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Our entrepreneurs must be saved now before it’s late — Ugwu-Oju

By Charles Kumolu

You floated a platform called NESH, what do you seek to achieve with it?

NESH is about developing entrepreneurship. It focuses on young entrepreneurs being given the right mentoring to actualise their abilities.  It is also a major support group for entrepreneurs. NESH is trying to see how those challenges affecting entrepreneurs are addressed but our focus is on what needs to be done.

Today, we are trying to ensure that the challenges of the upstream and downstream operators of the oil and gas industry are addressed. It is more of growing entrepreneurship, providing support and also partnering with the public sector. That is why a major aspect of NESH is ensuring annual media review of the economy.

It is a platform where entrepreneurs and key players in the public sector review the economy.  NESH is meant to bring entrepreneurs and policy makers together to have a conversation on practical issues because business owners are practical people more preoccupied with what needs to be done including ideas and solutions can solve problems.

NESH is driven by five key components which are: a plenary session, a roundtable discussion, presentation of the NESH Top-10 High Impact Projects Watch List, an annual keynote speech and the honours and recognitions.

Learning environment

Each segment of this five-layer structure has been conceptualized to provide a learning environment for mentoring, peer reviews and project evaluation, networking, policy initiatives and road-mapping for sustainable development. The major event that NESH had was on November 16, 2016, at the Oriental Hotel, Lagos. Issues regarding the review of the economy were discussed.

Emeka Ugwu-Oju

At one of them, we had the minister of Industries whom we engaged on the economic outlook of 2017. On that day many of the entrepreneurs voted for the entrepreneur of the decade and at the end of the exercise, Aliko Dangote was voted the entrepreneur of the decade by his contemporaries.

We are targeting the last weekend of February to make a formal presentation of the award. We also recognized other sectorial leaders. The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who is the grand Patron of NESH will make the presentation.

You were privy to some discussions leading to the relative peace in the Niger Delta region today. How can Nigeria go forward with the 16-point agenda?

The Niger Delta crisis has unintended consequences on entrepreneurship. That is why I am speaking. Many companies that raised equity operate mostly on land and they are the hardest hit by militancy. One of the companies in the last six months has not been able to export because the export pipeline they fixed was damaged again. And the company that fixed the pipeline(Shell) said they will not repair it again until militancy stops.

Nigerian entrepreneurs are caught in the middle and the situation is affecting the whole country.  The situation is affecting the banks because funds were borrowed from the banks to facilitate projects.  A company that does not produce nor export will find it difficult to survive.

Many of the entrepreneurs are also from the South-South. We are not saying that agitating for a better deal for the oil producing areas is not a good cause but we need to have a better way of doing it. That should be done by ensuring that the current peace is not derailed and the issues that have been raised by PANDEF and other stakeholders, are treated with dispatch.

Of course, the South-East/South-South Professionals which I belong to also has a road map for the Nigeria Delta. The road map will industrialise the Niger Delta area. But we need peace, equity, and justice for that to happen. We are not saying that it should be business as usual by asking people to stop agitating while things will be left the way they are.

If things remain the way they are, there will be agitation. So, we have to address the issues that are leading to the agitation. There are always criminal elements but if you remove the oxygen that enables them to operate, they will not be able to operate. They operate because opportunities have been given to people of questionable characters to become freedom fighters which should not be the case.

Peace agreements on the Niger Delta question are not new. With the present accord which is anchored on the 16-point agenda, how can a derailment be avoided?

The important thing is sincerity on the part of the parties concerned. In this instance, it is the people of Niger Delta, who are being represented by PANDEF and the Federal Government. If these parties approach issues with sincerity, the agreements that were reached would witness actual implementation.

If what was agreed is not implemented which is the norm in Nigeria, the situation will be back to square one. With the Vice President leading the negotiation and the commitment of the Minister of Petroleum, we are confident that something concrete would be achieved this time.

Reasonable agreements

We need to recognise that the Minister of Petroleum has been doing a good job. When I was the President of South-East/South-South Professionals, SESP, I was privy to the efforts being put in by the minister to make sure that the crisis does not explode. I will say that unfortunately, things happened and we are here today.

If at the highest levels some decisions were taken and nothing happened, the agitations will continue. We just hope that is not the case this time. Things should be done more timely this time. When the President was out of the country for medical treatment, some reasonable agreements were reached and we waited for the President to return and approve it.

Unfortunately, where they stopped then is where we are now.  Our hope is that things will be different rent this time if nothing else, but for the sake of our entrepreneurs in the oil and gas industry. I will say that they are the most affected by this crisis. States in the Niger Delta have also been crying over the loss of revenue based on low production because they did not invest like the entrepreneurs. The states were concerned about sharing money that is why they are in this situation today.

Entrepreneurs also got other people to invest in terms of equity and they are not getting returns. It is heartbreaking. Therefore, I want the country to know that we have to be timely in implementing the agreement so that people will get back to work.

In all these, whether the companies operating in the region contributed to the current peace process is still not clear. Can we know if  the y  played any role beyond the level of community relations department of their various organizations?

Right now, the two major actors are the people of Niger Delta or the oil producing communities and the federal government. Of course, the oil companies are caught in the middle but they are not involved in negotiations. They have to be part of the solution.

That is also where the 16-point agenda by PANDEF and some other useful ideas from other stakeholders come in. They captured the essence of the oil producing companies being partners in discussions and in the solutions because they are the people, who invested money.

They are a very important party. What they want is an enabling environment to do their business.  If there are parts of the agreements that involve them, they should keep their own side of the bargain. For instance, if it is said that a certain percentage of workers at different levels should be indigenes, they are expected to keep that agreement.

But that should not be done without compromising standards and professionalism.

But a critical look at the demands contained in the 16-point agenda showed that they are not too new except for a few. Some are even saying that the agenda is holistic. What is your take on that?

There is no perfect situation. When you look at the 16-point agenda and if it is properly analysed, you will be impressed. At the level of SESP, we are looking at how our 20-year development programme for the region can be incorporated in it.

Our agenda for the Niger Delta is thorough because when we were putting it together, we visited all the states in the region. The traditional rulers were consulted and they supported it.

Development agenda

The Chairman of the South-South traditional rulers, Dr. Edmund Dakoru knows much about the development agenda. It is to create an enabling environment.  The people are asking for equity, fairness and rapid development of the Niger Delta region.

Of course, fiscal federalism and derivation were captured in it. There are the immediate goals, midterm, and long-term. The most important is the long term.  Some critiques are looking at the immediate from the standpoint of those to guard the pipelines. But the bigger picture should be emphasized on.

The essence of PANDEF is even to make the Niger Delta inclusive because we had a situation whereby people were bringing ethnicity into the Niger Delta question. To make it more inclusive, Obong Attah and Diette Spiff were made the joint chairmen of the working committee of PANDEF.

This arrangement ensured that all the interests are protected. Some criticisms are neither nor there. The key thing is to ensure that the whole problem is solved with sincerity and sense of purpose. The agreement should be treated with dispatch because delay would not be good for entrepreneurs.


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