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Unlocking SMEs’ potential to access loans

Posted By Godwin Onyemaechi

Evidence worldwide shows that access to financial services and affordable loans contribute to growth and wealth creation. They also promote job creation and emancipation and that explains why the Akwa Ibom State government has instituted financial services desks to enable Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) apply for loans and grants from donor agencies.  The move will, to a large extent, promote growth and sustainability of SMEs.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have for centuries represented one of the fastest channels for job creation and fight against poverty.

These are enterprises with asset base (excluding land) of between N5 million and N500 million and labour force of 11 to 300 people.

For SMEs to achieve these goals of creating jobs, stimulating growth and industrialisation of the economy, operators’ easy access to credit must be promoted and guaranteed.In Nigeria, SMEs have performed below expectation because of lack of access to finance, difficultly in conducting business, poor infrastructure, access to markets and inconsistency of government policies.

That explains why the Akwa Ibom State government created a Financial Services Desk for SMEs applying for loans and grants from donor agencies. Other forms of assistance include preparation of business plans, and marketing plans.

The state government also offers assistance to small business owners in different aspects. It organises training in various areas of entrepreneurship and also helps with the registration of business names and enterprises with the Corporate Affairs Commission, including the finance.

Unveiling the state government’s packages for SMEs and plan to make Akwa Ibom an industrial hub, the state Governor, Udom Emmanuel, said the move was in line with its commitment to promote entrepreneurship and instill the spirit of enterprise in the people, in tandem with the Dakkada philosophy. Besides, the development of SMEs is a major component of the Eight-Point Completion Agenda of Udom’s second term.

“The philosophy challenges the people of the state to rouse the lion that lies dormant in every human being and rise to greatness by utilising their God-given talents to work for their personal success and that of the state as a people. It encourages the people to believe that no height is unattainable, with determination. And since the industrialisation plan of the administration is borne out of determination to change the narrative about the state, its assistance to enterprise owners is aimed at getting them on board the train,” he said.

For him, the plan to make Akwa Ibom an industrial hub hinges on the existence of a strong and virile SMEs sector. This explains the attention his administration has been paying to the development of that sector to play the role it is expected in the emerging private sector-driven economy.

The government took a major step towards developing a strong SMEs sector when last year, it set in motion machinery for the creation of over 14, 000 SMEs. The project involves creation of industry clusters in Uyo, Eket and Ikot Ekpene, in the three senatorial districts of the state. The clusters are to be built on 22 hectares of land each, complete with the required infrastructure like road network and power, as well as other business boosters.

The initiative, known as Ibom 3, 000, will involve the training of 3, 000 entrepreneurs in six months, with the number rising to 6, 000 in one year. About 9, 000 direct and indirect SMEs operators are expected to be trained and empowered through the project. Each cluster will comprise 48 industries covering 11 sectors, including leather works, mining, ICT, agriculture, aluminum works, fashion, and raffia works.

The state government said SMEs expected to be products of this exercise as it would reduce the population of unemployed youths in the state, considering that each SME would employ a minimum of five staff.

The huge and enthusiastic response of youths to Ibom 3, 000, which was evident from the time online registration for the project commenced, is proof of the extent to which the Dakkada philosophy has become engrained in the consciousness of the people of Akwa Ibom.

A public affairs commentator, Okon Asanga, said youths who were hamstrung by the fear of the unknown now feel emboldened to confront those fears, and are ready to grab the opportunities for self-actualisation that are opening in the state.

”The feeling among the people of the state, especially the youths, is that there is going to be something for everybody in the new Akwa Ibom which Udom is trying to build, whether in terms of employment or entrepreneurship.

“I think what the governor has been doing is to create opportunities everywhere and throw the options open for people to make their choices. He is driving the state towards industrialisation with the establishment of industries and attraction of investors to the state, while at the same time encouraging entrepreneurship by providing the required assistance. Both strategies will give the state a strong economic base, stimulate growth, create employment and generally improve the standard of living of the people,” he said.

Asanga said there was a consensus in the state that the twin approach of industrialisation and entrepreneurship is what is needed to bring about the sustainable development of the state for present and future generations of Akwa Ibomites, which is the development goal of the administration. He believes Akwa Ibom will soon become a place where people flock to from various parts of the country in search of opportunities in employment and entrepreneurship.

The assistance youths have received and the training they have acquired are going to be useful in entrepreneurship when some of the big industrial establishments the government is building become operational, to further deepen the socio-economic inclusion objective of the government.

For instance, the Ibom Deep Sea Port, when it comes on stream, will create opportunities for ancillary small businesses for dwellers in the surrounding communities.There will be such opportunities in the oil and gas free zone the Federal Government is planning to build in the state, and also when international flights commence in the Victor Attah International Airport.

The good thing about this kind of development is that people in various parts of the state will have opportunities brought to their doorsteps. This would help in creating jobs in those communities, improving lives, and also stemming rural-urban drift, especially now that there is massive opening up of rural communities with infrastructure.

With just about two years left of the tenure of Governor Emmanuel, there are indications that he will bequeathe to his successor a state with a solid economic base that will make the dream of an Akwa Ibom as an industrial hub in Nigeria and the West African sub-region a reality.

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