SMEs crucial to surmounting nation’s challenges – Arunma Oteh

By Deborah Coker

A former treasurer and also former Vice-President of the World Bank, Dr Arunma Oteh, (2015 – 2018) says Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are capable of bailing Nigeria out of its multi-dimensional challenges.

Oteh made the declaration on Monday in Abuja in a lecture she delivered at the celebration of youth entrepreneurs empowered by an indigenous upstream oil and gas company, Seplat Energy Plc.

The lecture was titled: “Unleashing Nigeria’s Untapped Potential through Entrepreneurship and Sustainability.’’

She noted that any country that placed value on its SMEs and entrepreneurship already understood the formula for future successes.

She said Nigeria had lots of entrepreneurs that could be used to solve her multi-dimensional poverty and challenges.

She observed that entrepreneurs found solutions where others saw trouble, just as they are creative, innovative, tenacious, and are problem solvers.

Oteh said also that Nigeria needed to surmount challenges faced by SMES, which included unfavourable business environment, poor access to credit and epileptic power supply.

“We need to sort out power, because enterprises suffer more and the cost of doing business in Nigeria is higher than the cost of doing business in other countries.

“As an entrepreneur in Nigeria you have to provide your own electricity, water, and logistics,’’ she said.

Oteh commended Seplat Energy and its partner the Conversation 4 Change (C4C), an NGO for the initiative to train, empower and support young entrepreneurs.

Earlier Dr Chioma Nwachuku, Director, External Affairs and Sustainability at Seplat, said the event aimed at developing participants’ leadership skills, social entrepreneurship and business management abilities.

This, she explained, would be done through generalised and targeted capacity building workshops.

“The graduates’ ability to action their ideas is supported through equipment funding and mentoring.

“This year, we are celebrating the 23 successful graduates who received a cumulative funding of 16.5 million naira in seed money.

“Through this programme, we aim to enhance their lives by giving them the opportunity to forge their own ways and have a say in the future of their country,’’ she said.

Nwachuku noted that the International Labour Organisation had predicted that global unemployment level would rise by around three million to 208 million in 2023 (corresponding to a global unemployment rate of 5.8 per cent).

“In Nigeria, youth unemployment is a major concern. A 2022 report by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics stated that Nigeria’s unemployment rate rose to 33.3 per cent in the second quarter of 2020.

“This implied a staggering 23.18 million persons of Nigeria’s labour force being out of job. It further indicated an increase in the country’s unemployment portfolio, mostly among the young and able youths.

“That is why, at Seplat Energy, we are proud to play a pivotal role in changing the narrative for young people in Nigeria.

“Since 2019, C4C and Seplat Energy Plc. have worked together to ensure that we improve the lives of young Nigerians by supporting them to start and sustain their business enterprises.

“Through this partnership, we have successfully trained and supported three batches of fellows; about 55 young entrepreneurs who are thriving, despite the odds stacked against businesses in Nigeria.

“Each beneficiary has shown resilience, creativity and innovation through the duration of the yearly programme,

“They have become our proof of concept that we can truly make Nigeria better by investing in the youth; one young person (or more) at a time,’’ Nwachuku said.

She added that the trainees were engaged from the selection process to intensive face-to-face training on key management aspects of business and participation in internship trainings.

The trainings are conducted by credible companies in the beneficiaries’ area of vocation and support provided for each of their businesses.

“Seplat Energy’s Corporate Social Responsibility over the last 11 years had been hinged on health, education, infrastructure and economic empowerment.

“We believe that the greatest route to economic growth in Nigeria is through economic empowerment of particularly the youth, women and the underserved,’’ she stressed.

In her remarks, Dr Kech Ogbuagu, President and Founder, C4C said the programme had produced 75 fellows with 85 per cent success rate. (NAN)

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