All that jazz in Lagos

Posted: June 7, 2012 in art/entertainment

Jazz music enthusiasts are about to go wild in the city of Lagos as no less than two major events hit the stages at various points of the commercial and entertainment capital of the country in what portends to be unprecedented in the entertainment calendar of the city.

It has not always been like this for jazz, a music genre threatened by disinterest among music and thrill seekers of late. But in what appears to be a rebound in resilience, jazz music is set to dominate the scene from next week up until July, next month.

This is because, two events in Lagos will attempt to outstrip and out-muscle even the recently held Oleku Concert in terms of crowd and personality pull and appeal; and going by the pedigree of artistes lined out, the boast should not be taken lightly.

Between next Sunday, July 10 and July 7 at the Agip Recital Hall of the MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos as well as the prestigious Expo Centre, Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, respectively, jazz music faithful can expect to get the best of entertainment as some of the music genre’s biggest exponents storm these venues.

Aptly tagged: “Sax Ensemble” with Imoleayo Balogun, who himself is jazz saxophone instrumentalist, this concert comes up on Sunday, June 10, at the Agip Recital Hall with special appearances by El-Jazz, Mike Aremu and Baba YS (One of the oldest Nigeria Saxophone players with over four decades of experience.

According to the organizers, it has been a norm for every band to have a combination of trumpet, saxophones and trombones in their horns section and now it’s just the time for the listeners to listen and enjoy the fullness, touchful, soulful and unique ordinary saxophone sound, playing the melodies and riffs.

The Sax Ensemble is made up 8 saxophonists (Soprano, Altos, Tenors and Baritone Saxes), Rhythm Session (2 Guitars, Piano, Drum Kit and Conga) and 2 back-up Singers. The group will be performing mostly self and well re-arranged tunes with a blend of Jazz, Blues, Hip-hop, Highlife and African Traditional music.

Imoleayo Balogun who was born in Lagos, Nigeria, began his musical career in the early 90s. He is an entertainer, educator and a renowned saxophonist and has performed at various jazz festivals in and out of the country.

Balogun has recorded and performed with notable music producers, artistes, groups and big bands which includes; Cobhams Asuquo,Don Jazzy,Yinka Davids,5yz men, Nerak Roth Patterson, Eljazz, Dbanj, Roy Olokungboye, Ayetoro, Biodun Batik, Steve Rhodes Orchestra and many others.

He is a music graduate and has passed several musical exams ranges from local to the international level. He is the Director and Chief instructor “Saxophone Music Academy” where music theory, saxophone, clarinet and flute playing jazz improvisational techniques is being taught.

He is also a lecturer at the MUSON Diploma Department and currently working on a book titled; Saxophone Artistry.

Following closely to the Sax Ensemble is the Sax Appeal 4 concert scheduled for July 7 at the prestigious Expo Centre, Eko Hotel, Lagos which equally promises performances by the likes of Mike Aremu, Brymo, Waje, and many others.

This particular concert comes on the heels of the successful and earlier Mike Aremu’s Sax Appeal 1, 2, & 3 jazz concert series, which has featured in the past performances by leading Nigerian and foreign artists like the Grammy award winning American, adult contemporary and smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G.

The Sax Appeal Concert, a concept of Ace saxophonist Mike Aremu -Obafere is geared towards the rebirth and promotion of live musical performances in Nigeria.

To feature at the event include: British jazz urban contemporary saxophonist and two-time MOBO (Music Of Black origin) Award winner Yolanda Brown, Nigerian South Africa based guitarist, Kunle Ayo and South African Jazz and Afro Pop singer Judith Sephuma.

Others for the July show include: Yinka Davis, Cobhams Asuquo, Tosin Martins, Waje amd Bez.

Sax Appeal is a concept that aims to raise the standards of musical excellence by constantly bringing to its numerous fans, quality and exceptional world class musical performances within an entertainment friendly environment.

The event will have in concert Nigerian-born multi-award winning all-brother band Four Kornerz (United Kingdom), United States-based Nigerian guitarist and producer Agboola Shadare and the sensational Ara crooner Brymo.

Against the backdrop of clamour by sections of the hospitality industry in the country for a harmonized hotel classification and grading system, Area Manager (West Africa) for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., and General Manager, Sheraton Lagos Hotels, Mr. Alex Gassauer, has maintained that the process remains subjective and dependant on the guest.

Gassauer was addressing a media conference inside the Four Points by Sheraton, Lekki, Lagos, to formally announce the signing of an agreement for a new hotel in Benin City, the Edo State capital to be flagged by Starwood under its Four Points by Sheraton brand.

Starwood currently operates five hotels in Nigeria, including Le Méridien Ogeyi Place, Le Méridien Ibom Hotel & Golf Resort, Sheraton Lagos, Sheraton Abuja and Four Points by Sheraton Lagos. Le Méridien Ikoyi Towers will open in December 2013.

The event also served as platform to officially introduce the newly-appointed General Manager of the Four Points, Lekki, Austrian-born Mr. Christian Tomandl, who replaces the pioneer General Manager, Mr. Peer-Christian Fritz, the Swiss national who had served since the hotel’s opening in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Maintaining that the regulation and grading may still be necessary, Gassauer stressed that present economics of hotel administration relies strongly on guests’ opinion and grading, as, according, to him, it is the guest who ultimately decides if a hotel’s grading is appropriate.

“This is my personal opinion, the whole practice of grading and classification in today’s hotel business seems no longer necessary because it is now the guests who decide if a hotel is truly what it claims to be in terms of its rating. If you say your hotel is 5-star and the guests come and don’t get a 5-star treatment, then expect that they’ll take to the social media and run you down. And it is so because the social media today is a strong influence in business in the hospitality industry,” said Gassauer.

Advising the country’s tourism regulators to focus mainly on Diaspora and MICE tourism, the Starwood chief said these represented areas where Nigeria had a comparative advantage over most other players in the industry at the global level, just as he equally decried the huge operating costs incurred by hoteliers in the country.

“If you look at the continent of Africa, only South Africa and Egypt can pose competition for Nigeria in the area of conference tourism, but on the West African sub-region, this is where we have the strongest advantage and where we should focus on because the country possesses facilities to effectively corner that market.

“Also, the Diaspora tourism or what I’ll call the homesick tourism where Nigerians abroad come in regularly with their families to spend time at home with other members of their extended families, is another market waiting to be tapped. And as each aircraft lands you’ll see the bright faces of the children glowing in expectancy as they look forward to seeing their grand-parents. These are the aspects of tourism we have advantages over most other players on the globe,” Gassauer stressed.

Scheduled to open in 2015, the proposed Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, Benin City, is the result of an agreement between the United States-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., and the Nigerian-owned S&F Panoramic Tourist Limited.

Situated in the heart of Benin City and a short five-minute drive from the airport, the hotel will feature 194 rooms, an all-day dining restaurant, sports bar, pool bar, café, fitness centre, spa and outdoor pool. The hotel will also offer 980 square metres of conference facilities and a business centre.

“We are delighted to partner with S&F Panoramic Touristas we open our first Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Benin City,” said Roeland Vos, President, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Europe, Africa and Middle East. “Africa is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, attracting a growing number of business and leisure travellers to key destinations such as Nigeria. The opening of the new Four Points by Sheraton Benin City will offer visitors comfort and great service, all at an affordable price.”

Chief S. O. Agbareh, Chairman of S & F Panoramic Tourist Limited said that the pace of development in Edo State in recent years made the conceptualisation of a Four Points by Sheraton in Benin City an imperative. “Locals and visitors to Edo State deserve a world-class hotel comparable to what is available in other big cities like Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. This will reinforce the Government’s effort to provide infrastructure and other basic amenities that were clearly lacking in the state.”

Four Points by Sheraton provides an uncomplicated environment, with a simple yet straight-forward approach to hospitality and service – all at a great value. The Four Points by Sheraton Benin City will feature the brand’s defining elements, including the signature Four Points by Sheraton Four Comfort bed and free Wi-Fi in all public areas, reflecting the brand’s promise and insight into the needs of today’s traveller.

Four Points by Sheraton Benin City will also offer the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) programme, which made headlines when it launched in 1999 with a breakthrough policy of no blackout dates on Free Night Awards. SPG offers members the ability to redeem awards at more resorts, more luxury properties, more European hotels and more golf properties than any other hotel programme.

Located in southern Nigeria, Benin City is the capital of Edo State, one of the country’s nine oil-producing states. The city boasts a population of over three million people and is also a major commercial and industrial hub in Nigeria, hosting a range of industries including petroleum, agricultural processing and construction.

The newly-appointed General Manager, Tomandl, who grew up in different parts of the world, such as South Africa, Middle East and Nigeria, began his career with Sheraton in 1995 as Management Trainee and left 1998 to explore some other hospitality companies.

He came back almost 10 years later to Starwood Hotels & Resorts, as Deputy General Manager of the Sheraton Abuja Hotel for between 2007 and 2008. From there his journey with Starwood Hotels & Resorts took him to Casablanca in Morocco, Oran in Algeria and then in December 2012 back to Nigeria as General Manager of the Four Points by Sheraton Lagos.

Leading telecommunications service provider, Airtel Nigeria Monday rolled-out the first ever physical and electronic data recharge cards in Nigeria aimed at expanding subscription options for data subscribers on the network.

Airtel Nigeria also announced a major reduction of its dongle price from N6, 500 to N3, 990, to enable more Nigerians experience and enjoy its superfast internet services now available in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

At a well attended public launch of the innovations at the Rodizzio Restaurant, in Ikeja GRA, Monday, May 28, Mr. Deepak Srivastava, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director, Airtel Nigeria, described the feat as a double victory for the customers.

He further added that this has taken the company closer to its desired goal of being the most loved brand in the daily lives of Nigerians, especially coming on the heel of the recent launch of its 3.75G broadband service.

With option the Data bundles will now be automatically credited to the users account. Customers no longer will have to use USSD or SMS codes to activate the data bundles.

As it stand, the network’s millions of data subscribers in the country on the prepaid platform can activate their desired data bundle using the physical recharge cards available from N99.00 to N7, 999 denominations, for a corresponding data allowance of 10MB to 5GB.

According to Srivastava, customers will also get up to 50 per cent bonus on selected data plans on both the physical and electronic data recharge options.

Also, the Data Electronic Recharge can be purchased electronically through Airtel Resellers, ATMs and online platforms for daily, fortnightly and monthly subscriptions.

“For us, customer satisfaction goes deeper than word of mouth. Our passion for our customers is driven by actions through value propositions that makes sense, promotes wellbeing, supports their yearnings for excellence and helps them achieve value for themselves, family, friends and businesses every single day of their lives. In Airtel, we take cognizance of all these and painstakingly evolve with products, services and offerings that elevates our customers above what is obtainable elsewhere. With the fastest and the most deepened coverage of the 3G service across the country coupled with the slash of dongle price by almost 40 percent, it is no longer a matter of choice for Nigerians especially data users to experience the Airtel brand but a must, because it is the proper thing to do”, Srivastava stated.

To activate any of the available Airtel prepaid data bundle plans through physical and electronic recharge voucher options, subscribers are to purchase, scratch the vouchers and load their phones with the exposed pin numbers; obtain specific electronic recharge voucher through any Airtel Retailer or on any of the available electronic platforms respectively.

On successful loading, the amount will automatically register on their data account confirming a successful activation.

The availability of Airtel physical data recharge vouchers comes with various advantages that include easy accessibility and the convenience of not memorizing myriads of USSD strings or SMS keywords needed for activation.

Also, the option frees subscribers from any USSD downtime challenges and opens up additional recharge channels through websites, reseller, ATM or other point of sales (POS) terminals.

The Airtel physical data recharge vouchers are available in all Airtel shops and retail outlets across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

Customers can also visit http://www.ng.airtel.com, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Airtel-Nigeria or http://www.twitter.com/airtelnigeria for more information.

Beijing, the Chinese capital city is considering allowing foreign tourists including Nigerians and other Africans a 72-hour window to explore the capital without a visa.

Fu Zhenghua, the city’s director of public security, has confirmed that authorities are mulling over the move, saying it would represent a crucial sign that Beijing is open to the world.

Lin Song at the public security bureau’s exit-entry administration echoed that view on Sunday. “It’s expected that the project will attract more tourists from abroad.”

Neither the bureau nor the Beijing Tourism Development Committee, which proposed the policy, would offer more details about the visa window when contacted.

However, experts said the policy is expected to be similar to ones already being run in Shanghai (48 hours) and South China’s Hainan province (21 days for tour groups).

“Shanghai and neighbouring cities, such as Hangzhou and Wuxi, have benefited greatly (since Shanghai introduced a visa waiver for transit passengers), as it means foreign tourists can travel during a 48-hour stay,” said Jiang Yiyi, director of the China Tourism Academy’s international tourism development institute.

“With so many foreign people transiting in Beijing, the visa waiver programme will allow many of them to tour around the ancient city.”

A tourism analyst, who did not want to be identified, told China Daily that Beijing officials had considered a project last year that would allow visitors to stay in the capital for seven days without a visa. However, the idea was shelved.

“The newly proposed waiver would be a giant step forward, as the visa policy plays a crucial role in the country’s inbound and outbound tourism development,” said Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy.

Although China has relatively tight visa restrictions, and has few visa exemption agreements with other countries, Dai said the country has gradually loosened its visa policy in recent years. He said many cities worldwide have come up with visa waiver projects to attract more tourists, including Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur.

“A tight visa policy will only wave goodbye to those potential visitors,” he said.

Li Xinjian, a professor of tourism at Beijing International Studies University, agreed and added that, as the number of Chinese tourists going abroad has soared in recent years, many countries, including the United States and Japan, have relaxed limits on visas to attract more tourists.

Foreigners travelling to China spent 4.7 billion yuan ($743 million) more than Chinese outbound tourists in 2008, he said. However, Chinese tourists spent 4 billion yuan more than them a year later, and the difference exceeded 24.1 billion yuan in 2011.

The proposed visa waiver for Beijing comes almost two weeks after the city’s public security bureau launched a 100-day crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Bureau director Fu said the campaign was to make sure each foreigner is aware of China’s exit-entry regulations while curbing crimes by visitors who overstay or abuse their welcome.

In response to complaints from some sections of the expatriate community about the policy, the police issued a statement last Friday saying that the crackdown has not changed the city’s friendly attitude toward foreigners.

On the same day, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei insisted that there is no “anti-foreigner trend” in China, adding that the country will welcome and protect the legitimate rights and interests of the foreigners coming to China.

Jiang said she believes there is little possibility that the visa waiver would result in an increase of illegal residents among foreign tourists.

What is more important, she said, is to stimulate China’s inbound tourism.

“It’s vital that cities come up with reforms to boost inbound tourism,” she said. “Other cities can learn from the experiences as well.”

Wei Xiang, a professor of tourism management at Beijing International Studies University, said besides the boost to the tourism industry, the visa project will step up China’s diplomacy and foreign trade with countries in the long run as well.

“The policy will bring more benefits than we can imagine,” he said.

“The scrutiny that the city is undergoing (the 100-day crackdown) will make sure there is better security and public order in the city,” Fu said.

Global tourism monitoring agency, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has welcomed the Declaration issued by the Tourism Ministers of the G20 economies (T20) calling for priority to be given to facilitating travel as a means to boost economic growth and create jobs.

“To ensure that tourism can play a key role in creating employment opportunities, both directly and indirectly through linkages to the local economy, raising national income, improving the balance of payments, and boosting economic growth, priority should be given to facilitating travel and tourism,” said the Declaration.

Preliminary research prepared by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that certain improvements to visa processes could create an additional 5 million jobs for the G20 economies by 2015 and generate an additional US$206 billion in international tourism receipts.

In light of the role of visa facilitation in supporting economic growth and job creation, and given the current economic climate, the Declaration encourages the G20 to leverage new technologies to make travel “more accessible, convenient, and more efficient without a diminution of national security.” It further proposes countries look into increasing cooperation on bilateral, regional, and international travel facilitation regimes.

“UNWTO applauds the commitment of the G20 Ministers of Tourism to visa facilitation,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, on the occasion of the 4th Meeting of the T20. “This Declaration is an extremely positive signal to the international community that we are moving ahead on this issue of vital importance to the tourism sector and the global economy.”

The Ministers of Tourism and Heads of Delegations of the G20 countries met with the President of Mexico and current G20 Chair, Felipe Calderón, as well as with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Patricia Espinosa (Mérida, Mexico, May 16, 2012). President Calderón congratulated the T20 on its focus on visa facilitation and assured the ministers he would take their message forward to the G20.

Russia, which holds the 2013 Presidency of the G20, will host the 5th T20 Ministers’ Meeting.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has officially commenced accepting entries into the 2012 edition of its innovative Culture Travel awards.

It would be recalled that the UNESCO Culture Travel Award was launched by the travel publication L’Agenzia di Viaggi during the first edition of the World Tourism Expo (WTE) of UNESCO Cities and Sites – last year in Assisi, Italy.

The award aims to identify and promote the cultural travel offer to the 936 UNESCO sites throughout the world (183 are natural, 725 cultural, and 28 mixed).

UNESCO cultural and natural heritage sites all over the world symbolize culture, travel, and human evolution.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has maintained that it encourages the identification, protection, and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world that are among the most emotional and important travel experiences of a lifetime.

According to the organization, for its awards regulations, only tour operators, travel agencies, hotels and hospitality, and public/private tourism organizations can apply for the UNESCO Culture Travel Award, and must submit a complete travel package, itinerary, or destination; tourism organizations and boards may submit special regional and national projects.

Entries for the 2012 UNESCO Culture Travel Award must be submitted by June 21 to redazione@lagenziadiviaggi.it. The travel package or itinerary must include: accommodation, meals, activities, information on the area (culture, nature, and population), and cost.

The Award Ceremony will be held in Assisi, Umbria, on September 22, this year at WTE, the first international travel fair where travel professionals meet with UNESCO sites countries in order to promote easy accessible travel to the World Heritage sites in compliance with sustainable travel criteria.

Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and the National Sports Commission (NSC) have reached an agreement geared towards uniquely promoting Nigeria’s image at the forthcoming Olympic Games in London.

Both agencies of government also agreed that the forthcoming Summer Olympic Games will provide the veritable platform and window of opportunity needed by them to showcase Nigeria positively in line with President Goodluck Jonathan’s transformation agenda.

The agreement between both agencies was reached when directors-general of both agencies met at the office of the NTDC, in Old Secretariat, Garki, in Abuja.

Welcoming the NSC chief, Dr. Patrick Ekeji to his office, Director-General of NTDC, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, revealed that preparations are in top gear as NTDC is already mobilizing one million supporters for Nigeria’s Olympics Team towards the forthcoming games further stressing that the corporation is currently giving out raffle tickets in this regard.

Runsewe further announced that NTDC is concluding arrangements with owners of a Nigerian restaurant in the United Kingdom to serve 36 + 1 Nigerian dishes each representing the different states of the federation and the Federal Capital just as he urged the NSC to partner with NTDC to achieve greater success.

He therefore called on stakeholders to bid for Nigeria’s right to host the games, saying the time is right as the country has the potential of hosting such games, adding that such venture will greatly benefit the Nigerian populace.

“The Olympics Games is another opportunity and Nigeria’s colours would be there, including a restaurant that will showcase different dishes from the 36 states of the federation, we have to work together to move the country image for the better,” Runsewe said.

Responding, Ekeji, who lauded Runsewe for his exceptional leadership skills at projecting Nigeria positively during the last World Cup in South Africa where Nigeria built an impressive tourism village, expressed NSC’s desire to work hand-in-hand with NTDC to showcase Nigeria’s tourism potentials during this year’s Olympic Games.

“It is only right and proper that NTDC and NSC should have a common ground to work together in order to present in UK the tourism potentials of our country through the avenue of sport which is the Olympic Games,” said Ekeji.

Continuing, the NSC head said: “I personally feel it will not be a complete team without the presence of NTDC, we will not want to go the Olympic Games without carrying NTDC along because, sports itself is about tourism and as we know, tourism today is big business and in fact all countries of the world that have realize the economic potentials of sports, tend to put sports and tourism together.”

“We cannot be going without your full support because what you did in South Africa really promoted our image, we look forward to partnering with you and with the vast experiences and contacts you have, we are sure the presence of Nigeria would be felt not just in the field but within every tourists that will attend the game,” he said.

The cities of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg have formally joined forces to simultaneously address the substantive global shift toward urban tourism and the pressures being felt by their respective visitor industries.

The three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the cities will result in joint marketing and development programmes,  aimed at establishing the urban dimension of South Africa’s visitor brand and generating demand specifically for each city.

The MOU covers the broad spectrum of tourism marketing and development and comprehends joint initiatives in both domestic and international markets.

“Resources are finite and in order to compete effectively, the three cities have agreed to pool assets and resources to meaningfully address the demand challenges in a post GFC world and altered visitor conditions,” said Phillip Sithole, CEO of Durban Tourism.

CEO of Cape Town Tourism, Mariette Du Toit-Helmbold added: “We intend to keep our brand and city distinctive propositions in all of our marketing efforts, but will co-operate to ensure maximum results are achieved through aggregated activity.”

“This has been most evident in the recent multi-media global media deal with National Geographic, where individually the cities would not have been able to secure such a vast program,  but collectively have been able to attract significant investment and cooperation from this global media company,” said Sithole. The National Geographic initiative realizes an investment of some R 28 to R30 million over three years by the city alliance and has generated a significant contribution of some R60 million by the media channel itself. The integrated campaign will reach over 70 million people via, print, internet and programming initiatives.

The third leg of the alliance is provided by Johannesburg with its well established business and investment brand and their expanding visitor industry. Acting CEO of Johannesburg Tourism Company, Phelisa Mangcu concluded:  “The only way to entice leisure and student visitors is to expand the knowledge of the experience palette offered by South Africa’s most populous urban centre. This can only be achieved in co-operation with the major brands of Durban and Cape Town.’

It is conservatively calculated that these three cities attract some 50% of all visitors to the country and over 35% of total spend. Furthermore, they have more than 54% of total visitor assets within their precincts and directly employ over 55% of the entire visitor industry workforce.

‘This MOU and the resulting collective initiatives will ensure a strong urban presence in South Africa’s brand proposition; resulting in increased visitation, jobs and economic contribution to the industry as a whole,” reiterated Sithole.

Whilst there a number of developmental programs within the destination marketing companies, the key focus has been in developing an international demand generation plan. This has been achieved and execution has commenced with the on-line component of the integrated strategy.

The three cities are currently planning their co-operative domestic campaign, which will be launched within the next few months.

Umbrella body of manufacturers in the country, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has concluded plans to lead a delegation of Nigerian companies on a Trade and Investment mission to New Delhi, the capital of India.

The trip which is scheduled for between June 3 and 8, this year, according to the association, is in furtherance of its mandate to seek new trade and business opportunities for its members and in pursuance of the increasing bilateral relations between Nigeria and India.

The major objectives of the mission are to provide business linkages and alliances between the Nigerian private sector and their Indian counterparts and to seek for trade and investment opportunities available in the Indian manufacturing sector.

During this visit, the delegation will have B2B sessions with the crème of the Indian business environment and also tour various requisite factories.

Some of the organizations on the delegation include Sharon Paints and Chemical Company Ltd, Kerlin Products Ltd, Epesok Paper Nigeria Ltd, Jimex Industries Nigeria Ltd, Eghiemai Industries Ltd, Chamax Pharmaceuticals Ltd, Afriq Products, Jacob Wines and First Bank of Nigeria Plc, a leading financial institution.

The Trade and Investment Mission is being organized in partnership with Merx Trade, a Lagos based Trade and Investment Facilitations Consulting firm and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI)

Following an unprecedented growth in Nigeria that has shot past the firm’s continent leader, South Africa, the makers of the smartphone have announced plans to formally open an office in Lagos, the Nigerian business capital.

Disclosing this at the recent BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Florida, the United States, Mr. Robert Bose, head of RIM for Central Europe, Middle East and Africa, said the proposed new office in Nigeria will seek to position the country as a specific target market.

Sales outside North America make up 70 per cent of total revenue, and regions making the biggest contribution to that chunk of income include South Africa, Indonesia, and Mexico.

BlackBerry is already the number one smartphone brand in Nigeria, but in a tiny smartphone market, which comprises less than 5 per cent of the phone market. And that is without having direct representation on the ground.

In most Western developed markers, all eyes would be on that smartphone chunk, both because it typically makes up half of the phone market in such territories, but also because it is a definitive marker of who leads the market.

The hidden factor behind BlackBerry’s success in Africa is one simple word: aspiration. It is the business phone that denotes having made it – even if you’re not in business. Strangely, the iPhone does not carry that cachet. It denotes someone with money, but it is also regarded as an expensive toy rather than a tool. In Nigeria, there is little aspiration for toys.

“The brand has gone viral in Nigeria, to the extent that a Nollywood movie was made about people trying to acquire a BlackBerry*,” says Bose. “We’re opening an office in Lagos in the next 60 days.”

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), too, has been core to success in markets where BlackBerry dominates smartphones. It is those markets where take-up of BBM is highest among BlackBerry users: 99 per cent in South Africa and 97 per cent in Nigeria.

And then there is affordability. In markets like South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria, BlackBerry’s secret weapon was the Curve 8520. It is the single most popular smartphone model – across all brands – in each of these countries.

“A lot of people expect that the only devices we would sell in Nigeria would be the 8520 or the cheapest phones,” says Waldi Wepener, RIM’s regional director for East, Central and West Africa. “But we sell as many at the high end.

“Because Nigeria is not a subsidised market, and operators don’t subsidise devices down to zero, the price of the device at the user level is very visible. And that doesn’t hold back the market.”

Counterfeit devices, which bedevil the sales of brands like Apple in particular, are not as great a problem for RIM. Again, it comes back to the aspirational nature of the market. “Nigerians want to feel they are holding the authentic product.”