We are building a peaceful environment in our markets and empowering most of our traders -Comrade Ukatu

By Felix Mbata

Honourable (Comrade) Chinedu Ukatu (FCISM), President of the Ndigbo-amaka Progressive Market Association, Lagos State.

Honourable (Comrade) Chinedu Ukatu (FCISM) is the President of the Ndigbo-amaka Progressive Market Association in Lagos State. In this exclusive interview with the publisher of The Unique Model Magazine, Felix Mbata, he speaks on accomplishing his mission and vision, ensuring that there’s a peaceful environment for business to thrive, and seeking government support where necessary.


Honourable Comrade Chinedu Ukatu (FCISM), President of the Ndigbo-Amaka Progressive Market Association in Lagos State, Can you share your experience as the president of the association in the last eight to nine months?

Well, so far, so good. There have been challenges; it has not been a bird of roses, but we are prepared for them because we have been in the system. And I have been in the system, and I am a trader. Not that I was a trader; I am a trader. There have been a few challenging moments, so to speak, but we are surmounting them. You know, administering and preside over major markets and overseeing affairs at the same time is not an easy task, but so far, so good, I think we have done well.

We are trying to live by our constitution and some stipulated regulations that we decided on our own, so we are working towards accomplishing our vision and mission before the end of my tenure.

Sir, what reforms have you initiated and completed?

Well, the reform is that we are working towards building a peaceful environment in our markets; we are working towards empowering most of our traders. We are reforming from these narratives of having an import-driven market; we are trying to see where we can diversify into exports so that we are contributing to growing the economy. So we need to see how we can venture into exporting. We are diversifying from this era of traders being known as the informal sector.

So, exactly, we are known as the informal sector, so the reforms I am trying to bring about are like bringing the formal sectors together and doing things in a formal way.

Therefore, we are partnering with MDAs and ministries, departments, and agencies of government. We are partnering with them on how to bring in some foreign expertise and foreign partners. We are partnering with them to know how we can move the business forward and improve the economy of this country.

So these are the reforms I am bringing to majorly change the narratives and perceptions people have about traders. It is my major concern, and I have an entity of our own where we can empower ourselves.There are many of them.

Sir, you mentioned empowerment, and you cannot go into empowerment without giving financial support. How do you want to handle the high interest rate charged by banks when borrowing from them?

What brought about frustration with the exchange rate was frustration with interest rates. It’s only when banks have enough cash that their interest rate will go down, but when people are now mopping up their cash to trade in dollars, therefore, their interest rate will go high because the demand is higher than the supply. But if the supply is higher than the demand, they wouldn’t have any other option than to bring down the interest rate.

Therefore, I have already answered you that what we are doing is trying to explore areas and partner with some foreign partners who have been visiting us here to see how we can partner with them because there are a lot of resources and things that we can do here and export to them; we cannot depend on bringing only goods from them; therefore, we need the government’s support in that direction. The government needs to support us by way of tax removal and granting us the export licence.

Now that we have medium and small enterprises, we are equally begging the government to see how we can be on the same page with us on this partnership so that the medium and small industries can grow.

Another thing is the issue of power, which has been a major problem in this country over the years. Recently, we have an agreement and understanding with a company from China called Haitech, High Global Business from China, and we are partnering with them on green energy, and in no distant time, we wouldn’t be depending on this as our national energy; we will diversify on green energy, which can equally power commercial activities. That arrangement is on course, and we have already signed an agreement and understanding with Haitech, as I said before, from China on this green energy. And by the time it comes on board and we start working, we can encourage people to set up small industries in which green energy can alternate the power, and therefore they can grow production and they can export, and we will be earning foreign exchange, and that will be courtesy of the Ndigboamaka Progressive Market Association. And I don’t think if we turn to our own chamber of commerce, that will be bad. It is not a bad idea that, eventually, we will be recognised by our own chamber of commerce. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, so these are my mission and vision.

You are keying into President Bola Tinubu’s agenda for the nation on behalf of your association; how far have you gone in making it known to higher authorities like the Senate and others?

I told you that we are reaching out to the government, those meant to be reached out to; we are all followers; we are reaching out to them, and when the government thinks it’s the appropriate time to deal with it, they can come for it, but we cannot just rely on that; we will keep on pushing. There is no agency in government that we have not reached out to, and this year again, we are going to hold our annual conference that we normally hold every year to partner with most ministries and agencies of government to liaise with them. So far, so good. We have been making progress since my resumption of office as president. I have been making an impact. I have not been resting because success and sleep are not friends, so I don’t have any sleep and I don’t sleep. I work day and night to ensure that we achieve the set targets and, most importantly, bring unity to every market. You can see that as we are bringing unity and peace to most markets, most of the markets are now peaceful when they do their handover and election, because over time, you will hear markets fighting, but this time around, since my assumption of office, I make sure that I go round on surprise visits, put things in order, and appeal for cooperation with the government. Even in court cases, we are working towards eliminating issues of litigation that should be restricted to us, and we will handle them. And most importantly, we want to appeal to the Chief Justice of the Federation and even the police authorities. Most of the cases and most of the litigation that are related to the market associations are distractions and should be channelled to us to handle internally.

Because the more they are escalating it, distracting the government, and equally labelling us wrongly, you will see that there are few renegades that are causing this issue, so in most of these court cases, rather than attending to unnecessary petitions, they should refer some of those things to us, and we will handle it internally and tell everybody the truth the way it is supposed to be so that there will be unity and cohesion among traders in our markets.

Looking at your office, there are a lot of awards, accolades, and certifications, all pointing to a job well done. What advice do you have for Nigerian youth?

Well, this is a question being thrown to me on a regular basis. I am still a youth, but my advice is that they should remain consistent; they should be focused. Most of our youths are distracted, and when they are distracted, they will jump from train to car; from car to train, they wouldn’t be focused. I am a very focused person; I believe in my goal. If I have a set target, I focus my eyes on the ball. And when I focus my eye on the ball, eventually I will score the goal. So, most of the things you see as awards are like appreciation from people. You know, when you are doing selfless service, you are not expecting anything; the world will talk, but still, the reward for good work is a request for more work.

Professor Obiora Okonkwo (OFR) is your national grand patron, so what have been his contributions since your organisation appointed him ground patron?

There is encouragement from Professor Obiora Okonkwo (OFR), aka Dike-ora of Ndigbo. Yes, he has been our National Grand Patron for the past eight months or so. So far, so good; he has done well; he has brought his wealth of experience; you can see most of our activities; he is always there; he is trying to mediate and make more peace where there is none; he has brought his wealth of experience as a businessman who grew from business to become a professor. And also, he has an airline, United Nigeria Airlines, and the airline is in partnership with Ndigboamaka. Everything is symbiotic; we are working together, we consult him, and we do most of the things together, especially as it concerns nation-building in the interest of the traders. Recently, we have partnered on many things that will ease our business.

Recently, he launched a courier company, and his major target is to reach all the markets and then bring down the cost of logistics for traders and everything else. He wants to be an assurance and see how the traders can be at peace with their business so that easing most of these things wouldn’t be a problem or cargoing most of these things wouldn’t be a problem.

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We have been partnering together, and he has been contributing in his own way, and we have been doing our own thing too. It’s a symbiotic thing; we are contributing to him, and he is contributing to us.

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