Ama,Laing,Evans

The British Business Group Nigeria, an organisation that brings together people with an interest in doing business between Britain and Nigeria, celebrates its golden jubilee, OYETUNJI ABIOYE reports

For British businesses operating in Nigeria and Nigerian companies with an interest in doing business between the country and Britain, the British Business Group Nigeria has helped to crack several challenges that perhaps may have proved difficult to address.

With more than 300 members, BBG Nigeria is proud to be the most effective business networking and support group in the country.

Having helped British companies in Nigeria address difficult local challenges, the group has remained a go-to place for most United Kingdom companies in their adopted country.

This perhaps shows why the British Deputy High Commissioner residence’s in Lagos became a great place for captains of industries, diplomats, and business tycoons last Thursday when the BBG Nigeria held its 5th Decade Heritage Night Celebration.

Speaking at the event, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, notes that although the objective of the noble organisation remains the same, the BBG has redefined its existence to meet the changing needs of its members and current realities.

As a result, she points out that the body, which began as a men-only organisation, now has about 50 per cent women on its committee.

Highlighting its essence, Laing explains, “The BBG, the British Business Group, basically brings together people with an interest in doing business between Britain and Nigeria; so, it has to do with big British businesses that are located here, and Nigerians who are interested in doing business with Britain. And it has evolved over the years. The objective remains the same, but it’s a very different group than it was 50 years ago. It’s a much more diverse, more representative group; it’s now 50 per cent women on the committee, and indeed, female entrepreneurs, I would say, are very much leading the way.

She adds, “So, it’s now designed to look ahead, be dynamic, and support businesses that are moving more into the tech sector, financial services, and creative industries. Also, it remains the foundation of those businesses like Unilever and others that have been here for many years. So, I think it combines the best of the establishment with a go-ahead, very dynamic feature.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected businesses around the world but the BBG supported its members during the challenging period.

The British Deputy High Commissioner, Lagos, Ben Llewellyn-Jones, who is a cardinal member of the BBG, appreciates how the members supported one another during the pandemic.

“The kind of knowledge pool of the British business really came into its own during that pandemic. And I think the bounce back thereafter is also reflected in those key sectors where we have seen the bounce back effect,” he observes

“I think the nice thing about the British Business Group is that it’s a group of people trying to support each other and also support Nigeria. They’re engaged here. Some of them may be in the UK and most of them are here in Nigeria but they’re all trying to do the right thing in Nigeria in terms of business and business transactions. So, it has been a very good and supportive group.”

According to Llewellyn-Jones, one of the key advantages of the BBG is its ability to help members navigate local challenges, adding that British businesses in the country have enjoyed much of this.

He explains, “I think one of the really good things that British Business Group brings to businesses trying to do this is trust. So, if you’re looking to do business here as a British business, you’ve got a trusted group of individuals who can help you understand the landscape, and navigate some of those challenges as policy challenges. You have good partners on the ground to help you reach your goals, they’re very good at doing. So, I think trust is a fundamental thing. The British Business Group helps when it comes to new businesses coming in, particularly British businesses.”

The Chair of the BBG, Nigeria, Dr Ama Onyerinma, recalls how the organisation was established by a former British High Commissioner in the mid-70s.

She insists that although the objectives of the body remain the same, several changes have been made to meet the dynamics of the current world.

As the organisation turns 50, she is excited it has grown to become the most effective business networking and support group in Nigeria.

“The British Business Group began five decades ago and was started by the then High Commissioner. And it was a way of bringing British business leaders together and at that time, there wasn’t any Internet or mobile phones. So, it was a great way to come together to have discussions about how they could get involved and thrive in Nigeria, which was a different country from where they came from. So, it is British business people coming together. It started as a men’s group-British Businessmen’s Group-and today, it is known as the British Business Group,” she notes.

For the BBG chair, the organisation is set up to promote British business to the highest standards and this according to her means that all of the members have the support of an integral part of the ecosystem.

“For us, promoting British businesses and also liaising with our Nigerian counterparts is very integral to our survival, and it’s a reason why five decades later, we can actually see that we’re an integral part of the business ecosystem in Nigeria,” she adds.

The BBG chair explains how the body also fosters a bilateral relationship between Nigeria and the UK.

She points out that the organisation has a relationship with the British Deputy High Commissioner who attends the BBG monthly meetings.

This, according to her, gives BBG members a chance to learn about the things that are going on bilaterally, while the commissioner also listens to the things going on within members’ businesses.

Onyerinma says, “So it’s a very long-standing relationship, and as I said, the BBG was started by a High Commissioner at that time. So, that relationship is very integral to the work that we do and we’re here to support British businesses in Nigeria, to make sure that they’re sustainable, and that they’re also having an impact in their adopted country.”

The BBG believes the Nigerian government must tackle infrastructure challenges to enhance the ease of doing business in the country.

The Deputy Chair, BBG, Nigeria, Stanley Evans, MBE, advises authorities to enhance the provision of roads and access to ports for business growth and economic development.

“I think the key point here is changing the infrastructure, particularly about export, we’d like to see some better roads and easier access to the ports. I think that’s a key part of getting exports going. And that’s not just me saying it, it is said by everybody when we read the newspapers and watch the TV,” he notes while reacting to a question on how the government can support businesses.

Evans, who is also the immediate past chair of the BBG, however, points out there are several positive lessons the UK and other countries can learn from Nigeria.

He has lived in Nigeria for six years, with active involvement with people who have created businesses and jobs.

“I think we’ve got things we can learn from Nigeria, because there is a drive and tenacity of the youths and the older people to create businesses. So, I think there’s a synergy between the two countries,” he points out.

Meanwhile, the chief executives of some members of BBG recount how the organisation has fared and supported members to grow their businesses.

The Country Manager of Virgin Atlantic Airways in Nigeria, Justin Bell, while relating how the carrier has been flying into Lagos for 21 years, notes that the BBG has been an integral part of its success and journey in the country.

“Things have changed. I would agree, certainly in the last 21 years, I think the ease of doing business in Nigeria, and some of the initiatives that the government has put in place have certainly helped that. When we first started flying here, we were warned of some of the challenges but we worked closely with a business partner here in Nigeria to help make sure doing business here was profitable for us, as well,” Bell observes.

The Virgin Atlantic chief, however, points out that the organisation is not spared in the COVID and post-COVID challenges.

He says, “Obviously, as a sector, there are some very well-publicised challenges in the sector. Right now, it doesn’t build exclusively to aviation but across all industries around forex availability and our business’ ability to repatriate our revenues from this market. And that’s really the biggest challenge that we face. And of course, this isn’t the first time. But we’ve been very proactive in managing this particular challenge around doing business in Nigeria, probably better than some of our competitors so that we can continue flying to Lagos on a daily schedule, without having to reduce one.”

An aviation expert and Virgin Atlantic Airways’ West Africa Group Representative, Chief John Adebanjo, says the carrier is excited to be part of the BBG golden jubilee celebration.

Adebanjo states, “It is good co-sponsoring the British Business Group of Nigeria for their 50th anniversary. Virgin Atlantic Airways is a huge brand and is proud to be associated with BBG. Our operations in Nigeria have had their ups and downs and there is no better place to operate than Nigeria.

“We will continue to operate despite the current challenges with the hope that the Nigerian government will honour its promises to the airlines. We wish BBG many more happy years and encourage more companies to register with BBG as they are bound to benefit from such a relationship. Happy 50th anniversary to BBG Nigeria.”

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