Why Abia remains Nigeria’s SMEs capital — Ikpeazu

Contrary to the unrealised wishes of naysayers, Abia State will continue to rank high among Nigerian states that draw meaningful international investments, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has promised.

Ikpeazu’s assurance came on the backdrop of a federal government report which ranked Abia ahead of 34 other states in the country in terms of direct foreign investment.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report showed that, despite lockdown-induced economic challenges, Abia was among the top five states investors flocked to in 2020. The capital importation report details the value of fresh investments that flowed into the Nigerian economy in the year in review.

Abia attracted $56.07 million, coming behind only Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. As many as 26 states attracted nothing.

In an exclusive interview with The Realm News, Ikpeazu pointed out that no investor would want to miss out on an economy filled with successful small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) like Abia.

Ikpeazu also clarified the issues behind what government critics are calling an SME loan scam in the state. The governor noted that his administration’s successful SME drive is different from the microfinance bank controversy that critics are trying to use to muddy the waters.

The governor also explained why Abia is a huge investor’s delight as highlighted by the NBS report.

“The issue of microfinance bank is not tied to our SME,” Ikpeazu clarified.

“We are still the SME capital of Nigeria. Those who brought up the issue of the SME and the microfinance bank are clutching on straws.

“When we came in 2015, we undertook a deep study of the SME issues. They are funding, power, automation and capacity building and marketing. Our people could not engage in e-trading and could not market beyond their personal customers.

“I looked at how we could become part of the big leather and garment economy of the world. How do government become part of this multi-billion-dollar economy? How do we capture the 200 million persons in Nigeria wearing ‘Made In Aba’

“That was what led me to look at power as the most important. We have ensured that Abia would become the first state in Nigeria that would have uninterruptible power supply before the end of my administration. We will achieve that through Geometrics.

“Also, I collaborated with the federal government to give Ariaria independent power.

“The next one was financing. It was out of our control. It’s either through the bank of industry or through other finance agencies. Getting our SME’s to get access to these grants and loans the federal government gives through banks was also a problem. We have tried to put them together through cooperative societies and for the first time, some of them have benefited.

“Of all of these four problems identified, the one we could control was marketing, and that was how I became the brand ambassador of ‘Made In Aba’. I wear and market made in Aba dresses. I took it to the National Assembly and the Presidency. We took it to former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The culmination of our efforts was the day the military placed an order of 50,000 pairs of Aba-made footwear. If you calculate 10,000 per person multiplied by 50,000, you know how much it impacted on GDP of the common shoemaker in Aba.

“Our people should take pride in identifying with their products. The quality of shoes coming from Aba today will compare to the imported ones. Throughout Christmas, that shoe factory was doing shoes for the Nigerian military and couldn’t complete it till the second week of January this year and we have very bright prospects of doing the same thing for the police.

“Now, it boils down to finance. Can we own an SME of our own? That was the question at that time. So, we had a commissioner then by the name Gab Igboko who, working with then Secretary to the Government, decided to support the government to acquire a microfinance bank. Their proposal was approved by the State Executive Council and the microfinance bank was opened at Ngwa Road and we started lending to people.

“We opened the bank for the benefit of Akara sellers, yam sellers, and tomato sellers. But the naysayers and those who feel they want to run the government down decided to write a petition even to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) about Abia Microfinance Bank.

“So, it has nothing to do with the SME. It’s an entity of its own. That is why I took the time to tell you what we have done to rewrite our history and change the narrative of the SME ecosystem in Abia State.

“Whatever they are digging inside the issue around the bank, I wish them well. I insist that, for the sake of our poor people, the shoemakers; for the sake of the SME we are promoting, we should have a place they can go and borrow money. Some people need ₦50,000, some need ₦150,000, some ₦200,000. Not everybody needs the millions we are talking about.

“It’s an unfortunate development that Abia has degenerated into this kind of vitriolic society where we demarket ourselves and the state. Whether they agree or not, one of the most profound indices of development and socioeconomic growth are the creations of a better life. And that is my motto and agenda: to create a better life for Abians.

“It is manifesting that today, between November 2020 and January this year, we have Kilimanjaro, we have Chicken Republic, we have Dominos, we have Cold Stone, we have market Square, we have Cine21 where people go and watch movies.

“And the investors didn’t come here because I am their in-law. They came here because we are one of the best states with strong infrastructure,” Ikpeazu said.

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