By Moses Nosike & Naomi Uzor
The President of National Association of Small and Mediun scale Enterprises,NASME, Dr Ike Abugu, in this interviewÂ urges the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to revive the SME because ofÂ itsÂ role inÂ economic growth and development.
What is NASME all about?
NASME is a unique business membership organisation, unique in the sense that our structure is different from that of any other BMO. It is an association of small and medium enterprises but they are what we call â€˜support institutionsâ€™ that work with us and they are also the pillars of SMEs in this country.Â Among the support institutions, we have big financial institutions like First bank, Union bank and some of them. Then, we have government ministries and departments whichÂ areÂ either members of NASME or are supporting NASME one way or the other. That is the uniqueness of NASME.
Are you, as the president, satisfied with the present status of NASME?
No, I am not .We could be doing much better as an organisation,Â an organisation of small and medium enterprises that does not draw government subvention. We do not get money from government and it is deliberate. The whole idea is the membership, the strength of an organisation like this is the large number of members.Â There are visually millions of SMEs in the country but you need to get them interested in joining. So many people do not understand why they should join themselves in networks. So many people do not do it. They think it is a waste of time especially if the person is succeeding. If he is a successful businessman, he will say these people are just idle because he will not understand how a busy businessman will find time for things like this, but he will not understand that no matter how successful you are, one day you will hit a brick wall and then you run to an association.
We have access to government and even the presidency. We have access to any minister or governor and that is the major function of an organisation like ours. Itâ€™s a credible platform and we use it to press for policies that will be favourable to us. No matter how much you have as an individual, you cannot do much.Â We want to make it acceptable because the more membership we have, the more credible we becomeÂ and the more people would want to join. But the other side ofÂ it is that in other countries, an organisation like ours gets government support, not necessarily in the form of cash but if government is doing something, they get you involved, for instance an exhibition outside the country and if you have products that can be exported, we can take care of that, invite you during the delegation if they need made in Nigeria goods.That way, we open up the export market. NASME is actually the youngest of the business membership organisations. MAN is over 50 years old. An organisation like LCCI is over a century old andÂ NACCIMA is even older than NASME. So relatively, considering the harshness of the environment, I think NASME has not done badly. The strength of NASME is in the commitment, the quality of the people we have, not necessarily in the quantity. We will have a large number later with the quality and the kind of uncommon commitment that we find among those who are piloting the affairs ofÂ NASMEÂ because we believe strongly in what an organisation like this can achieve.
What is the structure of your constitution . Are you involved with only banks at national level?
OfÂ all the financial institutions that I mentioned, only the Bank Of Industry is owned by the federal government. I mentioned First bank and Union bank. Oceanic bankÂ is one of our trustees. We have been monitoringÂ it andÂ from the beginning, it hasÂ interest in SMEs. In-fact, Oceanic bank is supposed to be in our council. We are not aversedÂ to privately owned banks orÂ family owned banks. We just look at records andÂ it is an open forum, we never close our doors to any financial institution but you can always tell those who are doing something really for SME and thoseÂ that are paying lip service to it. Everybody is talking about SMEs but when you look at their records, you will find out that not much is happening. They may giveÂ out loansÂ and say it is for SMEs but it is not for SMEs in the real sense, it is something else.
What are the challenges of this organisation?
Well, the basic challenges of NASME is capacity, I mean capacity in so many ways. For instance, NASME is a national organisation. We are supposed to have offices in each state of the federation and eventually even in local governments areas but that has not been possible because inÂ someÂ parts of the country, it is not so easy to organise people, either for business or economic purposes.Â In the south-west, yes, they are generally speaking sophisticatedÂ and understand the importance ofÂ things like this. Also in theÂ South-East, South-South, there is not much problem but it takes time for you to get this thing going. You need capacity, you need the right level of skills, the right financial resources and these things donâ€™t come easy. So, that has been part of the problem. However the basic problem is capacity to expand, to do the kind of things we want to do, not asÂ individualsÂ but as an organisation even in terms of the staff we need. We could double the level of staffÂ we have because there is a lot of work to do, there is so much to do but if you have to double your staff strength, then you must be ready to pay. Nobody will work for you for free. This association has the potential to become the biggest and the most powerful business association in the country and that is the goal. The potential is very clear. Once we get these things right, this is the association to belong to.
What is NASMEâ€™s view on the rejection of letters of credit?
Well, that is actually a fall out from the current crisis that we are having in the financial service sector. It is a fallout and it isÂ affecting our members negatively because you can not open Letters of Credit, LC. You can not import, you can not even do international business and this is terrible.Â It is very unfortunate. This financial crisis was not caused by SMEs debtors. It was caused by the large, mainly big and fake companies. Most SMEs would useÂ loansÂ honestly and pay back honestly and what has happened has vindicated our position all along. Banks should really take more interest and loan more to small and medium enterprises instead of chasing non existence large enterprises.