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We’re trying to establish trade relationship with Africa – Omolola Ajani

Mrs Omolola Ajani is the Chairperson of the Abuja Branch of NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women, NNEW, a platform established under the aegis of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Assembly, NECA. In this interview with our team in Abuja, she outlines efforts of her organization in building sustainable businesses among Nigerian women.     She notes that women businesses are yet to feel the impact of the federal government Ease of Doing Business initiative, while outlining the agenda for tomorrow’s training programme with the theme, “Instituting Corporate Governance in Our Businesses.”   Excerpts:

By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief & Emmanuel Elebeke

WHAT is NNEW?

It’s a collection of women entrepreneurs, we operate in all the strata that cuts across supply of goods and services. We have manufacturing, clothing lines, furnishing, food and beverages. We operate in all the lines.

Mrs Omolola Ajani is the Chairperson of the Abuja Branch of NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women, NNEW,

It’s a collection of these women that not just act as a pressure group for worthy courses that highlight the benefits of entrepreneurship and even the growth of entrepreneurship but provide access to information that will help these women I their businesses. We try to link them up with information such as access to funds, access to knowledge and all that besides the training aspect of the organization.

We also try to harness our broad network base in order to reach out to other countries. Basically, we are trying to establish trade mission’s relationship with Africa whereby we can exhibit some of our produces and goods and services.

How do your members balance their roles as wives, mothers and businesswomen?

We teach women how to have work life balance because competences and skills are very important as well. How to delegate. If you know you have a challenge with cooking, you must learn how to cook or out-source it. There are several options to that.

What is the nature of tomorrow’s programme?

It is a networking programme. Both members and non-members are expected, so that we can all connect to harness and project the benefits of the network, which primarily, is in building ourselves to be more productive.

The networking programme is one of our flagship programmes. We have several others. This is the second for the year. We have a calendar that gives us an evaluating system. This is the second quarter. We had one in the first quarter. How has it been so far? This second quarter is pushing us on what steps to take forward.   That is why our emphasis is Instituting Corporate Governance in Our Businesses.

Some of our speakers are: Mrs. Ndidi Nwuneli, the Managing Partner of Sahel Consulting Agribusiness & Nutrition Limited; Mrs. Adetara Agbakoba, Manager , PriceWaterHouseCoopers; and Mrs. Latifat Balogun, CEO, Hatlab Place.

There will be entrepreneurship trainings, exhibitions/trade fair as well as, networking meetings to enable participants to expand their reach and business opportunities.

Why did you choose “Instituting Corporate Governance in Our Businesses” as your theme for this programme?

One of our objectives is to ensure that women businesses are sustainable and outlive us.   We want women businesses to become like the Coca-Colas of the world.   What we see is that most businesses in Nigeria die when the owners dies.   So we want to build businesses that will last for generations.

For you to do that, you need to have a proper structure in your business.   We always complain about everything that surrounds us but sometimes, we need to look inwards to see what we need to do to survive- which is the right structure.

We have done a lot of trainings in the past to ensure that women businesses have the right structure, good business models.   We feel it is now time to take the next step to ensure that they are instituting the right corporate governance.

From your assessment of women businesses in the country, what do you think are the fundamental problems that make them often fail?

What I see is that women are not bold.   If they are bold, they will be able to take certain steps. Which is why we are encouraging them to institute corporate governance.   By the time they institute corporate governance and they see the steps to be taken to institute it, they will see that they have to delegate responsibilities to other people.

It means it is not just you doing everything. Not one cap fits all. You are going to have other people in charge of Finance, HR and other areas of the business, and you have to trust that they will do that for you. When that is done, you can now say, what next is there for me to do as the business leader, owner?

Instituting corporate governance also means that you have to comply with a lot of the regulations of the federal government. Government is trying to generate more revenue, internally.   It is important for businesses to be compliant, pay their taxes, pension and many other issues.

With corporate governance, you will pay all these and once you do that, you are contributing to the overall economy of this country.   Once you are paying all these, it will pinch you and you will take interest in what is happening on the political scene.

Political scene?

Yes.

How?

Once you are paying taxes, you will become interesting in what the government is doing with you tax. I am paying tax and I know what I pay every month. I know what I pay in pensions and I know where it is pinching. So I want to know who is there. What laws are they making and how are they affecting my business. We were not doing those things before so it was soldier-go, soldier-come, we didn’t care, so long as we were eating. But now they have come out, they are everywhere forcing themselves on us. They are everywhere and we are paying taxes and we know the pain.

In your earlier assessments before you zeroed in on instituting corporate governance, did look at issues about lack of transparency? Book keeping in SMEs?

Certainly. We have done all those trainings in the past and most of our women know that they have to separate themselves from their businesses. Remember we told you we are trying to build businesses that will last for generations. So if you don’t put structures in place, it won’t happen. Instituting corporate governance will force you not to do those things that you have just mentioned.

You know I told that women are not very bold. They are very cautious. Which is what men don’t have. They are very bold but not very cautious. They are very trusting. So women too have to learn to trust others with their businesses. We need to start delegating certain things so that we can focus on the main businesses, network, make connections that we need to grow the businesses because you can’t grow the business by micro-managing the people. You need to move out.

What are the effects of the various regulations and taxes on women businesses?

They are killings the businesses. Many of them are faced with the options of should I close down the business, put my money in the bank and then every six months I go and collect my interest or what should I do?   The situation is very difficult for women businesses. If the government is looking for one trillion naira and there are only three hundred registered businesses and they choose to audit and audit those few, it is not going to help the economy. I think what the government should do is to widen the tax net to bring in more tax payers, rather than allowing the current multiple taxation to kill the existing businesses. There are a lot of briefcase businesses who are not paying taxes at all, while those paying are over burdened by the government. That shouldn’t be.

How has the federal government Ease of doing Business initiative impacted women businesses in the country?

The ease of Doing Business in Nigeria, if you give the change to rate it on a scale of 1-10, it is between 2-3. The impact of the Ease of doing Business has not been felt by women businesses, at all. And that goes down to the implementers. It could be the civil servants, or whoever the key players of that initiative are. The concept may be wonderful but how do we implement it to the extent where the target audience benefit from it.

It is an attitudinal change thing.   While we are talking about SMEs should do this, government should do that, we should target the individuals involved in it.   So as an entrepreneur, I have to do this, the government staff, you have a role to play. As a government regulator, you have a part to play.

The bottom-line is that the administrative bottlenecks are choking.   Government realizes that entrepreneurship is the way to go.   The challenge is how to implement policies of government to the extent that it positively affects the woman on the street.

The truth is that it is the women, with their small businesses that are actually upholding the economy of this nation.

Some people have argued that money is not the problem of Nigerian SMEs. Do you agree?

Yes.

Why?

I said this because if I know that money is my problem, I know what to do. But we have so many unforeseen issues that may come up.   As I am sitting down here now, I can get a call that somebody has just come to my office and shut it because I don’t have TV licence. What is TV used for. And the law says you pay for the licence per building.   So because I have two buildings in my premises I am being charged per building. There are so many battles to fight. As you grow, you become more visible so you become a target.   It is like you have to create a department to handle government issues which makes it more expensive for small businesses.

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