In a chat with our reporter on the one-year anniversary of the National Enterprise Development Programme (NEDEP), the Director-General of the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (SMEDAN) Alhaji Bature Umar Masari, spoke on the potential of NEDEP to bridge the unemployment gap in Nigeria. Masari disclosed NEDEP is striving to ensure that SMEs produce more goods and the goods are patronised by Nigerians
Last year, the Senate commended you on judicious spending of the SMEDAN capital vote. How did you achieve such a feat in your first year in office, given Nigeria’s peculiar experience in passing the budget late?
Our ability to perform very well which attracted the commendation of the Senate committee on Investment was born out of the fact that the federal government began to realise and appreciate the importance of the agency in creating employment opportunities all over Nigeria and helping immensely with poverty reduction. This was when the government decided that the agency should receive enough support and backing financially to be able to implement its programmes for the benefit of Nigerians.
So far so good. We did very well in 2013 and are set to surpass that feat on utilising our 2014 capital budget allocation. We are getting the support of everybody related to the functions of our agency. We will continue to reach out to all those that matter and ensure that we continue to receive the support and backing of the government.
You once promised the National Enterprise Development Programme would generate five million jobs by 2015. To what extent has that promise been implemented?
The implementation has gone very deep. We have made sure that every state in Nigeria has a structure that is implementing the NEDEP programme. Millions of Nigerians are keying into the areas of enterprise development and promotion.
We have been guiding them into forming cooperative bodies developing bankable business plans, which we normally take over after they have been properly developed and hand over to the Bank of Industry (BOI), which has equally started disbursing funds.
The businesses developed are along the value chain lines of products identified in every local government area in the country as part of our ‘one local government, one product initiative’ (OLOP).
We have formed and registered 31,834 cooperatives societies across the country and have prepared and forwarded 3,645 business plans to the BOI for financing.
BOI, on our last check, has disbursed N8 billion to NEDEP beneficiaries. This has translated into the creation of 164,025 direct and indirect jobs. It is all these processes that have led to the creation of almost 1.4 million new jobs across the country.
Rising from your management retreat last year, you issued a communiqué calling for vital changes that would allow for the growth and development of small and medium enterprises in Nigeria. Have such changes been effected?
Between that period and now, there has been a clear departure from the erstwhile attitude displayed by mainly commercial banks in SME funding all over the country. Now, more and more commercial banks are appreciating the need for them to improve funding to the SMEs.
The problems are not that of the government alone, therefore, those who are responsible for job creation and generation of wealth through economic activities must be seen to be doing what they ought to be doing in supporting government by way of providing funding for enterprise creation. This has the potential to create the jobs we are yearning for.
Financial institutions like First Bank, Fidelity, Stanbic IBTC, Diamond Bank and First City Monument Bank (FCMB) are showing good interest in boosting their SMEs funding. We are deep in dialogue with most of these banks with a view to making sure they appreciate the need to improve funding to SMEs.
The government is equally encouraging development banks like the BOI and Bank of Agriculture to redouble their efforts in the funding of SMEs in the country.
How would you describe the cooperation from state and local governments in the execution of the various initiatives of the federal government and SMEDAN in the area of enterprise creation?
The greatest inspiration we are getting is mainly from the federal government and a few state governments. Before the commencement of the NEDEP programme, we wrote to every state governor in Nigeria, but to my dismay only a few of them responded.
We are not requesting money from any state government. We only asked that they key into the NEDEP programme because it has the potential to transform this country. What we wanted is their collaboration so that we can implement the programme with their own inputs. They will help in identifying indigenes of their states who we will assist to take advantage of the NEDEP programme.
Only Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Bayelsa, Osun , Ondo, Kano and a few others have responded to our request. But we will not relent in our efforts to reach out to the states so that we can partner properly for the implementation of the programme.
We have facilitated the composition and registration of 12 MSME councils in 12 states of the federation. They are to oversee the full implementation of the NEDEP programme.
One of the complaints by some of the SMEs is access to markets. How does SMEDAN assist them in this regard to help sustain the chain that allows these SMEs remain in production?
In conceiving the NEDEP programme, we did not ignore any area. We were mindful that in as much as the government is ready to encourage enterprise development, we should equally focus our attention on identifying markets for products that will be produced in Nigeria.
We have many market access programmes lined up for the benefit of the SMEs. We have developed mechanisms to ensure linkages between micro, small and medium enterprises and that will enable them key into the markets of large enterprises.
The idea is to ensure that whatever is produced in Nigeria that has markets in Nigeria is sold here. We are also exploring markets for products that don’t have markets in Nigeria. We are looking at the West African sub-region and Africa generally, especially now that talk about intra-Africa trade is gaining momentum.
At the ‘Made in Aba” fair in Abuja last year, you promised that regional trade hubs would get a similar opportunity to be showcased in Abuja. Are we still expecting to see that this year?
What we will see this year is a continuation of what happened last year. Senator Abaribe, with whom we collaborated last year, is introducing another programme this year that would be a follow-up to last year’s.
Generally, we will be venturing to ensure the patronage of Made in Nigeria products and not only those made in Aba. To lead by example, we are pushing to ensure that a certain percentage of what government would be procuring is earmarked and allocated to products that are made in Nigeria. This is one of the measures to ensure that production in Nigeria is encouraged.
What are the tangibles that SMEDAN drew from the just concluded World Economic Forum for Africa (WEFA) which recently ended in Abuja?
In our desire to ensure that we improve funding to SMEs in the country, we are looking even beyond the shores of Nigeria.
During WEFA, we came into contact with the China Development Bank, which was part of the strong Chinese delegation that attended the forum. We are already in contact with the bank to ensure that we take advantage of the SMEs funding that they have.
So many other African countries have already keyed – countries like South Africa, Zambia, Ghana, Egypt and Ethiopia. We have been lagging behind but now that we know about that funding window, we would take advantage of it
The funding is done not directly to government agencies. We would identify platform lenders in Nigeria who would get these funds and thereafter lend to the SMEs. We would identify the SMEs and recommend them to the platform lender in the country with whom we would go into collaboration with the China Development Bank. We can approach the China bank with as many platform lenders as possible. The money they give to an individual platform lender is so huge that when we get it, it would go a long way in improving SMEs funding in the country.
The rate would be very competitive and it is much lower than what the commercial banks are asking for in the country. As part of our negotiations, we will structure everything in such a way that will favour the Nigerian SMEs.
As SMEDAN continues to offer its services to Nigerians through active collaboration with other stakeholders, we hope that more and more Nigerians would avail themselves of the multiple opportunities of self-empowerment through innovative enterprises development with which we can combat poverty and unemployment and their attendant effects on pervasive insecurity.
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