Osita Oparaugo is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Footprint to Africa Limited, an organisation, which has attracted over one billion dollar worth of investment to the continent and designed platforms to help Small and Medium Scale operators overcome key sector challenges. In this interview, Oparaugo discussed key issues the government is overlooking. He spoke to Kingsley Jeremiah.
President Muhammadu Buhari has been asking investors across the world to come to Nigeria. What is your take on this?
First I will say that there are five people in the president’s cabinet who ought not to be there. I am not going to mention names because everyone knows them. If you are very familiar with the jokes that spread around the social media you will understand. The travel that the president has embarked on is right, but the timing is wrong.
When the President was inaugurated, the first thing he was supposed to do was to understand the home front. He lacks understanding of Nigeria’s challenges. He needed to understand the problem with Nigeria. His first assignment should not be traveling. Seeking investors is good. But he should take enough time to understand Nigeria and the problem.
But the president has been in the country before his election and had in fact ruled the country previously; don’t you think he already has enough understanding of the country and the people?
No! Living in Nigeria and governing Nigeria are two different things. You have been living in Nigeria, but have not been governing Nigeria. Let’s say the president goes to India and tells them there are opportunities and that one can manufacture anything in his country. The businessman from India jumps into the plane to Nigeria for feasibility study.
He gets to our airport, has a reservation at Oriental or Eko Hotel, picks up the first cab to his hotel, he gets into the cab the first thing he asks is; so how is the power sector in Nigeria if I put up a factory I hope. I will have enough power to run my factory? What do you think the reply from the taxi driver would be? The taxi driver will tell the man that there is no light and that is the truth.
That investor doesn’t need to pay any feasibility study company, he doesn’t need any company to get any information, he gets it right from the airport. Worst of it, he gets to his hotel and as he approaches the light goes off. If you are this investor will you invest here? So the president is on the right track, but I think he should reduce the amount of the trip. Those ones will take care of themselves, if you take care of Nigeria first, the investors in Nigeria will tell other investors to come. You don’t need to go look for them they will come, because there is nowhere in the world today that you will have return on investment you will get in Africa. All we need is to get our policies right, get the infrastructures correct and they will come.
How can government encourage local investors to expand capacity?
As an expert in project development and with the vast knowledge I have in development in Africa, the problem that we have with Public Private Partnership (PPP) is not the government nor the companies but ideologies of political parties. The PDP government embarked on the AYZ project, APC government comes in since the AYZ project is people oriented its nice, but just because their party did not initiate it they kill it. When you run like this, what you are saying to the world is that you can’t be trusted.
The man who is coming for the PPP project is scared. If you are in a company and you are contracted by for instance Ambode, will you be comfortable to expand a project beyond four years? No. Because you don’t know what will happen if he loses the election. The next government may cancel the contract and that returns you to square one. The problem that we have is the inability of subsequence governments to carry on the good work of their predecessors.
Going forward, what are the changes required to attract investments that will promote the SMEs?
The problem with Nigeria is oil. I wish that I wake up tomorrow and they tell me that the oil has dried up. Oil has blindfolded businessmen and women to the great opportunities in Nigeria and that also killed the SME. Tanzania, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire and other African countries are growing very fast. What do you think they are doing that other countries are not doing? They are strengthening their SMEs. The SME is the backbone of every economy. Kenya understands the need to strengthen the SME and if the government of Kenya continues with this momentum in the next five years, we may not answer the great country that we think we are. I think Nigeria has to go back to the drawing room to strengthen the SMEs. Government has to strengthen Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN).
But access to finance is one of the challenges to development of SMEs in Nigeria and generally Africa, with your Market Square Africa; how can the situation change?
For SMEs to grow, there has to be joint ventures between the SMEs. There has to be joint partnership. SMEs must come together to grow joint force because finance is a serious constraint to SMEs in African. Our organisation, the Market Square Africa, has solved is the dependency on bank loans by SME operators. If you are a manufacturer of Aba shoe with a shoe manufacturing company in Aba and you want to expand your market into Lagos, Accra, Duala in Cameroun, you don’t need to go to the bank anymore.
Forget the bank, come on our platform, Market Square Africa, post your business, and a distributor will contact you.The market square Africa has eliminated the need for you to come to Lagos. The Market Square Africa has given you a platform to address those challenges of office space and staff.
From policy standpoint do you think government, particularly this administration has done enough to make doing business in Nigeria attractive to investors?
The policies to a large extent are not bad. Though most people talk about policies, but I’m not sure if they understand hundred percent what is on ground before they talk about that.
The problem with Africa is not policy; the problem with is the mind of the people. The orientation of the people is the problem not government policies. A lot of things are free in Africa, so if the policy is that harsh it won’t restrict all those free areas. We need to understand that we have to export something to get foreign reserve, let us grow what we have.
Source: Guardian Business News