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    My Dream Is To Grow Intra-West AfricanTourism — Toyosi Orunmuyi

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    Excellence for many people is merely another unattainable option because, achieving excellence is no mean feat, and those who do are the ones who have remained defiant in the face of obstacles. Accountant turned hospitality entrepreneur, Toyosi Orunmuyi is one such individual who has stamped the greatness of his vision in the Lagos coastal area with the launch of his new beach resort, 234 Lofts. In this interview, Orunmuyi, who is the brain behind The Podium Event Centre, shares his vision for intra-West African tourism, his path to entrepreneurship, and why 234 Lofts was designed and built with containers. TOMI FALADE brings excerpts.

    Tell us about yourself.

    I am a homegrown accountant. I’ve had a career from 2005 till now, so pretty much 18 years of accounting. I studied at the University of Ilorin, and I went on to start my career with KPMG in Lagos for five years. I moved to the US and I was there for about five years. I also did my MBA there. Basically, I am both an accoun­tant and an entrepreneur.

    At what point did you become an entrepreneur?

    The MBA was my turning point, that was what took me from being an accountant to a businessperson. I know numbers from accounting, but the MBA allowed me to solve prob­lems. I moved back to Nigeria in 2016, and started The Podium Event Cen­ter, and that’s been going on for about seven years now.

    Tell us about your new beachfront resort, 234 Lofts and what inspired it.

    We started construction in 2022 last year and we are launching now. I want to believe that my heart is hos­pitable, and that has drawn me into hospitality and events. I also had a stint in the hospitality industry out­side of Nigeria working for a hospi­tality recruitment agency.

    What gave you that confidence to come back to Nigeria to invest even when others fear to because of the uncertainty in the country?

    I don’t think it was confidence, I think it started out as naivety. When they teach you business plans in school, you come back and think that those business plans will work in Nigeria. It has been a very tough ride; you learn as you go. I’ve learned a lot and I understand that it takes a lot of guts to do business here and I think I have guts. I see a challenge and I just want to take it up and give it whatever it takes.

    Having been outside Nigeria, what are those things that you saw that are different from what is done here that you would like to replicate here and what other innovative approach­es have you presented?

    I think Americans are the best at hospitality. During my time in Amer­ica, I picked up a lot of stuff. It’s in America that you go somewhere, and your food is late, and they tell you ‘Oh, we are sorry, you don’t have to pay for this food, or you can take a drink while you are waiting.’ That doesn’t happen in Nigeria. Americans do hospitality best, and I think it comes with a little bit of that level of care for the customer.

    I have also run a food business and it is a lot smaller now. I started it in 2015 with my wife and it’s still running but it’s very small now. That was where I learnt customer service properly. Even if a customer is an­gry, just by putting an additional cup of juice with their order the story changes entirely and what you want to do in business is; you want to turn net detractors into net promoters. So when a customer has a bad expe­rience, I always try to turn that bad experience into a good experience. That extra cost is small compared to the damage that kind of thing will put in your bag.

    Why the choice of building from containers?

    There are different reasons hon­estly. On one hand, because we are at the beachfront, this land cannot be sold because it’s zoned as ancestral lands. So we wanted something that is moveable and not permanently fixed. The containers are a little eas­ier to build and quicker to finish.

    What is the idea behind the name?

    234 is the country code of Nigeria. Our personal vision is to have this beach resort across the West African coast. And we will name each of the locations according to the country code of the countries. And the big vi­sion, should we become billionaires, is to have a cruise line that will take you to each country on a seven-day African cruise. One thing I found out is that a lot of West Africans don’t travel West Africa. Asides Ghana, most Nigerians don’t visit countries in West Africa. I really have a dream to grow intra-West Africa tourism.

    What else is different, why should people come here?

    As far as the coastline is con­cerned, first is proximity. We are right in town, you don’t need a boat to get to us, neither do you need to be stuck in traffic for hours to come to us; we are unique. If you want somewhere pri­vate, somewhere with not too many people, not too loud; that’s one of our unique selling points here. We do not take service for granted and we just want to help people relax and enjoy their time with us.

    Are you doing this alone or do you have partners who are working with you?

    I always have partners. Every­body has ideas, but to get your ideas to business, you need two things. One is money, capital. The other one is just everything else, the guts, the motion, and the education because vision plus money is business. We all see problems, but it is very hard to take the problem, build the solution to it, then is monetisable. Only then can you become a billionaire.

    From all of your experience, what would you say is a valuable lesson you learned in this peculiar Nigerian economy?

    Fear of the government. Honest­ly, as a business person, everything is working against you in Nigeria. Also, always put things in writing. Any small agreement, even if it is a text message, put it in writing; a coin can flip very quickly. Working with people has been a tough deal as well. Unfortunately, you have to work with people since you can’t do it all. You have to employ people, and you have to incentivise people. Finally, I think the government can do more, espe­cially with the few entrepreneurs that are bold enough to do this. One of the big things that happened during COVID-19 for some of my friends and colleagues abroad was that the gov­ernment gave them grants, free mon­ey, tax refunds and things like that. In Nigeria, we did not get anything.

    Most people are finding their way out of the country now, and ‘japa’ syn­drome is on the high; you are going the other way. Why?

    My story is different. Nigeria is tough and I won’t speak for the glob­al professional. When I returned to Nigeria in 2015, my salary was N36 million per annum and I was com­ing from the US. It was coming as 180,000 US Dollars at N198 to one dol­lar. Between then and now, that same amount is now 36,000 US Dollars. So imagine I was still working, being promoted and I am earning N80 mil­lion, which is very big money here, it would still be less than I was earning in 2015 when I returned because we are now buying a dollar at N1000 plus. For a professional person, it’s really tough because even if I was earning N100 million (and those kinds of jobs are very few) I would be earning al­most half of what I was earning eight years ago. That’s a problem.

    How would you describe yourself as a businessman?

    There are things I enjoy doing. I enjoy construction, things that have a start and end time. To witness the joy and fulfilment of completion. But at the end of the day, the numbers still have to make sense in terms of profit.

    What are some of your guiding prin­ciples in what you do today?

    I think the first thing is fairness. I try to be as fair as possible. It’s not all about money. Money is very important in business, but it’s not all about money, and it mustn’t be all about money. If everybody here gets N10 million today, they won’t all have up to N8 million by next month. Money comes and goes, so fairness is important. I am also very big on relationships and I do what we call ethical business too.

    Tell us about growing up and the experiences that prepared you for entrepreneurship.

    Both my parents were civil ser­vants. I grew up in Ilorin. My fami­ly was great. I had three brothers. I knew we had to work hard because our parents made it very clear to us that ‘you’re going to school for your­self’. So, I finished with a 2’1. When it was time to serve, I heard about this gig in an accounting firm and I went there to do what I could. I was very young; 20+ years old. I started working early, and my KPMG days were really just building network and becoming a good accountant. I did ICAN and every other thing.

    The time I spent outside Nigeria, I think, was what broadened my horizons significantly because I was in a program that took me to a new country every four months. England, Nigeria, Egypt, Dubai, UAE, and the US. It was a good eye-opener as well because I worked in different indus­tries in different countries and that was my first eye-opener. And then the MBA was what gave all of those expe­riences a business structure.

    When you created The Podium event centre, what were you thinking?

    I was looking for money. We all know problems, but as I said, I know how to take that problem and trans­form it into a business opportunity. I find money to execute it, and then I also have the guts to execute it too. That’s the difference.

    If you have experiences from a lot of places, then you pull it out to­gether and you can spin a business around it.

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    Opinion

    Foreigners patronizing private hospitals in Nigeria-NMA

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    Foreigners patronizing private hospitals in Nigeria-NMA

    Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has confirmed that some foreigners have taken interest in the quality of health care services being provided by some private health care facilities in Nigeria, hence the increased patronage of such facilities by the foreigners.

    Its President, Dr. Audu Bala, told journalists at a press conference, in Abuja, on Wednesday, that the patronage by foreigners from different countries of the world is an indication of the growing confidence and trust in the health care services in Nigeria as championed by the private sector.

    He said: “private sector, all over the world, play critical role in providing quality health care services to the people. Nigeria, undoubtedly, has a very high medical tourism rate. Nigerians visit medical facilities in different countries in search for quality health care services.

    “To this end, it’s important to adequately engage the private sector to turn the medical tourism in favour of Nigeria. There are several key players that have invested heavily and had left a landmark in the quality of care they provide to the people.

    “There are number of private health care facilities that receive patients from other parts of the world. So, additional investment and support for the private health care facilities would go a long way, and also champion the campaign for the reversal of medical tourism in Nigeria.”

    He made reference to recent proposal by the Association for the establishment of the National Tertiary Health Care Development Fund that will function like the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) in the education sector.
    “This will enable the government to provide adequate funding for the tertiary health institutions. It will also open additional gateways that will even support the private sector access fund with low interest rate,” he said.

    Reacting to the recent corruption index report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the NMA President faulted the report, insisting that his members have and had maintained high level of integrity and respect in their interactions with patients in the hospital.

    He said: “The report placed the rate of bribery amongst adults who accessed healthcare services in public hospitals at very minimal percentage. We are working to reduce the figure to the bearest minimum.

    “The fact that services of Doctors and Nurses in public sector is the least corruptible is the attestation to the integrity and ethics within the health sector.”

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    Uzodinma’s infrastructural development will attract investors, tourists – Imo lawmaker

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    Uzodinma’s infrastructural development will attract investors, tourists – Imo lawmaker

    Johnleoba Iheoha, representing Ikeduru State Constituency in the Imo State House of Assembly, and chairman, House of Assembly Standing Committee on Industry and Commerce, has said that the South East geopolitical zone would witness an upsurge of investors and tourists from within and outside the country when the ongoing works at the Nekede Imo International Market and the Assumpta Roundabout flyover are completed.

    Johnleoba, who spoke to newsmen, had described the Imo International Market, Nekede, located along Port Harcourt Road, as an outstanding business outfit that will help to position the state as an investment hub within Sub-Saharan Africa.

    The Imo legislator noted that the international market is an expansive market with the capacity to accommodate thousands of traders and allied workers in various trades and businesses.

    As he inspected the ongoing construction work at the Assumpta Roundabout flyover, said that the flyover would not only be an added glamour to the beauty of Owerri, but will go a long way to enhance free flow of traffic.

    He also spoke on the ongoing state-owned electricity power generation project at Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area, saying that it would help the state to be self-sufficient in power generation and supply, which he saw as a prelude to industrial revolution in the state.

    Johnleoba equally commended Governor Uzodinma for the sponsorship of the recently concluded three-day capacity building workshop for principal officers of the Imo State House of Assembly at the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies, Abuja.

    According to him, “The capacity building programme has added great value to every member of the 10th State House of Assembly.

    I now have greater knowledge, broader horizon, immeasurable zeal and courage to function as a lawmaker.

    “I now know better, my rights and privileges as well as the rights of the people who mandated me to represent them in the legislative house,” he said.

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    Opinion

    FAAN: Improvement of Passenger Facilitation, Security Gave Boost to Tourism

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    FAAN: Improvement of Passenger Facilitation, Security Gave Boost to Tourism

    The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) said that its improvement of airport facilities, passenger facilitation and security has encouraged tourism in Nigeria.

    The agency said that the drastic action taken by the Managing Director, Mrs. Olubunmi Kuku against touting at the airports has brought sanity and orderliness to the satisfaction of travellers.

    Kuku identified some of these achievements when she spoke at the Wings of Change Focus Africa Conference (WOCFA) overseen by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) last week; held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

    A statement signed by the Director, Public Affairs & Consumer Protection, Obiageli Orah, said FAAN has recently taken steps to make Nigeria’s airports safe and accessible by genuine tourists and travellers and has also made efforts to eliminate touting and other forms of criminal conducts around the airports.

    FAAN boss also spoke on the recent creation of a dedicated Department for Cargo Services in the agency, as stakeholders emphasized the need for improvement of trade facilitation, including air cargo facilities and infrastructure, cargo compliance, closer collaboration amongst African countries and Stakeholders as well as Cargo Specialized Training for stakeholders.

    There was emphasis on digitalization of passenger processing and how the embrace of robotics technology by airports in Africa would help to give customers further experience of speed, efficiency and excellence. The use of technology to drive efficiency has been part of FAAN’s priority agenda under the present dispensation.

    Making his input on the first day of the conference, the Minister of Aviation & Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Keyamo, emphasised the need for removal of visa restrictions to enable free movement of people and goods across the continent, stating that to achieve this, there is need to work with Foreign Affairs Ministers across Africa.

    The Minister equally made a case for adequate funding of air transport in Africa.

    Also speaking at the event, IATA,s Regional Vice President, Africa & Middle East, Kamil Alawadhi called for pursuit of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which constitutes part of FAAN’s recent programmes.

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