The Chairman of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, (MAN) Anambra/Ebonyi/Enugu states chapter, Dr. Chike Obidigbo, in an exclusive interview with our correspondent in Ebonyi State, Peter Okutu, stated among other issues that he was not at home with the introduction of Islamic banking in the country. Excerpts:
What is your view on the proposed plan to remove fuel subsidy and increase electricity tariff as they affect manufacturing?
One of the big problems in manufacturing is that those in government never feel the pulse of those of us in the sector. Subsidy on petroleum is the possibility that there is subsidy because sometimes you find that much of that subsidy has been eaten up by the inefficiency within the system.
So, this substantially increases the cost of engaging in the petroleum business. And then even where there is some subsidy, I don’t think there is any reason why the government should not continue to cushion these differences given the fact that ordinary Nigerians get nearly very little from the government.
So this should be what the government is giving back to the society as against the billions of naira they are evacuating from our treasury illegally, most of the time.
I don’t think this is too much to ask, that government should soft-pedal on this issue of removal of petroleum subsidy which they know would cause a lot of discomfort tothe ordinary Nigerian. Once it is removed, there will be an increase in all spheres of socio-economic activities in our notion.
Then it would also affect manufacturers as users of generators, because right now, many of our members do not have any energy supply from the government at all.
They use generators for their businesses which is extremely costly. There is no way you can compare your cost of doing business using generator to that of somebody else that is using energy supplied from the national grid.
The cost of energy in Nigeria is already high and removing the subsidy will compound the whole thing. Moreover, increase in tariff will again become a serious disincentive not only to upcoming manufacturing businesses but also to those of us already in the industry. We are already groaning under the painful effects of the existing tariff in both energy and petroleum products.
Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan told Nigerians to expect hard economic measures; how do you hope to grapple with this development, would you reduce your workforce?
Again, one of the biggest problems confronting this country is that we have very short memories. People tend to forget things very easily. When you talk of belt- tightening, I don’t know to what extent we will have to go again to tighten that belt.
Because when government talks of tightening belt, they are referring not to the elites but to the poor masses, who are already groveling on the floor. I don’t know how much more they can take because they are already on the ground. They say that he that is down fears no fall! As such, whatever measures government will take, I don’t think it will make much difference because people are already eating dust.
Now, any policy of government that does not advance the cause of manufacturing but rather retards it, never works in the interest of the sector. And this is a sector that is expected to carry the burden of providing employment opportunities as well as the burden of trying to put bread on the tables of so many families.
The more we get discouraged, the more some marginal industrialists will flee! They will abandon ship and when they so do, many people will be thrown into the labour market. And when that happens, some of them could be converted to criminals! So when they make some of these policies, government should try to consider the cyclical effects and the negative impact it could have on the over all economy.
The masses of this country have suffered so much. As an employer of labour, there is no single day that passes that you don’t find 10, 20, sometimes 30 people knocking at our gates, begging to be employed.
They want to engage in something meaningful but have nothing to do. Then in spite of that ugly situation, those of us that are making the necessary efforts to provide this employment are continuously being discouraged by the government.
And this is a democratic government that should be championing the cause of industrialisation in this country. This is the kind of government that is supposed to be in the front, clearing the way for industrialists so that the burden could be lightened, so we will be encouraged to do more in the interest of the whole society.
With changes in land laws and the emergence of land reforms in Nigeria, how is land accessible in the southeast?
In the South-East, there are problems first of all, of land acquisition. One, government does not make it easy for people to acquire land at reasonable cost. Land is one of the principal factors of production.
If you don’t have land, you cannot start your industry in the sky, you cannot do so in a borrowed or rented property. Serious manufacturing
must be on land. I think it is only Enugu State I know of, that has acquired a lot of land and invited investors to come take land for manufacturing business.
I had the opportunity of speaking to one of the former governors of Enugu State for instance. I told him, ‘you have made this offer of free land to industrialists but nobody is coming to take the offer from you because land constitutes but a tiny fraction of the factors of production.
You have to do more than just give land. And I know that eventually, the present government in Enugu will consider doing a little more than just offering empty land. And this is as far as this goes because in a state like Anambra, not only that they will not give you land, if you use your own money to buy the land, the government will frustrate you.
I don’t know whether it is intentional or just out of ignorance but they do everything to frustrate you from using that land which you bought for the purpose of setting up an industry. And that is an industry that will create employment and provide goods and services that the people need.
If you manage to jump through the hurdle of obtaining a certificate of occupancy, without which you know you cannot start any meaningful development; if you manage to get through that hurdle by paying series of fees that are inexplicable and by the time you get done, if you are lucky to build up something and want to use it as collateral to collect loans from any of the banks, the government has to give you what is called consent to mortgage, the government has to sign your mortgage certificate.
Again, they may hold you there for years. They will not give it to you. Every business person in AnambraState now who hopes to use his or her property to obtain loan from banks, will tell you that Anambra State is a no-go-area because Gov. Peter Obi will not give you the necessary support.
And when businessmen are crying that they cannot get this kind of facility, how do you expect them to grow? Even the Bank of Industries (BOl) that gives a lot of funds to industrialists all over the country, once it comes to Anambra State, they will tell you before hand that Governor Peter Obi will not sign your papers, so don’t expect this loan, even if it is going to work out it can take you up to two years!
So this is an area that we have been pleading with the governor of Anambra State to look into and do something very urgently. I am a victim, so I am not just saying what other people told me. This was what I personally went through.
My certificate of occupancy took nearly two years, letter of consent is taking about six months, and consent to mortgage can take you another one year! By the time you add these things up, what business are you into again?
The purpose for which you need the loan may have become irrelevant so, the media should join in pleading with Gov. Peter Obi to reform the system.