From PETER OKORE, Umuahia

Nigeria’s economic attention , particularly, since after the ease of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, has been on  diversifying  the country’s economy and revenue bases in order to cope with the challenges of the time. To this end the plight of the Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SME’s) which suffered greatly during the pandemic period of economic stalemate, readily comes to mind.

Little wonder, then that investors and entrepreneurs in the country heaved a sigh of relief when last week the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) eventually provided some clarity to doubts that trailed the recently-released statement on digital assets regulation, their classification and treatment explained that it  is aimed at boosting investor protection in the capital market.

 Head, Registration, Exchanges, Market Infrastructure and Innovation, Mr. Emomotimi Agama, who spoke on the guidelines made it clear that the primary purpose of the commission is investor-protection. According to him, the move is to ensure that digital assets offerings, including Crypto currencies operate in a manner consistent with investor protection, interest of the public, market integrity and transparency.

“We are looking at investor protection, integrity, transparency and of course, we want to make sure that the market is safe and everyone is comfortable with what is going on in the investment climate. What we found out recently is that a lot of persons, youths are all involved in this space and it is important that even as far as that is the case, the SEC lives up to the expectations and makes sure that those people  who are getting into the business are protected”.

To meet the challenges of this fast changing digital financial world,  SEC pointed out that capacity building should be a continuous exercise to upgrade oneself and to  learn because, as he put it,” knowledge is for life.”

 In Abia State, a two-day sensitization on overcoming barriers to SME’s participation in Government contracts, organised by the state Bureau of Public Procurement in collaboration with the private sectors has ended in Umuahia, the State capital with many participants in attendance. Over the years, Abia has evolved as a centre of entrepreneurship and SMEs.

The city, Aba has the potential to be a competitive industrial hub for Nigeria and for Africa. In fact, the World Bank in 2018 reported that 32 states of Nigeria, including Abia, Kaduna, Enugu, Lagos and Anambra states, respectively, improved tremendously their Ease of Doing Business Environment.

However, the two-day training, which featured lectures, question and answer-sessions, was attended by Government functionaries on Economic planning and development matters; Policy  formulations and Implementation; Monitoring and Evaluation as well as Permanent Secretaries and  a number of Small and Medium-scale business  entrepreneurs  drawn across the State.

Declaring the training open in Umuahia, the Commissioner for Small and Medium Enterprises, Mr. Onyema Wachuku explained that the training organised by government in collaboration with the private sector was aimed at creating an interface for SME’s to do government businesses with ease as well as training Small and Medium business owners on what they need to know or do while doing business with government.

He stated that Abia State government wants more SMEs to get involved in the procurement process and thereby called on  entrepreneurs to put their trust in government while noting that doing business with the government can be more lucrative.

Mr. Wachuku urged them to eschew fear and negative perceptions about government contracts and assured them that the training exercise will be continuous as ”it will serve as a database for forward movement in government affairs.

Earlier in his opening remarks, the Director- General, Bureau of Public Procurement, Chief Chinedum Elechi revealed that government has relaxed the encumbrances hindering SMEs from participating in Government public procurements as government has eventually realized the need to empower SMEs through award of government contracts.

He hinted that the new     posture of Government towards expanding her revenue-base necessitated the introduction of Training –session involving the SME’s. He further promised that government will, henceforth, follow due process in the award of contracts.

In a lead paper titled: “Guidelines to Increased SME’s Participation in Government Contracts and other Emergencies”, the facilitator and Focal-Person, Open Government Partnership Abia State, Mr. Amaechi Chukwu stated the readiness on the part of the government to empower Small and Medium-scale Enterprises so that they can bounce back to the level they were prior to the lockdown, which was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Chukwu disclosed that 30 percent of the revised Abia State 2020 budget estimate was COVID-19 compliant as it was designed to favour the SMEs. He also stated the fundamental principles for procurement, as provided under the section 18 of the Public Procurement law as well as the Emergency/COVID-19 procurement method and implementation.

In a vote of thanks, the President, Umuahia Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Nkem Chidi Aruoma, on behalf of the participants, thanked the Abia State Government for the sensitization exercise     while promising that the Chamber of Commerce would do its bit to partner with the State government

Again, the two-day workshop on  Leather and Leather Products held in Aba, attended by artisans and major stakeholders in the Leather and Leather Products industry drawn from  across the country and government MDA’s has drawn attention to the Leader and Skin industry in the country. It was spearheaded by the Nigerian Institute of Leather and Science Technology, Zaria, Kaduna state and related MDA’s..

  From the fall-out of that workshop, the new policy on Leather and Leather Products soon to come into effect in Nigeria will open new windows of opportunities to transform the Leather technology into a key element in the Nation’s drive to diversify her economy. It will also, among others, stimulate self-reliance and make the industry another goldmine for the country.

To lend weight to what governments are doing to encourage SME’s developments in Abia state, the 40th President of Rotary Club of Umuahia, District 9142, Rotarian Lynda Dimgba has promised to embark on economic empowerment and Community development to encourage the growth of SMEs in Umuahia.

Speaking shortly after her installation as the Pathfinder President of Rotary Club of Umuahia, Dimgba said the club under her watch will empower ten (10) women and youths involved in Small and Medium scale business with micro-credit facilities at fifty thousand naira each.

She also promised that her administration will provide Rotary customized umbrellas for petty traders and engage youths and women in two churches of Umuahia local government areas (North/South) in skill acquisition seminar and workshop.

The President Vision Africa, Bishop Sunday Ndukwo Onuoha; Member representing Aba North and South Federal constituency, Hon. Prestige Ossy, traditional ruler of Etiti Ugwueke autonomous community, Bende L.G.A , Eze Ikwunna Ukwu, Lead consultant at IHP Consulting Services, Mercy Bello Abu, among others were honoured during the event.

Meanwhile, an Abia state- born farmer and first elected President of the National Apex Of Nigerian Farmers Cooperative Societies Ltd, Nanfacos, Chief Uzoma Nwogwugwu has assured of bringing farmers into limelight in agribusiness and to arrest the challenges and barriers associated with the credit deliveries to farmers.

In his  statement in Umuahia Nwogwugwu assured that the era of non-practising farmers taking what belongs to practising farmers has gone, as NANFACOS shall go to extra length to  access facilities for farmers at the lowest interest rate as well as organising seminars a  viable way of growing the  SME’s.

He promised that genuine farmers, under his administration, will be comfortable. He enjoined them to take agriculture as paramount business to be self reliant, just as he assured that he is poised to use agriculture to checkmate hunger, employment issues that have been ravaging Nigeria and also spoke on the importance of capacity building for farmers to improve their productivities .

 Nwaogwugwu who was the Chairman of Abia State Apex of Farmers Cooperative Society LTD, AFCOSOL identified inadequate food storage facilities and improper book keeping as factors that contribute towards hike in prices of food items across the country, just as inadequate provision of storage facilities and proper processing of perishable produce, account for huge waste of the farm produce after harvest.

He described agricultural operations as viable option to grow the Nigerian economy and feed the populace. He agriculture has become much more modern and business-oriented and  urged farmers to be good producers and financial managers by keeping accurate farm records and maintaining a proven record keeping system.