Austin Okere offers recipe on how government can make entrepreneurs thrive

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By Oluwatobi Opusunju

Most of Nigeria’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) die before maturity. Faced with daunting challenges that include over-taxation, poor infrastructure, zero access to loans, and inadequate support policy, the founder of Computer Warehouse Group (CWG) Plc, Mr. Austin Okere has tasked the government on creating the enabling environment budding entrepreneurs to thrive. The country risks a complete shut down if government cannot find a way to allow MSMEs to survive and support the real economic growth.

While big businesses and multinationals may create jobs and help expose the economy to the needed external support. MSMEs are the life-blood of any economy and they eventually impact on job creation and local economic activities more positively than the big companies, said Okere who founded CWG about 25 years and has helped to nurtured to become a pan-African technology solutions company.

During a recent interaction with IT Edge News in Lagos, Okere who is also an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Columbia Business School, New York, said government must empower entrepreneurs with qualitative infrastructures and funding opportunities to help them scale in their businesses rather than tax them out of existence.

According to him, the Small and Medium Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and other similar bodies have a duty to ensure that entrepreneurs get the needed support such as training, funding and support ICT infrastructures at subsidized rates to enhance their opportunities for business acceleration.

With over 30 million Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the country, an economy with healthy SMEs will further create millions of jobs, expand the frontiers of service delivery, encourage innovation, and grow the nation’s economy.

“To Tax somebody, the person must be able to pay the tax. That is the person must be gainfully employed and if the government wants to increase taxes, then empower more people to be employed, so that they can pay the taxes.

“If you take SMEs in Nigeria, there are about 30 million SMEs, and companies on the Stock Exchange are about 200 only. UBA probably will not employ more than 5000 people, if you put all the banks and manufacturing companies together and they employ more than 100,000 people, you will be lucky. But if you take these 30 million SMEs and if you empower them such that each one of them can employ one more person, that’s 30 million jobs. That’s bigger than what any bank can offer and that’s what SMEDAN, BOI and the rest should be doing,” said Okere.

“Now, how do you empower them? They don’t have the money to invest in some technologies and if these requisite technologies are not there, the business might close down. This is where SMEDAN comes in and say okay we will support you for one and half year or one year, so when you see the benefits you can take it up yourself. Otherwise why is SMEDAN there? Why are they the Small and Medium Development Agency of Nigeria? What are they developing and what are they ‘agencing’?, ”  added an angry Okere.

Okere charged entrepreneurs to be more creative and not provide solutions where there are no problems. Innovation is not just about intelligence but an application of intelligence to market needs. Innovation must solve problems to have any market value. “Entrepreneurship is not about creating a solution and looking for the problem, but finding out what’s the problem and creating a solution. A lot of people just create apps and you ask them what is it for, just to discover it’s for lighting cigarettes. Is it that people can’t light cigarette?” He wondered!

 


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