* Business captains to meet May 28 to harmonise demands
A section of the private sector says it can no longer wait for political parties and their candidates to decide what the deliverables for 2019 would be. Instead, the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum (REIF), which is spreading in flowing fashion like a river across Nigeria, says it would rather be the private sector that should tell the aspirants and candidates what the needs of the business sector were and what the deliverables should be.
In an exclusive interview with BusinessDay, the president of REIF, Ibifiri Bobmanuel, CEO of Bob Group, admitted that political campaigns were back and that the aspirants have started arranging manifestoes of what they think the masses wanted. Bobmanuel said it should be the businesses that should rather table what they needed from anyone aspiring to govern next time around.
REIF, which organized what has been acclaimed as the best political debate in Nigeria in 2015, said politics was too important to the economy for the CEOs to leave it to the politicians to nominate candidates and decide issues as they wanted.
Bobmanuel said: “I think we in the private sector should play a role. It is time for us to dictate the manifesto and agenda. We should give them input on which to build their manifestoes. Arriving at these pegs is what we should be doing now. We in REIF are organizing series of seminars that would reach out to stakeholders in the industry. We would hold dialogues at roundtable forums and arrive at the salient points for us investors going forward.”
The construction magnet said businesses have internal and external forces that affect them a lot. “We find out that the external influence is bigger. We have identified the political decisions that come from the parliament, the federal government, and all of that. So, we have to set the right narratives. This is the appropriate time to meet and school them on what we want. This would determine what the political parties should be focusing on.”
Whether we like it or not, the private sector has over 60 per cent of the electorate (voting population); the markets, the artisans, the investors, manufacturers, etc. But, we have not been able to activate the 60 per cent to drive home our core needs. That is what we are doing this time at the investors’ forum”.
The roundtable for Port Harcourt scheduled for May 28, 2018, would look to doing same in other parts of the country through their partners. “We will come up with a communiqué that would form the kind of questions we would ask the candidates of the political parties, just as we did in the 2015 elections. This would give insight on how to address the problems of the private sector.”
In the past, Bob said, the group had not had a coconscious effort to dispassionately decide on how the political leaders could provide better service to the businesses or how the industry could provide better service to them. “We pay the taxes and we create the jobs, so we expect them in turn to provide the enabling environment. When they do not do this, what it means is, how do they provide this to you? If they do not know, they won’t give it. So, we help them to understand what we want and this helps them to decide the kind of person they want to nominate to run for them.”
On whether, from signals, the political leaders and the aspirants would give a hoot to the war songs of the private sector, the REIF president said anybody who wanted to win election henceforth must have to take the private sector seriously. “What we want to do now is to bring the private sector together and aggregate our interests. We will have to act together and consider the interest of all. We need to sit down in a more cohesive manner and discuss with the governments at various levels on what our needs were. That way, it would yield better dividend. If we go individually, we end up shooting ourselves on the foot. It does not make sense. If we bring the interests under one umbrella, it would take a politician without foresight to avoid us. It would be better for any politician to come to the table, and this is for free. We just say, address these issues and create enabling environment and we will employ more people, pay taxes, etc. It is for whichever political party.”
Explaining the sequence of events henceforth, Bobmanuel May 28, 2018, would feature the roundtable that would have the presence of the international community; the European Union (EU), the British High Commissioner, captains of industries, and major players in the economy. He said there would also be heavy presence of the various government functionaries. “Next, we set the framework of action that would take going forward. We would come up with a communiqué which would provide all what we expect from the political parties. If we could identify from the communiqué what is expected from the political parties, we present it to them to form their manifestoes. We sell it as far and wide as we can for the debates that would be organized around the country.”
REIF is not afraid of the heavy presence of leaders of the international community that have been pressing for Nigeria to open its borders or sign trade deals that may not favour local production. He is not scared of charges that the EU and others were teleguiding the investors. Instead, he said REIF is 100 per cent private sector led body that has never received a token from the multinationals. “All our aspirations are simple and open. The international community does not have a say in determining the outcome of the communiqué.”
He went on: “But, you know that the world is going global. It is wrong to think we can stand in one place and make it. We cannot be the giant of Africa without selecting our areas of advantage and press from there. It has more benefit that way. Market must always be open, else, you eventually lose out. You need to articulate where you benefit the most and maximize your strength there. It would serve your economy best, that way.”
Back to elections, the REIF boss called for peaceful electioneering processes devoid of bitterness and rancour. He said candidates must be those who understand the aspirations of the private sector.