The journey of Lagos international trade fair

The 2021 Lagos International Trade Fair (LITF) which took place from Nov. 5 to Nov. 14 at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos brought with it much fun, away from that of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic took a huge toll on the yearly event, forcing many off the venue.

Compared to 2020  when majority of events were done virtually, with reduced number of exhibitors and visitors, this year had 1,500 exhibitors from Nigeria, Ghana, Benin Republic, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt and China participating.

Not only that; this year’s edition, the 35th, with the theme: “Connecting Businesses, Creating Value”, attracted over 200,000 visitors in person.

Apart from being an avenue for buying, selling and networking, the fair gave visitors opportunities to unwind and play various games with friends and families.

Real estate agents, furniture and electronic companies, food and beverage companies, beauty and wellness companies, fashion brands as well as top manufacturing companies were among exhibitors at the fair.

Embassies and high commissions, state governments and ministries, departments and agencies among others, were also present at the stands.

Organised by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), the fair is reputed to have become the biggest and best fair in West and Central Africa.

Although foreign participation at the fair was still largely reduced to African countries this year, the participation of exhibitors and visitors showed that humans had adapted to the new normal ushered in by the coronavirus.

Mr Gabriel Idahosa, Chairman, Trade Promotion Board, LCCI, said that the federal government’s review of quarantine period for visitors coming into the country affected the participation of European and American exhibitors.

Idahosa, however, maintained that the number of visitors at the fair was almost at pre-COVID levels and a significant departure from the 2020 edition.

This year, the fair provided a platform for African countries to highlight the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to the future of the continent.

Mr Wamkele Mene, Secretary General, AfCFTA Secretariat, said Nigeria was among the African countries that had endorsed  AfCFTA, which aims to redefine trade relations within African states and beyond.

According to him, it proposes creating a single market for goods and services, with free movement of people and investments across 54 countries.

Mene said the implementation started in January 2021 but there were still some issues that needed to be addressed.

Similarly, Ambassador Nelson Ocheger, Ugandan High Commissioner to Nigeria, said the agreement would ease facilitation of goods and services within Africa.

Ocheger insisted that Africans must consume what was being produced within Africa if the continent intends to become a self-sufficient economy in the near future.

Ms Samata Bukari, Consul General, Ghana Consulate, Lagos, said Africa’s share of trade with the rest of the world was insignificant while the level of intra-regional trade was equally low.

She said it was expected that when African countries trade with themselves, they would exchange more manufactured and processed goods, have more knowledge transfer and create more value.

Mr Amr Altantawy, Commercial Secretary, Embassy of Egypt, said his country was  hopeful of attracting more investors from Africa and other continents, and was putting policies in place to sustain its position as one of Africa’s best investment destinations.

On his part, Mr Muyiwa Akinyemi, Group General Manager, United Bank for Africa (UBA), said there could not be a viable intra-African trade without a reliable and efficient payment platform.

Akinyemi said UBA was one of the banks working with the AfCFTA secretariat to establish the Pan-African Payments and Settlement System (PAPSS) which would begin operations in early 2022 in Nigeria and five other pilot countries.

He said: “PAPSS is a centralised payment and settlement infrastructure for intra-African trade and commerce payments.

“This project which is being developed in collaboration with the African Export-Import Bank, Afreximbank, will facilitate payments as well as formalise some of the unrecorded trade due to prevalence of informal cross-border trade in Africa.”

Majority of exhibitors at the trade fair were, however, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) who saw it as a huge opportunity to showcase their businesses and services to the world.

Mrs Toki Mabogunje, President, LCCI, emphasised that MSMEs constitute between 70 to 80 per cent of the economy and their development was very critical to the chamber.

Mabogunje said the LCCI offered free exhibition opportunities to some MSMEs as a way of supporting them to grow and become future employers of labour.

Also, Mrs Lola Akande, Lagos State Commissioner for Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives, said the government’s participation in the fair was one of the many ways it was promoting and supporting MSMEs in the state.

Akande said the government was taking giant strides to create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship development and business prosperity.

Malam Nuhu Fikpo, Director-General, NDE, said the LITF was a great platform for beneficiaries of the directorate’s various employment creation schemes to showcase their businesses to the world.

“Today, no better testimony can speak about our modest efforts at tackling unemployment than the tangible presence of our beneficiaries displaying their goods and services in the stand of the NDE at this fair.

“They represent our collective aspiration to checkmate unemployment and the convincing results that we are on the right path,” he said.

Mrs Folashade Motunmori, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Necessary Naturals, said she came to the fair with expectations of networking and collaborating with other businesses.

Motunmori, who produces natural skin care products for conditions such as eczema, ringworm and pimples, said her experience as an exhibitor at the fair was beyond sales.

“For me as a first timer and a brand owner, it’s about networking, collaborating with others and to see other people’s ideas.

“This will help me know what I am doing right or wrong so that I can work on myself and be better in what I am doing,” she said.

Mr Michael SUN, a Chinese exhibitor, said participating in the trade fair helped position his brand in Nigeria.

SUN said the patronage had been encouraging because his company incorporated small goods such as mop sticks, chairs and tables into their brand.

“So many people came to our stand, so it is a good opportunity for us to grow our brand in the Nigerian market,” he said.

Also, Mrs Adebimpe Oluwaseun, Sales Representative, Amber Energy Drink, said her organisation was looking forward to the aftermath of the trade fair and engagements they had at the fair.

St. Iyke Nduibisi, Founder, The Alpha 1 Company, also an exhibitor, said the fair gave him a platform to showcase his goods and business.

Ndubuisi, who deals in security equipment, including smart wireless video doorbells, smoke sound and motion detectors said many people visited his stand.

“People are fascinated by the technology. We have a lot of companies trying to understand what this is all about.

 “We have property developers who are saying yes, they want to begin to put these in their property,” he said.

Beninoise trado-medical practitioner, Mr Robert Dossou, on his part, said the patronage of his herbal medicines by Nigerians was satisfactory.

Dossou said he exhibited at the fair because of the opportunities which abound in Nigeria in the trado-medical area.

He said diseases such as low sperm count, high blood pressure, ulcer, skin disorder, obesity, tooth ache, waist pain among others could be treated effectively using unorthodox methods

Mrs Emmanuella Okam, a visitor, said she attended the fair not only to buy cheap products, but to ensure that she got original and durable ones.

Another visitor, Mr Uche Duru, applauded the decision of the organisers to reduce the access fee to N350 after complaints against the initial N500 ticket fee.

Duru said the trade fair had become a place where good quality products could be bought, hence the attraction by visitors.

He said though the prices of goods and services were a bit higher than in the last edition, visitors still got good bargains because most products were purchased at company price instead of the market price.

Mabogunje, who is bowing out as the LCCI President in December, said the 2021 LITF was a huge success despite the challenges faced by the organisers.

“I wish to say that despite the numerous challenges that go with hosting a large exhibition like this, we have endeavoured to ensure a hitch-free and successful fair.

“However, as in most human endeavours, there may have been some areas for improvement. We have taken note of such as feedback into the strategy for the 2022 edition.

“We look forward to a better, bigger, and richer 2022 Lagos International Trade Fair,” she said.