Thursday, October 14, 2021, was the day women entrepreneurs from all over Nigeria converged on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to showcase their talents, vocations and crafts. They included confectioners, brewers, distillers, bakers, cosmetologists, caterers, food processors and fashion designers.
They were in Abuja at the instance of African Women Entrepreneurship Programme (AWEP) for its annual general meeting and conference themed: “It’s in you.”
Minister of State, Trade and Investment, represented by Mrs Chioma Achilam, told participants: “We should grow our business according to the potential around us, without minding the challenges because so many times, the challenges become business opportunities. Just as you can see the way the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought business opportunities for nose mask and hand sanitizer sellers, there are always opportunities in challenges.”
President, AWEP, Mrs Angela Agala, appealed to regulatory bodies especially the National Agency for Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to streamline processes and reduce complications that serve as bottlenecks to business owners:
“NAFDAC certification is very difficult to access. We keep wondering why, even though our members are always giving us feedback on the difficulty they face.
“If you write an application to NAFDAC, it will take about nine months before you get the reply. In those nine months, you have employees whom you pay and so many of your work activities are tied to the NAFDAC number, but the agency will not show concern.
“Again, NAFDAC will ask for samples, it will not ask for one or two but 12 and above for laboratory testing, this is wrong. These are the reasons we want to go into full partnership with them, maybe there is a communication gap somewhere so we can close it.”
Anna RAS, Deputy Head, Mission, Embassy of Sweden, said COVID-19 posed a lot of challenges for businesses and business owners. She commended the women for their resilience despite all odds.
Zahida Zahari, a food vendor, was a participant. She said she started very small with just her little savings in 2016 before she went to school for her Masters. Her food business was birthed in her personal kitchen. She began by taking orders from friends and family and kept expanding. She has three employees.
Her biggest challenge is inflation: “The consistent rise in price of foodstuff has significantly put a strain on my profit and customer base. Many cook their meals themselves rather than pay the increased price. I had to my price to prevent losses.”
Hajiya Samira started producing healthy drinks and spices in 2018. She has having four people working for her. She said her biggest challenge has regulatory conditions: “I have been trying to get certification from NAFDAC for a long time now. They keep giving me conditions, which are impossible especially for the level of my business.”
Mrs Bola Ojo (not real name) deals in food processing and packaging. She lamented the exploitative regulatory system. She recalled how she paid someone to dispose off the waste from her factory in Ogun State:
“Two days later, some officials of the state’s Waste Management Authority came to my office said I must pay N250,000 for waste disposal. They claimed I should have contacted them for waste disposal.”
One of the consultants, Dr Steve Ogidan, urged the women to embrace technology for their businesses to grow: “The most difficult part of business is how to sustain growth. A small business has its disadvantages and many challenges. That is why they need the technological platform to run a smooth business.”