Nigeria’s dented image abroad affects its exports.
Nigerian business owners say the stigma associated with Nigerian products within and outside the shores of the country; and the changing, unclear, Nigerian export policies affect their ability to sell their products abroad.
The Creative Director of John 3vs3 Hats, Eme Akenzua, said the ambiguous nature of export policies, and the differing interpretations are frustrating.
“Whenever we go to the airport to send our goods, we have the constant challenge of not knowing what to expect from the people there” she said at the 2012 annual conference of the Women in Management, Business and Public Service, WimBiz, held in Lagos on Friday.
“It’s a major challenge. You are at the mercy of the person attending to you. There is also the issue of corruption, then there is stigmatisation. When I take my goods out, people come to my stand, they love the products, and they ask where they are from. Once they hear Nigeria, they grow cold,” she said.
Ms. Akenzua said she would have to spend the next minute or two trying to convince them that the materials are bought in England.
“They like the products, but they are scared that something may go wrong.
“The issue of stigmatisation has gone beyond humans and has since affected Nigerian products over the years,” she said.
The Senior Commercial Officer of the U.S. consulate in Lagos, Rebecca Armand, said the cold reception of Nigerians is a “big deal.”
“I think a lot of Nigerians don’t realise, perhaps, the extent of the damage of Nigeria’s reputation abroad
“The 419 scammers, it’s phenomenal. The damage, every one of them gets more air play than the good things done because there is a lot of real businesses here, but as it is said, the media goes after the bad news. You get a lot of people talk about what is bad that happened to them than if they have good ones. We need to change that image abroad,” she said.
Policies and stigmatisation are just two of the many plagues affecting businesses across borders.
The panelists at the event highlighted other challenges such as pricing, especially in comparison to the ones produced by foreign counterparts; inadequate infrastructure; financial constraints; packaging; and unskilled staff.
The Managing Director, Multi-Trex Integrated Foods Plc., Dimeji Owofemi, lamented the various obstacles.
“There are gaps between what we encourage and allow foreigners to do here and what our foreign partners allow us to do there. I am a Cocoa person. I compete with Europeans and Americans. There are lots of opportunities there. They don’t have to build factories and there are industrial areas” he said.
He said the situation is different in Nigeria as one of the criteria to do cocoa business is to set up a factory that can last forty years. Mr. Owofemi said this is challenging because the maximum financial intervention in Nigeria is about five years and depositors demand for funds at short terms.
“Here today, I have to clear the forest to do my kind of business. Those companies don’t have the raw materials in their countries so they come into the country and they are given grants for taking the raw materials out of the country.
But when we export the ones that we have added value to, that is, products that we produce, we’ve got to pay taxes, between 4 to 6 per cent. So its double jeopardy if you are in my line of business,” Mr. Owofemi said.
The business owners and managers, however, urged participants who are considering taking their products abroad to be optimistic, despite the challenges.
“Choose an industry where you can compete. You have to be prepared,” Mr. Owofemi said.
They also said the quality of the products and packaging is non-negotiable.
“There is a huge market in Nigeria, yes, but if you think you can succeed outside Nigeria too, why not?” Ms. Akenzua said.
“The timing must be right and you have to have the right staff in place, the basic structure required to support you going out there is needed. Also do your research properly, don’t just jump out there.
“It is also important that you have the right training from the onset and understand what the best practice is,” she said.