SMEDAN, NEDEP And Nigerian Entrepreneurs By Okeke Celestine
When the Federal Government of Nigeria launched the National Enterprise Development Programme (NEDEP) in February 2014, it was conceptualised and thought out to provide business support services and access to finance for MSME’s in the country and to add one million job yearly. As laudable as this vision was at its launch, the programme has turned out to be another white elephant funding initiative, existing at best on the pages of newspapers.
In the words of Mr president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan at the launch, he said “This programme will be a change agent, not only training millions of young able Nigerians and harnessing the unbridled entrepreneurial energy in our society but also providing them with affordable and accessible finance to act as a catalyst for their ambitions and enable them to achieve their dreams”. Nigerians are yet to see the training for millions of Nigerians under the programme even though the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry, the ministry managing the fund has the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (SMEDAN) and the Bank of Industry (BOI) as agencies under its Ministry.
Nigerian entrepreneurs are yet to have an articulated training and or access to finance path detailing how they can benefit from the programme neither has the Bank of Industry managing the fund publicised a document detailing the workings of the programme different from other initiatives in its books.
SMEDAN on its path has failed to mobilise the several thousand of Nigerians it has expended several hundreds of millions to train in the past years to access the funding initiative, instead, it keeps embarking on yearly rounds of training for Nigerians (Nigerians and not necessarily entrepreneurs as the process of selecting those to be trained leaves much to be desired). One would have expected SMEDAN to embark on a re-training exercise for the several Nigerians it has trained in the past years with a view to granting them access to finance under the programme.
Mr president at the launch went further to state “With NEDEP, Nigeria has begun its journey… a journey whereby we do not just implore our youth to “go out and attain employment” but rather we say to them “go out and create employment, employ yourselves, employ others, become the employers this great nation needs”. One would have expected the presidency to step up efforts to ensure NEDEP does not go the way of other funding initiatives that have failed to impact on job creation, rather the office of the Senior Special Adviser on Job Creation is embarking on training/ workshop on how to write resume for youths. If the adviser on job creation spends her office funds to train youths on how to write resumes who then is driving NEDEP?
The minister, Mr Olusegun Aganga proudly stated that “With the rigorous implementation of the program, NEDEP expects to create an average of one million jobs per year”, the question here then is, what rigorous implementation have we had for the programme? What practical steps have SMEDAN, ITF, NDE and BOI taken to help entrepreneurs access the funding? Beyond mandating SMEDAN to generate 50,000 applications before the year ends (a tall order bearing in mind the mind-set of the average staff of SMEDAN) what else has the ministry done with a view to ensuring NEDEP achieves the purpose for which it was launched?
A visit to the Bank of Industry will reveal quite sadly, the level of commitment the Ministry and its agencies have to the programme; you will be confronted with the reality that there exists no separate application form for NEDEP, there exist a low level of information/ knowledge of the initiative by the staffs of the bank. The application form given to entrepreneurs who visit the bank for enquires is the same form given for commercial loans, forms asking for collateral when NEDEP demands no collateral for certain amounts.
While we support the efforts of the Federal Government to create jobs via the provision of improved access to finance, we urge it to ensure that the several funding initiatives launched by it does not end up like those that failed in the recent years behind, a concern reinforced by the carefree attitude of several staffs of SMEDAN across the various zonal offices who do not know or have any information on NEDEP, a funding initiative it is meant to be managing.
The recent addition of GEM (growth and employment project) to the funding initiatives available to Nigerian entrepreneurs is a disturbing development. What levels of achievement have we achieved with NEDEP and other funding initiatives to warrant the launch of another initiative by the same Ministry? What are the inadequacies observed with NEDEP that is necessitating the launch of GEM? As against launching GEM, why not strengthen NEDEP? These are pertinent questions entrepreneurs on the streets are asking, or are these initiative cases of the more you look the less you see.
We call on the Minister of Investment, Trade and Investment to as a matter of urgency; make NEDEP more accessible to Nigerian entrepreneurs by making SMEDAN, ITF, NDE and BOI more responsive and structured/ staffed to meet the objectives of NEDEP. We also call on the Minster to suspend the implementation of GEM and put all needed structures in place to ensure the success of NEDEP except GEM is structured to achieve what NEDEP cannot achieve, in which case we will then urge it to suspend NEDEP and build it into GEM.
We want to go beyond the phase of launching of funding initiatives to the phase of the initiatives achieving above 50% of set objectives, one year from its launch. A recent request for information on the achievements/ workings on NEDEP has stayed over three month without a response, this is not strange as we are sure SMEDAN is not certain what its response should be.
We urge the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industries and its agencies managing NEDEP and other funding initiatives to be more pragmatic and responsive to the needs of Nigerian entrepreneurs; asking an entrepreneur to present three years tax clearance certificate is akin to asking him/her not to bother applying for the funds or to use the words of an entrepreneur who has been denied several applications “it’s like asking me to not to apply if I have to pay three years tax before accessing the fund when am a start-up”.
It is our belief and hope that the officials of the ministry and the agencies under it will take up the challenge of ensuring that funding initiatives meets the needs of the average Nigerian entrepreneur, anything short of this is not going to be result oriented neither will it change the belief of the average Nigerian entrepreneur that such funding initiatives are mere covers for moving funds to other purposes as they are hardly accessible.
Initiative Head, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Advocacy and Support Initiative (MSME-ASI)