Prince Saviour Iche is the National President Association of Micro Entrepreneurs of Nigeria (AMEN). In this interview with FAVOUR OGBONNA, he urged the government to establish a Ministry of Small Business to oversee the affairs of small and medium enterprises and make forex available to importers of raw material. Excerpts:
As the President of AMEN, how do you see the future of micro entrepreneurs in Nigeria?
If nothing urgent is done, there may be no future for local manufacturers because most of the things we use for production are imported and the importers of those materials are not finding it easy to access foreign exchange (forex) in order to import.
Even when they manage to access dollar and bring in the raw materials, the import duties the government takes from them contribute to the high cost of buying the raw materials. The government should as a matter of urgency give forex at a reduced rate to importers of raw materials. If the federal government can release forex to those going to holy land, which no one forced them to at a lower rate, why can’t the government as well bring down the rate of dollar to those importers bringing in raw materials for the growth and development of the economy.
How are your members coping with the economy presently?
As the head of my own section in Nigeria, I always get feedback from my members, I get daily report from them. Now, I must say that my members are not finding it funny. The chemicals they were buying for N100, 000 are now N380, 000 and we are talking of one product here. All the chemicals we are using have been increased and the capital we are using to run our business is diminishing. If we are 600 members before, it is on record now that about 230 members have closed down their factories and most of them employed up to 25 staff and as they are closing down, these number of workers are been pushed back to the labour market and that is not good for the Nigerian economy. Most of us that are still remaining business is living by God’s grace, as I speak the situation are getting worse on daily basis.
What is the relationship between your association and the Nigerian banks presently?
The relationship is still the same, what they are after is just for us to open account with them with the promise that they will give loans. The unfortunate thing is that at the end of the day no loan would be given. As we speak most of us have ended up opening accounts with virtually all the banks without getting any form of loan facility because none of my members can meet up with the conditions the banks are giving for the loans.
Example of the conditions is Certificate of Occupancy, it is very sad that the Nigerian government, the Ministry of Trade and Investment have not come out to tell us the truth, because as it is now they are classifying everyone as micro entrepreneur. But if you look at the template used to qualified micro entrepreneur, it states from 1-50 staff but we are been placed under the same category with Dangote, Cadbury and others, we want them to come out and make a clear demarcation between us and the big companies because if the banks are giving us the same condition they give to Dangote and the likes, they can meet up with the bank’s conditions because they have Certificate of Occupancy and can even use their names to get the loans but we the micro producers do not. When the names of bank debtors were published, no micro entrepreneur’s name was in the list. The government should as a matter of urgency establish the Ministry of Small Business to oversee the affairs of small businesses in Nigeria and a small business bank because the Microfinance Banks (MfBs) have failed, they are business men and women out to make their monies. If you are not buoyant enough, you cannot borrow from them and repay. So, our relationship with the banks is still not cordial because of all the factors I listed.
To those of you still in business, how acceptable are your products in the Nigerian market?
To be honest with you, our products are doing well in the Nigerian markets. There is no day I don’t receive call from the end users acknowledging the efficacy of the products. We are not only doing well in Nigeria, we are doing well in some West African countries. In fact, Nigerians doesn’t know what they have. In a time like this, government that knows what they are doing, knowing that other sectors have failed should empower local producers, as we speak; I have supply going to Liberia. Nigeria is a central market were people from Niger, Ghana, Sierra Lone and Liberia. It is a known fact that our products are not only doing well in Nigeria, it is doing well in West African countries.
What message do you have for the present government?
As the president of AMEN, I want to categorically say that none of my members have gotten access to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Fund for Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). I interact with other sister associations on this and the experience is the same. The money is really there in the bank but the problem is that ghost entrepreneurs are the ones accessing the fund. I laughed when the government said they want to recapitalize the Bank of Industry (BoI), during the last administration, the bank was recapitalized and now this administration want to recapitalize the bank again. My question is who they are giving the loans. If the monies they claim they are giving out are reaching the right people, it would have positive impact in the nation’s economy. BoI should be probed, let them state the people they gave loans to with their addresses, we are ready to take it up from them.
So, the advice I have for the president and his team is to look the way of micro entrepreneurs because we believe in action. When I met with the minister of trade march last year, we gave them idea on what to do and had it been they listened to our contributions, the will not be in the sorry state we are now. The only sector that creates employment is been neglected and that is why the unemployment rate is on increase daily. Nigerian government is sitting on a time bomb; the time bomb I mean is the issue unemployment which is on the high increase. The youths both male and female are now living on betting, yahoo yahoo. The implication is that the nation is grooming future gamblers and future consumers which are not good for any economy.
That is why when MMM came into Nigeria everybody; mostly the youths went into it. The N5, 000 promised by this administration to pay the youths is another fraud in disguise. In Ijegun, a remote area, the unemployed youths there are more than the number the government said they want to employ nationwide and it is laughable. Why are they selecting states for the N5, 000?
The present state of the nation’s economy calls for a great concern for all, the micro entrepreneurs which is the bed rock of any economy have been neglected, they are surviving on their own their and that is not good for the Nigerian economy.