The Director General, Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises, SMEs, Dr Stephen Odo, a new Agency created in Ebonyi state by Chief Francis Ogbonna Nwifuru led administration has explained that the Agency which its bill was the first to be assented by the executive governor within the two months of swearing in was focused on making available fund to Small, Micro and Medium business owners in ease of doing their businesses in the state.
Odo, while interacting with our Reporter, Nwogha Ndubuisi Andy argued that grants with the target of higher number of beneficiaries would end up becomes insignificant to prospective recipients, hence, opined that reducing lacuna and injecting of fund at appropriate quarters would boost small businesses that will at end strengthen economy of a given nation.
Q: May I meet you Sir?
A: My name is Dr Stephen Odo, Director General Small , Micro And Medium Enterprises,SMEs in Ebonyi state.
Q: What’s your assessment in the creation of this Agency and elevation as DG?
First, is to thank His Excellency, Chief Francis Ogbonna Nwifuru for the confidence and for thrust me on the future and interest of Ebonyi Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises, SMEs.
This is a very volatile sector. A sector that hold so much future for the state and for the nation.
A sector that’s so sensitive that if mismanaged will create very big problem, but if managed well; both individuals, the government and entire Nigeria public will benefit.
I believe it is not a casual sector that you will just put anybody to manage and for His Excellency to had assigned me to driving this agency that will take care of Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises, SMEs for me is a great honour.
Q: What’s the focus of this Agency ?
A: I want to tell you that the focus of this agency under the leadership of His Excellency, the governor, Rt Hon Francis Ogbonna Nwifuru will be to do everything possible to make sure that Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises have access to fund and we will also be encouraging ourselves as a state to make sure that power issue are address as much as the capacity of the state can attend to because, I believe that once all these are done with what we have done in infrastructure already and what we are doing in security,I believe that there will be alot of hopes for Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises in Ebonyi state.
Q:As a one of the key promoters of Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises in the state, what’s your take on removal of fuel subsidy?
A: I may be offending some persons as I know, but the truth is that the removal of fuel subsidy is over due. I strongly believe that oil subsidy should be removed based on the way and manner subsidy regime has been managed over time.
I did not believe that a producing country should be a net importer of the oil, it is wrong and non acceptable.
Besides, it is taking us too long to have a functional refeneries and I believe that it’s just a personal interest where people that felt that if there’s a refeneries that their network of business will collapse and they keep on sabotaging every effort to have functional refeneries in the country. So, ending the subsidy regime and for us to face the reality is the best thing.
Q: How do you rate the steps taken by the federal government so far in that respect and on sharing of palliative?
A: The federal government need to do the needful, if you look at the statistics you will find out that billions of naira is going to be saved.
Though, nobody has told us in clear terms where we are re-investing this funds and as a key promoter of SMEs, I believe that the greatest thing federal government should do is to make available low digit interest rate that will be accessible by the SMEs.
Q: Don’t you see grant as the best way to go?
A: Though grants is good, but not the best option considering the competitive nature of the economy. Any time you talk about grants, you are looking at greater number but what you end up giving to individual becomes insignificant to use and start anything. But, any Small,Micro and Medium Enterprises, SMEs that’s serious to do business should have access to finance and the issue of power should also be looked at because, one of the things that make it difficult for SMEs including those who have their own fund to survive is also facing the problem of access to power.
If you watch those in barbing salon,welder and anybody who need the power to survive you see that they hardly made any profit and that’s a big problem.
Q: What can you say about the liberalization of the power sector?
A: I wish to commend the federal government for the liberalization of the power sector. It has given the state the due advantage to manage power issue including the generation, managing, and distribution of power in their respective areas and that’s a good policies by the federal government.
But, then like I had said, the federal government should assist some of the state government. Why did I said that, not like I am holding brief for the states, but if you look at the sharing power in terms of allocation, you see that the federal government takes greater share of the whole resources and when I tell people that there’s nothing like federal government it look like am commiting felony but, what it means is that every parts of this country belongs to a state. So, I am a proponent that sharing formula should favour more of the Local Government Areas and seconded by the state.
Let’s make the center unattractive and through that people who vie for national assembly and president will be no motivation for killing ourselves. So, let the resources of the country go to where it is mostly needed which is the Local Governments and states and if that’s done, focus will be on power generation and issue of access to fund.
Q: Who should be in charge of this?
A: By the provision of low digit rate, the commercial banks should be assisted by the policy of the federal government to be able to provide reasonable finance that will support the growth of Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises and that will help us.
If you look at the Chinese economy, that’s the model I am proposing, because by the growth of SMEs, China is able to employ their people, generate enough of income and still the government gets a feedback by the payment of taxes by these successful businesses because as much businesses area becoming successful, they also have responsibility of giving back to the government in form of taxes and at the end of the day you will be able to drive the economy and it gets better.
Q: This Agency as birthed new, how do you intend to harness the potentials?
A: As an Agency that was created by law, and if you look at the law that created it, the function, roles and responsibilities of the agency are very clear and not like when I was made Commissioner for Business Development, one of the major challenges I had with the Business Development was that the office only exists in Ebonyi but this isn’t same as the agency which exists in every States of the federation like it is in Enugu, Anambra, Abia and other states and we also have a model, so, it is not difficult to reference other states to see exactly what they’re doing.
The agency has done exploit in Abia in both leader and textile industries which all the magics they are doing with the federal government in Aba are be driven by the agency.
For me, we don’t have an issue and I have told some people that before the agency was created we also have alot of programmes for the SMEs. I was pioneer Commissioner for Business Development and that’s what I have been doing under Commerce and Industry, and that’s what the agency will continue to drive with other innovations and ideas to make sure that we sustain the Micro and small businesses.
I have also tried to make clarification, because alot of people had say, are you sure you are not trying to make duplication?
I told somebody that there’s different between industry and Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises which Industry is a larger business, and part of the things the agency want to do has nothing to do with the industry which remains with our parents ministry viz_a_viz Ministry of Commerce and Industry and that exactly will be their focus, the issue of industrialization of the state and building of bigger businesses in that capacity to employ over hundred and two hundred and so forth.
But, here we’re talking about Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises that will employ less than hundred personnel, so, I don’t think there’s any duplication and no issues.
As for the agency, It is not like a ministry that you will say we don’t see a document that defines what you want to do, as for the agency; there’s a law that was passed by the House of Assembly that His Excellency signed and anybody who wish to understand the more will be reference to the law that the house signed.
Q: In the time past, there were many programmes that did not see light of the day after rigorous processes; what is the assurance that the agency will be better than what Ebonyians had experienced?
A:I am not afraid of my Boss, His Excellency, Rt Hon Francis Ogbonna Nwifuru because I have gone through the the Charter of Peoples’ Needs manifesto and I have seen his commitment and I have looked at the commitment he made in other sectors and he’s following them systematically and I am sure that the commitment he made with the SMEs that he will follow them.
My assurance to Ebonyians is to relax and trust this current government. In short, the way and manner, even the Agency was established is something to give kudos to the governor; within how many days in office, the bill was reviewed, the bill was sent to House of Assembly, passed and assented, appointment made and today, the DG was sworn in and this is a pointer to tell you that His Excellency is heading somewhere and I want to encourage Ebonyians to wait for him because the creation of the Agency is an indication that he’s going somewhere and the journey will begin immediately.
Q: Do you think that the people have a role to play as to properly gain from this opportunity?
A: Yes. In a matter of days or weeks, we are going to embark on massive sensitization across the 13-LGAs on expected role and responsibilities of the people so as to achieve expectations of the government.