Akwa Ibom businesses yet to benefit from BOI funding despite needs – UYOCCIMA president
NSEYEN EBONG is the president of Uyo Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (UYOCCIMA) and has previously served as a two-term Rector of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria. In this interview with ANIEFIOK UDONQUAK, he gives an insight into the challenges businesses in the state are facing and proffers solutions.
How is the business environment in Akwa Ibom encouraging the growth of small and medium scale enterprises?
When we talk of the business environment, one of the critical factors is the availability of electricity. What business are you going to do that you won’t need electricity? I was a student of the World Maritime University in Sweden, sponsored by the United Nations, for two years. From the day I arrived to the day I left, I did not see the light go off for one second. Maybe it happened one day while I was asleep, but before I woke up, the light was restored but during all the time of my awakening hours, I never saw a flicker.
So I used to ask, “what technology is being used to generate electricity and ensure constant power supply while ours is epileptic.” I was thinking that it would be possible to have 24 hours of power supply because initially, we had more than 18 hours in the part of the town where I live. As the President of Uyo Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, (UYOCCIMA) I cannot tell you that I am happy with the power supply situation in Uyo, not even the entire state, I am not happy, let me say it, this is one of the critical factors that affect businesses. What business are you going to do that you don’t need to have electricity?
I believe that if the electricity distribution company cannot give us constant power, they should go away. If Ibom Power can give Akwa Ibom constant power, we should find ways to let them supply us with power because I cannot see how Ibom power can be generating enough power to power the state and yet we don’t have electricity. They say when you generate power, you have to put it into the national grid, this is like going into a black hole. You won’t see it again. They say there are laws that make it impossible for states to generate and distribute power, these are archaic laws and over the years, the laws have not been changed.
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Do you think state governments should be allowed by law to generate and distribute electricity to address the current challenges in the sector?
The Federal Government should overhaul the law that requires states to generate electricity and put it into the national grid. Rather, states should be allowed to generate electricity to power their economy, you will see that within two years, all the states of the federation will witness improvement in public power supply. If for instance, the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) cannot provide us with constant power supply, they should be asked to leave. We have Ibom power, let Ibom power generate the power and let the power reside in Akwa Ibom State. A law that says that states should generate electricity and should put it in the national grid and that electricity disappears, that is an archaic law.
They usually refer to Akwa Ibom as a civil service state, but at the end of the month when they pay our people, where do they end up? In Onitsha market, in Ariaria market
What about access to credit facilities for small businesses?
The next thing is finance, the state government should partner with UYOCCIMA to make loans available to genuine business people in the state. When I heard that the state government went and distributed N2 billion to farmers, I didn’t subscribe to that, who do you know is a farmer? The late Air Vice Marshal Nsikak Eduok was a member of UYOCCIMA, he had a large farm, he had a palm oil mill and he told us the day we visited his farm that the palm fruits produced in Akwa Ibom State were insufficient to feed his mill, so he had to be sending pick up vans to neighbouring states to buy palm fruits. Can you imagine that Akwa Ibom is native to oil palm production. Even somebody dedicating himself or herself to growing palm fruits as a business would generate enough income.
Has UYOCCIMA reached out to financial institutions to assist in supporting your members?
We reached out to the Bank of Industry when we saw on TV that many people from other parts of the country benefit from the bank’s services. I have never seen an Akwa Ibom business being supported by the Bank of Industry. When they came here, I asked them, “what makes it difficult for you to establish an office in Akwa Ibom?” What they told us was that they had asked the state government since two administrations ago, to partner with them by way of counterpart funding to act as guarantor’s fund and the state government asked them to wait.
From the federation accounts allocation, for many years, Akwa Ibom has been the recipient of the highest allocation from the federation account. A counterpart funding of N2 billion from the state government to support the funding of businesses has been where we left discussions with BOI. UYOCCIMA does not have N2 billion, otherwise we could have provided it, knowing that Akwa Ibom businesses could have gone there to collect N10 million, N50 million to expand their businesses.
Our people are not looking for not very big money to grow their businesses. So where do our people get the money from? These are the two critical issues that militate against the private sector in Akwa Ibom and the growth of business in the state. They usually refer to Akwa Ibom as a civil service state, but at the end of the month when they pay our people, where do they end up? In Onitsha market, in Ariaria market. If you want to wed, where do you go? You go to Ariaria, that is where you get all the souvenirs. All the money we collect ends up in Aba and Onitsha. So the money that comes in, goes out immediately, you have what is called capital flight. That is why we are saying that if Akwa Ibom people also open and own their businesses, other people will be patronising us and the money stays with our people but as it stands now, the money goes out.
How would you assess the performance of the state government in promoting businesses?
I would like to appreciate Governor Udom Emmanuel for his vision over the Ibom Airline. The services are good and they are timely. Their services are excellent, they even have a booking office in Uyo, the state capital. You go in and book your flight easily, it is smooth and easy. This is how I expect every business in Akwa Ibom to be run. Now if we were still going to Calabar to board a flight, we would be spending hours on the road because of the deplorable condition of the Calabar-Itu federal highway. How would you be catching your flight? I single out Ibom Air to commend the governor because I have seen it with my own eyes.