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Despite Historical Debts We Met, NTDC Has Recorded Landmark Achievements- Folorunsho Coker

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The Senate has passed the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) (Repeal renactment) Bill 2017 into law. The law, which was initiated to reposition NTDC, is awaiting President Muhammadu Buhari‘s assent. NTDC Director-General Folorunso Coker speaks with Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME on his expectations of the law and its relevance to global tourism objectives.

Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) Director-General, Mr. Folorunso Coker, has described the new NTDC bill awaiting President Buhari’s assent as the needed legal framework to grow the nation’s tourism potential. He said the new bill when passed into law will prompt a financial framework that allows the agency to operate as a business entity capable of generating huge revenues for the economy.

He likened the NTDC’s legal framework to the required foundation (the financial framework inclusive) laid in the communication, banking, oil and gas sectors, which resulted in their huge revenue returns.

He lamented that most tourism operators are now unable to access loans from the banks because tourism does not generate individual returns, which may allow it to withstand 25 per cent interest rate. This, according to him, is because tourism is not seen as a serious business.

Coker, who spoke in Lagos, said it is not profitable for the corporation to sit on the fence as a regulatory body and being unable to behave like a private sector concern in terms of understanding people’s needs.

He noted that since he assumed office in 2017, he has refrained from performing assignments on the pages of newspapers, but focused carefully on building blocks on a foundation that will allow subsequent development plans.

“In tourism, the legal framework for the commercialisation of tourism world best practices was not there. The law was really old. The law has also been handcuffed by a Supreme Court order, so it was not a law that could allow tourism industry generate the kind of revenues the oil and communication industries have. That is the significance.

“With the legal framework required for the financial framework to sit on, with the global best practices locked into that, you can see that the lip services that tourism was paid can not achieve much, except the legal frame work is in place. For instance, tourism operators cannot conveniently borrow from the bank because tourism is not seen as a business, because there is no legal framework that supports it. Now, hopefully that will change as soon as the bill is passed into law,” he said.

According to Coker, despite these challenges, tourism has been very lucky with the on-going infrastructural development (roads, rail, security, power) embarked upon by Buhari’s administration across the country. He added that for every naira President Buhari has spent in making the life of every Nigerian better is what tourism requires.

He commended Nigeria for investing in agriculture, manufacturing, power, rail, road and other infrastructure, noting that the best off taker for these industries is tourism because it consumes almost all the products. “Tourism will create more intense demand for agricultural products, manufacturing, power, etc. and ‘we will see good value for the investment,” he said.

“Every naira spent benefits tourism. Even though tourism is angling for more funds for specific tourism projects, a lot of things are being done that benefit tourism as it benefits the larger society. Also, we have started the process of Tourism Satellite Account, (TSA), which allows you to measure what is going right or wrong,” he said.

On the journey so far, Coker said: “This is not something one would particularly want to publicise. But, in terms of NTDC, I met a lot of historical debts. And with limited funding it was important that I discharge some of the historical debts, but I also kept the organisation alive. The financial engineering was required to balance that historical debts that I did not create, but keep people running and paid off little by little, without fear or favour.” The implementation of that is what attracted the initial protest by staff of the organisation. “If you have very limited resources, you must close loopholes. And when you do that, there will be crisis. In terms of human capital, our focus has been digital. I am glad that the staff have embraced the digital training because the future is digital. Today, the richest companies in the world are not in the oil and gas sector, but digital, where Apple, Google etc. are leaders. Everybody’s life in the future will be disrupted by this new technology.”

Promoting tourism brands

“Within the NTDC’s Tour Nigeria and Nigeria Flavour the digital marketing brands we created, we can generate in-bound tourists from the Diaspora as witnessed in Ghana last month, which might have been subsidised by that government. By virtue of our population, we have the strength to bring good number of Diaspora to Nigeria. We are pleading for financial institutions to make funding of tourism cheaper for tourism stakeholders because tourism does not generate individual returns yet that allows it to stand 25 per cent interest rate.

“If you go to Dubai or London, most of the tourism facilities are domestic first and foremost, but expanded to accommodate international plugging.

“In fact, Nigeria offers value for money when compared to other cities. As long as we have good value for money, we will get the international tourists. All we need to do is get our fundamentals right. That is what I am trying to do.”

Tourism Development Fund

“This is to aggregate the taxes that are due to tourism and allow the identification of tourism tax that will go into the development fund, which will be managed by a board. For instance, if NTDC wants to build a small motel in Gurara Fall, we need to bring a seed money as counterpart fund to execute such project. This is to encourage the host state.

Use of data for development

“We have a very good relationship with National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The Bureau examined the performances of tourism related industry in the economy and declared that tourism was responsible for 34 per cent of the country’s GDP and 20 per cent employment generation. These figures are incredibly encouraging to me.

“It is good Nigeria is investing in agriculture, manufacturing, power, rail, road and other infrastructure. The best off taker for these industries is tourism because it consumes almost all the products. Tourism will create more intense demand for agricultural products, power, etc and we will see good value for the investment. By investment, I mean the seed money we need to put into the sector to encourage state and private operators. In fact, the bill is not punitive to anybody as it is more by collaboration than enforcement.”

Hotel standardization

“Hotel standardisation and grading across the world are done by countries and not by states. We are going through the motion with UNWTO to put ourselves in a position to grade all our hotels so that we can deliver value for money. We cannot force any state to subscribe to standardisation of hotels because it is in the state interest to subscribe. Will anyone wish to have many standards or one standard that is uniform across board?

Expectations from the law

“I see a future where NTDC is a technological company in the sphere of tourism regulation just like UBER in the sphere of transportation, Inter-switch in the provision of switching system in the banking sector. That’s is my vision for NTDC.”

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FIRSTBANK DEEPENS FINANCIAL INCLUSION WITH LARGEST AGENT BANKING NETWORK, EMPOWERS SMES

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At present, there are over 86,000 banking agents across 772 out of the 774 local government areas in Nigeria, a demonstration of FirstBank’s commitment to deepening financial inclusion and ensuring the unbanked are adequately catered for. In an interview with BusinessDay, Adesola Adeduntan, FirstBank’s CEO, noted that over N9.6 trillion had been processed through the bank’s agent network.

As he explained, FirstMonie agents have supported several government and NGOs’ cash transfers to the poorest of the poor in the rural areas. Additionally, selected FirstMonie agents in the rural communities are equipped with BVN enrolment devices; as such they are able to enrol and open accounts for rural dwellers that hitherto may not have had the opportunity to be included in the formal financial services system.

The bank’s commitment to providing access to finance for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) was also highlighted by the CEO, who hinged this on “their potential to impact the economy”.

He discussed the bank’s value adding solutions that have created a functional ecosystem for SMEs to thrive. The ecosystem includes propositions such as connection of the SMEs to talents and resources/cutting edge tools, access to business finance and market, capacity building opportunities and policy advocacy.

These are all aggregated on its SMEConnect platform as value adding products and services for easy access and at rates (prices) that are competitive and mostly discounted. The SMEConnect is a digital platform that allows the SMEs connect to FirstBank’s offerings from the comfort of their locations anywhere in the world.

This, according to Adeduntan, has been well received by the SME community as we engage across the country.

Culled from BusinessDay

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UBA’s LEO: Celebrating three Years of Revolutionised Banking Services

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Technology has been a veritable gift to mankind, and over the years, it has been responsible for creating amazingly useful resources which put all the information individuals need at their fingertips. The development of technology has also led to so many mind-blowing discoveries, better facilities, and better luxuries, which has in-turn helped to improve lifestyle and standard of living.

For instance, through relevant technological development, the average individual has been empowered to shop online and carry out seamless transaction any time of the day or night from the comfort of his own home or business place.

To this end, forward thinking companies and financial institutions with eyes in the future who have been conversant with the new trend in customer behaviour, have painstakingly designed new products and services tailor-made to meet the growing needs of customers anytime anywhere.

It is bearing this in mind that Pan-African financial Institution, United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, changed the face of e-banking in the African continent for the first time with the introduction of Leo – UBA’s Chat Banker. The idea of Leo, which was birthed in 2018, was to enable customers make use of their social media accounts to carry out key banking transactions with ease.

This is the first time ever that a financial institution in Africa evolved a one-stop solution to simplify the way customers transact, a key essential in today’s fast-paced world with demands for quick-time transactions and response.

With Leo’s help, customers have been able to open new accounts with ease, receive instant transaction notifications, check their balances on the go, transfer funds and airtime top up. Cheque confirmation, bill payments, loan application, account freezing, request for mini statements, flight bookings, airtime and data purchases, are some other services that the chat banking BOT has been helping customers to carry out since 2018.

And Leo, the Artificial Intelligent Bot which carries out seamless conversations with his customers – who he calls his friends by the way- has achieved this and more in its three-year existence; allowing users to carry out quick, fast and recurring transaction with ease from their popular social media accounts such as Facebook and Whatsapp.

No wonder the bank has earned a lot of laurels and accolades in the last three years confirming Leo’s global acceptance and recognitions, as pointed out by UBA’s Group Manging Director, Mr. Kennedy Uzoka, some of which are:

‘Africa’s Best Digital Bank of the year’ by Euromoney; The Most; Innovative Bank of the year’ by International Finance; ‘Best Customer Engagement Tool’ by Africa Fintech; Pulse magazine rated Leo on WhatsApp as ‘The best WhatsApp Banking App’; ‘The Best Social Banking platform’ in Uganda; ‘Excellence in Automated Chatbot Initiative’ by Finnovex Awards; ‘Next Generation Class of 2019’ by CIBN; ‘Best Automated Chatbot Initiative, Application or Programme’ by The Asian Banker. The list is endless.

“The formulation of this product, is consistent with UBA’s Customer 1st philosophy, where we have been doing things not the way we like, but focusing on what the customers want, where they want it, and in the exact platform they want it; Uzoka explained. “At UBA, we have been continuously working with technology giants that have the global capacity to ensure not only seamless but also effortless banking for the millions of our customers across Africa; as all the bank’s subsidiaries in Africa have activated Leo to perform financial services for customers.

Continuing, he said, “Since 2018, Leo has been helping with most transactions and to deliver any form of banking services. And this has been highlighted more especially during the lockdown occasioned by the COvid-19 virus, as Leo assisted all its users on all major social media platforms to carry out all their banking activities without having to physically visit a branch. This, to us, remains an admirable feat because with Leo, the banking needs of our customers have become easy and simple – as simple as chatting”; Uzoka pointed out.

Within three years of operations, UBA’s Leo has recorded a number of milestones including opened a total of 390,756 accounts; achieving 2,169,384 subscribers; conducting a total of 9,605,703 transaction count worth a value of N81,530,918,868. Leo which has over 2.1m unique users has also generated over 20 million conversations and over 85 million engagements; with such impressive feedback and usage and remains the only AI BoT showcased at the F8 in Mark’s Zuckerberg’s opening remarks.

UBA’s Group Head, Digital Banking, Sampson Aneke, reiterated that Leo is not just a chat machine, but an artificial intelligence personality meant to address any type of banking concerns raised by customers.

“Leo has been operating a secure lifestyle banking platform on Facebook messenger, WhatsApp and IOS and Andriod to assist customers with their transactions while chatting with your friends and business partners. The security with this platform has been that for every transaction, a One Time Password (OTP) is generated to the phone number that is registered on your account,” he explained, and added that the bank is working tirelessly to improve LEO’s services to the customers in the coming weeks.

United Bank for Africa Plc is a leading Pan-African financial institution, offering banking services to more than twenty-one million customers, across over 1,000 business offices and customer touch points, in 20 African countries. With presence in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and France, UBA is connecting people and businesses across Africa through retail; commercial and corporate banking; innovative cross-border payments and remittances; trade finance and ancillary banking services.

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The Dangote Group completed Nigeria’s longest rigid pavement located in Kogi State.

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It is the first of its kind, top engineers say.

The 43KM Obajana-Kabba road constructed by Dangote Industries Limited (DIL), as

been described by motorists as the country’s most strategic highway that is aiding travelers between the North and the South.

Olatunbosun O. Kalejaiye, the Project Director, said he was excited that the Corporate Social Responsibility Project is being delivered for use by Nigerians, adding that while the rigid pavement has been completed, the company was dressing the shoulders.

Site Engineer Samuel Obosi assured that the dual carriage way will be durable and less susceptible to potholes and repairs like asphalt road, adding that it would crash the rate of road accident in the country.

Motorists said it is now one of the busiest roads linking the two regions in the country.

“Thank God it is a concrete road. It can withstand any heavy duty vehicle,” Alhaji Lamidi Sikiru, a driver expressed optimism.

John Moses, a member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, said his taxi business is booming compared to when the road was very deplorable with potholes and barely used by motorists.

A community leader of Apa Bunu Kingdom and spokesperson for the community Sam Omosayil commended the Dangote Group, saying that the road has attracted a lot of businesses along the road.

Traditional and community leaders eulogized the President of the Dangote Group.

The Bajana of Obajana Land, King Idowu Senibi described the project as gigantic and the first of its kind anywhere in Nigeria.

“Dangote is our son. We would protect his huge investment and gigantic concrete road. I am happy that this is happening in my lifetime and in my Kingdom. This is a great opportunity for us and many generations to come. Our society will be opened as you can see vehicles and commercial activities have started coming up. May God Almighty bless Dangote and all his staff.”

Speaking in the same vein, the traditional head of Akpata Land Frederick Durojaiye Balogun said his people were very proud of Alhaji Aliko Dangote, adding that the Dangote Cement, Obajana plant, which is the single largest cement plant in the world, has brought honour and respect to their Kingdoms.

“His presence has brought a total turnaround in our lives. Also permit me to appreciate the Federal Government for this joint effort. We are very grateful,” he said.

Speaking, the King of Okebunku Land in Kabba Bunu Local Government, Timothy Omonile commended the President of the Dangote Group and charged other philanthropists to emulate him, adding that that is the only way Nigeria can develop its economy and infrastructure.

He said the construction of the road has helped cut down the rate of criminality in the state, while describing the Group President of Dangote Group Aliko Dangote as God sent.

Rechel Olatunji, a businesswoman said she makes more money now and that business is booming because of the road.

Another businesswoman Veronica Samuel prayed fervently for the Dangote Group, adding that the new road has changed her life, and enabled her to sponsor her children to school.

Worried by the huge sum of money used in road repairs, President of the Dangote Group Aliko Dangote had said plans were afoot to revolutionize Nigerian roads with concrete, stressing that resources used in road repairs and maintenance would be channeled to other more important needs of the nation.

“We are going to be building concrete roads in the country so that anytime we build a road, we do not have to go back to repair after the third raining season, but move on and use the resources to address other pressing needs of Nigeria,” Mr. Dangote had said.

It would be recalled that as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS), the Dangote Group had earlier commissioned the 26 km Itori-Ibese Concrete Road.

At the commissioning, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, had noted that the stride by the Dangote Group demonstrated the unwavering commitments of an indigenous investor towards the industrialization of Nigeria.

A statement from the Corporate Communications Department of the Dangote Group said: “Concrete road last longer than asphalt roads and do not have potholes. It does not require frequent maintenance as asphalt roads. It saves fuel for motorists and protects tyres from wear and tears.”

The statement said it is part of the Group’s determination to support government and Nigerians in order to grow the economy and facilitate ease of doing business.

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