A key member of the country’s organised private sector (OPS), the Nigerian Association of Small Scale Industrialists (NASSI), has described the Federal Government’s N75 billion Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) Survival Fund as laudable.
It, however, affirmed that it was largely inadequate to meet the needs of the 200 million people in the country under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) agreement. With this, the association is urging the Federal Government to encourage local producers by creating an enabling environment for the business community, saying that this is the only way Nigerian goods would compete if the nation’s borders open for AFCFTA.
The immediate past Chairman, NASSI, Segun Kuti- George, in a chat with this newspaper, explained that the position of the organised private sector had been fear that the trade deal would put Nigerian products at a disadvantage position as Nigerian markets would be flooded with products from other countries that are ready.
“If this happens, Nigerian products will suffer and most businesses would collapse. For example, 50 per cent of our agric products do not make it to the market because they get wasted. The business community is also faced by funding where they do not have access to cheap loans. Government needs to assist the MSMEs more and most of these companies are producing with obsolete machines making them uncompetitive, but Nigerian goods are very and they are loved at the international market.
“Instead of complaining about the border closure, we will be preparing ourselves and when the issues being raised are resolved and Af- CFTA kicks off; we would be ready. If we are going to participate in an international trade, the borders will have to be opened because it is a neces-sity,” he said. Kuti-George said the objectives of the fair was to give access to knowledge through capacity building, access to funding through co-operative and intervention with various financial institutions, access to market through organising trade fairs and attending exhibitions of other organisations.
He, however, advised MSMEs to register with trade groups to get access to funds their businesses, adding that financial institutions were only open to fund credible trade groups rather than lending to individuals. According to him, “we are encouraging many members as possible to form groups. Funding is accessed much more easily when there is a group and there is a leader. There are grants and loans coming out for different groups and they are at very low interest rates.”
While speaking on the #EndSARS protests and its effects, he pointed out that the association had been assisting businesses that were destroyed during the protests and those affected by COVID-19, saying that it had secured the promises of the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund to compensate these businesses.
“We have pushed our members to also apply for some of the intervention fund by the government to lift their businesses out of the doldrums. We have also approached Access Bank for their N50 billion none interest loan that is coming up. “We do not know the modalities of the loan yet, but we have approached them to support the businesses of our members,” he said.
He urged the Federal Government to encourage people to do more by way of creating the enabling environment, stressing that for AfCFTA to be a reality, the government knows the capacity of its local industries. “It is important that products coming from Nigeria are enough to flood the continent because as things stand, the moment our borders open, we are going to get so many products from all over the continent and if we do not produce enough to counter their move, our market would be overwhelmed by these goods,” Kuti-George added.