The Executive Director of the Lagos International Trade Fair, Lucy Ajayi, speaks with TOFARATI IGE on her career and other issues
As the Executive Director of the Lagos International Trade Fair, what are your primary responsibilities?
My primary responsibilities include creating an enabling environment for investors, and for fairs to be held at the Trade Fair complex, as well as make money for the government. I also have to raise the trade fair to an international standard.
You were brought in to head the complex last year after the Federal Government took it over from the concessionaire. How would you describe the condition in which you met the place?
It is still very appalling. There was no sanity and everywhere was upside down. There were about four markets under the bridge in front of the complex and inside the complex. As you entered the complex, you would be assaulted by smells of tomatoes, brassieres and pants. However, after I came in, in November with zero budget, we have been able to do a lot. The concessionaire even refused to leave. We had to go to the National Assembly and the IG of Police before he was forcefully evicted on November 29. Since then, things have been going well. I don’t like to speak for myself; people need to visit the complex and see things for themselves. The first thing I did was to eject the illegal occupants under the bridge because their nuisance value really went up too high. When you visit a place, the first thing you would see is the front and the beauty. But there was nothing to attract even a Nigerian investor, much less a foreign one. I had to bring in sanity; we had to erect some barbed wires.
What are some of the plans you have for the trade fair?
I really cannot have long-term plans now because the National Council on Privatisation, which is headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, is in charge. The Bureau of Public Enterprises is the agency to oversee the concession of the place. The contract of the last concessionaire was immediately revoked and a new concession was to be given within six months. Based on that, I cannot do anything that is permanent; I can only bring sanity to the place. The stakeholders (traders), who were with the former concessionaire, were paying to the government and have built structures in the place. We only asked them to revalidate their papers with us. We don’t need to chase them away and punish them for what they know nothing about. That is what I am currently doing until the bidding process will start for the new concession.
You recently said you intend to increase the revenue of the trade fair to N1bn. How do you plan to do that?
For nine years that the concessionaire operated the complex, he did not remit a dime to the government. Ordinarily, he owes N5bn for those nine years, but interest has accrued on the debt; so, his total debt is N6.5bn. When I came in, I met N40m and that was what the traders had paid in. What we actually collect from the stakeholders is ground rent because we are not the owners of the structures there. We only lease our land to them and some of them had even stopped paying because they felt the government had failed on its part. However, I have promised them that there would be positive changes. I went on a debt recovery drive and we were able to raise over N700m.
Trade fairs haven’t held in the complex for some years. Are things going to change anytime soon?
Trade fairs haven’t been held in the complex for over three years because the concessionaire used to give the organisers, which is the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, an exorbitant bill. Plus, I think the environment was not too conducive for them and they had to leave and use the Tafawa Balewa Square. Because of the concession process going on, I cannot go into a long term contract until we get a new concessionaire. However, if we haven’t gotten a new concessionaire by November, I think I will try to woo them to come back to the complex.
What were you doing before you became the Executive Director of the trade fair complex?
I was a grass-roots politician. I started with the Congress for Progressive Change with President Muhammadu Buhari in 2009. I was the CPC chairman for the Kosofe Local Government Area and I got as far as heading some committees for publicity and propaganda for PMB in 2011. In 2013, I was chosen to be a member of the CPC team during the merger process with the ACN. I was the only female out of the 18 members of the committee. Our work led to the formation of the All Progressives Congress in 2013. I was also the Vice President of the Buhari Youth Organisation all over Nigeria.
I also modelled for 10 years and I did a lot of jobs for big brands such as PZ Cussons, among others. I also used to run a modelling agency in Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos.
What were some of the things you took away from the merger talks?
We were a team of about 100 people; so, I met a lot of different persons. I met people that I had only read about on the pages of newspapers. It was an awesome experience for me. I was so overwhelmed that the first thing I did was to take pictures with all of them. I thank PMB for giving me that opportunity. A lot of people were surprised that I could be chosen to negotiate on behalf of a political party when I had never been a governor or senator. I thank God that I did not disappoint Buhari with my performance.
As the Chairman of the CPC in the Kosofe LGA of Lagos State, how did it feel leading a relatively unknown party?
It was very difficult. Then, I was living in a rented apartment and the landlord did not even allow me to put the poster of the party on the gate of the house. However, there were a lot of Hausa people in that area and many of them supported PMB; that made my job easier.
What were some of the notable moments of your career as a model?
When I was a model, I got a lot of accolades. A lot of parents entrusted their children into my hands because they felt I was responsible. I was able to change the perception of people about models. Most people think models are just beautiful people but there are different types of models. There are jobs that require dwarfs as models; some require old people. Anybody can be a model.
How did you meet your husband?
We met in the university. However, I don’t like talking about my family on the pages of newspapers.
Did your husband and other family members support you when you went into politics?
Not many people would encourage a woman to go into politics. However, if my family didn’t support me, they didn’t show it. As of the time I went into politics, I didn’t have a job; they were the ones supporting me with money. That means they also supported me in a way. After the merger process between the CPC and the APC (and the ANPP), my husband was very impressed with the role I played and he has been giving me his full support.
How do you manage your home and career?
Even though I have home helps, I still cook. My work doesn’t stop me from taking care of my family.
What are some of the fond memories of your childhood?
I am from Akoko-Edo in Edo State but I was born in Isolo, Lagos. I had a wonderful childhood because my father doted on me. I almost had everything to myself.
What schools did you attend?
For my elementary education, I attended St. Isaac Nursery and Primary School in Isolo, Lagos. I finished at the age of eight but I couldn’t go straight to the post-elementary school, so I went to the Lagos Mainland Local Government Primary School, Fadeyi, Lagos. For my post-elementary school, I attended Holy Saviour College in Isolo, Lagos. I then attended the Lagos State Polytechnic, Isolo, Lagos, where I studied Secretarial Administration. I later attended the Delta State University, Abraka, where I studied Business Administration. Over the years, I have also had some professional qualifications.
How do you relax?
It is not yet Uhuru for us in Nigeria. It is not time to relax. I want Nigeria to be as wonderful as it was when I was a kid. There are some people that don’t sleep for more than three hours in a day and that is why they are successful. We have to do more of thinking and working now. I don’t switch off my phones because I could be called for an emergency at any time.
How do you like to dress?
When I was a model, I used to wear more of English clothes. However, since I joined politics, I wear traditional Nigerian attire. Most of the things I wear are made in Nigeria.