Mohammed Kazeem Olanipekun, special adviser (SA) to the Kwara State Governor on Artisans Related Matters, says that the welfare of artisan congress remains the state government’s priority. Olanipekun also says that the government empowerment programme which will take off soon is to ensure better life for members, improve on ease of doing business and develop the state’s economy. In this interview with SIKIRAT SHEHU, he enjoins governments to do more advocacies on the need for people to patronise made-in-Nigeria products. Excerpts:
May we know more about your office activities?
I assumed office January 2018 and my office activities entail liaising between the state government and the artisan congress by making sure that there is good relationship between them which we have been having. Especially, in the area of taxes, S.A artisan ensures that artisans promptly pay affordable taxes to Kwara Internal Revenue Service (KWIRS). We have about 84 associations and we are waxing stronger.
Artisans always complain of funding, what is the state government doing to empower them?
The state government has been helpful in terms of funding for the artisans; part of it is the availability of SMEs loan that the state government wants to give them. Some amount of money which I will not mention now has been earmarked for the SMEs with very low interest, as low as 9 percent. You cannot even get it in our commercial banks, at least when you want to take a loan from any commercial or microfinance banks you will not get anything less than 30 something percent of which everybody is aware of that. So, the money will be available soon for artisans to have access. According to what I met on ground, state government has already given about 100 million to artisans as SMEs loan in 2015, but this time around, I don’t want to mention the figure because we are waiting for the approval of another trench which is ongoing.
How will you describe the relationship between the government and artisans?
When I embarked on visits to different associations, I found out that their major constraint was government patronage; but as I am speaking with you now, the government has begun patronising the artisans in the state. About two weeks ago, renovations of media outfits was contracted to the associations of carpentry and interior decor to make furniture and interior decoration for Kwara Radio and Kwara TV as the first stage. We will continue with second stage soon, which will cover other media outfits in the state.
Are there challenges peculiar to your office and prospects?
I would not say that I have challenges because the relationship has being very cordial. Although, it is not easy to deal with artisans congress because they have a lot of associations under them and it is very difficult to get them in a group but the main thing is that, since I assumed office God has been helping us as everything has been going on well between the congress and office of S.A. We are achieving greatly. For instance, the Kwara State government embarked on giving out empowerments forms to artisan congress. As at today, we have got over 35 thousand requests from different associations.
Now that the state government is embracing artisans, what is your assessment of Nigerians patronising products made in the country?
The assessment so far shows that we are not there yet. But the notion now is changing but we still have to improve. With the invention of made-in-Nigeria products, our artisans are now developing. Recently, we had a trade fair here in Ilorin Kwara State, organised by KWACIMA, where the artisan congress mobilised about nine associations from artisans; the likes of association of Bag Makers, Aso Oke, Shoe Makers, Beads Makers and others showcased their talents. It was really impressive. As time goes on, there is future for Nigerian made products. I just want to advise government that they should do more advocacies on made in Nigeria products so that a lot of people will patronise locally-made products.
What are your future plans for Artisans?
We have a lot of activities lined up. We intend to give them identity cards for proper identification and other purposes. For the production of the ID card, the state government is planning to get the total required to assist congress. Another thing is that the state government is also planning to embark on tools empowerment which is coming later in the year. We promise to continue with the kind gesture for the betterment of Kwara State.
What message do you have for the youth?
My advice to the youth is that they should be more vibrant, explore their talents and work hard. From what I have seen among the artisans, I can say our youths are not lazy. I have seen different innovations from our young people, thus, forecasting good future in our youths. I am seeing a promising future for our youths.