In 2015 Governor Okezie Ikpeazu PhD then PDP gubernatorial candidate said, ‘… I will provide capacity building opportunities and resources to SMEs across the State to facilitate their growth and development…” Right from his election as the 4th Executive Governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu Ph.D. has not looked back on this promise; he has continued to implement policies that have massively impacted positively on entrepreneurs in Abia State. For obvious reasons, Aba has remained the focus of the MSME drive of the State government. Aba is unarguable the MSME centre of Nigeria. By World Bank Statistics there are over 1 million persons involved in just the leather and garment sector in Aba, apart from other sectors like metal/steel fabrication, light manufacturing, cosmetics, etc. He popularized the axiom “If you get Aba right, you get Abia right”. Over a million leather products leave Aba weekly and find its way into markets and shops across the West African coast.
To achieve maximum impact, the state government has focused attention on two major products for which Abia has comparative advantages – leather and garment.
Ikpeazu identified four major challenges facing the MSMEs in the state
Access to Capital
Following this finding, the team began with branding, hence popularizing the sing song “Made in Aba’. Governor Ikpeazu himself became the Chief promoter and marketer of Made-in-Aba products. He has driven this campaign to such a feverish height that it has attracted the attention of global and national players. Today, Made-in-Aba has become a household slogan for which Governor Ikpeazu is known. These concerted efforts to return the glory days of Aba as the hub of MSME by all stakeholders through this massive campaign, has elicited the interest of key stakeholders like the Federal government, development partners, organized private sector, donor agencies etc. The Federal Government Nationwide MSME Clinic debuted in Aba with over 3000 operators interacting with key stakeholders and policy makers in the sector. In 2016 Ford Foundation, an American based donor organization partnered with the State government to put together the 1st Aba Development Summit aimed at developing a robust roadmap for MSME development in the state. Ford foundation followed that up with an ICT Hackathon to build the ICT backbone for MSME development in the state, in addition to sponsoring a 50 million Naira international brand campaign for the promotion of Made-in Aba products.
This campaign has taken Governor Ikpeazu and the Aba tailors and shoemakers to China, New York, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, and Abuja etc. for major fashion events. The idea of rubbing shoulders with international brands, which was like a pipe dream, boosted the morale of those artisans and entrepreneurs in Aba. Governor Ikpeazu has led them to this presidential Villa, many prominent Nigerians and bodies who have endorsed their products.
The result of these campaign efforts naturally led to increased market share and the demand for Made in Aba goods increased drastically. Orders came from the Military, Para-military and many other governmental and private entities. In 2017 the army ordered 50,000 military boots from Aba. In 2016, Aba shoemakers recorded increased sales of over 1.5 billion Naira cash into their pockets.
As one of the enablers of MSME development, Governor Ikpeazu is improving critical infrastructural around the major MSME centres of Abia State. Today, over 80 roads have been constructed or reconstructed to support MSME operations in the State. These roads lead directly to centres of production. With the support of the Vice President, Ariaria Electricity Distribution Network Ltd., has been licensed to provide uninterrupted power supply for the over 30,000 shops in Ariaria and its environs, the hub of shoe making and other allied products in Aba. The government has begun the development of Umukalika Leather and Garment City to house major leather and garment clusters. In its efforts to leverage on all opportunities available, the state government is partnering with the Federal government to establish the MSME shared facility centre in Aba.
Governor Ikpeazu believes that demand will naturally drive quality and this has happened, the government has established the Abia Marketing and Standard Board to ensure quality and standard control of the products coming out of Abia.
For Governor Ikpeazu MSME remains the major engine room that drives economic growth, create massive employment, support innovation, creativity and ingenuity. With more orders and more people employed, came the need for increased investment in the sector. Today several financial institutions have offered facilities to entrepreneurs in Abia particularly Aba. The Government signed an MSME support facility of 1 billion matching fund with Bank of Industry. This week, Governor Ikpeazu will launch a 500 million Naira facility for Aba Shoemakers by Bank of Industry; the Governor has midwifed several of such facilities for Abia MSMEs. Following the decision by the Central Bank of Nigeria to establish the Southeast Entrepreneurship Development Centre in Umuahia over 100 young entrepreneurs have been trained at the Centre. To show commitment to this capacity building effort, Governor Ikpeazu released an initial sum of 100 million naira as start-up to the first set of graduates of the centre. He leverages on every opportunity to support his people. Under the Social Investment Programme package GEEP, over 18,000 entrepreneurs have received facilities ranging from 50,000 – 100,000 to support their businesses.
A major step to Governor Ikpeazu’s effort to improve the quality of Made in Aba products is the investments in automation. In partnership with a Chinese Shoe Manufacturing Company, the State government is training 100 Abia youths in automated shoe production, the first batch of 30 have returned and equipments for a full production line has been paid for and is on its way to Abia for the establishment of a fully automated Aba Shoe Factory.
Governor Ikpeazu went ahead to partner with the federal government to set up an MSME one-stop-shop. It is on record today that Abia is the only State with a full-fledged Ministry of MSME development with a commissioner at the head. The overarching goal is to develop policies that will deepen and mainstream MSME development in the state, while the One-Stop-Shop provides capacity support for entrepreneurs.
Having set a strong foundation for development of MSME in Abia, the Governor has initiated the big picture with a plan to massively industrialize the state. The Enyimba Economic City Development Project, spanning a space of over 9800 hectres of land across 3 Local Government Areas, is the most ambitious and audacious industrial development east of the Niger. Preliminary designs have been completed; initial MoUs with key private sector leaders both local and foreign have been signed. The project promises to create the largest pull towards massive industrialization, job creation and economic development of not just Abia State but Nigeria as a whole.
In recognition of the Governor’s leadership in the MSME sector, the Business Day Newspaper in 2017 awarded Governor Okezie Ikpeazu the “Best Governor in the promotion of Made in Nigeria goods.
Looking back over these 3 years, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu can be said to have discharged himself creditable in pushing the frontiers of MSME development to enviable height in Abia State.