Engineer Auwal Ibrahim Bununu, Zonal Vice President (North Central), Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME) and Technical Adviser to Miners Association of Nigeria, in this interview with The Commerce Africa’s Managing Editor, Yusuf Issa An-Nuphawi, alleged that SME operators and entrepreneurs who know how to judiciously utilise capitals are denied access to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s N50 billion COVID-19 credit facility and other interventions.
How did you support your members during the economic shutdown?
Bununu: The Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME) was found in 1996 by public and private sector key players with the sole objective of developing the micro, small and medium enterprises so that they can play their expected role as engines of economic growth and prosperity. So, during the challenging economic shutdown caused by COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment under the leadership of Otunba Richard Adebayo, constituted a Committee to ensure sustainable production and supply of essential commodities. NASME was brought into the Committee. And we defined to the Committee what the essential commodities are in the food value chain, pharmaceutical and healthcare value chain, transport and logistics value chain, energy and power supply value chain and their essential supportive services. Though it was highly challenging, we were able to implement the sustainability of production and supply of essential commodities plans as desired by the government.
What were the major challenges you faced in the process of coordinating your members?
Bununu: Interacting with the security agencies who enforce the lockdown rules was challenging. We could not get the pass and identity cards shared to our members easily and that made it difficult for the police at the checkpoints to allow them transport the essential commodities across the Country. The security agencies were very strict because of the security challenges in the country, they have to be sure that you are supplying and distributing essential commodities before you are allowed to move from one point to another. So, before ID Cards were distributed to our members, it was not an easy task.
What are your major concerns about CBN’s N50 billion COVID-19 credit facility to SMES?
Bununu: Both the fiscal and monetary policies and strategies of the government are very fine and sound. But there are challenges in the implementation of these policies and strategies. Take a look at the concessional credit facility being declared by the CBN, if the key players in the MSME sector are allowed to access those interventions, the Country’s objective of economic diversification, sustainable job creation and poverty alleviation and would be easily achieved. But unfortunately, these funds do not get into the hands of about 80 to 90 percent of Nigerian SME operators. They are not accessed by the SME operators, who are entrepreneurs, and know how to judiciously utilize little capitals. So, we want to call on the government to deeply engage the organised private sector to improve the accessibility of the funds and make sure that these funds are utilised by real entrepreneurs who create jobs and opportunities for others. I want to assure the Federal Government and Nigerian public that if members of the organised private sector are deeply engaged in the disbursement of the funds, we are going to create about 100 million jobs, diversify the revenue base of the Country, and alleviate poverty among others.
What are you doing to improve state of MSMEs in Nigeria?
Bununu: NASME, as a leading SME body in the Country, is working towards creating business linkages between the micro and macro enterprises. If the government involves us in the processes of the economic stimulus packages, we are going to use that opportunity to create a lot of linkages that will address the challenges of micro enterprises in terms of access to affordable energy, quality infrastructure, project management skills, business development services, quality and standards of products and services, access to finance and de-risking of loans, among others. Currently, we are working with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Chamber of Commerce, and Miners’ Association of Nigeria to create these linkages between micro enterprise and medium and large scale enterprises.
What are your concerns about African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)?
Bununu: Actually, what we need to do is to strengthen our own private sector and public institutions. Nigerians, as individuals, are very resilient. All over the continent, you will see Nigerians undertaking successful trading and business ventures. But our institutions are very weak. That is why even those who oppose Nigeria being a member of the AfCFTA thought Nigeria will be shortchanged by the agreement. But nobody will shortchange us. Also, we need to improve our infrastructure while strengthening the capacity and transparency of operations of our weak public and private institutions. So, I think there is nothing to fear or worry about. Nigerians are competitive and highly enterprising all over the world, not only in Africa.