian words. They existed before Nigeria was formed and they still exist today. I do not condone it, but you cannot use it as an excuse not to go about your business.
AT & IT: So going forward in the next 5-10 years where do you expect eCommerce to be?
EO: Most people would wonder how they lived without eCommerce. Just like I am sure you wonder now how you lived without your GSM before GSM or wonder how you lived without the Internet before the Internet. That is the same way they would wonder how didn’t we do this thing? Why didn’t we buy online; why didn’t it come sooner, why were they cheating you? You know what the terms are and whenever they are ready, when you make your purchase. Even Nigeria is making it easy for you because, they are saying: pay on delivery, which makes it quite simple for people. So it is either you get on the train or you get left behind.
AT & IT: When people talk about financial inclusiveness their concentration is on the section of the populace not yet banked. Where is the place of people with disabilities in all this?
EO: Man is driven by profit, only profit, sadly. Once they find it profitable to do that they will do that; they will include them immediately, but as long as they don’t find it profitable to do so. SMEs used to be a nonentity in Nigeria; now everybody wants SMEs-they all want to get some money from government. If there is money to be made where people with disabilities are, I guarantee everybody will plug into that. But having said that, it is just mere social corporate responsibility to help the people in this bracket. People are making a lot of money; they should take a percentage of that to the people with disabilities.
AT & IT: Let us not look at this issue from a purely CSR standpoint. In terms of financial inclusiveness, do you think people with disabilities are well taken care of?
EO: As I said, if they are able to make money from them, they will. Maybe, they should investigate how much money they can make from them, but even if it is not the money we are a social enterprise; that’s why we put up these things (conferences and exhibitions). It cost us money to put all these things up. We are an enterprise; we want to make money also. We do make money also but we help other people make money, as well. I believe that will help Nigeria.