2021 MSME AWARDS – Again Abia State Shines

Posted by FN Editor | one year ago | 372 times

By Chinenye Nwaogu 

The the annual Federal Government’s MSME Awards ceremony may have come and gone, but the echoes of Abia’s giant footprint on the MSME landscape keeps reverberating. 

The Nationwide MSME Clinics Awards was the initiative of the Buhari led Federal Government anchored through the office of the Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo, by a young, vibrant and smart kid Tola Johnson. The idea of the award is to celebrate states and institutions that have blazed the trail in the MSME landscape, but most important identify and celebrate outstanding entrepreneurs, particularly young aspiring entrepreneurs, who putting their brains and hands to work have carved a niche for themselves.  

At the maiden edition of the awards in 2017, Abia State shone through and went home with the prestigious “Most MSME Supportive State” Award. While showing the documentary, the anchor informed the audience which included the Vice President, several Governors and other institutional drivers, that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu since assumption of Office has dominated the MSME ecosystem like a colossus. 

During the 2015 Governorship campaigns, the development of the MSME sector had prominent mention throughout the campaign activities of the then Dr.  Okezie Ikpeazu. As an Aba boy and knowing the prominent place Aba occupied as the hub of MSME east of the Niger, he understood the keys issues militating against the growth of the sector. He understood the psychology of the operators in the sector. He knew exactly where the shoe was pinching the industry. Unlike those who campaigned with him, I feel the towering advantage he had then and even now was the ‘home boy’, advantage, a precise grasp of the issues at stake. 

So immediately after swearing in, he engaged all the levers needed to bring to limelight the creative and ingenious power that resided in Aba, the then limping Enyimba City. Within one year of intensive engagement with the sector, starting with setting up a smart team, attracting development funds from Ford Foundation to host the maiden edition of the Aba Urban Development Summit (a gathering of some the key institutional and private sector players in the MSME ecosystem), that summit gave some direction and impetus to the plans of Governor Ikpeazu to properly expose the MSME sector in Abia particularly Aba to both national and international limelight. 

Obviously, Aba had existed prior to the coming of Ikpeazu, but everyone will agree to the fact that the rediscovery of Aba as a hub of MSME in Nigeria took a more positive dramatic turn since 2015. His team identified some of the key issues and challenges of the sector which included – infrastructure (roads, power etc.), access to finance, increased market share, brand ownership, quality control and automation among other issues. In a very bold move, the Governor while tackling the other challenges simultaneously, took personally the issue of branding and brand ownership as his strategic role in the development of the sector.   

Everywhere he went, the name Made in Aba rented the air, he made it a point of his duty to make patronage of Made in Aba products especially leather and garment, his trademark. The Governor knew that by becoming the main brand ambassador of products out that space those creative and ingenious entrepreneurs will gain the needed psychological boost to take the nation and the world by storm. 

Governor Ikpeazu knew the competitive capacity of Abia entrepreneurs to engage their peers all over the world. All they needed was a little pat at the back, a little encourage and the creation of the enabling environment to allow them showcase and exhibit what was already innate in them. Aba shoe makers and dress makers are some of the most creative players in those sectors globally. So why can’t they compete at the global level? That was the question, the Governor put to all the players in the industry that gave many the needed impetus to put up their thinking caps and today laurels adorn the industry through dint of hard work and creativity. 

When the Governor began the promotion of Made in Aba, one of the most successful achievements of his administration, he stated it clearly, that Made in Aba was just a metaphor to celebrate the ingenuity and creative ability of the average Nigerian youth, who have not had the platform to showcase what they could offer to the nation and to world. To him, it was time to properly and intentionally celebrate the handiwork of young entrepreneurs. In many of his addresses he had illustrated this by telling the beautiful story of how great men proudly showcase handmade cards by their toddler kids even when such artistic endeavors were not top notch. He challenged everyone, especially the leaders to take pride in patronizing the products of local entrepreneurs particularly youths as a way of giving them the encouragement to continue till perfection. 

In doing these things, I usually term as software democracy dividends, the Governor opined severally that he was not in government to do the ordinary things like building roads, school, hospitals which of course are necessary, but should be taken for granted. He insisted that he will elevate governance to engage in activities that will encourage mass a participation in economic activities, which will properly empower the people, especially in those areas our people had comparative and competitive advantage. 

As we celebrate the 2021 laurel bearers -Footwear Academy team, the latest recipients of the MSME awards from Abia state, we remember that the State through the Governor opened the floodgate of these avalanche of laurels to the state during the maiden edition in 2017, in yet another edition, Nora Onwuasonanya brought the State to limelight when she was decorated as the Most Outstanding Female Entrepreneur of the year, the next year saw the duo of Chidinma Erem and Clement Orjinta also wining the prestigious award. It may be interesting to note that both Nora and Chidinma were part of 30 youths the Governor sent to China for training in shoe production. 

This year again, Abia was on the map. To those outside the corridors of power, know that these feats are no flukes, they do not come easy. Such feats are products and results of deliberate policies and actions of government to give the needed impetus to those within that space to fly high enough to become national celebrities in their chosen areas of endeavor. These feats, couldn’t have been achieved if the enabling environment was not put in place by the state government under the direction of the Governor. 

In 2018, Abia had its first mention in a positive light in the World Bank global ease of doing business report, a four yearly report that documents and analysis activities of government geared towards an enhanced business operating environment. Abia was reported as one of the 5 most improved states on the ease of doing business index.  

In two successive reports, Abia has been recognized as the no 3 on the FDI national ranking only after Lagos and Abuja, by the NBS. The summation of all these is that something good is happening within the MSME ecosystem. These recognitions go a long way to prove that the Governor and those driving the MSME activities in the state are actually doing new things that has brought the right attention and focus of key institution and industry players to the things happening in the state. 

Just recently, the Governor in his usual supportive nature, paid a well celebrated visit to the Footwear Academy, during that visit he enrolled as a student of the Academy and promised using the academy to train another 2,000 Abia youths to become professional shoemakers.  I have a feeling that that visit and the publicity it generated for the activities of the Academy may have contributed to wining this very competitive national award by the Federal Government. 

Winning awards is not the only thing happening in the Abia MSME firmament, so much work has gone into the development of the MSME sector in the state. All the challenges identified in 2015, have received the appropriate Ikpeazu Midas touch. 

Today, everyone agrees that Aba has received real boost in terms of infrastructural upgrade. All the roads leading to major centres of commercial and economic activities have received the Ikpeazu durable road treatment. Roads, that defied all kinds of interventions in the past have surrendered to the Ikpeazu magic- the iconic Faulks road, the notorious Ngwa Road all have different tales to tell. 

Today, there is in operation an Ariaria Independent Power leveraging the gas resources in the state. Today, Geometric is receiving the right attention from all key stakeholders and will soon bounce to power Aba, the economic power house of Nigeria, this will make Aba the first Nigeria city with uninterrupted power supply.  

Today, the Bank of Industry that hitherto ran away from Abia is back, resolving the access to finance challenge. Today, there is in existence, Abia SME Microfinance Bank headquartered at 17B Ngwa Road, helping entrepreneurs with needed capital to support their businesses. The handshake with key institutions which in past was non-existent is now falling over each other to find their space in the Abia MSME revolution. 

Today, there is in existence the first and most ultramodern fully automated shoe factory in Aba, the Enyimba Automated Shoe Company that has begun supply of shoes to key National institutions and even major private sector players like the Nigeria railway, Nigeria Police, PEP, Nigeria Breweries just to mention a few. 

Today, there is in existence, the Abia State Quality and Marketing Agency helping entrepreneurs improve that standard of their products at the same time expand their market share. 

As we raise the glass to Footwear Academy and all the other young entrepreneur champions that have put Abia on the MSME National Hall of Fame, we raise a higher glass to the giant among men, Governor Ikpeazu who has created the valve that have energized these creative abilities. He insists, that he is not a shoemaker, neither is he a garment maker, but that his role is to catalyze the process that will give every determined entrepreneur, especially the youths a ladder to climb up to the place called success.

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