How Governor Umo Eno’s Moves To Boost SMEs, Agribusiness Excite Entrepreneurs
Like an early morning storm, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Pastor Umo Eno, has taken astoundingly smart moves to rejig the state economy and reposition it for growth. Last week, the cities were agog with enthusiasm as the governor made some unscheduled stops at traders’ stalls to directly interact with market women and street traders.
It was an approach, keen observers describe as the governor’s determination to signal a change narrative – that though he is the Chief Executive Officer of the state, he can condescend to mingle with the lowest rung of the ladder in the society. It was also a move to demonstrate his preparedness to galvanize the energies of the micro and small businesses; coalescing them for growth, sustainability and expansion.
While the ovation was still loud, the governor caused a major but positive stir in the business and economic nexus of the state, when he announced that the Bank of Industry (BoI) would open its office for business in Akwa Ibom State in July. That news gave sparks to the eagerness of entrepreneurs in leveraging the wealth creation policy of the new government for sustainable growth.
The governor said: “Finally, we will have the Bank of Industry here. We have concluded on that. There are few things they wanted and we have sorted that out. I have given them a space in the 21-storey smart building. Government will pay for that building to bring them to the state.”
With the Bank of Industry’s presence in our shore, micro, small and medium enterprises can now heave a sigh of relief from the burden of financing their projects through commercial banking services.
WHAT IS BOI?
The Bank of Industry (BoI) is an enterprise-friendly bank. It was established primarily to support the growth of industries by providing financial and advisory support to all strata of businesses, including agro-business, medium and small scale enterprises. BoI prides itself as “Nigeria’s oldest, largest and most successful development financing institution (DFI.,”
Its main goal is to “facilitate the transformation of Nigeria’s industrial sector by providing financial and advisory support for the establishment of large, medium and small projects/ enterprises, and the expansion, diversification, rehabilitation and modernisation of existing enterprises.”
The bank is also committed to developing “innovative strategies, interventions and solutions that are propelling the Nigerian economy towards sustained growth.”
The BoI is said to support growth across various sectors including agro and food processing, creative industries, engineering and technology, healthcare and petrochemicals, oil and gas, renewable energy and solid minerals.
The services and operations are generously geared towards helping enterprises solve project financing difficulties, as loans availed customers pass through lesser burdensome requirements and extended repayment tenors compared to commercial banking services.
The bank said; “Our micro enterprises directorate is financing disadvantaged and vulnerable sectors at the grassroots and the bottom of the pyramid: formal, informal businesses and cooperatives (e.g. market women, traders and artisans, farmers, agriculture workers and enterprise youth).”
But as pivotal as the BoI’s services are to the development of the economy, Akwa Ibom has been denied its services until now, while other 30 states of the federation, according to information from the bank, have been benefitting from its services.
HOW INDUSTRY EXPERTS RESPOND TO BOI OPENING OFFICE IN AKS
But how does the industry respond to the announcement by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Pastor Umo Eno, that this important development partner – BoI will open office next month in Akwa Ibom? One of the leading entrepreneurial development experts is the Executive Director, Operations, Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation (AKICORP) and Chairman of Ibom Air, Pastor Imo Abasi Jacob was ecstatic.
He said: “I am excited for many reasons about Bank of Industry opening office in Akwa Ibom State. I have been part of the team that advocated for close collaboration between Akwa Ibom State and the Bank of Industry. I work with Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation (AKICORP), and around 2018 the corporation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Bank of Industry, what was left then was for the then Government to provide counterpart funding and that was not to be. “
According to him, several efforts were made to bring a branch of BoI to Akwa Ibom State without success. “Subsequent administration also made presentations on the need for the State to have a close collaboration with the Bank of Industry and the counterpart funds were not provided for it. So I’m excited that Governor Umo Eno in the first two weeks of his administration took this very important step without any administrative frill because it is the right thing to do.”
He described the approach of Governor Umo Eno in securing the presence of BoI in the State as, “a courageous move,” which will bring the services of the bank closer to businesses in the State.
The General Manager, Inspiration FM, Uyo, who is also a presenter on SMEs focused talks, Mr. Samuel Enobong Akpan applauded the Governor’s determination to ensure BoI’s presence in Akwa Ibom State, describing it as the right step in the right direction. “The BoI starting in July is a good move. It will encourage SMEs and farmers to do more. I also agree with the governor’s position during the inspection of the Green House; that it wasn’t ideal for businesses to be in the hand of government; and that it should be handed over for a public-private partnership arrangement. The Governor has started well. But a lot of effort has to be put in place for businesses to thrive in the state,” he said.
He, however, lamented over the rising tariffs, which he said have taken a heavy toll on businesses and advocated for the State Government’s quick interventions to ameliorate the repressive rising tariffs on businesses; adding: ”We expect that by now our State should also come up with some palliatives or ways to provide some succours to people.”
On the Governor’s efforts at alleviating poverty and boosting micro businesses of street traders, the radio boss described it as a good move, which must be spread across the three senatorial districts. However, to sustain the intended positive impact on the beneficiaries, Akpan advocated for the establishment of a board or committee to coordinate this initiative of the governor, in order to ensure adequate monitoring and evaluation.
“Giving support to traders is quite commendable but it should be done in such a way that everyone is taken into consideration. There must be a formal way that everyone is harnessed, by now I expected that the Government will come up with a board or a committee to coordinate this. In the first instance, we need to know how many micro and small enterprises we have in the state and how we want to support them.”
Akpan urged the Government to develop a database of micro-businesses for effective coordination of micro-businesses in the state, stressing: “This is to enable us have their database in order to well spell out the modalities – whether we are giving them grants or soft loans – we must systematically document them so that a section of the state will not cry foul of not being favoured by the governor’s good gesture. The initiative to encourage micro and small businesses must cut across the three senatorial districts of the state.”
The CEO of Inyene Agro Farms, Blessing Akpan, applauding Pastor Umo Eno for his initiative to interact with micro businesses and support them, said the Governor’s approach will motivate micro business operators to work harder, knowing that they are also recognised in the economic trajectory of the state. In her words, the initiative of the governor in giving out supports to micro businesses is rewarding the hard-working persons in the state. I am sure there were some people who stayed back at home, doing nothing. The Governor didn’t go from house to house but to those who were at the business locations that benefitted. The Governor’s gesture is like saying, ‘the fact that you show up in your place of primary assignment, I am encouraging you to do more.”
She commended the pacesetting move of the Governor towards encouraging hard work, urging the governor not to stop showing up from time to time to boost the effort of these traders. She emphasized that such spontaneous actions would further bring government closer to the people, as it will also encourage productivity.
“I want the Governor to keep encouraging the micro businesses, keep showing up for them, and by so doing will be motivating other business owners to keep turning up for their business because they may never know when opportunity for such empowerment may come by,” Blessing said.
BOOSTING AGRIBUSINESS WITH FINANCING INSTITUTION
As much as the last administration made some strategic investments towards transforming the agribusiness in the state, financing the sector was a major challenge. To ease the burden, Ibom Fadama Microfinance Bank Limited was established. Pastor Umo Eno, then as the Executive Director, Agricultural Investments, supervised the establishment of the bank. Among others, Ibom Fadama was to pay critical attention to farmers’ project financing need.
Now over a year, the bank has been witnessing increased interest of farmers in accessing funds for their projects. The bank’s managing director, Mrs. Imaobong Etuk, acknowledged in an interview that micro businesses, especially farmers have been taking advantage of the bank’s services.
She said: “Farmers are already accepting our funding.” Expatiating, she said the bank has established working relationship with farmers groups like Association of Farmers of Nigeria (AFAN) and farmers cooperatives to for proper coordination of smallholder farmers for project financing.
MORE CITIZENS SHOULD EMBRACE BUSINESS FOR WEALTH CREATION
Still basking in the euphoria of having a core entrepreneur as the Chief Executive Officer of the State, the CEO of Uyo Business School, Dr. Anietie Ekpenyong is confident the business sector will experience the best of time. He is keen on seeing more citizens go into business. Ekpenyong’s confidence is buoyed up by his knowledge of how the Governor, then as a business man and CEO of Royalty Group metamorphosed his hospitality business to a global brand.
His words: “The Pastor Umo Eno administration is a rare opportunity for those of us who are in business to excel.” Ekpenyong who is business coach, admitted that the Governor has shown early traits of success.
“I have observed that as someone who has been in business for years and have showcased the success traits of conception, confidence, consistency, concentration, character, commitment and capacity; I am confident of emerging thriving business community in the state.”
The business school boss urged citizens to consider starting business. “Having this kind of a person in the saddle of Government is an opportunity for any business-minded persons to go into business, knowing that he or she will make some impact during this administration. I have no doubt that there’s a possibility of business success for business people during this administration.”
Taking a panoramic view of the business terrain in Akwa Ibom, he observed that the rate of migration of businesspeople from other states to Akwa Ibom is on the increase. “If you take a look at the business environment of Nigeria, you will notice that a lot of business-minded persons are migrating to Akwa Ibom because of good business opportunities opening up. As a business consultant, I can bet that any business that is handled with care in line with standard business procedures will definitely succeed.”
In the words of Pastor Imo-Abasi Jacob, “It can only get better for us in Akwa Ibom State.”