The Executive Secretary/CEO of Institute of Export Operations and Management Mr. Ofon Udofia is an astute business man, a certified trainer on United Nations – International Trade Centre (ITC) Market Intelligence Tools for the analysis of international trade and different certifications for agricultural products and on packaging for export. As far as Import and Export is concern, he is an authority.
He speaks on how the Institute of Export Operations and Management through intensive training and adequate assistance is helping to grow the Non-oil sector. He also talks about how to become a commercial exporter and funds available to aid exporting. His insight on export is rich, robust and covers a lot that needs to be known in the business of export. He spoke with Sabastine Mbah. Excerpts
You will be having a training programme in Lagos,what is it all about sir?
The programme is a four -day Master Class and is targeted at people who want to do export. A lot of people have just been going into export as if it is a transaction. Export is a process, it is not a transaction and again you can not just dabble into export except you have the knowledge. You also have to be export- ready and at the same time your products should be export- ready. So this is a four- day Master Class that will take people to the aspects of introduction to export up to income and the rest of it. So we will train them in packaging, there after take them on a field trip to Customs, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), and also invite Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), and other relevant agencies to talk to them. When this is done, we shall hand-hold them in the next six months or one year to make sure that they do their own trade export. When they finish the training, they are alumni of the Institute but when they do their trade export they become what we call Graduate of the Institute. We the Institute support trade and we support individuals who wants to go into export trade.
Who are the participants expected for this Master Class sir?
The participants are people drawn from all walks of life. People who are in business already who wants to go into export. Some are cooperative who wants to also go into export. Some are farmers who have farmed their products but do not know if such products are export standards. We also have Civil servants who have and are about to retire as well as those from the oil sector soon due for retirement. We also have some business men who want to change their line of business. Due to the current issue as regards the scarcity of foreign exchange, some importers are coming to us for training for them to export and use the proceeds to do their import.
Is the institution partnering with any organization or bank?
Yes, we are partnering with Nigeria Export Promotion Council(NEPC) and we have partnership with International Trade Centre of United Nations. We also have partnership with Nigerian Shippers Council, Standard Chartered Bank and we recently had a program with Ecobank regional branch in Port Harcourt. Our partnership also spread across universities like the Arthur Javis University in Calabar and Michael Okpara University of Agriculture. Our partners also include International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment.
How has the institute been able to drive the non-oil sector?
The Institute has been able to drive the non-oil sector and to also see how it can be used to combat the rate of unemployment which is already a security risk to the nation; with the export added value chain, the unemployment can be reduced to the barest minimum. Not only the Institute as a single body but a shared responsibilities because the Institute is working with other partners. There is an increase in the non- oil export than compare to few years back when we were totally dependent on oil export and the price was up.
How many successful Exporters has the institute been able to train?
I will tell you a lot but most of them are not commercial yet but we can look back to say that we have trained close to 400 exporters and out of which directly or indirectly about 50 percent are exporting.
Does the institute help the trainee access loan for export?
That’s the partnership we have with Standard Chartered Bank. Standard Chartered Bank is giving our members 20 million naira without collateral for 2 years just because they believed that the institution after training them will help them go into export.
As regard the Export Grant, what level of advocacy is the institute employing to ensure that government reintroduce it?
Yes, we have been doing that and some time in April I was in Lagos for a related programme. I give thanks to Nigeria Export Promotion Council for the event they organized and was titled “Export for Survival”. I was invited and I equally used the opportunity to encourage people to do the right thing. When I said that people should do the right thing I mean people should learn and be competent before going for loan. That is what we have done and NEPC has been doing much. Some of our members benefitted from the previous loan and I believe that the next one that will be evolving, they will also benefit if they meet up with the criteria.
Are there any government grants for export?
Apart from government there are a lot of grants internationally. Like the ATDF but their problem remains, are people building up capacity to be able to get the grant. So apart from Federal Government ones, there are so many other grants. I also know that apart from what we call Export Preparation Grant or Development Grant, there is still another grant after exporting like the Export Expansion Grant. After you have exported they will give some grant to continue to export, about 30 percent of what you have exported will be given back to you. So government is still doing much in that aspect to see that export business grows.
For comparative sake, Nigeria and other African countries which will you consider being better in terms of export and then in your on view as an expert in this area, what do you think we need to do improve non-oil export sector?
Yes, our neighboring countries are doing very well because we have depended so much on imports and we are not making so much effort in export. Other countries like Ghana, Burkina Faso, they are doing a lot of imports compared to their size. Also is South Africa, even Botswana exports beef to Europe which we cannot do, so this countries are doing better than us but it should better be late than never.
So what areas do you think we can work on, as you as an expert in this field?
They are doing better than us, because they have Infrastructure, they have amenities to help them. We have to work on our infrastructure and ease of doing business when it comes to export. There is a lot of bottleneck, our ports are corrupt. There is a lot of unrestricted payment.
What are the bottlenecks in export business?
Ok, for you to do your export now, first of all it will take you almost one week to write to the shipping line to give you their own charges to enable you export whereas this is supposed to be on their website. They refused to do that, even after doing that you will have to go to some. We don’t have a single window for export where you can sit down and do your documentation and go seamlessly, So there are a lot of documentations to be done from table to table, even the issue of getting your NSP, it will take you some time even after filling your SP inviting the inspection company, to come and inspect it to give you a clean report of the inspection, it will still delay. They would have done their part but between CBN and the bank they are using it might delay. And some times you might miss the vessel that is going to pick your cargo. And if you have taken your cargo to the port before then you would have paid demurrage for the space you are using because the terminal operator will want you to pay. Some people will say you must not take your cargo to the port until you get all the documents, export is all about timing, if I am doing a similar consignment from Ghana and another person is doing from Nigeria the same time, the other one from Ghana has gone but my own has not left, how will they look at me.
Can you tell us the resource persons lined up for the training?
Resource persons lined up to take on the participants in the various modules include the President of the Institute of Export, Ofon Udofia who will be taking participants on several course including Tariff, Shipping and others. The Director of training, partnership and sustainability, Paul Akande, will be talking on several topics including Market aspect. Also the Coordinator of Women in Export Department of the Institute, Mercy Ojime will be taking them on Packaging and Export Communications.