Ayo Fagbemi is the director-general of Kwara Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (KWACCIMA). In this interview with SIKIRAT SHEHU, he stresses the need for the government to revitalise moribund industries to reduce influx of substandard goods flooding the Nigerian market.
Kindly give us details of your activities in Kwara.
KWACCIMA is the umbrella body of all businesses, including industries, in Kwara State. We make sure that investors are led to appropriate quarters when it comes to business, ranging from mining, commerce, industry to agriculture.
We are partnering with government. We formed cooperatives so that if government needs 10 people, we will be able to provide these 10 people. You know before government gives any loan, it will want to see physically whatever you say you are doing. In the past, it was not so, but now, it is important to get somebody who can guarantee you, somebody who can beat his chest and say, ‘You are our member’, and whatever the government gives them would be used for the purpose intended.
What are the challenges facing your office and how do you think they can be tackled?
The challenges are usual. Finance is key and people do not easily get loans. You know business requires getting loans and if you do not get them, it becomes very difficult for you to progress.
Another challenge is technology. We need technology in the industry–in mining and in agriculture. We are trying hard to ensure that instead of importing technology, we partner with oversees companies to bring their technology here so that we would get used to it.
For instance, we are happy that there is fertilizer blending machine all over now. In the past, people used to import fertilizer, but right now, they produce it locally, because there is technological transfer.
Banks ask for collateral. Some of the collaterals are now waved for people coming from KWACCIMA because they can easily be traced to repay the loan granted them.
What steps are you taking to ensure that commerce and mining sectors are given adequate attention like industry and agriculture?
Both mining and commerce are all on the same pedestal. The emphasis we give to agriculture is what we are giving to mining. We are trying to ensure that if somebody wants to come to Kwara, the state government must be aware and KWACCIMA must be aware. The federal government cannot sit in Abuja and ask people to go to my backyard at Ijabgo and dig mineral resources without any gain to the indigenes.
In Kaiama Local Government of Kwara State, we are producing mining and we have miners who are members of KWACCIMA. So, we are promoting mining.
As new companies are established, some are going under. What do you think is responsible for this and what is the way out?
The economic downturn is responsible. Industries and establishments are assisting governments greatly in terms of employment, shoring- up economy of the state and the country at large.
They are very buoyant and give people opportunity to get engaged.
One reason is that the capital they have is small; they want to get bigger capital and collateral attached is too much. Again, the interest rate in bank charges is so high that having done this and that, the industries will not be able to break even. We used to talk of Global Detergent, which was a big employer of labour. Look at Okin Biscuit, which has now broken down. Coca Cola too has relocated.
If federal and state governments, through the Bank of Industry and the Bank of Agriculture, can come to their aids to recapitalise, even if it requires changing their boards to ensure that these banks also have their members to monitor how money given to them and profits are utilised, the firms will be able to plough back the loan and make progress.
We still hope that federal and state governments sit together and identify these industries, speak with their founders and sit down with them to find out how best they can bring them back. Doing this is important because state government stands to gain likewise the federal government in terms of taxes. Let me commend those that are afloat– the likes of Chechen Motorcycle, which brought Chinese here and create jobs for the people.
We talk of Lubcon, which is an employer of labour too. We thank God that they are succeeding. We also have Shelta -Shelta and, of course, Tuyil Pharmaceuticals. Tuyil is doing well. If you look at the workforce, there are over 500 people working there. If that industry is not there, where will the people get money to feed?
So, I want to plead that the federal government go back to the drawing board and constitute a committee to go round the whole country and revive the industries. If we do not want imported goods any longer, we must be able to empower our people at home and monitor them closely.