• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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We are lifting people from poverty through empowerment – Chime’s aide

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What are the main objectives of your office and why is the present government interested in the development of SMEs? With regard to the question on the importance and essence of SME centre, this place was established in 2005, the idea then which remains the idea now was to provide a plat- form to build a structured small and medium enterprise sector in Enugu State. This came about because the state then realised that over 95 percent of businesses in Enugu belong to this industrial sector and therefore, if you are ever going to create wealth, strengthen the economy, create job, empower people, and also the primary function of government which is to provide security and enable people to express and seek happiness, there is no way we can do it without starting from the basic, and the basic is empowering those who constitute the micro small and medium enterprises that is in a nutshell the objective of the government.

Why is government showing so much interest in the development as well as securing loan for SMEs in the state? It goes back again to what I said is the primary purpose of establishing the SMEs here; the present government led by Governor Sullivan Chime had a 4-point agenda which was articulated when he came into office in the first term and also captured on re-shape, is now called Vision 2020. The idea of Vision 2020 is that the Enugu State aspired to be one of the four most industrialised states in Nigeria and economic hub of the South East and to achieve this; of course, there are a number of things and parameters to meet. One is industrial development, two is rural cottage industry establishment and also equipping those who actually constitute the core of the private sectors in Enugu State and those who constitute the core are the micro small and medium enterprises who account for over 99 percent of Jobs in Enugu State and of course even the wealth of the state outside allocation from Federal Government so the ideas is that if we are ever going to become the four most industrialised, we cannot talk about industrialisation without empowering those who create industries, who create private jobs, who create private wealth, who are the drivers of technology transfer- it is going to come from outside or from within-

so that is why the state is passion- ate and devoting resources. As you may be aware today we have over three billion naira (N3 billion) envelope which anybody resident in Enugu state regardless of his state of origin, regardless of religion or faith, regardless of political inclination or support can access and you can get this within a space of 2 to 10 weeks.
We heard you were called back from overseas to come and handle this office; what would you say is your achievement since you mounted the saddle? Well, I did not come back from overseas, I have always been around just because I have spent greater part of my work life over 22 years working for US government at the US commercial service in Nigeria. What we have achieved in the last 12 months we have been here, I will just capture it- one is this facility that you are in here, of course you know what it was before we came, we now have a facility or an office that can be compared to any office devoted to empowerment of business, facility that you can be proud of to say handle the kind of mandate that we are charged with, that is for this facility which is our platform. In terms of concrete achievements to date we have extended finance to over 1600 micro enter- prises in the state to the tune of over five hundred million (N500 m) and as we speak, that was our first tranche we are in the final stages of the second tranche which would address the small and medium category and we go to the tune of one billion naira (1 billion); we are hopeful that before the end of next month that would have been public information, the details I mean, so that is for fund- ing. Between March last year and today we have had several out- reach programmes.

In fact, in every local government in the state we have had outreach programmes with every religious organisation and with virtually every major stakeholder in the state or group, cooperative societies or any other group that is interested in creating jobs, creating wealth, empowering their people being part of the vision of the state. The state is not only building roads and other wonderful infrastructures but also deal with what makes roads admirable and also functional which is the human beings. We started by creating capacity because when I arrived here the first thing I realised was that most people thought that their problem was money, I say no, from my back- ground and experience I know money was not the issue, the issue was that people did not have capacity even if you had given most people that came to us initial N100 billion they would have wasted the money. So we started by building capacity, we partner with Enter- prise Centre Lagos Business School first to do the first market access in Enugu State, that was to announce our arrival and between then we had other seminars we did to build capacity. Last year October we introduced the first Enugu SME week which was very successful, CBN and all the other major banks participated, major stakeholders across the state and beyond and we have continued to follow that with daily counseling sections, visitations, and presentations; I do speaking engagements nearly every other day the idea is to build capacity. Now that we have built capacity we are focusing on giving money to those we have given capacity because now we have confidence that when we extend the money it would be used well and once we have done with this by March/April we are also going to go back to market access because when you give people capacity and we have given them money to produce goods and services we also want them to find the market and off takers otherwise we would not get back our money, those are the three major areas we are focusing and I think with the kind of sup- port we are getting from the state government, major stakeholders including your good self we can say it has been so far so good.

How many people have so far benefited from the loan? That is what I am saying, about 1600 persons or businesses have benefited and currently we are processing over five hundred which will come to the tune of between N800 and N1 billion and the first tranche was N500 million to the very micro entrepreneurs- micro are business that their total turnover is less than five million and who employ less than 10 persons and this people constitute nearly, if you find 10, may be, nine out of every business in Enugu come from this sector, that is why we started from them because when you go to our villages or our rural communities the people that
create what sustain you as a human being come from this industry base, whether you are looking at the food you eat, restaurants, the drinks, what you wear, what you use to build your houses, all kinds of things, most of them come from this industrial sector.
Has it any effect on employment? Yes, we have touched 1600 people, we are simply saying we have given 1600 people jobs plus at least one additional person because there is hardly any business that runs by itself and like I said, the micro enterprises employ on the average less than 10 persons and the annual revenue or turnover is about N5 mil- lion, the second category that we are now doing with are businesses that employ between 10 and up to 50 per- sons, with annual turnover of about 50 million naira(N50 million) then those with the small percentage, those who generate N500 million as their turnover this category we do not have many of them in Enugu state the likes of Innosons, Juhal and others; I mean we have very few of them, so the core of our economy depends on the micro small enterprises.

What are your challenges? The biggest challenge is helping people to make the necessary mental shift to understand that entrepreneurship is a process and not a project; it is not a one off thing. To work effectively and successfully as an entrepreneur you must reorganize that it is just like when you want to plant a seed, it has to take some time to germinate and grow fruits; there are necessary preparations to be made and follow up for you to have good harvest so that is the biggest challenge we had but we are making progress but a lot of people still think it is just bringing money and everything is done; others think that even building capacity is not important, many think I was once an entrepreneur that they do not need any other help or support and when they fail they think their failure comes from outside, that some other persons have witch-hunt them; those are the kind of challenges that we face and of course, our culture, the way we do things. It will surprise you to hear that 2/3rd of people who come to us do not have registered names and they have been in business for over 20 years, many even when you ask them to go and register their company also resist it; so we are dealing with that one, we are also dealing with financial management and documentation.