This Day (Lagos)

6 April 2014

Nigeria: When O'neill, Adesina Ushered in Airtel Premier...

If you were one of the privileged few who attended Airtel Nigeria's glamorous event of 2012 eponymously tagged the Airtel Night of Influence, which featured CNN's Fareed Zakaria as headline speaker, the recent Airtel Premier Launch event would certainly be a "must attend." History was sure to repeat itself, most of the fortunate guests must have thought, considering the propensity of Airtel to wow its guests with the choice of Guest Speaker and indeed the totality of its events. And so it was, on Sunday, March 23, 2014 at the exquisite Eko Convention Centre, Lagos, made even more exquisite by the sheer creativity of the branding and classy make over by the Airtel brand team and event organiser, Brand Footprints.

Right from the invitation card, through to the ambience of the venue, the punctuality of the programme, the choice of compere, comedian, musicians and indeed the guest speakers, it was a remarkable display of class and good taste. IK Osakioduwa was the master of ceremonies or compere, if you like. They don't come more world class, do they? He brought his radio skills, great voice, good command of English Language and excellent pedigree as anchor of the Airtel-sponsored Big Brother to bear on the evening's proceedings.

Next was Bovi, the Comedian. He left the audience in stitches with his rib-cracking jokes. He dwelt a little bit so much on Arsenal that Ray Palour, one of the "invincibles" of the North London club, who was in the audience was literally changing colours. Bovi had decent, brilliant jokes tailor-made for the high networth guests. Then there was Tuface and Dr. Victor Olaiya, both legends in their own rights in the music industry, who held the audience literally spell-bound with their duet of "Baby Jowo".

I am not sure between Mr. Jim O'Neill and Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, the guest speakers, who elicited more acclaim from guests, but my haunch is that both were absolutely great choices, not just for their brilliant presentation but the interrelatedness of the very essence of their messages. O'Neill, best known for coining the acronym BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and more recently MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) spoke on the theme "Nigeria: How the 'N' in MINT is going global."Adesina, the high-performing Minister of Agriculture and the poster boy of the Goodluck Jonathan-led Federal Government, spoke on the revolution he is currently leading in the agricultural sector of the Nigerian economy. Perhaps, many who were wondering what the Minister was doing at an event organized by a telco, had their concern fully addressed by the time the ebullient Forbes "African of the year" was done with his presentation. The major thrust of O'Neill's presentation was actually the huge potential of Nigeria with its burgeoning youth population. Said he, "for Nigeria to achieve economic greatness and become one of the biggest economies by year 2050, it must harness her huge youth population and prioritize education and agriculture driven by mobile technology."

According to him, Nigeria, which is the 'N' in the acronym MINT, "has an incredible population full of youths noting also that by the year 2050, Nigeria's population may be as big as United States. Nigeria could be the third largest population in the world. You have the potentials to really be big, if you make sure the youth are doing useful things." O'Neill urged Nigeria to tap its huge potentials in order to become the fifth largest economy by 2050 saying that "Nigeria would be great if the government could ensure that majority of the people, especially youths have access to quality education." May be with the Minister of Agriculture in his clear line of sight, he advised that agriculture should be developed to boost export, adding that "policy makers should provide people in the remote areas access to technology."

This last point on agriculture, export and technology was like a tonic for the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to take the stage and blow the minds of his listeners. For this writer, he made an all-time clarion call when he said that "hunger is not an industry; so we must not grow it!" That resonated well with the audience and provided a rallying point for all the bold initiatives and major accomplishments he had led in the agricultural sector. Of special note was the point he made about dealing with the fertilizer cabal within 90 days of assumption of office. That drew sustained applause from the highly delighted audience, most of who were not really apprised of the transformation, to use the words of the Federal Government, in the agricultural sector.

Adesina's, for many of the guests, was the star attraction, because he brought home all the points, Jim O'Neill had made earlier and took them from the realm of theory to practical reality. His Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES) ended four decades of corruption in the fertilizer sector, eliminating the middlemen and scaling up food production by nine million metric tonnes in the first year-almost half of the 2015 production target. Of course, this initiative was one of the justifications for his nomination for and selection as Forbes Africa Person of the year. To further enhance this process, he introduced an Electronic Wallet System which allows smallholder farmers to receive electronic vouchers for subsidized seeds and fertilizers directly on their mobile phones and enable them to pay for farm inputs from private sector agricultural input dealers.

It was delightful to hear that the system has reached over 6 million farmers and enhanced food security for 30 million persons in rural farm households.With the success of the electronic wallet system, Nigeria has become the first country in Africa to reach farmers with subsidized farm inputs through their mobile phones.The impact is already being noticed beyond Nigeria with several African countries, Brazil, India and China now expressing interest in adopting the electronic wallet system in their agriculture sectors.

Indeed, agriculture can claim to be one way the "N" in MINT is going global. The other perhaps is telecommunications, which Airtel Nigeria pioneered as Econet Wireless Limited. From languishing at a disrespectful 3rd position as the country with the least teledensity behind Afghanistan and Mongolia in 2001, Nigeria is hitting 80 per cent penetration by mobile telephony. The best part of the telecommunications revolution, like the agricultural revolution, is that it now contributes 9 per cent of Nigeria's GDP, second only to the oil industry. And talking about Airtel Nigeria and its pioneering spirit, the reason for the event, the launch of Airtel Premier was a moment in history, considering the company's pedigree and track record as the best customer service operator in the industry. It sure made sense to make a tangible statement of the awards it has coveted since the advent of GSM in Nigeria by creating a service, reward and recognition platform for its High Value Customers, which it names Airtel Premier. Airtel Premier reminds you of Virgin Atlantic Flying Club which, simply put, recognizes the custom of its consistent passengers over time and rewards them with personalized world class service and mouth-watering offers. According to Mr. Ajay Bakshi, Airtel Premier is synonymous with class and style, as our guests experienced tonight. "The three pillars of Airtel Premier, namely Service, Honours and Access capture the preferences of the class of customers we are talking about," he stated.

Airtel Premier, membership of which is strictly by invitation, provides a membership card, a personal relationship manager, access to 24-hour customer service, access to over 600 lounges across the world and lots of exciting prizes through the Airtel rewards programme. Segun Ogunsanya, Managing Director& Chief Executive Officer of Airtel Nigeria, was elated. Who wouldn't be considering the quality of the guests who, unlike what obtains at most Sunday evening events, stayed throughout the show and appeared to be waiting for more until the farewells turned up to tell them it was time to go-since the next day was Monday. Ogunsanya put it this way: "We want our Customers to be proud of their choice and non-customers to do something - join us! The benefits are many."

-Anyebe, a freelance Journalist writes from Lagos.

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