<![CDATA[…Poor Power Supply, Multiple Taxation affecting hotel business Chief (Dr.) Chike C Ezeude who holds a PhD in Agric Mechanisation hails from Anambra state. A retired civil servant, Ezeude is widely travelled as his work has taken him to the Americas, Europe and many parts of Africa where he worked as international Trade negotiator in Agricultural matters. Beside agricultural matters, he also has vested interest in the hospitality industry, and is the current President of Hotel Owners Forum Abuja (HOFA). He spoke with Transport Day on many challenges hoteliers face in the sector among which are lack of power, excessive taxation etc and proffers solution on how they can move forward. Reports Ignatius Ushie. Who is Dr. Ezeude? My name is Chief (Dr.) Chike C. Ezeude, I am the current President of Hotel Owners Forum Abuja (HOFA). I am also the Managing Director/CEO of Karibu Hotel here in Abuja. I did not just get into the Hotel business overnight. I hold a PhD in Agric Mechanization and have worked for the Federal Government, and the International community including the ECOWAS and the United Nations, where I worked as an international Negotiator, negotiating deals in the Agriculture sector for Nigeria. Am a retired civil servant, my job has made me travel far and wide both in Africa, Europe and the Americas. It was while I was working in Arusa, Tanzania that I established the Karibu hotel. Karibu in Swahili Language means Welcome. When you enter the Kenya Airways you see Karibu, that is the word that the people welcome you with so it was one of the first Swahili words that I learnt, so when I was planning a retirement business, I established the Hotel and named it Karibu Hotel. So you did not become HOFA President by accident? Yes, as I have said before, I have worked in so many organisations, let me add here that in those days they nicknamed me the Ambassador, aka (Diplomat in Agriculture) because of the nature of my work, my job was always taking me to many countries and my primary assignment is always involving negotiations of international Agriculture businesses for the country. When I started Karibu Hotel, I also became an active member of the Association before I was elected as the president of the Association. I have also lived or stayed in many hotels around the world and I know what it entails, so I can say that being a president of HOFA is not by mistake. As a Hotel owner, how have you been coping with the power situation in the country? Let me begin by saying that when you are into a business that the basic infrastructure is not there, that business is set to collapse. In Nigeria as we have it today, there is nothing you can do without power. The Manufacturers, Hoteliers and even in our individual homes we all need power for the day to day running of our homes and businesses, and what we are getting in a great shortage. We have so many challenges in the hotel business but the major one is electricity. The challenge is so much that the supply of power you get is not commensurate with the bill you pay, this situation has given rise to us as an association to write to the authority, that is Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) to carry out a Calibration, by this I mean AEDC will work with our association and our consultant to know if the bills hoteliers are charged are truly consumed by such hotels. We are doing a pilot scheme with some hotels. HOFA members feel they are over charged, some hotels pay as much as one Million Naira as bills for power aside other taxes, so how long will you continue that way and still be in business? Do you know that right now we have very low patronage in Hotel business in Abuja, and this is when the electricity bills are going higher? Members are complaining that is why we are doing the calibration. We have invited AEDC, NEMSA, we have written to them and were asked to pay a token to aid the process which we have complied and the process will commence soon, don’t forget, we have our consultant who is also vast in electricity consumption matters that will be in the team, so it’s not going to be an exercise in futility, but will help our members know what they are getting and what they are paying for. Calibration means we will take an hotel for instance, carry out assessment of power supply and how much bill the hotel is paying, if it is worth the supply of power to that said hotel. If at the end of this process, we find out that what we are being charged as hotels is not commensurate to the power supply, I tell you we will have no option than to seek redress in the court of competent jurisdiction. How are hoteliers coping with the hike in electricity tariffs? Just like the manufacturers, they are in court as we speak because they said they cannot cope with the hike, in our own case just like I explained before, after the calibration exercise, we will discuss with our members and if the high billing without power persist, we will have no choice than to go to court, meanwhile what the hoteliers are using is the commercial meter, which is above 40 kilo watt. Do you know that we had already perfected our act to go to court before the National Assembly intervened? Are you doing this calibration with the consent of stakeholders like AEDC, NERC NEMSA etc? Well the way it is going to be done is simple. We have written to all the agencies concerned, all they will do is to come and find out if the power there are supplying to our businesses is the same with the bills there are charging us to pay. When we wrote to Nigerian Electricity Management services (NEMSA) they advised us to get the authority of Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC), which they AEDC have given approval, but NEMSA said we have to pay into their account a token which I told you earlier that we have complied, the reason we paid to NEMSA is because they are the ones to carry out the calibration in the presence of both AEDC and HOFA consultants. The money we paid is seven thousand Naira for a hotel. What do you think can be done to improve power in Nigeria, your opinion? Let me begin by saying that, giving power to private investors have not helped us in any way I must confess, and the government simply have to work further by going back to the drawing board. The issue of power generation should not be on the exclusive list but rather the concurrent list, giving any state that can generate power to do so. Keeping it with the federal government has made things very difficult. In some other climes, they use solar; we have so many sources of generating powers which we have not explored. The Germans came to HOFA and told us what it will take to install solar, it is cheaper overseas but to carry out such installations here is very expensive, we have weighed all those options including wind and even coal. As President of HOFA, what am thinking now is how we can get some of those experts and have a discussion with them again to see how we can collaborate, by cutting down some of our supplies from the Discos and be using alternative energy, because the issue of power is not just helping our business. Government need to consult the stakeholders so we can sit and talk with each other and find a way forward. Let me add here that apart from power, in Abuja every hotelier has about thirty bills that we pay to government and patronage has dropped to about 25-30%, we no longer have full occupancy even during festive periods like before since the turn in economy. Out of all these bills, 15 of them is AMAC, we have entered into a negotiation with the chairman and reduced out of the 15 bills to eight and agreed with all HOFA members that all bills must be paid into the government coffers and not through any consultant or cash payments to anybody. I am so grateful to Mr. Candido, the AMAC Chairman; we are carrying out the same negotiation with the FCDA, because if those bills are not reduced we are no longer are in business. So how are you faring as HOFA President? Well you must give in your time, talent and treasure. I have been so occupied since I became the president of HOFA, it is very easy to go and speak English and make analysis on television and radio, the question is what have you achieved before or in the line of business you are doing? For you to achieve anything as a leader, you must put in your time, your money will go in and you must bring in innovation. Moreover as people that have investment in the sector too, you must do everything to protect and promote your investment, for me after retiring from service, this is what I do, so I put in my best to see that my business survive being the president of HOFA is a good thing that has happened to me and all I will do is to put in my best to see that the sector survives. How many hotels do you have in Abuja? We have about 270 hotels in Abuja; I remember in one of our negotiations with AMAC, they insisted we must give them the total number of hotels in FCT. Be that as it may, the number am quoting are the hotels that are duly registered with HOFA. We are working with the security agencies, police, DSS etc and that is why any hotel that is registered with us, when you enter you see the HOFA sign post in the reception, they are some hotels that are operating coded, that we have no business with. What are you doing to curb illegal hotels or hoteliers that are not your members? Good, we have been meeting with the securities organisations and we have informed them of such illegalities, mind you if you stay in any of such hotels and run into trouble, HOFA has no hand either to the owner or the client, I mean guest. We cannot close down those hotels but as an association, we have done well to inform the concerned agencies of the illegalities and it is left for them to take action.]]>
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