Bature Umar Masari is the director-general of Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN). In this interview with PEMBI DAVID-STEPHEN, he talks about the activities of the agency, its achievements and challenges, saying SMEDAN’s major challenge remains the issue of inadequate funding.
What is the mandate of SMEDAN?
Over the years, since 2003 when the agency was established, it has been doing a lot in the area of enterprise creation and development, and identifying Nigerians who are interested in entrepreneurship creation and development; and providing training in entrepreneurship and vocational skills, so that Nigerians can be equipped to go into entrepreneurship creation and development. There are a lot of activities going on in the agency nationwide, and we have been able to ensure decentralisation of the activities of the agency in all the states of the federation, with offices in the six geo-political zones in the country. We did this so that our personnel can operate closely with their populace in the rural areas, who mostly need our intervention. We have equally increased the tempo of our activities in the area of entrepreneurship creation and vocational skills acquisition, especially with the introduction of National Enterprise Development Programme (NEDP). It’s an idea initiated by our minister, Dr. Olusegun Aganga, to ensure a holistic development of MSMEs in the country.
It is a programme that is tailored along the potentialities of individual local government area in Nigeria. Before we commenced the implementation of the programme, we undertook the survey of the 774 local governments in the country to identify their areas of intervention. We have been to every local government in Nigeria where we were able to identify areas of advantages that every local government area has over and above other local governments. So far, we have been to engineer the formation of over 60, 000 cooperatives across the country. And we have been able to guide and mentor millions of Nigerians who have enterprise ideas.
In a nutshell, I can tell you categorically that the role SMEDAN is playing in Nigeria currently is very important. It is so important that it can no longer be neglected. The earlier the federal government sits up to its responsibility in ensuring that MSMEs are properly supported for them to be able to go and develop in the country, the better for our economy and the nation as a whole. MSMEs development is tantamount to poverty alleviation and economic advancement of every nation. And they also contribute immensely in the area of employment generation. All over the world MSMEs account for growth, 80 per cent of all employment opportunities, even in developed countries. In Nigeria, the contribution of MSMEs to employment opportunities is about 70 per cent. So we intend to maintain that figure and keeping growth higher, so that the level of unemployment can be properly addressed and the level of poverty can equally reduce. When there is employment for the teeming populace, definitely the level of poverty will go down; even the criminal activities we have in the country will equally go down, since such activities are usually associated with poverty and unemployment, not only in Nigeria, but all over the world.
You made mention of people that actually need the financial intervention of SMEDAN. How do you reconcile this with the insinuation that most people that get the funds are not the actual people that need such funds?
Honestly, we are very careful in the selection of Nigerians who want to go into entrepreneurship creation and development. And the fact that the funds are not being distributed by government agencies is another indication that definitely there has to be fairness, that whoever is selected is someone who is an entrepreneur and someone who really needs the intervention and support of the government. And like I told you, our attention is mostly focused on the rural areas of country, where you find majority of Nigerians who need government. And we are very busy, like I said, we have personnel in every state of Nigeria. We are reaching out to them through various media, including radio jingles, for them to link up with SMEDAN offices close to them and avail themselves of the opportunity to access funds so that they can set up businesses of their choice. And so far, we have never had any problem throughout the country, either in the mode of selection or those who are being linked with financial institutions to access funds. We are, indeed, being very careful. And I want to assure you that under my leadership, definitely, any Nigerian who is not qualified to get the intervention fund, will surely not benefit. I am very meticulous in my approach, and we will ensure that those who are selected for our various programmes are those who genuinely need the intervention.
What would you say SMEDAN has achieved in 2014?
SMEADAN achieved a lot in 2014, particularly in three areas. One, in 2014, we witnessed the launch of National Enterprise Development Programme (NEDP). The NEDP programme, like I told you, earlier, is the chief programme of the agency currently. All other programmes of the agency are presumed under the programme, the NEDP programme was launched for the agency and for Nigerians by Mr President on February 11, 2014. And we immediately commenced the implementation of the programme in every state of the federation. And so far, we have engineered the formation of over 60, 000 cooperatives, which is a very big achievement. And in the process, we were able to create over 380, 000 new jobs for Nigerians. And the number of new jobs created is increasing on daily basis. As the business ideas which we have engineered in various strata of Nigeria are receiving financial support to go ahead with the establishment of enterprises, more Nigerians are being gainfully employed, and more funds are being pumped into the economy, and the level of poverty is definitely going down. So you can only imagine the impact of the NEDP programme nationwide. And it is our prayer and hope that in another year or two, the impact of the NEDP programme will manifest in every nook and cranny of the country.
Our second achievement is in the area of the establishment of the National Council of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in the country. This is the first time that such a council is being set up by the highest body of government, which is the federal government. The National Council of MSMEs came about as a result of government’s realisation of the need to ensure that all MSME activities in the country are properly coordinated; we needed to have a coordinating body. Interestingly, the national council is being headed by no other person, but the Vice President of Nigeria, Arc. Namadi Sambo, which underscores the importance that the government attaches to the issue of MSMEs in the country.
The council is now very busy and is alert to its responsibility of ensuring that the problem of lack of access to finance and MSMEs development is properly sorted out, so that Nigerians who hitherto had no access to funds, can now access funds to establish enterprises of their choice. And I want to assure you in that regard that in the first quarter of 2015, Nigerians will witness a lot of transformation in the area of accessing funds for the establishment of MSMEs in every local government area in the country. We have equally been able to engineer the setting up of state councils of MSMEs. It is a structure that we have developed. Both MSME national and state councils will work together to ensure proper coordination of all MSME activities in the country, for the overall interest of our economic growth.
Our third major achievement in 2014 is in the area of conducting a fresh survey of the MSMEs that are operating in Nigeria. The last time SMEDAN in collaboration with National Bureau of Statistics conducted a survey of MSMEs in the country was four years ago. Currently, we are in the field trying to identify the number of MSMEs operating in the country. We are also trying to identify the major challenges affecting MSME development in Nigeria and equally identify the progress made over the years. We are also trying to identify the number of employment opportunities that have been created between the last survey and now. The totality of the idea of the current national survey is to ensure that we have up-to-date data that can be used for national economic planning.
What is SMEDAN’s major challenge?
The major challenge SMEDAN is facing is the issue of inadequate funding. Over the years the agency has been grappling with inadequate funding. But of recent, the federal government has been doing everything possible to ensure that SMEDAN gets the necessary support and succeeds in its mandate. I want to appeal to good-spirited Nigerians who are running NGOs to partner with us. We are not only running SMEDAN programmes, we are willing to partner with them, so that their activities in the areas of poverty alleviation and skills acquisition can be properly managed.