Hope rises for local businesses as MSMSE clinic kicks-off
The nation's business environment is fraught with various challenges. To proffer possible solutions, a three-day MSMSE was kicked-off in Ilorin yesterday with large turnout of participants. AHMED 'LATEEF was there.
For participants of a three-day on MSMSE clinic, which began at Banquet Hall of Government House of Ilorin yesterday, what to be expected from the ambience upon which they were ushered in, was predictable.
The sitting arrangement was unusual. It was arranged in clusters; a cluster for a business-type. From one cluster to the other apparently like makeshifts, officials of Federal Government Ministries, Departments, Agencies (MDAs) and Non-Governmental Organization addressed each of them.
In the forum akin to classroom session, agents of different MDAs fraternized with enthusiastic participants who listened with rapt attention as each agent took turns to sensitize them on what they are bereft of about the workings of the MDAs and the inevitable symbiotic relationship required with the agencies to effect turnaround in their businesses.
At each session were officials of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), NAFDAC, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Bank of Industry (BoI), Bank of Agriculture (BoA) and Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), who were busy moving from one seat to another engaging the participants on the new concept of doing business and ways out of the factors impeding business growth and development.
But beyond the atmosphere was the seriousness attached to each of the session, a pointer to the fact that Nigerian business community, particularly those in the informal sector are desirous in scouting for solutions to the problems confronting them in the course of carrying out their businesses.
No thank to the lingering economic downturn in the country, which appears to have dealt a severe blow on the businesses with manifest evidence in all sectors of the economy. As if the problem is far from being over, the daily volatility of foreign exchange (forex) has compounded the scenario.
The reason for this untoward development is traceable to the insatiable quest for foreign products and ceaseless importation of goods into the country. Beside the huge amount of money spent in importing the products, waiver and clearance and approvals from ports or relevant government agencies are part of the challenges believed to be slowing business operation.
Doing business under the highlighted problems is seen as antithetical to the economic prosperity if Nigeria is to restore her lost glory, particularly now that most of the businesses under Micro Small and Medium Enterprises are closing shops because of unfavourable climatic condition.
For long time now, the recession had inflicted wounds on the businesses while government had since thrown spanners in the works, scampering for quick solution.
It is against this premise that the office of the Vice President in collaboration with the Kwara State government yesterday flagged-off three day MSMSE clinic in Ilorin in the bid to find solution. In proffering antidote, the government is using its agencies as a precursor owing to their individual key role in business plan, growth and development.
Speaking at the programme, the acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, called for habitable condition for doing Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) to quicken economic growth and development, saying the SME was critical to economic recovery.
He said the government's intention was to focus on SME and its growth.
Represented by his Special Assistant on SME, Mr Tola Johnson, the Vice-President disclosed that the Federal Government deliberately drafted all its agencies to the MSMSE clinic for each to play own role in addressing the problem bedeviling the country business community.
He maintained that the forum would also provide a platform for members of various business groups to interact with the agencies on their problems and seek solutions.
Osinbajo attributed major problem facing businesses in the country to inability to access funding and assured that the government would do all it can to redress the anomaly.
The acting president also noted that some Nigerian business people were ignorant of the procedures needed to jump-start businesses, pointing out that, that could be responsible for why some of the businesses are still hanging.
Osinbajo, who informed that Kwara was among the states selected for the programme, commended the state government for providing access to capital and other incentives that could stimulate business growth in the state.
In his address, the state Governor, Dr Abdulfatah Ahmed, said the initiative showed the commitment of the Federal Government to reposition SME to further enhance the economic growth and reduce poverty in the country.
He urged the participants to see the MSMSE clinic as aimed at addressing the challenges facing business operations.
The Technical Assistant to the Governor on SME, Olusegun Soewu, whose office spearheaded the programme, said the initiative was to demonstrate the totality of the recognition of SME by the state government, pointing out that the clinic was essentially to deepen effort to support business owners.
He disclosed that the state government since 2012 had developed a platform to grow businesses of people in the informal sector with injection of N250million credit facility.
Soewu, who is also Chief Operating Officer, state SME Bureau, stated that the present administration in the state had committed over to N2billion to SME and urged business owners to leverage on the funding window of the government to grow their businesses.
"The rationale behind this programme is that small businesses have challenges. So, what the office of the Vice President had done is to direct all federal agencies concerned with business development like CAC, SMEDAN, ITF, BoI, BoA and the rest of them, to come together under one umbrella, sit down and listen to complaints from small business owners.
"Two things are there. They get immediate relief and some of the things they pick from here, will be part of what will be put into policy formulation SME development in the country", Soewu said.
The state Commissioner for Planning and Economic Development, Mr Wasiu Odewale, said the harbinger of the nation's problem was laziness and covetousness occasioned by the oil boom.
He explained that Nigeria has prospect to be a great nation when it predicated her source of income on ground-nut pyramid in the North, cocoa in the West and oil palm in the South, saying that the discovery of oil made us to relax.
Odewale called on the government to provide enabling environment to properly diversify the economy beyond what was being done presently and added that the current recession was an opportunity for the country to redirect its economy.
"Economic diversification has to do with creating an enabling environment in other areas of the economy where people can be engaged. We have abundant resources. For long in Nigeria, we have basically been looking at one source of income or revenue so to say, that is oil, and that has never been before. In 60s, we have ground-nut pyramid in the North, cocoa in the West and the oil palm in the East.
"But because of laziness and due to windfalls from the oil sector, we are now sleeping in Nigeria. Today, if you are talking about economic diversification, it is not just today, it is our laziness and our source of income that we are not working for that made us to relax. We are just exploiting the oil and getting dollars, that is why we have relaxed.
"And now, the recession has become an opportunity to look inward and be able to see what we are not doing right. So, economic diversification allows small industry to grow and allows the youth to know that they need to do one thing or the other apart from having the certificates from Universities. Engage yourself in one or two things. In America or London, being a graduate does not stop you from being a tailor, carpenter or painter.
"From now on, we are looking at the economic diversification to be seen as a mind of the man that wants to live by himself, stand by himself and see himself growing everyday. With this recession, it is clear to us that we need to redirect our focus on how to grow our economy", Odewale said.
Speaking on the MSMSE clinic initiative, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Artisans, Mr Oyedele Adetula, urged the federal government to inject funds into businesses in the informal sector to take the country out of recession.
He added that the only way to go was for the government to identify with artisans and other stakeholders in small scale businesses, saying that their contributions to business development cannot be over-emphasized.
Adetula said, "You can see that both chambers of the National Assembly have been trying to see how we could go out of this recession for over time. What we are doing now is to focus on artisan association and small scale business owners, that is the way we can really boost our economy.
"In trying to boost economy, we are going to put in some money for them to get their feet on the ground. It is not all about oil again, but what we are doing now is to meet all the groups that are really looking into smaller scale business. We can only pump money into the SMEs to get us out of the recession that we have now.
"This forum is a small clinic to talk to small business owners to ask them the kind of waivers or documentation they need. At least, it is better way to talk to them, know their problems and feel their pains, and let us see the Federal agencies and parastatals to assist them. It is like On-the Spot-Assessment, it has never been done in Kwara State before.
"In this programme, we have about 16 Federal agencies under one roof with the people that need them, to speak to them and listen to their challenges. With the programme of this nature, we believe it is kind of thing we could do to get us out of this recession we are in Nigeria".
In the same vein, the Senior Special Assistant on Youth Empowerment, Mr Saka Babatunde, called on the government to be pragmatic on economic diversification beyond what he referred to as rhetorics".
Babatunde, who lauded the MSMSE clinic programme, said with it, it was time for the country to explore potential opportunities abound in the country, just as he added that over-dependence on mono-economy aggravated the challenges facing Nigeria.
"The need for Nigeria to diversify its economy is no longer in doubt. As we have all seen, the recession period we are going through requires us to think outside the box. For that, more so, considering the fact that the oil that we have all lived on for close to 40 years now is almost drying up. In the event that it has not dried up, it is clear to us that several countries and buyers that used to use this oil are already moving ahead, doing something else and using alternatives.
"So, it means we have got to look around us and look at alternative means of livelihood for the nation. I will not be saying too much if I say that naturally we are endowed in the area of agriculture, mines and solid minerals. In the area of human capital development, we have so much in abundance. And of course, for Federal Government to have thought there is need for this diversification, its a right step in the right direction.
"On economic diversification, it is high time we do something concretely beyond rhetorics. The essence of the last week programme I had, is to ensure that hundreds and thousands of graduates leaving institutions of learning, who are being heralded into entrepreneurship with nothing to work with, are sensitized.
"Most of them are even doing something they don't know about entrepreneurship. Several people have never practiced a business worth N10,000, yet you want them to go in there and be successful. What have you put in place as government to ensure that this latches on. Because, as young people, I strongly feel, they need to understand the funding windows available, how to access funds, register businesses and how can they receive trainings. That is why as a state, we are already at the verge of coming up with what we called "Learning Management Solution" on Entrepreneurship. This is a strategic attempt, aimed at putting a solution in place for people to have access.
"The way we want to run it is to develop e-learning solution that people can freely have access to. The moment you have internet on your phone, you can easily go to that site, train yourself on entrepreneurship. We can even escalate to it to writing certification and ensuring you have certificate to support your business plan you are forwarding to a banking institution.
"I want to advice the Nigerian government to move beyond the rhetorics. We need to be pragmatic, strategic and we really need to move. We need to make funds available and we really need to come up with a very strong Monitoring and Evaluation to ensure that we are moving from where we are", the SSA Youth Empowerment opined.
Also speaking, the Executive Chairman, Kwara State Internal Revenue Service, Dr Muritala Awodun, canvassed the need to empower each tier of government to explore resources within its domain without undue interference.
Awodun, who observed that Nigeria missed its route on economic journey, called for systemic approach to address the problem facing the nation's economy.
He also advocated a conducive environment for business to thrive, saying that it was only way the country could get the problems afflicting it solved.
"We are yet to systemize process of diversification. I think each of the local government and state needs to be empowered to be able to take responsibility for the resources that are available in their various domains so that there can be more active diversification of resources that are deposited in various parts of this country.
"As a nation, we have missed it. Like somebody who is going to Lagos from here and decided to face Share (a town in Kwara). He will have to come back to Ilorin to begin the journey to Lagos, and that is where Nigeria is. We have actually missed our route and we need to trace our steps back and start the journey appropriately.
"This session is a step in the right direction. But beyond the session, there should be a systemized way of ensuring that we support small and medium enterprises, we support start-ups and we back and follow them up to the point of maturity. Because you will discover that even those who ventured to start businesses, after an average of five years, most of those businesses, are dead.
"The same people, who had started businesses will be looking for jobs, because the environment does not encourage or support start-ups. So, we have to create that conducive environment that will encourage and support start-ups, and see them grow to maturity. If you start a business and its doing well, you wouldn't probably want to dump it for something else but if its not doing well, you begin to look somewhere else, where you can actually make income. And it is the economy that is actually killing those businesses, because the environment is not conducive", Awodun said.
In his contribution, the Chairman, Transitional Implementation Committee of Ilorin West Local Government Area, Mr Abdulhameed Oladipupo Ali, said Kwara was very lucky to have the administration that takes welfare of the people as most paramount.
He stated that it was the responsibility of every sector of government to synergize on the way forward on the problems confronting the nation's economy.
Ali disclosed that he would use the opportunity provided by the forum to go round and see how he could help business owners in his council to enhance productivity and boost their income.