By: Dikachi Elemba, in Owerri
The Owerri Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (OCCIMA), the apex of the organised private sector (OPS) in Imo State has decried the lip service approach of successive governments to the plights of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the state, attributing the rise of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment to this attitude.
OCCIMA also said that the rising cases of crimes and criminality in Imo State is attributable to this lackadaisical attitude of successive past governments in the state and appealed for a change of approach to enable the growth of the small and medium enterprises sector.
But recently, Ohaneze Ndigbo, a socio-cultural group whose council of elders is currently headed by business mogul, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, an engineer, moved to float a Council of Business Leaders in the Southeast region with a view to find a way to stem rising youth unemployment.
Anthony Amadi, president of OCCIMA, in a telephone interview, while decrying the dreamy attitude of the government to the SME sector of the economy, stated that any society that messes with the SMEs cannot employ its youths and give a frontal attack to unemployment, crimes and every other thing that could lure the youths to societal vices.
“Our past governors have paid lip service over factory, factory, factory, industry, industry, industry. They neither managed the ones Sam Mbakwe did nor encouraged people to build one. It is only in Anambra State where the former governor, Peter Obi’s administration tried to encourage industrialists.
“In Imo State, especially under Rochas Okorocha administration, the SME sector was out, even the local contractors who used to add value to the circulation of money in the state were completely wiped out. Rochas brought them out and refused to pay them, they never recouped their money in the process. If they want jobs for the youths they should encourage the youths, they should encourage the small-scale industrialists in the system, especially those who belong to OCCIMA,” Amadi said.
The OCCIMA president reiterated that what the government should do is to encourage industrialisation by encouraging the growth of small and medium scale industrialists, adding that if they survived in the system, a lot of jobs will be created. He stressed that if 20 SMEs are encouraged and each employs a sizable number of youths based on capacity and ability to pay wages and salaries, there would also be multiplier effects.
He went further: “With the encouragement of the government, many people can go into manufacturing. Anambra State is encouraging people; China is what it is today, a manufacturing country where our people go to buy. It is not by miracle, the government is encouraging the system,” he said.
He said pastt administrations in Imo State never paid counterpart funds to any of the funding agencies provided by the federal government. “It was recently that I heard that our present governor, Hope Uzodinma, paid some counterpart funds to the funding agencies to help people,” Amadi said.
But he also questioned the way and manner of getting the counterpart funds, advising that the process of accessing the counterpart funds should be clear and transparent, and that people who have nothing to do with business should not be allowed to run such agencies in Nigeria, either as commissioners or director generals. He said that they must be people who are of proven integrity in their chosen areas or where they have excelled.
According to him, “If they are economists, they should be able to bring economic ideas; if they are financial experts, they should bring their financial expertise, they should be able to encourage people to access funds, they should be able to help people to go into manufacturing, so that in the next 10 years, Imo State would be like Anambra State, where people go to look for manufactured products.”
The OCCIMA president blamed the system, especially a system where some government officials would ask people to come and fill forms for loans and by the time the forms are filled they will disappear in government circles. He said this should stop, and that there should be some sincerity and sanity in the system .
Amadi passionately solicited help for the members of OCCIMA, making it clear that the group should be encouraged. He stated that without equipping the SME sector, no value could be added to the state GDP or the income base of the state.