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Social economic

Nigeria urges women to apply for MSMEs grant

By Chris Ndibe

The Federal Government has urged female entrepreneurs to apply for its ongoing intervention grant for Micro, Small and  Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to enable them overcome challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amb. Mariam Katagum, the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment made the call at a news conference on the implementation process of the survival fund on Tuesday in Abuja.

Katagum, who is also the Chairperson, Programme Steering Committee, said the Project Delivering Office (PDO) for the scheme was receiving feedbacks from Nigerians since its registration portal opened on Sept. 21 for applicants.

According to her, the project, which will run for an initial period of three months, has provisions for 45 per cent female-owned businesses and five per cent for those with special needs.

She however noted that there had so far been low women enrolment on the scheme, and therefore called on state and local governments, and trade associations to mobilise women to apply for the grant.

The minister said: “There is need to mobilise more women because by the design of the programme, we are targeting 45 per cent of women beneficiaries and five per cent for those with special needs.

“I use this medium to encourage more women to apply, and we also urge associations to try assisting their members who do not have access to the internet.

“If you are a woman, apply and encourage others to apply because this money is there and we want to ensure that it gets to the targeted beneficiaries,” she said.

Katagum lauded MSMEs’ performances across the country and urged them to take full advantage of the scheme by applying for any category that suits their needs.

She said that although many Nigerians had applied for the grant but there was need for improved awareness creation for MSMEs, especially those in the grassroots to key into it.

According to her, the white list of beneficiaries fully verified for disbursement and payments to the approved block of beneficiaries has also started.

She said that disbursements had been approved for a total of 16,253 MSMEs businesses, accounting for a total of 101,567 beneficiaries.

“Also N30, 000 was paid to each of the 94,696 employees/beneficiaries, while N50, 000 was paid to each of the 6,871 employees/beneficiaries.

“And 2.6 per cent of the beneficiaries are people with special needs, while 43 per cent of the total beneficiaries are women in line with the guidelines on disbursement.

“The disbursements for payroll support commenced last week Wednesday, Nov. 18 and it is ongoing presently across the country.

“However, due to the inability of some states to meet their targets, the portal will be reopened to accommodate such states,” she said.

Katagum said that distribution of beneficiaries across the country so far to include Lagos – 25,000, Kano -17,000 and Abia – 16,000 beneficiaries, while every other state has 13,000 beneficiaries each.

The minister said that the Formalisation Support Scheme, which is simply the registration of 250,000 new businesses with CAC started on Oct. 26.

According her, the scheme has so far registered 9,084 MSMEs from Lagos State, 8,406 from Kano State and 7,906  from Abia, while other states have 6,606 beneficiaries each.

The minister said that prospective beneficiaries under the Artisans and Transport Grants scheme were being paid in three streams with each stream having 12 states.

“Under stream one, 29,000 beneficiaries (artisans) have been approved for payment across the following states, they are FCT, Lagos, Ondo, Kaduna, Borno, Kano, Bauchi, Anambra, Abia, Plateau and Delta.

“While disbursement to beneficiaries under the first stream was ongoing, enumeration of artisans in stream two commenced on Oct. 26 and concluded on Nov. 11.

“Beneficiaries under this stream have been fully verified and will start receiving payments from Tuesday Nov. 24.

“The states under stream two comprise Taraba, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Edo, Ogun, Ekiti, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Enugu and Ebonyi.

She said that enumeration of artisans under the third stream commenced on Nov. 13, and was concluded on Nov. 23 for Akwa-Ibom, Cross-River, Yobe, Sokoto, Nasarawa, Niger, Imo, Oyo, Osun, Jigawa, Gombe,  Benue and Zamfara states.

MSMEs Survival Fund achieving results – Presidency

By Tanko Mohammed

The presidency says feedback from across the country indicates that the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) Survival Fund is achieving the desired result, giving succour to small businesses.

Mr Tola Johnson, the Special Assistant to the President on Micro Small and Medium and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), Office of the Vice President, disclosed this while giving an update on the ongoing implementation of MSMEs Survival Fund on Tuesday in Abuja.

The Survival Fund Scheme for MSMEs is captured under the National Economic Sustainability Plan drafted by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo-led Economic Sustainability Committee and approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The assurance we are giving Nigerians is that this scheme was approved by the president; he has made provisions for the funding of the scheme.

“Nothing is going to change; nothing is going to affect the approval; nothing is going to affect the implementation of programme; nothing is going to affect the financial inclusion in the scheme; so whatever was promised to Nigerians will be adhered to.

“You can see from across the country that people have started receiving salaries from the scheme; artisans have started getting funding; people have started registering new businesses and all these are not going to stop.

“We are going into the next track- the Guaranteed Off take; we are going into the transport scheme and we are going to execute the general grant; nothing has changed in the scheme in terms of implementation.’’

Johnson said that he had seen people who collected N30, 000 Payroll Support and got their businesses revamped.

According to him, the ordinary Nigerians are beginning to realise that they now have a government that meant well for the downtrodden.

“The government is connecting directly with them; no intermediary.

“The president instructed the minister that the money must go directly to the beneficiaries not through intermediaries and the minister passed same directive to me.

“A lot of people came out and said, we don’t know anybody and we benefited; we are building a system that works regardless of who is there.

“There is no aspect of the scheme that you have to pay anybody one kobo; whether you apply online or manually,’’ he said.

Amb. Mariam Katagum, Minister of State, Trade and Investment said that the steering committee was working to ensure that the process of enlisting prospective beneficiaries was smooth and in compliance with government regulations.

She said that the committee at the statutory meeting of Nov. 17 approved a white list of beneficiaries fully verified for disbursement and payments to the approved block of beneficiaries commenced on Nov. 17.

The minister said disbursements were approved as follows – number of MSMEs – 16,253, number of beneficiaries – 101,567,  N30,000 each for 94,696 employees/beneficiaries, N50,000 each for 6,871 employees/beneficiaries, 2.6 per cent beneficiaries with special needs and 43 per cent female employees/beneficiaries.

“So, disbursements for Payroll Support is ongoing across the country, however, due to the inability of some states to meet their target application numbers, the portal will be reopened to accommodate such states.

“The key milestone under this track is the verification for payment of 101, 567 beneficiaries sourced from 16,253 businesses as at Nov.17.

“The distribution of beneficiaries across the country include Lagos State, 25,000; Kano, 17,000; Abia, 16,000; and 13,000 per state for the others,’’ he said.

She said that artisans in some states have started receiving the N30, 000 one-time grant, under the Artisan Support Scheme.

Katagum listed the states as Lagos, Ondo, Kaduna, Borno, Kano, Bauchi, Anambra, Abia, Rivers, Plateau and Delta states and the FCT.

States scramble for Medical Free Zone

By Moses Uwagbale

The Managing Director of the Nigeria Export Process (NEPZA), Prof. Adesoji Adesugba, has said the torrential approaches from state governments to skew the location of the country’s novel Medical Free Zone to their states had been overwhelming.

Mr Martins Odeh, Head, Corporate Communications, NEPZA, reported Adesugba made the revelation when he received visiting new President of the Healthcare Federation of Nigeria (HFN), Dr Pamela Ajayi, in Abuja.

Adesugba explained that the medical free zone was a project to revolutionaries the healthcare sector in the country.

He added that a number of state governors that had already assessed the gains accruable from the proposed project were jostling for it to be located in their state.

“The push by these state governments shows acceptability of the project premised upon its viability. NEPZA is, therefore, considering if the project can be located in more than one state’’, the NEPZA boss said.

He said the Federal Government through NEPZA was prepared to establish the project in a state that met all the requirements, adding that the Authority would be strict not to relax in any of its guidelines in the process due to the sensitive nature of sector.

The NEPZA boss reinstated that the agency was, however, amenable in partnering with relevant stakeholders to deliver the proposed world class medical enclave to Nigerians, all peoples of sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

“Deliberations on modalities for the creation of the zone have reached an advance stage because we indeed drew members of the committee from the right places. Medical Experts, Zone Experts, Industrialists, Medical Equipment Manufacturers, are among those on the committee and this explains the speed of our progress. 

“This project is so dear to our hearts as it is aimed at ending the about USD 1 billion dollar expended on medical tourism annually by Nigerians. Our aim is to bring to Nigeria, some of the best hospitals in abroad that our people spend this huge amount of money to the zone.

“We are expecting a total of 15 world class foreign hospitals and a handful from within the country that could deliver impeccable services at take-off by 2021. Already we have captured the project in our 2021 budget.

“The Healthcare Federation of Nigeria has some of its affiliates that are already buying into this great opportunity to invest in. Aside from the fact that zone operators have 100 per cent return on investments, no investment made in the medical zone in Nigeria will evaporate’’, Adesugba said.

Ajayi, however, said that the proposed medical free zone when developed would repositioned the health sector, adding that such a destination would ignite healthy competition between local and foreign healthcare providers.

The new president of the Healthcare Federation of Nigeria, also said she had visited the Authority to explore areas of partnership, adding, however, that the proposed medical zone held a lot of promises.

She further said members of the association were prepared to key into the project, adding, that the Authority should think about reducing fees charged local medical companies to operate in the proposed zone.

 Ajayi explained that her aforementioned request hinged on facts that local investors had longer term sustainability plans than their foreign counterparts.

“We must begin to encourage Local Direct Investment (LDI) and reduce the hype on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as far as this project is concern.

“ Doing so would reduce the country’s human capital flight in the medical sector and also encourage those that had left to return home. Indian did it and Indians are reaping bountifully from such political decision’’, Ajayi said.

Nigeria’s 2020 Finance Bill exempts minimum wage earners from tax

By Tanko Mohammed

In order to reduce the impact of inflation on Nigerians, Nigeria through the 2020 Finance Bill is proposing the exemption of minimum wage earners from the Personal Income Tax.

And when coupled with other items in the proposed Bill, and various economic policies of the Federal Government, these incentives would ensure the resilience of the Nigerian economy to exogenous shocks, according to President Muhammadu Buhari.

The President made these disclosures in his speech delivered virtually by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo,  on Monday at the opening session of the 26th Nigerian Economic Summit Group Conference themed: “Building Partnerships for Resilience”.

According to the President, “we are proposing in the new Finance Act that those who earn minimum wage should be exempted from paying income tax.

“These provisions which complement the tax breaks given to small businesses last year will not only further stimulate the economy, but are also a fulfilment of promises made to take steps to help reduce the cost of transportation and the impact of inflation on ordinary Nigerians.”

Explaining the role of the private sector in building a resilient economy, President Buhari said “this government has always emphasized that the private sector has a key role to play in our efforts to build a more resilient and competitive economy as expressed in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.

“Private companies in design, construction, logistics and finance are very much engaged in our infrastructural projects in power and rail as well as road and bridges and the installation of broadband infrastructure which is an essential requirement if Nigeria is to participate actively and benefit from the 4th Industrial Revolution.”

Continuing, the President added, “…it is clear that we must diversify the economy away from dependence on crude oil exports, speed up human capital development and improve on infrastructure. Above all, our economy must be made more resilient to exogenous shocks. It is important for the private sector to play a key role as we work together to identify national priorities and try to influence our future national trajectory.”

The President also gave insights to the collaboration between the CBN, the Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Investment Authority (NSIA) and other stakeholders in the creation of an Infrastructure Company (Infraco) Fund to address some of the nation’s critical infrastructure needs.

“It goes without saying that partnerships remain essential to attract the resources for building a solid national infrastructural base.  I am pleased to inform you in this regard that we are working actively with the Central Bank, Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority and State Governments under the auspices of the National Economic Council to design and put in place a N15 trillion Infraco Fund which will be independently managed.

“The Infraco Fund will help to close the national infrastructural gap and provide a firm basis for increasing national economic productivity and growth,” the President explained.

Restating the commitment of his administration to sustaining collaborations with the private sector in addressing challenges, President Buhari said “if there is one single lesson to be learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that partnerships are essential for credible responses with lasting effects.”

His words: “Our national journey to economic prosperity is a long one, so we must all certainly work together. As we saw, partnerships were essential when we were faced with the serious challenge of combatting COVID-19.

“We saw the key role that partnerships played in our national effort to combat the COVID-19 crisis. While Federal and State Governments worked together to manage the health response and ensure the establishment of isolation centres and availability of test kits, personal protective equipment, and medicines, the private sector also played an active role as individual entities, and also worked together in groups like the Coalition Against COVID-19.”

During the speech presentation, the Vice President responded to the issue of import duties raised by some speakers at the summit. The Vice President noted that “the point of the reduction in levies on motor vehicles, commercial vehicles for transportation is to reduce the cost of transportation by reducing the cost of vehicles.”

He explained that “with subsidy removal and the increase in fuel price and the pass-through to food prices, transportation costs had to be reduced. Now the automotive policy is directed at localizing the production of vehicles. So the logic was increase the duty and levies so that local production becomes more competitive. But the annual demand for vehicles is about 720, 000 vehicles per year. Actual local production is 14,000 vehicles a year.

“So, the problem is that at current rate of production, we will not meet the serious national needs and this will just mean higher prices of vehicles and greater strain on other sectors of the economy that depend on transportation. But we are not giving up on the local auto industry.

“Two important things to note; the first is that we still have relatively high duty at 35%, so there is still a disincentive for importation. Second is that we are promoting policy that the government must buy only locally manufactured cars.”

The opening session of the summit featured presentations by speakers including Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum and Governor of Ekiti State, Mr Kayode Fayemi; Governor Aminu Bello Tambuwal of Sokoto State; Chief Executive Officer of MainOne, Ms Funke Opeke; and the Chief Executive Officer of GIG Group, Mr Chidi Ajaere; among others.

Buhari blames COVID-19 for Nigeria’s economic recession

By Tanko Mohammed

As Nigeria slips into recession for the second time in five years, President Muhammadu Buhari, says it came about because of the severity of the global downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said this on Monday in Abuja, while declaring open the 26th Nigerian Economic Summit with the theme: “Building Partnerships for Resilience’’.

The summit was organised jointly by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning.

Buhari, who was represented by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, said that the decline in the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) came after 12 successive quarters of positive growth.

He said the downturn caused by the pandemic included lockdowns, disruption in global supply chains, business failures and rising unemployment.

“We can all recall that during the lockdown, farming did not take place, businesses were closed; schools were closed as were hotels and restaurants.

“Also, airlines stopped flying, while inter-state commerce was disrupted.

“The economy only began to recover when these activities resumed and if we are able to sustain the nearly three percentage point increase from the second quarter decline of minus 6.1 per cent, the performance in the fourth quarter could take us into positive territory,’’ he said.

Buhari said that it was to mitigate such impact that the Federal Government introduced the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP).

According to him, all the programmes in the ESP are reliant on the private sector playing a key role in creating and conserving jobs and the production and delivery of services in agriculture, housing, solar power and digital technologies.

He added that the speedy pathway out of the current recession was to quicken the implementation of the ESP.

“Of course, an improvement in global economic conditions, including the restoration of global supply chains and resumption of exports and remittances, should enable a V-shaped recovery.

“We expect, in the same spirit of partnership, that the private sector will complement these efforts by making maximum use of the provisions of the ESP and the Finance Bill when it is passed by the National Assembly and also by retaining and creating jobs so as to keep people at work.

“In a similar spirit of partnership, private sector enterprises should also pay their due taxes,’’ he added.

Speaking on the theme of the summit, he said that partnerships remained essential to attract the resources for building a solid national infrastructural base.

Buhari said that as was evident when the nation was combatting COVID-19, partnerships were essential and also necessary for framing medium and long-term development plans.

He added that the government had always emphasised that the private sector had a key role to play in the efforts to build a more resilient and competitive economy as expressed in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.

Buhari said that private companies in design, construction, logistics and finance were very much engaged in the nation’s infrastructural projects in power and rail as well as road and bridges.

“I am pleased to inform in this regard that we are working actively with the CBN, the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority and state governments under the auspices of the National Economic Council to design and put in place a N15 billion Infraco Fund, which will be independently managed.

“The Infraco Fund will help to close the national infrastructural gap and provide a firm basis for increasing national economic productivity and growth,’’ he said.

The Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed said that the current recession would be a short one, as government and key stakeholders were proactively working together to put in place sustainable measures to curtail and improve the situation.

She added that in spite of the recession, Nigeria had out-performed many economies in terms of economic growth.

Ahmed said that the Federal Government, in partnership with the NESG had been working together on the national implementation plans as well as the regional and local development plans.

“Since the inception of the NESG 25 years ago, it has become one of the largest annual gatherings dedicated to finding solutions to the challenges facing the Nigerian Economy.

“It has helped to shape government policies, reforms and sector transformations,’’ she said.

Mr Asue Ighodalo, the Chairman of the NESG said the summit must be different as it must emphasise the execution of endless dialogues.

He said that the summit was about building partnerships as sectors could no longer succeed independently.

“We come to the table each year with clear and defined obstacles in search of solutions. The NESG and the private sector must do more to address policy needs

“Let this 26th summit be the one where we collectively resolve to shun greed, nepotism and corruption.

“It is time that we are brave with facing our realities with strength, sense of purpose, and integrity.

“Our reflections would be incomplete if we did not also examine many more policy recommendations that have not been acted upon over the years and acknowledge those that have been actioned,’’ he said.