On the 19th of November 2021, a national newspaper, The New Telegraph, crowned Governor Okezie Ikpeazu as the SME Governor of the Year in a well attended event of carefully selected award winners.
For anyone who doesn’t have the background, it could be any kind of award. Prior to his election as Governor of Abia State, Dr Ikpeazu during the campaign rounds, informed Abians of his deep understanding of the areas the state has comparative and competitive advantage, one of which is trade, commerce and MSME.
He didn’t leave anyone in doubt based on the statements he made and the very first steps he took to set the path for the development of MSMEs in the state especially Aba, the hub of Entrepreneurship. He led his team to craft a functional road map aimed at putting Abia Entrepreneurship and its products and services on the national and global map.
Key issues were identifed – infrastructure (power, roads, operating environment), market share, standard/product quality, branding/marketing, access to finance and automation. Not a few challenged his decision to begin with branding and marketing, while touching on all the other areas.
One thing you will not take away from Dr Okezie Ikpeazu is his foresightedness. He began as the major brand ambassador of Made in Aba products and before you knew it, enlisted all around him and the message caught a surprised feverish attention from all and sundry.
Before the coming of Governor Ikpeazu, Made in Aba products were synonymous with fake, substandard and was actually mocked nationally. This situation led entrepreneurs from this space to put foreign labels instead of theirs.
Before him, not much institutional support came the way of Aba entrepreneurs, the records are evidently obvious, but since 2015, Made in Aba, SME as a sector has brought nothing but glory to Abia State.
By starting strongly and boldly with branding and marketing all the other issues are being addressed by the state government and other critical stakeholders including the Federal Government whose attention was also attracted.
For this governor the overarching goal wasn’t so much of generating so much revenue for the state as it was to regain the lost confidence Aba entrepreneurs had in themselves and their products, increase their market share and revenue to themselves, create a massive platform for many players to be part of the ecosystem especially youths to find a pathway towards self reliance.
Specially to ensure that once you pick up Aba made product anywhere, the first thought would not be fake or substandard. Much of that have been achieved and today Abia or to be more specific Aba SMEs have attracted more positive attention than otherwise as was the case in the past.
In 2016, just a year after his inauguration and his decision to wear and adorn himself with only Made in Abia products and leading the maassive campaign of buy Made in Nigeria, the ‘Business Day Newspaper’ crowned him the MSME Governor of the Year.
The newspaper premised this award on his pan Nigeria message which he had just in one year in office popularised by encouraging leaders across the nation to patronise Nigerian made goods as a way of encouraging Nigerian youths who productively engage in entrepreneurship. In the same 2016, the Federal Government through the office of the Vice President launched National MSME Clinics series a platform to engage directly with entrepreneurs across the country and guess the choice of the maiden episode, Aba.
During that event’s opening ceremony, an elated Prof Yemi Osinbajo, who then was Acting President, praised Governor Ikpeazu for his deep desire to grow MSMEs in Abia, a sector globally acknowledged as the engine room for growth and economic development.
So it was no surprise that during the maiden edition of the Federal Government initiated National MSME Clinics Award event held at the Presidential Villa, Abia State emerged as the MSME Most Supportive State in Nigeria. Prof Osinbajo stated during his address that apart from the huge support SMEs receive from the governor, his commitment to spreading the message of Made in Aba has become very infectious even amongst the elite class.
Apart from attracting laurels to the state, Governor Ikpeazu through his leadership has succeeded in making entrepreneurs from the state to regain the lost confidence and believe in themselves and their products and the results started coming. In the 2018 edition of the National MSME Clinics Award, Onwuasoanya Makuochukwu Echezuolachukwu the CEO of Norakulture was crowned the Female Entrepreneur of the Year by the Federal Government with one million naira and a car, the governor during the presentation at Government House also showered her with a cash reward.
Not done, the state government in the same 2018, was acknowledged by the World Bank as one of the 5 most improved states under the ease of doing business index.
This will be the first time in the history of that study conducted every four years, that Abia State will be mentioned positively. Prior to that Abia occupied the second to the lowest in all the four indicators used in grading states in Nigeria in ease of doing business, which has become a major global benchmark for rating governance.
The avalanche of recognitions continued in 2019, when the duo of Miss Chidnma Erem and Mr Orjinta all operating out of Aba were awarded the most outstanding MSMEs in Nigeria again by the Federal Government. One thing worthy of note was that both Onwuasoanya Makuochukwu Echezuolachukwu and Chidinma Erem were amongst the 30 youths the state government sponsored to undertake an automated shoe training course in far away China.
An unrelenting Governor Ikpeazu continued with his promotion of Made in Abia products and he does this in the most outstanding ways. Sometime ago the governor visited a fast growing leather entrepreneur in Aba, Footwear Academy where he enrolled as a student shoemaker, this brought huge attention to the incredible work Footwear Academy was doing to bring standard and grandeur to leather works.
So it was no surprise that during the next Federal Government’s National MSME awards, Footwear Academy emerged the MSME of the Year with cash prize and a car to support their enterprise. Since that award, the Footwear Academy have continued to do great exploits in their area of endeavour.
- Nwaogu, a Social Scientist, writes from Umuahia