A major function of government to the business class is to provide enabling business environment. In this interview with PRINTERS DIGEST Editor Samuel Nwaekwu, Chairman, Association of Professional printers of Nigeria (ASSPON) Agege Zone, Mr Remi Atanda rues the pains and woes that has greeted the people since the ‘change’ administration assume office over a year ago. Excerpt:
How far will you assess the Buhari-led administration in terms of providing basic infrastructure that is key to the business and manufacturing sector?
Nothing to say because it has so far been a disappointment to the expectations of the people who went out en-mass, defy the odds to enthrone the APC as leaders of our great country Nigeria. For me, I was a major supporter of the Buhari ‘Change’ train. In fact, I personally campaigned for the CHANGE TEAM in the 2015 general elections that saw the sixteen years rule of the then ruling PDP coming to a good end. One major issues the business class had with past government was lack of infrastructure like electricity, access roads, good economic and currency policies, reasonable exchange rates etc. Like every other Nigerian, I had also thought the advent of the Buhari era would salvage these issues which to its very large space, had impeded on the general interest of the good people of Nigeria. Hmmm… one year in office of this administration now seem to be worse than the sixteen years of the PDP. Even the little we used to ‘manage’ is now no more. This government is frustrating the business class. This government is frustrating the printers seriously and i think they are giving to us a reason to think nothnig good will come out from their tenure.
How do you mean the government is frustrating business class and the printers?
When there are no policy thrust; where the economy is not having a definition let alone direction; when there is now no food for the people because there is no money in circulation; even at this critical moment, no one seem to be talking to Nigerians in clear possible tone, and all we hear is sale of national asset – These are all frustrating given the fact that the business operation in the printing industry is largely import dependent, yet tariff on imported materials for printing still stands at two-digits. I can tell you with all sense of responsibility that every paper you see in Nigeria today is imported and who cares to oppose this should come and challenge me to an open debate, par adventure, I will get to know whether paper is produced here in Nigeria or not. What about consumables? Inks, plates etc are also imported. We patronize foreigners for printing machines and these people obviously sell in their local currency (majorly Dollars and Pounds) and now the exchange rate over here is outrageous. If there is a thought on this aspect, I think it should be, how will the business class in Nigeria survive? My take on this is that you cannot kill the SME’s and expect a productive economy. That things are not working out on this wise is just a sure way to say there is no economic focus for the nation.
If you are in a position to advise government today, how will you approach it?
If my vote and that of other Nigerians was able to enthrone Buhari and others, I think we are by this always in a prime position to advise Mr. President and his economic team. Without mincing words, Nigeria of today is at a cross-road and need a re-starting. Everywhere is locked-down and it appears no idea to unlock the economy. What we need now is not grammar but decisive action. We need to rebuild our economy. We need to reset the business circle. Provide electricity and let the people gainfully find something to do with the power in their various houses and shops. Nigerians are highly gifted and they are always ready to make adequate use of resources at their disposal. Zik once said “show the light and the people will find their way”, this is where we are now. Business wise, printing needs stable power to function to optimum. We cannot be spending much on alternative power supply and expect us to break-even at the end of the month or every financial year. Now, the nation’s population has assume unofficial record of 180million people. These people need education and information. At this critical time, importation is not an option – it is ‘do-it-yourself’ kind of approach that is sure. So, we must start from somewhere and we must start now!
How is ASSPPON responding to this challenges?
By my virtue as the ASSPPON Chairman, Agege Zone, I can say in strong terms that I am ASSPPON and I am not finding it funny. No! Not at all. If it were possible, I would have initiated for option B on power generation, but that is not the case because no individual has right to power generation in Nigeria. You know it is not only the printing associations or firms that is suffering this hard situation in Nigeria today, it also affects other organizations and sectors especially the SMEs. Even the government parastatals too they are also suffering it. I went to Abuja business centre some time ago and I was shocked to my marrow when I discovered about 96% electricity supply there were from alternative power like the generating set. The problem is nationwide I must admit.
So how will you advise other members on coping with this situation?
My personal message to them is what I often say and that is they should have more passion, they should focus on adding value and keep a good maintenance culture. This means they must not give up in the face of business or professional challenges; they should not give up because humans are prone to making mistakes but must learn from their mistakes with this positive mindset that will bring about good change.