While vigorously campaigning for the candidature of President Muhamadu Buhari before the elections, I held a strong conviction that his ascension to office will help clear the stench and rot oozing out badly from this ministry and some of the agencies under it, namely; Industrial Training Fund (ITF), National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and Small and Medium Enterprises Development agency (SMEDAN).
This conviction was further strengthened when I was privileged to make a presentation to a sub-committee of the then transition committee headed by Boss Mustapha, several heads nodded along in agreement to an urgent to recreate the models presently in use for the development of the MSME sub-sector of the Nigerian economy, I went home to sleep until the mosquitos from ITF, NDE and SMEDAN kept sounding familiar tunes in my ears and it became obvious that whatever insecticides the change administration is using has met a strong resistance at these agencies and am awake now, back to where I was post 29th May, 2015.
Let me give a little background to the problem I have with the ministry and some of its agencies. When the then Nigerian President, Goodluck Ebere Jonathan launched the National Enterprise Development Programme (NEDEP) in February 2014, it was an elaborate occasion for which several millions was written off as expense for not only organising the launch but also for consultancy services for the production of the NEDEP project document and other related expenses.
NEDEP was premised to run on OLOP (one local government one product) model that would have given birth to the production of minimum one product per local government in Nigeria, the idea seemed a novel one until when several months after, SMEDAN that was meant to drive the initiative failed to even link several thousands of Nigerians it had trained and certified fit (several hundreds of millions is spent annually on this) to start business enterprises let alone create adequate awareness for it and mobilise applications from MSMEs who desperately needed funds to start-up or expand operations.
It was however shocking when Olusgeun Aganga, then minister made an open declaration that SMEDAN had been mandated to raise fifty thousand (50,000) applications for NEDEP within 2015, a check then at Bank of Industry clearly showed that the fund was idle and one then wondered why that was the case, why was it difficult for SMEDAN to go back to those in had trained in all senatorial districts in the country and mobilise them to access the fund or even work with the database at their disposal.
Having made several calls on the then minister to make NEDEP a reality beyond just making a proclamation that SMEDAN officials have been mandated to raise fifty thousand (50,000) applications and getting no positive feedback we were then at a loss when GEM was launched by same ministry that had failed to make NEDEP work.
The common story around town then was that the highly connected and immensely powerful SMEDAN DG (he does not respond to FOI requests, he trashes them and no minister dares him) hijacked the NEDEP project and took away all the juicy apples on the project and hence the “angry and hungry guys” at the ministry quickly held strategic meetings and came up with GEM which received the blessings of the then minster and today we have a NEDEP managed by SMEDAN and a GEM managed by the ministry, and one wonders what will become of GEM when all the juicy apples attached to it are finished. Will it go the way of NEDEP?
We had written ITF, NDE AND SMEDAN and had the minister copied on each of the separate FOI request, reason simply been that in the last administration, FOI requests relating to the activities of these agencies are simply condemned to the dustbin, SMEDAN leads the pack in doing this.
When ITF and SMEDAN refused to acknowledge and or respond to our FOI requests we were constrained to send reminders and as before, we copied the minster and yet no response in clear contravention of the provisions of the FOI ACT. We are disturbed and worried as to whether either the minister receives the requests and is not interested in having the agencies respond to them or that some people working with him are keeping the requests away from him.
When then we had of the press conference of the ministry in the morning of the day it was to be held with no details as to its venue and no invitation to same meeting, we were left dumbfounded and wondered who the ministry considers stakeholders worthy to be invited for the press conference. If an NGO with FOI request on three of your agencies bothering on their operational model, framework and deliverables is not considered a stakeholder then we wonder who is.
We will return next week with specific details of the FOI request made out to SMADAN,ITF AND NDE and our various concerns with how these agencies are presently managed.
INITIATIVE HEAD, MSMES ADVOCACY AND SUPPORT INITIATIVE