By GAB EJUWA
What is the role of small and medium-sized enterprises in the economy and how can their prospects be boosted? Mr. Eric Idogun, a public administrator, in an attempt to answer the question, speaks about SMEs important role. According to Idogun, the managing director of Pepperoni Foods Ltd, who is also involved in the oil servicing sector, large-scale businesses are not the main drivers of economic activity but rather small and medium-sized enterprises. Idogun says unemployment has been a concern in Nigeria , but SMEs have the capacity to employ a large labor force.
The main challenges to establishing SMEs, according to Idogun, are their inability to secure financing and weak capacities to facilitate governmental procedures, which would expand their work.
What should be the role of government regarding small and medium scale enterprises?
The role of government should cover the provision of power, security, infrastructure, credit opportunities, to mention a few. These would create an enabling environment for businesses to grow and would build confidence in our economy for indigenous investors. Our people are scared of taking risk and losing their investments. However, they would readily partner with a foreign firm to set up shops in Nigeria.
As the governor of Bayelsa State, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan already had a national outlook which was evidenced in his detribalized policies. He made sure that every tourism oriented business in Bayelsa State benefited from his policies irrespective of tribe or religion.
Apart from Bayelsa State under Jonathan, have you benefitted from others?
We have benefitted more from Bayelsa State than other areas of operation. That is not to say we have not got assistance from other state governments. In Bayelsa, we got a loan, the enabling environment, good people, peace and security, etc. I’m grateful to the people of the state and government for their support.
What is your advice to state governors and agencies?
One of the primary reasons for the high level of unemployment in the country is the absence of viable small and medium scale enterprises. Many businesses have gone awry along the way and our graduates now go looking for employment in Shell, Elf, Chevron, etc.
The strength of any economy lies in the value of its small and medium scale industries as this guarantees national growth, thereby bringing down inflation. Government should invest in the real sector. It should provide education so we can have skilled hands at all levels and also create an enabling environment for young businesses to grow. Government, through its agencies, should partner with individuals and firms to create industries and job opportunities for the unemployed.
The Goodluck Jonathan Hospitality Scheme in Bayelsa State, which I benefitted from in 2006, will help the Nigerian state. Other states should take a cue from this and grow similar industry niches in their local environment.
The role of the Bank of Industry (BOI) should be clearly spelt out. The policies of the CBN relating to small and medium scale enterprises (SME) should be geared towards encouraging sustainability and growth of the industry. This is one of the most productive sectors in terms of employment generation.
What is your advice to other indigenous investors?
There are a lot of untapped opportunities in the small and medium scale industry in our country. If you have a dream or a vision, then go for it. Get professional advice, plan, come up with actual projections and take the plunge. It is our collective responsibility to grow our economy and make our country better and it truly begins with you.
In your case, how did it start?
Pepperoni Foods started in 2005 in Bayelsa State at NTA/Azikoro Road, Yenagoa as a restaurant. We ran it (mama put) for a couple of months until a friend who was special adviser to the governor informed us of a credit facility programme by the then Dr. Goodluck Jonathan government in Bayelsa State.
The programme was aimed at creating an enabling environment and enhancing economic development as well as boosting the hospitality industry in the state through interest free credit facilities .
Our application for the facility was granted and this gave us the opportunity to upgrade the existing small restaurant to a standard quick service outlet and to equally open a second but purpose built outlet with a bakery at Opolo in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. We not only leveraged on the facility provided by the Jonathan-led administration but worked closely with the local tourism industry in Bayelsa State and beyond to become the Pepperoni you know today.
How far have you gone in terms of expansion?
We operate in the food processing industry, particularly indoor and outdoor catering to production of food and food related products. Presently, the catering arm of the business have since branched out into other areas . We now have a fully digitalized photo company, a table water company (Xyno waters), a sewage disposal unit (backward integration) , the production of confectionaries especially bread and cake at commercial level. I’m proud to say here that our Bread is the number one selling brand in Bayelsa State, Port Harcourt and Calabar at the moment. And, of course, we are fully into real estate.
What inspired you to go into this line of business?
From childhood, I have had a strong inclination for cooking. Although, I hold a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Port Harcourt, my heart remained in the food industry. For a while, I consulted with my friend and mentor in the business at Kingfisher Foods in Port Harcourt before I picked up the courage to take off.