...As Ambode disburses N1bn to ETF beneficiaries
By Kehinde Aderemi
For hundreds of petty traders, artisans and other operators of small and medium enterprises in Lagos, Thursday, January 26, would remain an unforgettable date.
That was the day the state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, disbursed the sum of N1 billion to 705 beneficiaries of the pilot scheme of the N25 billion Employment Trust Fund (ETF) initiative in the state. The event was held at the LTV Blue Roof, Ikeja, Lagos.
The ETF is an initiative of the Ambode administration. The reporter gathered that the scheme was designed to drive the growth of the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the state, in recognition of their critical role as the engine of growth and leading creator of jobs in any economy.
Many in the state and beyond have asserted that the successful implementation of the loan scheme was an eloquent proof that the Lagos State government had started working hard to support the residents of the state in sustaining their businesses.
Soon after Ambode was inaugurated as governor, he set up a board, comprising individuals with sterling qualities and proven track records to manage the fund. Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, former Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, was made chairman, while Mr. Akintunde Oyebode was appointed Executive Secretary. Mr. Dele Martins; Mrs. Bilikis Adebiyi-Abiola; Mr. Otto Orondaam; Mrs. Olufunmi Olatunde Daudu; Mr. Tunde Bank-Anthony; Mr. Micheal Popoola Ajayi and Lagos State Commissioner for Wealth Creation and Employment, Mr. Tunde Durosinmi-Etti, were executive members of the board.
The board commenced its operations by engaging reputable and established partners to help with the selection, verification and disbursement of the loans to beneficiaries. The partners include Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), who verified all the applications and audited the processes, Fate Foundation, LEAP Africa, Nigerian Association of Small Scale Industrialists (NASSI), Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ), National Automobile Technicians Association (NATA) and Cooperative Societies, who provided applicants for the pilot scheme through their membership.
At the presentation ceremony, Governor Ambode charged the beneficiaries to utilise the funds responsibly to grow their businesses, create jobs for unemployed youths and contribute to the growth of the Lagos economy.
He said his administration decided to set up the N25 billion ETF after identifying unemployment as a major socio-economic challenge, facing Lagos State and Nigeria during the last election campaigns. He said the setting up of the ETF was a direct response to the challenge of unemployment as well as to provide support to the youths, entrepreneurs, artisans and other unemployed residents of the state.
“We have kept our word. We created a dedicated Ministry of Wealth Creation and Employment, whose mission is to promote and sustain entrepreneurship and employment,” the governor said.
Governor Ambode, commending the Board and Management of the Fund for embarking on a comprehensive review of the business environment and for developing operating guidelines to ensure the sustainable and successful management of the funds.
He said the beneficiaries of the funds were carpenters, hairdressers, electricians, automobile parts repairers, block makers, bakers, fashion designers, cake makers, food sellers, kerosene retailers, mobile money agents, painters, plumbers, photographers and light manufacturers of liquid soaps and water, among others.
“These beneficiaries are making history as the first set of beneficiaries of this Employment Trust Fund, and my charge to you is simple: You must use these funds responsibly, grow your businesses, create jobs for our unemployed youths and contribute to the growth of the Lagos State GDP. The idea is that for every N1 million we disburse, we should create a minimum of five jobs around that business value chain.
“These loans have been provided at a very affordable rate of 5% per annum, far cheaper than the prevailing bank interest of 25% per annum. This is our modest way of reflating the Lagos economy, creating jobs and getting our youths gainfully occupied. Those of you here today, the first beneficiaries of this initiative, will be the agents through which our country can overcome its current economic challenges,” Governor Ambode said.
While urging market women and female artisans to take advantage of the opportunity, Ambode charged the ETF to also support the entertainment sector and the tech hubs in Sabo, Yaba area. He expressed optimism that by 2019, over 300,000 direct and 600,000 indirect jobs would have been created in Lagos.
He said the beneficiaries must ensure they pay back the money as at when due, so that others could benefit.
“We want it to get to many Lagosians irrespective of your creed, colour or background so far as you apply and you are able to meet the requirements, then you have it,” the governor said.
Chairman, Board of ETF, Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, said the presentation of cheques to beneficiaries was in fulfilment of the promise made by Governor Ambode during the electioneering and a confirmation of many to come. She said her board ensured that the process was fair and transparent. She said party, religion, tribe and such persuasions were not considered as prerequisites for disbursement, adding that it covered all the 57 local government areas and local council development areas in the state. She promised that the disbursement would be a monthly affair.
The beneficiaries were, expectedly, very elated and jubilant. Ahmed Ojikutu thanked the governor for the initiative, even as he noted that the process was very transparent. He said the beneficiaries would utilise the funds judiciously to grow their businesses.
Another beneficiary, Mr. Chike Charles Obi, said he never believed that the offer was real. He praised the ETF board for being transparent and unbiased while picking the beneficiaries.
Another beneficiary, Mrs. Modupe Shukurat Alausa, a petty trader, urged her co-beneficiaries to encourage government by using the funds for the intended purposes. He also pleaded with them to pay back as at when due so that government would be encouraged to continue with the laudable initiative.