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Ozor Chief John Ezeako (Ojiji eri ji) is an admirable public figure with alluring leadership charisma oozing out from him whenever you have an engagement either official or private with him.
In this Executive Interview with Markets Business Hilights crew in his office, Ozo Ezeako, the serving Treasurer of Balogun Business Association (BBA), Lagos International Trade Fair complex, he gives brief insights on what to expect if he wins the presidency of the International Centre of Commerce (ICC) come next year.
He spoke on other issues of business importance. Excerpts:
What is your position in BBA?
Currently, I am the treasurer of BBA, serving my second tenure.
Talking of second tenure means that you are grounded in the leadership structure of the market. We would like to know if you are entering the market and getting to the bigger buildings, you will see an imposing two or three storey building built by BBA. And I believe that was done by the previous administration, which you are also a figure. What actually led to such a structure that has hospital, meeting office, several committee offices? What led BBA government to the dream of the edifice?
Having seen BBA, and having known that are the biggest shopping mall in the whole West Africa. We came to the realization that we deserve nothing less than the best office structure. Recall that BBA is sprawling, expanding and growing with supersonic speed since last few years. So, we decided to put up an edifice in the complex that is multipurpose.
The multipurpose facility came with a lot of daily need infrastructure like hospital, executive private offices.
Our building has a mini hall where people in their committees can meet. And there is a crèche where children can stay while their parents are doing business.
Ozo Ojiji-eri ji, this administration is almost winding up based on the fact that election is expected next year. As a member of this team, what are things you can turn back and see as covered by this administration and say, yes we have done something good for BBA?
Actually, in this administration, like you rightly said before now, I served in the past administration.
But in this very administration, we have also done pretty well; we have acquired so many things and corrected a lot of errors and repairs. If you go out of the gate, you will see some fire trucks there. You will also see some compactors for carrying solid waste and so many other things we have achieved.
We have also acquired choice space more from the Trade Fair Management Board (TFMB) people are building up, so many people are happy.
People that don’t have opportunity of having their own offices, the expansion gave them the opportunity and they had it. They are doing it with ease and enjoying it.
We have so many things that we have achieved.
Yes, former administration which I equally served, built the BBA House, but this current government am also serving furnished it.
We inherited an empty building and made it a living and functional building.
This administration also equipped the clinic and made it effectively functional
Also, we inherited two moribund compactors, refurbished them and even bought additional one to make sure that our environment is good for business transaction.
We also carried out interlocking of several portions of the complex for ease of movement and business between plazas.
This administration also introduced a prepaid meters for the complex as a seamless official process.
With the meters, we are no more paying for darkness like those still operating manual or estimated billing system.
In case a group of traders and stakeholders in BBA make up their mind and approach you ahead of 2020 election, saying they want you to serve as president, how would you respond to their demand?
I will give them a fair answer. Let me tell you, all over the world, nobody wakes up from his slumber to be asked for leadership position.
Leadership is a calling and when people see you, they can observe you over time and come to a conclusion that he can deliver dreams.
Any person interested in public office defines his goal and set clear agenda on his service model.
I have been under serious to run for BBA 2020 election.
I have decided that actually I have to take BBA to a whole new level by a presidential race come 2020.
Is there anything you want to change or want to add to what you have rolled out as achievements of the current government you are serving as Treasurer?
Yes, I intend to introduce a couple of new innovations to BBA leadership.
If am elected president, I intend to handle some social issues that had been bordering the plazas.
I will be introducing serial administrative changes, innovative social changes that are tailored towards ease of doing business.
For instance let me paint a scenario before you. Whenever the market closes, you see many people trooping out as if everybody is asked to be doing March past.
This is 21st century where innovations and technology are holding sway.
I intend to introduce a short transport bus shuttle between strategic Bus Stops around BBA and the main gate. We may buy clean shuttle buses or partner with transit bus scheme operators to be providing transport services for business owners in the evenings so that when you close your shop, you just walk down to the bus stop and board a bus that will take you to the gat where you can easily get another bus to your home.
There is no need of suffering after doing the day’s business. I will introduce a decent mode of transportation both coming in and going out.
It is achievable; these are the kind of things that I want to do.
Secondly, my administration will partner with federal government and its agencies because this is a federal government territory to better the business lots of our members.
The means your leadership will introduce an ultra-modern transport system that will be healthier, efficient and effective.
Now, how would you handle the issue of people that need shops, because the market is still growing?
Here in this International Centre for Commerce (ICC), there are couples of plazas where the business activity are very poor. I intend to develop those clusters by reducing the activities on the road and make sure those plazas are leveraged completely.
People go there and then have businesses so that they can grow just like other clusters. For example, if you go to a place such as Abia and Plateau malls, you will discover that there is a very high powered business activity there and I intend to replicate it other places.
Otherwise, you have a business development agenda?
Yes. I will work towards developing other currently dull clusters so that they can be like other ones.
Most importantly, I want to create more sanity in the system. Because what actually we ran for from Lagos Island and came down here was the kind of problems we are now experiencing from area boys.
If you look around, you can see that all those things have started coming up again gradually. So we have to eradicate it. We have to put a stop to it.
Anybody that has not come to do business, it means that you are not our customer. You don’t have any business hanging around here.
Anyone entering BBA complex should come with a clear reason and genuine mission covered by law. There will be no room for people without business at the ICC going forward.
Now, what message do you have for the members of BBA ahead of next year? Are you telling them that there is hope or are you telling them to get ready?
I am telling the members and people of BBA that there is hope, they should get ready and they should all come out without fear or favour and vote their conscience. I believe if they give me their votes, I am going to make them proud; I am going to make them happy once again.
Let’s digress a bit from BBA. Since August 21st, the federal government in a very trickiest manner, closed border and told Nigerians that in 28 days the border will be opened because Customs and Immigration Services are doing exercise. Now, this given time has gone beyond 28 days and it is now clear that the border was closed just to fight smuggling in Rice, Petroleum products and other things. Is the development in any way affecting businesses in Trade Fair and BBA in particular?
Businesses at the entire Trade fair complex are under serious threats due to border closure. Many trucks had been stranded along the border axis both incoming and outgoing loaded trucks carrying millions of naira belonging to genuine business owners here.
The policy is killing business and not just affecting businesses. Closing of border which they have closed for a very long time is killing us here in BBA and it is killing our West Africa’s business development and growth.
If the border is closed to stop smuggling, the best strategy is to deploy technological innovations in border surveillance.
Globally, manual gate keeping is fading away to technological innovations and devices.
The Federal Government can deploy that and train a special force for management of the borders.
With this, the closure of borders would no longer be needful.
Can you quantify since August 21st till date, what Nigerian traders at the Lagos trade Fair may have lost?
I think it is unquantifiable if you ask me. I said this because a lot of shops have since closed and their owners now begging for food. These shops do not deal on foreign rice or have fuel tankers to smuggle away.
They have genuine businesses and pay their taxes as and when due but now, they are out of business.
We have lost so many, through closure of border and through so many other things.
Hundreds, millions and billions of Naira have been going dwon the drain since Nigerian borders were closed.
Not only businesses here. So many companies whose goods are marketed across the ECOWAS region had suffered great losses.
What is your message to business operators in BBA?
My message to them is that there will be a new dawn if they give their mandate to me comes 2020.
Like I have said before, I greet you all and will be seeking your mandate in 2020 BBA general; election. Give me your votes. I will not fail you, but revive BBA. BBA will work again. Thank you.
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