Traditionally, the annual fair, which attracts participants from far and wide, is known to open on the first Friday of November and run for 10 days.
The battle with Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and the Endsars protests which rocked the country in October, however, forced a departure from the tradition this year.
The fair, earlier fixed for Nov. 6 to Nov. 15, had to be rescheduled for Dec. 4 to Dec. 13, with arrangement for a hybrid hosting — physical at Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), and also virtual.
At TBS, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), organisers of the fair, tried to ensure adherence to the COVID-19 health protocols.
Noticeable at the various entrances to the venue of the fair were banners tagged “No mask, no entry”, with security operatives on ground to ensure compliance.
Hand sanitisers, nose masks and face shields were also provided for participants.
The annual 10-day fair, as usual, was envisaged to be an avenue for local and international businesses and exhibitors to showcase their goods and services to teeming visitors that would throng the venue daily.
The theme, ‘Connecting Businesses, Creating Value” underscored the import of trade fairs as viable platforms for promoting all kinds of businesses, particularly Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
MSMEs have been identified as an important area for industrialisation and also have a place in Nigeria’s diversification agenda.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, MSMEs account for 96 per cent of Nigerian businesses, provide 75 per cent of employment and contribute 48 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the Nigerian economy.
Coming in a period of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, activities at the fair were not as they were in the past, resulting in a shortfall both in the revenue for exhibitors and the number of visitors at the TBS venue.
Countries known to have participated in previous years, such as China, Japan, Pakistan among others, were absent, with effect on the ambience of the event.
Few neighbouring countries such as Ghana, Benin Republic, Togo, however, managed to have some showing at the fair after some delay.
Some members of the diplomatic corps, top government officials, leaders of the organised private sector, traditional rulers and chief executives of corporate bodies and public institutions were also noticeable at the fair.
Mr Gabriel Idahosa, Chairman, Trade Promotion Board, LCCI, told NAN that the 2020 edition of the Fair recorded about 1, 000 exhibitors, which translates to 40 per cent participation level when compared to the 2, 500 of 2019.
Idahosa said that the restrictions on travelling due to COVID-19 pandemic by many foreign countries contributed to the reduction in number of participants.
Locally, he said that while eight states — Anambra, Benue, Akwa-Ibom, Ebonyi, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, and Plateau — and the Federal Capital Territory booked ahead for the fair, only three (Lagos, Ogun and the FCT) were able to participate.
Idahosa, however, said that a survey carried out by the Chamber at the end of the fair revealed that some exhibitors, particularly those that traded in home appliances, still recorded good sales.
He attributed the development to the lack of competition due to the reduced number of physical exhibitors at the venue.
“As we know, because because of the pandemic, restrictions on travelling and social distancing, many of our exhibitors could not be physically present, especially the foreign ones, including our neighbours close to us.
“However, exhibitors, especially of home appliances, according to our survey, did well as they had no competition, and visitors towards the end visited their booths and made great purchases,” he said.
Mrs Toki Mabogunje, President of LCCI, said the theme underscored the importance of relationships and networking among businesses for the purpose of wealth creation.
Mabogunje said that the theme also underlined the value of interaction between producers, service providers and the end users.
“We had to reschedule this fair because of the disruptions that resulted from the EndSARS protests.
“Additionally, the economic conditions this year have been very challenging.
“As we all know, the economy slipped into recession in the third quarter of this year.
“But as investors, we need to continue to demonstrate our resilience and determination to forge ahead despite these challenges.
“This trade fair provides a platform to identify non-oil alternatives and highlights the significance of value addition.
“In spite of the numerous challenges of transportation, logistics and COVID-19 pandemic, we have endeavoured to ensure a hitch-free and successful fair.
“However, as in most human endeavours, there may have been some lapses and we regret these inadequacies,” she said.
Exhibitors at the fair said that the change of date was not adequately advertised and conveyed to the general public.
This, coupled with the fear of contracting the coronavirus, according to some who spoke to NAN, largely affected turnout.
Mr Abdulraman Adamu, a textile merchant from Kano, said the volume of sales this year was the lowest since he began attending the fair seven years ago.
Adamu attributed the development to the protests which necessitated the rescheduling of the fair.
He claimed that the change of date was not properly communicated and advertised to visitors, and led to the low turnout.
“The market is not like before, last year was better; this year, we are just welcoming what we see.
“Everybody knows Lagos International Trade Fair holds from first Friday of November.
“But the protests have turned things around and we are unable to detect if we would run into losses or not,” he had told NAN during the fair.
Another exhibitor, Miss Doris Louis, a marketer with PWAN Group, a real estate firm, also acknowledged that the turnout was not as impressive as other years.
She, however, said that half a loaf is better than none, as some items at the fair were sold at lower prices than normal, which visitors at the stands took advantage of.
At the closing ceremony, the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, reassured the MSMEs of the continuous support of his administration to improving the business environment and making it more attractive and conducive for investment.
The governor, who was not physically present due to his contracting the coronavirus, was represented by his deputy, Dr Obafemi Hamzat.
Sanwo-Olu said that his administration would continue to place high premium on providing infrastructure to make the state safe, secure, functional and productive as an impetus toward achieving sustainable economic growth.
This, he said, was to enable the MSME sector maintain its key position of generating wealth and employment opportunities for the nation.
“We will continue to support the sector to thrive, especially in the area of maximising the huge opportunities in the value chains of the various sectors of the economy.
“Our administration will continue to partner with the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Organised Private Sector through promotion of fiscal and investment initiatives to ease the burden of doing business in Lagos,” he said.