Ismaila Adekunle Jayeoba Alagbada is the Osun State Commissioner for Commerce, Industries, Cooperatives and Empowerment. In this interview with journalists, including CORRESPONDENT – Gbenga Faturoti, Alagbada speaks on the efforts of the state government to boost business enterprises, youth empowerment and resuscitate the moribund Cocoa Products Industry, Ede. Excerpts:
To what extent has the state government boosted the small and middle scale business enterprises and business potentials in the state?
When you look at the state before Ogbeni (Governor Aregbesola) assumed office, they used to call Osun a civil servants state because there was nothing to trade with. We looked at this when we came in; considering how to stimulate commerce in the state.
How do you encourage investors and what are those things that need to be put in place?
At present, you will discover that the current administration headed by Rauf Aregbesola has put in place policies and programmes to stimulate commerce in the state. One; for you to bring investors to the state, security is paramount. Can any investor go the northern states or any of these Boko Haram terrorised states? The answer is no. So, we thank God that in the state as of today, in terms of security, the administration of Aregbesola is performing well.
How do you expect investors to invest when there are no basic infrastructures?
Massive road construction is presently going on in the state alongside various infrastructural and developmental projects. If you look at the position of Osun, you will discover that it is central, its’ close to and surrounded by economically active states, so the best way to make use of these opportunities is to link up with these states through infrastructure and these are the kind of infrastructures we need to encourage investors to come in and invest.
Now all these things will lead to the development of small and medium scale enterprises. Another thing we did is that we invited the National Association of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises and asked what their challenges were, and even some of the companies that closed down. They gave us some reasons, which they claim that there was no adequate training, and there was no succession plans, that once the owner of the business dies, that is the end. We venture to address these challenges so that commerce can move forward in the state. We asked them what we can do to encourage our people and business owners in the state is to have training workshop and office for small and medium scale enterprises.
The building has been completed and adequately furnished. The building serves as day care clinic and centre where entrepreneurs will be able to receive training. The state government constructed the building in collaboration with the national body of the small and medium scale enterprises. I am happy to inform you that the first batch of entrepreneurs we trained is over 300 entrepreneurs and it is continuous. Most of the entrepreneurs you see out there, there is no difference between their personal account and the account of the company. They just get things mixed up. Some of them don’t even know how to manage the business. They need training and that is what we are giving to them. So that is part of the strategies we are using to develop small scale enterprises in the state.
What do you say considering the business potential, given that the packaging of the finished product leaves much to be desired and that the type of product would not be able to compete with other products?
We are working on that as well. The other strategy we are using to stimulate business enterprises is development of infrastructures like airport, electricity, good network of roads among others.
Efforts are on to eradicate poverty, reduce unemployment, banish hunger and functional education in line with the Six Integral Action Plans of the present administration.
Many people live around Osogbo but work in Lagos and the state government moves them to and from especially during festive periods. So free rail service has helped transportation, or what do you think?
Beyond that, people are able to know what was happening before and what is happening now. Then there is communal re-union among their families and that is very important. Many people will not believe what is happening in the state unless they come to the state. This is part of the ways to stimulate commerce. That is how people will get to know that this is what you are producing.
Also before now, there was no organised market in the state. What we were having before now was street trading and it is dangerous considering the lives of people.
The current administration established three international markets they are Ayegbaju market, Aje market and Dagbolu international market. If you will remember that Ayegbaju market was originally a completed market before the creation of the state in 1991. It was when there was no place to use for secretariat that it was converted to secretariat and that is why we need to give kudos to Chief Adebisi Akande for the wonderful job he did there to give the state befitting state secretariat when he was the governor.
How does it compare today?
As we speak, you will discover that things are gradually changing. Rome was not built in a day. We cannot say that we want to get 100 companies in a day or 50 businesses at once. It is a gradual process. There is a lot of development going on in the state. The only thing we were having before the current administration was the transmission centre that transmits energy to the national grid. Whether we like it or not, Osogbo will be able to benefit at least 12 hours of electricity supply in a day unlike Lagos which is very populated. So when you look at infrastructures, the market that we are constructing and the effect of the airport that is under construction, it is going to have a lot of impact on the business potentials.
What are the benefits we should expect from the ongoing international airport constructed by the state government?
The international airport being constructed by the state government would definitely change the status of the state in terms of industrial development. When you have an airport here, it would decongest the airport in Lagos. The airport will make this state a hub. People would come and clear their goods from Abuja and things would be cheaper here. By the time they come to clear their goods from wherever, this would increase economic activities in the state. Some of them would not go that day, they would stay in the hotels and this would bring business for our people because they cannot go without spending a dime. This will then stimulate commerce just like in Dubai which is even more like a desert in comparison with our state. So the administration of Aregbesola must be commended.
Railway station is also attracting attention, what is government doing in that aspect?
Look at what we did at the Osogbo Railway Station. The very first day we got there, the place stinks and we were all shocked but with what is happening there now, we are happy. Of all the stations of NRC, Osogbo station is the best. All these are to stimulate commerce. If you look at the efforts of Aregbesola, it has built the confidence of our people. Gradually things are changing. The small scale enterprises have been boosted and we will still boost their activities.
The government is constructing markets for the people, is that part of commerce stimulation?
The market that is under construction will still contribute and boost commercial activities. Immediately those two markets start operation and more are still coming, people will be happy because they can take their products to those markets.
This administration encouraged farmers to go back to farm most especially plantation of cocoyam through its quick intervention programme. How do you encourage people in this area?
The state government has empowered 332 cocoyam farmers with N32 million. Apart from that, we empower the people of the state through co-operative societies. So we have about 31 cooperative societies that are benefiting from the state. We started this empowerment programme in 2011with N153million with different cooperative societies and about 77 cooperative societies benefited from it. Between 2012 and 2013 we empowered additional 600 cooperative societies with about N600million. All these money will continue to circulate within the cooperative societies.
There are three markets that the present administration is developing at the same time and when exactly will these markets be operation for the people of the state?
On the issue of market development, there are three of them, we have Ayegbaju, Aje and Dagbolu international markets. Aje market is having about 650 open and locked up shops and by the special grace of God, it will be ready for use on or before June this year. Ayegbaju market too will be ready. When you talk of the expenses incurred on the two markets, it is not government that committed the huge resources on them; it is being done under Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements because in developed countries if you want any business to succeed, the best model is the PPP. That is why you can see lot of rapid development going on in the two markets. If government had taken it fully, we will not be where we are today.
For Ayegbaju market, it’s about 80 per cent completion and if you get there now, you will see the type of quality of work going on there. The construction of roads, fuel station, fire station among others. So I believe that by June, the two markets will be ready. Looking at what is happening all over the world, if any government wants to build a market, for that market to be ready on time it has to be under PPP arrangements. When you go to London and other advanced countries, most things that you see there are owned by group of people or companies and that is why they are efficient.
The government gave 600 cooperative societies N600million, is it in the range of N1million per cooperative society. Clarify this?
When you talk of empowering farmers, it depends on the carrying capacity of each of cooperative societies and what you want to embark upon. Don’t think that we were sharing N1 million to each farmer. It depends on the acres of farmland that you want to cultivate. There are some people that do not need more than N250,000 to start off. If you want to go into fish rearing, those that want to do one thousand cannot get the same as those who want to do five thousand. For those that want to go into piggery, the person that wants to rear five hundred is different from the one that wants to rear one thousand. So it was shared according to their intentions, needs and their capacities. So don’t think that N600 million was shared among 600 cooperative societies at N1 million each.
How does your ministry supervise and recover loans given out to the people and how much is being owed the government?
As regards supervision of loans, the ministry gives out according to your needs and to make it more successful, we partner with the ministry for agriculture. This is because we have discovered that our people once any money is coming from government, they think it is part of the national cake and they may not the project serious. We met a debt of over N1billion left by the previous administration from loans that people did not pay back. The state government has given them the last notice now reminding them of their indebtedness.
By the special grace of God, we are giving them till ending of March and by then, whoever refuses to pay his/her debt will be sanctioned by government because it is money that belongs to the state, not an individual. I want to use this opportunity to tell you that Aregbesola has approved the establishment of micro-credit agencies in the state to empower everyone. By the special grace of God, before the end of March or by early April, the agency will be launched and it is going to be autonomous. The government wish to assist the people financially at a reduced interest rate in order to empower them and the money is going to be managed by professionals, so that we can get value for our people. All these are part of the efforts of Aregbesola to empower the people. If the people we are governing are happy, then the government will be happy but if they are not happy, the government will not be happy.
What will be the legacy that the government is going to leave behind? The only legacy any government can leave behind is to make the people happy. The present government has touched people through various programmes such as education, health facilities, road construction and rehabilitation and employment opportunities.
How much has the state government committed to Moshood Abiola Airport in Ido-Osun?
The government has committed so much into the project and it is aimed at boosting the economy of the state. Despite the paucity of funds, when Aregbesola made a statement, considered it done because before he speaks, something must have been on ground.