Nigerian export start-ups are making efforts at curbing federal government’s dependency on crude oil with much harping on agricultural commodities and minerals, which the country has in abundance. MIKE DOLA, CEO, Cokodeal.com, which has become one of Nigeria’s local sourcing and export ecommerce marketplace, in this interview with MABEL DIMMA expounds on the Nigeria export market. Dola also tries to unlock the answers to the big question ‘What is Nigeria?’ in terms of its economic focus.
Can you give us an overview of 2017 and innovations you introduced via your platform?
It was a great year as cokodeal.com drove export revenues and connected hundreds of SMEs to local and foreign buyers to trade; deepening the market, unlocking values in unexpected places and capturing more of the value. Our highest returns came from the Nigerian foodstuff and commodities export market.
For innovation, yes, users can now directly find and message other businesses for deals on the platform; working with Flutter-wave to integrate Rave, a pan-African payment gateway to help Nigerians receive funds internationally. We also launched the Online Trade Fair, which allows users a few days to display goods in order to get massive exposure for leads and sales
Has Cokodeal moved beyond being on online platform to becoming a full-fledged business enterprise considering some of the services you render?
Yes, Cokodeal is fully an operational business from Abuja, with sales force in Lagos, Kano and Abia states.
In your opinion, what can the government do to encourage individual exporters of produce?
According to a quote I gave in a speech last year, Nigerian government and its allies enjoy crude oil revenue while people create the goods and commodities. If the attention paid to crude oil, can be paid to the enterprises founded by the populace, there will be a surge in wealth of the land and its people.
Also, government needs to believe in its people and expose the opportunity endowed in both its people and land to foreigners through adverts, FDIs and consistent promotions to gain the confidence and trust of foreigners.
A lot of Nigerians need trade education on; how to package goods, begin as an exporter, how to export, where to export, get buyers, ship goods and documentations required. What government can do is to create affordable quality training for individuals and businesses as most quality training available by industry experts are not afforded for most people.
Why is product packaging a key element in export?
It gives a perceived value that helps command good pricing, ensuring top level hygiene, testing and enlisting its nutrients, ingredients, storage instruction and application as may be needed. The entire process helps buyer to trust in the product and understand that the producer has put in more that commands value.
What has reception of the export business been like, and how has it evolved?
The growth of non-oil export driven by Executive Director/ CEO of Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Olusegun Awolowo, has risen by 50 percent year-on-year in the second quarter (Q2) of 2017 compared to previous year and is attributed to the diversification efforts of the federal government, according to NBS. It was reported that cashew nuts alone earned Nigeria N13.5bn- primarily exported to Kazakhstan, Vietnam and India- with other commodities such as; sesame seeds, frozen shrimps and prawn, soya bean and ginger, contributing significantly to the surplus trade balance. Hence, raw materials, agriculture, solid minerals and manufactured goods are witnessing year-on-year growth.
Nigerian business leader Aliko Dangote, told investors, “Agriculture, agriculture, agriculture. Africa will become the food basket of the world.” There are markets out there in need of our long list of resources that we need to break into and trade. According to a recent report by CNN, Nigeria is the largest exporter of cassava with an average volume of 50m tonnes yearly. But for Nigeria businesses to explore further into exportation, they have to worry about getting international buyers, documentation and logistics.
This is what Cokodeal is solving with its marketplace platform which facilitates trade between verified local exporters and trusted international buyers, generating volume of forex for the nation. The reception is huge; Nigeria does underestimate its export market potential, and it is big enough to sustain our economy. We receive hundreds of calls daily from different exporters and small traders to get their goods beyond the shores of Nigeria. Meanwhile, accessibility and trust has been the most important issues.
How does Cokodeal export contract work?
Buyers from different part of the globe send Cokodeal export contract deals or offers and then Cokodeal goes through its verified member database, and in turn send information to qualified businesses. The supplier signs the agreement and Cokodeal oversee a successful transaction on both ends, with an escrow service to remit funds on fulfilling order promised.
Do you have an average or exact volume of export for Cokodeal in 2017?
Averagely above N1billion.
The drive for made-in-Nigeria products reduced during the last quarter of 2017, what do you think was responsible for that?
Crude oil and its derivatives which serve as the economic strength of our nation have slid us into dependency, causing us to lose sight of our economic competencies. The “made in Nigeria” initiative fired up because our finance base was literally crunched at that time, but as soon as the oil price bounced back, the government relaxed. However, the initiative woke up a few Nigerians and today they are locally producing, but if the government is not fully ready, some of us are ready to lead the paradigm shift and kill crude oil dependency. We will leverage on our core competency and comparative advantage which are agro products, commodities and the strengthening of enterprising Nigerians to mitigate future economic global shock.
Emerging countries are already creating other products that will not hinder crude oil production, but render it useless, thereby causing a total collapse for sole dependent economies on oil. It is clear we have to change the sail or wait for our ship to hit the iceberg.
What is your take on the recently commissioned Kaduna dry inland port and the subsequent ones planned?
Linkage and opportunity; government is trying and making progress, it will unlock trade channels and distribution from the north, because the northern part of Nigeria serves as a huge source of food and commodities.
Many years back China internally developed, the outcome was a runway in global supplies. Dubai and the UAE communities understood many years back the existential value of oil; and developed huge infrastructure investments, cargo airports, open water channels, ports, and other amenities. Take note the Chinese government could not play alone in the structural build of trade in its country, private companies like Alibaba.com has created an international market for its local suppliers as this has driven an increase in GDP.
Nigeria government is working and not alone; there are needs for organised private sectors to corroborate to build a robust trade network and technology infrastructure to see the nation rise from not only Africa’s largest economy to Africa’s gateway to trade.
Were there any collaborations and partnerships that Cokodeal was involved in last year and any plans to continue such?
Over the course of the past few years, Cokodeal had fostered partnerships with trade associations in Nigeria, some international chambers of commerce; forging partnerships with Nigerian banks and other trade agencies. Cokodeal is also looking forward to partnerships with Fidelity Bank, NEXIM, BOI, FMITI and NYSC- to create hundreds of jobs in partnership with NYSC for the citizens through a programme it is pioneering; Nigeria Youth Trade Ambassadors (NYTA)- and provide support for businesses under the umbrella body of the above institutions.
What things are in the front burner for Cokodeal this 2018?
We are looking at scale, partnership and marketing. Over the previous years we have been able to test our ideas, understand the people and business need by speaking with over a thousand operating business managers, what their challenges are, and solutions they are ready to pay for. This has helped guide us in building a more marketable product, fit to provide solutions to millions of people faced with same challenges. We are also taking it further to leverage the multi-platform to new partners in different localised regions to scale up the business for more impact.
Forging on-going partnerships, we are presently working with new trade channels to drive huge volume of exports for Nigerian producers and Africa at large, leveraging on networks to reach more markets, and support government with its diversification goals. Partnering with government agencies as highlighted above to provide its members effective trade knowledge to stop cutting corners and help government receive its dues from trade.
Marketing has been a big one for us, as many do encourage Cokodeal to do more marketing. In the past years, what we have done is mainly organic traffic and that brings only customers that are very interested in what we do directly to us through online search. For example, when you search for “foodstuff export in Nigeria, how to get foreign buyers” we happen to be number 1 on Google, these type of keywords have earned us quality customers.
We also engaged in direct relations with different Nigeria trade groups to reach members under their umbrella bodies directly. However, now we will be taking it up further by having more digitally displayed ads and engaging in more traditional advert methods for a wider reach, for Cokodeal to become a brand leader in its market niche of bulk local produce sourcing and export.
Casting our minds back to the initial question asked, what does Nigeria stand for?
The answer is straight forward, Nigeria is a mineral and agriculture commodities trader, so we can say Nigeria is a commodity economy. Let’s make our nation work for its people.