By Merit Ibe
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) account for majority of businesses worldwide and are important contributors to job creation and global economic development.
Lagos Chairman of the National Association of Small Scale Industrialists (NASSI), Gertrude Akhimien, spoke on the contributions of MSMEs to the economy and the need for government to encourage small businesses through adequate funding in post COVID -19 pandemic era for faster economic recovery.
The NASSI boss admitted that it has not been easy with small businesses, as they are the worse hit in the current dispensation. She also spoke on how government’s policies are affecting SMEs among other issues.
NASSI is an Association of small business owners who produce as opposed to traders and artisans. That is what makes the Association different because every member produces and has a production outfit, where they are either manufacturing consumables, electrical and other products on a small scale, using machines.
It’s a business membership organisation established by an Act of the Federal Government, during the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
He wanted to identify all manufacturers in the country, whether small or big, towards providing some sort of assistance while monitoring their growth and development.
As an Association, we liaise with government, financial agencies and non -governmental organisations for advocacy purposes and in-training for our members.
Journey so far
It’s been quite good and advocacy quite turbulent because over the years, government has paid lip service to the growth and development of MSMEs until the present administration where efforts are being made through policies to address some of the problems confronting MSMEs.
It was of recent that we began to see the interest of government. The truth is that SMEs in most cases are not included in government’s policies because they are treated as irrelevant sector to the growth of the economy. That has been the mistake governments have been making. This government is doing a lot for the growth of MSMEs.
Post COVID -19 era
Coping in this era has been most difficult. The association is in support of measures taken and guidelines to curb the spread of the disease. life is more important than business, I advice members of the association to keep to rules and remain safe and positive, while government on its part should ensure that SMEs go on without hindrance.
Small scale businesses are usually worse hit in this situation.
For my members, during the lockdown, I appreciate the government for giving us (NASSI) concession to move around with our products. We moved our goods to designated markets approved by government for sale. We encouraged them not to slack but to take their already produced goods, especially those who fall in the category of foods and agro allied industry, while keeping to safety rules.
The association also persuaded our members to take the opportunity of the stay at home to do some online courses to strengthen and grow their businesses, which most of them did.
The Lagos State government has been helpful. They provided this office space for us. The last regime had the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, where members were able to access loans of up to about N500,000 to N5 million which helped many businesses . The Federal Government has also organised a loan scheme where we can access between 1 million and 5 million. Some businesses have started accessing the loan. One good thing about the loan is that it is without collateral. We commend the Federal Government in that area.
There was the problem of collateral and high interest rate, but now, it has been reduced. Lagos gave us at five per cent and the the Federal Government is giving us at five per cent too. With that, it is easy for the SMEs to raise that money and pay.
For our business to expand, we are asking that more funding be made available to SMEs so that they can produce more local products and create employment for a better economy.
I commend the CBN for the credit facilities to support SMEs. The move is a proactive response to the current economic challenges. The facility, which is for households and small and medium enterprises that have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19 pandemic, will keep our business going. The funds will go a long way, we will not have to lay off staff. Some industries shutdown, while some reduced staff strength, so that work bills are not so high.
The CBN guidelines for accessing the funds are not quite favourable, but we do not have any choice as we need the funds .
For the collateral, the bank is ready to accept industry machinery. So that will help us. Our members are industrialists, and they have machines or equipment on ground. We have advised them to list the equipment, cost them and present them as collateral.
I am appealing to the government to help fast tract the payment of members so as to mitigate the sufferings some of its members have been going through.
Since 2019, funds by the Federal Government have been so difficult to access.
We are not accessing the funds here in the South. We have trained people in NASSI on how to file in application for the funds but unfortunately we have not been able to get the funds. We only hear about them . We keep hoping endlessly. As far back as 2019 no one has received these monies. All we hear is that they are revamping, thus raising our hope.
We have been submitting lists upon lists. Those who have applied and set up their business plans are yet to receive. They keep assuring some of us that have been approved for the facility to hold on, till when. The situation is frustrating.
As a member of the association, you must register your company. Your are no longer a one man company but a limited liability company. With that, we can access different government’s facilities for us and get into a more formal net, so to speak, and of course they have to pay tax and other government’s requirements. That is where government has helped too. They are able to capture these people into the tax net and then begin to monitor their incomes, expenditure and aggregate their taxes.
The increase in Value Added Tax (VAT), does not affect SMEs. With a turn over of less than N25million, you are exempted from VAT. And that is good because that money can be reinvested into the business and when the business grows, it will create employment, more staff will be added and this will create wealth for business owners. This will result to increase in disposable income, which will in turn increase the GDP of the nation.
AFCfTA: How prepared are SMEs
It has good opportunities for all business enterprises, especially those interested in export market. 90 per cent of goods coming into the ECOWAS countries are imported. Nigeria being the biggest in Africa can take advantage of the agreement and grow their business to the level where they can export into other African nations and take over. Our products are loved in most ECOWAS countries.
They get there through illegal channels or not properly exported, government has to do proper channelisation and systems have to be put in place, so that export is made easy and government can get deals for the business community whereby our goods are exported. In doing that, government has to make sure the trading conditions favour Nigerian businesses in such a way that our safety and integrity are secure; that is paramount.
Every business endeavour has challenges and they are numerous. One of them is the business environment in itself, lack of water, power, poor roads and so on. All these add to the burden of the SMEs because the business owner has to provide all the facilities to run the business.