When Prince Dapo Abiodun took over the mantle of leadership as the Executive Governor of Ogun State on May 29, 2019, many economic experts had predicted that going by his rich resume as a successful industrialist Ogun State was in for an upward curve in industrialization all things working together.
After all, he is a proven captain of industry with verifiable results. He understands the terrain, the challenges that threatens the survival of industries and should be well-loaded with likely solutions to the problems. Meaning; he would understand how to woo investors, create enabling environment and help them survive in the State. And to cap it all many of these captains of industries are his friends.
But the major fear of some was the likely lopsided interest which may be given to the big industries to the detriment of the small businesses. In fact, it is believed that identifying the problem in many developing economies has not been the challenge but taking the right steps to nip it in the bud. The global view is that the micro economy is the foundation on which any macro economy rests as it is seen in developed economies such as the United States, China, Germany, India and other Asian Tiger nations.
Despite this, it is still a source of consternation that the micro economy has either been given little or no attention; a situation that has been given credence by the level of unemployment and under-employment. This is because the micro and small businesses are known as a major employer of labour relieving the government of the pressure of employing more youths as it is even clearer that the government alone cannot solely provide employment opportunities.
In Ogun State one year after the Prince Dapo Abiodun-led administration came into power those who have fears that big businesses will thrive to the detriment of small ones will have to do a rethink due to the present government efforts at protecting and helping small businesses thrive.
Realising the fact that having genuine interests at boosting the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) sector is not enough, giving it the proper legal foundation is much more important; an indication that the present administration holds the rule of law in high esteem, the government set the foundation through the signing of an executive order. Obedience to the rule of law and enforcement of contracts is one factor that determines whether or not investors would be willing to commit their resources into any investment opportunity.
It’s typical of any investor to ensure that money invested does not go down the drain. It is also a criterion on the World Bank sub-national Index on the Ease of Doing Business. To ensure its imprints are indelible and guarantee continuity beyond the life span of the administration, the government developed a legal framework that led to the establishment of the Ogun State Enterprise Development Agency through the executive order.
The Agency is saddled with the responsibility of providing Business Advisory services to enterprises in the State, facilitating mentorships and capacity building programs for entrepreneurs to develop as well as engaging in policy advocacy with relevant institutions on behalf of MSMEs
The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment then known as the Ministry of Commerce and Industry identified the problem that has deterred entrepreneurial drive among many youths with the aim of addressing it.
Ideas they say rule the world. May be not necessarily so, because ideas need to be properly articulated in an irresistible manner for investors to invest. Many of our youths are loaded with ideas. But in the business world, ideas are not enough. Ideas are untested facts which may not be convincing for investors to part with their cash. That is why the Ministry embarked on different capacity building programs.
Part of the result is that over 300 entrepreneurs were tutored on how to write convincing business plans and how to access loans with the aim of enhancing their competitiveness.
The first capacity building training which held in September 2019 had 159 start-ups and existing entrepreneurs who were trained and issued certificates of participation in collaboration with the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN).
Another set of 150 women entrepreneurs were also trained in partnership with the First City Monument Bank under its “SheVentures” program. In the coming months the Ministry also plans to train another set of 200 entrepreneurs for a private sector sponsored 5-day training.
What the Prince Dapo Abiodun led administration has done for small businesses has not been about capacity building programs alone. The government has taken it further by organizing the Ogun State MSMEs Business Clinic across the three Senatorial Districts in the months of October and November 2019.
Over 5,000 participants benefitted. Within three days 553 businesses were registered on the spot by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) helping the businesses become formal. At that event 2,037 new business accounts were opened, about N40 million naira was disbursed as loans at interest rate as low as 3 percent per annum while there were 4,355 new members of Business Member Organisations such as the NASE, Nigerian Association of Small Scale Industrialists (NASSI), Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME), Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria (ASBON) etc.
The State government has also shown deep interest in trading activities. The uncommon interest in the growth of trading activities was underscored by its determination to ensure that trading activities take place in an environment befitting for such commercial ventures. Part of this interest was well underscored by the compensation paid to traders at the Olabisi Onabanjo International market, Ita-Osu, Ijebu-Ode who lost goods worth millions of naira in an early morning inferno. In less than 12 days the stories on the lips of the victims changed for good due to the urgent attention given to their plight by the Prince Dapo Abiodun-led administration.
The government is also not oblivious of the fact that small businesses are not just concentrated in urban areas. There is a large concentration of small businesses usually retail in nature many of whom had been neglected in the past years by past administrations. The policy of the Prince Dapo Abiodun-led government to “Building our Future Together” Agenda means businesses domiciled in rural settings even when they are retail cannot be neglected.
This led to the empowerment of 500 rural women across the State to support their retail business. The Ministry partnered members of the private sector, manufacturers and small business lenders to link the rural women with major distributors of companies for better profit margins.
Small businesses can only grow and increase when the young are shown the advantages in starting small and growing big. It was the need for this new culture that led to the initiation of factory tour for secondary school students in Ogun State. The first factory tour to Rite Foods Limited, Osoosa in Odogbolu Local Government Area of the State where the Managing Director of the company who also doubles as the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) Ogun State chapter President, Mr. Seleem Adegunwa enlightened the participants was an eye-opener and a stimulating experience for the students on entrepreneurship. The Ministry has assured that more students would enjoy this privilege once the pandemic is over.
It is the combination of these efforts that no doubt led to the recognition of Governor Dapo Abiodun as the ‘SME Most Supportive Governor of the Year 2019 ’ by the Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria (ASBON) and the Ministry emerging the ‘SME Most Supportive State Ministry of Year 2019 ’.
As expected, the government has also given the big organizations the needed attention. In development matters dialogue is an important strategy that cannot be relegated. It is the crux on which any meaningful development rests. That is why the Prince Dapo Abiodun-led government in its business “unusual” approach went to captain of industries with open arms assuring them of its support. The first Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) meeting with Governor Abiodun held at the Park Inn Resort, Abeokuta had in attendance 139 CEOs cutting across various sectors of the economy; a testament to the confidence the private sector has in the current administration. The dialogue is to ensure that monologue approach of communication fully becomes a thing of the past as those captains of industries outpoured their challenges, expectations and gave their support to the present administration. The meeting holds bi-annually.
It is also in the same vein that the Ministry now holds quarterly stakeholders’ meeting to discuss and proffer solutions to various issues that can impact negatively on business in the State thereby ensuring a two-way feedback.
The outcome of the meetings led to the need for harmonization of State taxes and levies; a task executed in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance which is already at an advanced stage and when concluded would mutually help tax payers and the government. The government has also assured investors of infrastructural projects which would help enhance enabling environment for business to thrive.
And to demonstrate its willingness to do this the government has commenced Ijebu-Ode-Epe Express way through Public Private Partnership (PPP) and already assured industries concentrated around the Agbara axis and other industries in the State of provision of good road network and other infrastructure through its PPP arrangement. Going by the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic which has threatened global economy the PPP arrangement is likely going to be a strategy that would ensure results of infrastructural projects are achieved despite these difficult times.
Also, to improve the State’s rating on the Ease of Doing Business Ranking the Ease of Doing Business Committee has evolved into the Business Environment Council while the Word Bank Ogun State EconomicTransformation Project (OGSTEP) which is a $250M credit facility project focused on improving the Ease of Doing Business through the development of the agriculture value chain, development of skills among businesses and strengthening the business environment in the State thereby creating more opportunities for Public-Private-Partnership.
Those who have been waiting to see the results of the efforts of this present administration in the area of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) attracted into the State will not need to wait for too long as right after the COVID-19 subsides, two major multinationals worth millions of dollars are set to be commissioned by the Governor.
The investment which is facilitated by one of the government agencies created by the Abiodun-led government, the Ogun State Investment Promotion and Facilitation Agency (OGUNINVEST) has brought about the establishment of the two multi-national companies which include; a nine billion naira fertilizer blending plant and an $8 million animal feeds manufacturing company.
One of the companies a Moroccan based Multinational has a production capacity of over 600,000 metric tonnes while the Animal Feeds company established by investors from Netherlands has a production capacity of 100 tonnes per day and 1.2 million tonnes per annum. More investments cannot be discussed in the public sphere out of the need to respect the rights of the investors.
It would be clearer to doubting Thomases when hundreds of employed youths become gainfully employed directly and indirectly. The Governor and his team which included the Commissioner for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mrs. Kikelomo Longe and the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Industry, Trade and Investment, Ms. Sola Arobieke wooed potential investors at the United Kingdom Economic Summit in January, 2020 and returned with a high level of optimism.
Inclusiveness and partnerships that work, are some of the driving principles of the present administration as shown by the decision of the government to relate with other South Western States through the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission to ensure rapid economic growth of the region. The State under the leadership of Prince Dapo Abiodun is also relating with Lagos State better to foster mutually beneficial economic growth between the two States.
Solid minerals sector has also not been left out. The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment through its Geological Services department has continued to carry out enforcement exercise to curb illegal mining , working in partnership with the Ministry of Environment to protect the environment from degradation as a result of mining activities. The Ministry’s efforts in the sector led to the registration of 35 new small scale miners thereby encouraging more local miners but ensuring that they carry out their activities under strict monitoring. It is this effort that also led to the discovery of Geothite and Garnet, two new solid minerals.
While the National Bureau of Statistics has consistently through its records acknowledged the State’s contribution, the Ministry is already working at ensuring the State optimally derive benefits of being the largest contributor of solid minerals mined in the country.
As the facts are laid bare pointing to one direction; a direction that shows the first one year of Prince Dapo Abiodun-led administration as a friendly administration to both small and big businesses the future can only get better for businesses irrespective of size or financial power.
Olawale Osunbiyi, writes-in from Kobape Road, Abeokuta. [email protected] 07037238254