The federal government recently launched what it called the MSME Clinic – a nationwide interactive programme of state governments, MSME operators and stakeholders with federal government officials and its agencies to find ways of boosting the sector. This event took off in no other place than Aba, the capital of Abia state and by every standard an MSME city reputed for the industry of its people. The programme was also kicked off by the Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, who personally travelled to Aba to launch the event.
I am not sure of the reason why the launch took place in Aba. Perhaps it was to maintain the alphabetical primacy of the name of both the state, Abia and the town Aba. That’s on the lighter side. Perhaps it was because the state, according to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, echoing what the then Acting President Prof Osinbajo said, is “the MSME capital of Nigeria”. Whatever the reason may be, I think the people of Abia state, Aba in particular, and indeed the entire south east should feel proud and privileged to be so perceived by no less a figure than the Vice President of Nigeria. They should feel acknowledged, motivated and challenged much more than their neighbours elsewhere in the country. It is a recognition that should raise the fighting spirit of all Abia entrepreneurs.
That is however not the point of this piece. The relevant point here is that there is need for all stakeholders in the MSME sector to realise that something new and positive is about to happen in the Nigerian economy, and especially, the MSME sector. That positive thing is the return of economic prosperity in Nigeria and, this time, under economic management circumstances that promise to be more in the interest of the citizens than before. Whether this prosperity will actually happen or fizzle out as those of previous administrations is a responsibility not just of this government but of all those interested in the development of the MSME sector and indeed, the Nigerian economy.
Of course Nigeria has passed this route before. We have had several, at least four, development plans. We had a well-crafted Structural Adjustment Programme, which some may argue was even more ambitious than the present ERGP. We have also had the Rolling Plans, to say nothing of annual budgets that fail before their terms run off. At the end of the day, we became economically and socially worse off. It is therefore possible for some people to have become “planphobic” or permanently pessimistic of government promises. That attitude is not unexpected. One thing is however very clear: the present government of Muhammed Buhari, has conceived a plan, which has been mostly adjudged to be clear, intelligent and feasible. The only concern expressed so far is on the ability of the government to follow through with effective implementation – the same ailment that afflicted previous administrations, some may say. So what is different with this plan? I do not have the answer but I have a feeling there is a clear sign of commitment on the part of government and there are some natural circumstances of this government that should inspire us – Nigerians are aware that it is poor leadership that brought us here; this regime has vowed to fight graft and Nigerians are more conscious and alive than ever before.
This government is aware that Nigeria of today is not exactly the Nigeria of yester years; not even the Nigeria of the recent Jonathan’s days. The massive looting of the economy and the decent into recession has awakened the fighting spirit of most Nigerians. With the perks of the office of a Whistle-Blower looking so good, most Nigerian are now potential whistle-blowers – probably the best paying freelance job around. The return on investment is certainly ahead of that of “Yahoo Yahoo” and many are busy on the job. It means that few people are going to get away with the kind of things that happened here in recent years. Telling the people one thing and doing exactly the opposite may be a political strategy but the cost of doing that in the present times is much higher. Again, this administration was born out of circumstances quite different and Nigerians have taken the promise of change very serious. They are also prepared to work for its realization.
Anyone who listens to Vice President Osinbajo, and indeed some of his officials, will feel a renewal of their spirit and faith in this great country. When he went to Aba and spoke so passionately about the industrious city and the things he heard about Aba as a youth, one could feel his wish that Aba lives up to what it is truly meant to be – an industrial city that will contribute greatly to the economic success of our country. It is my hope that the relevant bureaucrats, especially those in the ministries in charge of Power and Industries, and transportation would share his dreams.
The only way we can hope to realize the dream of the present government in the MSME sector is to fast track the provision of power and transportation infrastructure in the country to enable MSMEs to blossom according to their abundant energies. Needless to say that the power supply situation in the Aba region and indeed the Southeast has been more than ridiculous. At a point, some argued that it was part of an orchestrated plan to hold down or burry the entrepreneurial spirit of the area and particularly the “small Taiwan of Nigeria”, Aba, and keep it from developing its potentials. This may be an extreme view but it gained traction when Geometric, the independent power company that come to help bring life to Aba industrial spirit began to have all kinds of challenges. All those are in the past and we hope the thousands of artisans and craftsmen in Aba will soon see progress.
For the people of Abia state and indeed, the stakeholders in the MSME sector, there is a chance for a breakthrough. I hope they will realise that this calls for commitment, honesty and more the patience that has helped them survive many years of neglect. I had the privilege of working in Aba and its environs as a lending officer of a financial institution. I have never seen a people so enterprising that they could bring water out of stone, figuratively speaking. That survival spirit must come alive now and with refinement, more commitment to quality and truth. They must step up their game by making products that inspire and support the Buy made-in-Aba campaign of Governor Ikpeazu, within the global Made-in-Nigeria campaign. The choice of Aba to launch this campaign of MSME development at a time Nigeria is truly in a bind and looking inwards should bring out the best in the time-tested ingenuity and creativity of the entire south east and Nigeria.