Ugwu-Oju: NESH Will Focus on Actionable Issues Affecting Entrepreneurship

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The arrowhead of the Nigerian Entrepreneurial Summit and Honours (NESH), Emeka Ugwu-Oju, who is the President of South-south and South-east Professionals speaks with Olaseni Durojaiye ahead of the inaugural edition of the event, which comes up this weekend

What informed the NESH initiative?

NESH is meant to bring entrepreneurs and policy makers together to have a conversation on how the year has gone from January to June. Entrepreneurs, being wealth creators, who have founded their businesses and of course the policy makers, who make the policies, including the regulators; it’s an opportunity for the business owners to tell the policy makers that, ‘Hey! this is where it pinches us, can we look at it again? And these ones are good, can we continue with it?’

It is going to be focused on practical issues because business owners are practical people more preoccupied with what needs to be done; what ideas and solutions can solve problems.

After the annual event NESH will also have a platform that is continuous. That platform will be for entrepreneurs to network, offer entrepreneurs opportunity to advocate what is good for businesses and also things that will improve entrepreneurship. This could be in form of conferences and seminars, engagements with entrepreneurs from different parts of the world, it could be in form of trips, and then it could also be in form of partnerships among entrepreneurs that could lead to value add. NESH is not out to compete with any other group that may be pursuing similar goal; as a matter of fact, the more we have similar groups the better for the country.

Will the partnership be with local or international businesses?

It’ll be both. This is so that NESH members could have a good deal from other businesses. In the airline businesses for instance, it could be in form of discounts on business trips and other facilities that normally, they wouldn’t get as individual businesses.

For instance, now that the country is in a recession, we expect NESH to galvanise entrepreneurs on how we can quickly get the country out of recession by doing their own bit and also get the government to do its own bit in terms of providing the enabling environment. Then again, in this era of scarcity of foreign exchange to galvanise entrepreneurs to focus more on export and encourage the exporters in NESH to be able to stand up to exporters in other countries in terms of international quality and standard, to boost competitiveness. At NESH we believe there are immense advantages in number.

What has been the level of the support since the initiative was made public?

The founders of NESH, in all modesty, have reasonable goodwill within the private and public sector based on antecedent. It is that goodwill we’re leveraging so the support has been there and is still pouring in, not in terms of financials because it is not about money. It is about creating a platform that will generate its momentum based on the services being delivered.

Then, of course, having an institution like the Entrepreneurship Development Centre of the Pan Atlantic University as a partner, for them to be associated with us adds a lot of goodwill to what we are doing. Centre for Value in Leadership founded by Prof. Pat Utomi is also our partner and that tells a lot in terms of support and credibility of what we are doing.

We also have strategic partners in organisations like the Bank of Industry and the Federal Inland Revenue Services. There are other institutions and organisations that have shown a lot of interest, like Small, Medium Enterprise Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN). We also have partner banks, they see where we are coming from and where we are going to; an institution like the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) have shown some level of support but we haven’t reached the level of partnership.

What strategy do you have in place to ensure implementation?

I agree that there are a lot of talks going on around, it’s good to talk, we should never cease to talk. In as much as we would talk, NESH is more focused on actionable things and how to focus people on actionable things which was why I said earlier that we will look at practical issues affecting our constituency, the entrepreneurs.

For instance, if there are issues affecting export business, we will face and resolve it; if there is an issue like when we had the EDC 10TH edition in Abuja and some small scale entrepreneurs mentioned some problems that they were having with Nigeria Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), we would take it up. If it is an issue that borders on timeliness, maybe there is something that takes NAFDAC 10 days to do and we feel it is something that can be done in one day, we will find a way to get NAFDAC to get it done within one day. These types of issues are what NESH will be focusing on.

You mentioned that NESH is not competing with any economy advocacy group. Agreed, but, what new thing or initiative beside advocacy is NESH bringing to the table?

For the first time, we are going to be having what we call NESH Nigerian High Impact Project Watch List. We have selected an initial 10 projects, subsequently, entrepreneurs will select which projects they feel should be on the watch list; these are 10 major projects that we think will impact on the economy of Nigeria, projects that are being promoted by Nigerian entrepreneurs whether by themselves, or by entrepreneurs in partnership with government, or by government in partnership with entrepreneurs. Besides bringing the 10 projects into the public domain, we would track the project and give state of the project report to Nigerians annually through the NESH event. This will curb the practice where projects are announced and 10 years later the projects are still not completed.

We also have the NESH 500. This is a category for entrepreneurs, who have also made some impact, they may not be in the category of NESH 100 but they also deserve to be recognised because they are entrepreneurs that are making a difference in their field.

For instance, if the project makes it into the NESH watch list; if the promoters said it will be completed in three years, after one year, we will monitor the status of the project and if it is at the stage that it should be by that time, we will tell Nigerians that the project is on track but if it is not at the stage that it should be, we will ask questions. We will ask what the problem is and whatever the problem is we will bring it forward.

By doing that, we are putting all the parties before Nigerians. If a project is a scam, we will know, may be the promoters have collected some benefits from government using the project and years down the line it has not even gone beyond the drawing board everybody will know. On the other hand, if the problem is with the government through some government bureaucracy, we will know and will tell all Nigerians that it is government that is killing the project due to policy summersault.

Such projects could also be the Niger Delta Energy Corridor considering what it could mean to the economy of the South-east and the South-south region. It could also be the Mambilla dam. We believe that is a key contribution on the part of NESH towards the timely completion of impactful projects.

There is also NESH Honours. There is the NESH 100. We’re looking at remarkable and admirable entrepreneurs in Nigeria. Since this is the inaugural edition, we are looking at entrepreneurs, who have been remarkable and admired by Nigerians between 2005 and 2015. Going forward, it will be annual; but since we are starting off we want to clear the backlog using 2005 as the starting point.

What qualifies anybody to be on the list?

The entrepreneurs are not on the list because their volume of sales is the highest but because they have made good impact in their areas; whether it is entertainment, IT, Consulting, that is the NESH 100 and like I said it’s about how impactful they have been in their fields.

One thing that we also try to eliminate is entrepreneurs that are politically exposed, in other words, they seem to be in and out of government so to say. That is a disqualifying criterion and we will try to shut them out because our main partner, Centre for Values in Leadership also looks at ethics and values that entrepreneurs uphold.

Who did the screening and selection to determine who ends up where in the categories?

It is done by NESH founders in partnership with Enterprise Development Centre of the Pan Atlantic University and Centre for Values in Leadership. Of course, there are basic principles but EDC has the veto power to determine who is honoured and who is not because they have the pedigree in that area and we are comfortable with their choice and decision.

We also have the NESH Titans and there are 25 of them. The NESH Titans are what you might call entrepreneurial giants of their time; if they were not in business at the time they held sway the impact will be felt. Entrepreneurs rise and fall, so being a titan does not mean that you are permanently up there. One of the titans is Alhaji Chachangi. Chachangi Air is not flying today but there was a time in this country if they were to be off air for one day it will be total chaos in the Nigerian airline sector. At that point in time, Chachangi was a giant in the Nigerian airline industry.

In the titans category some are alive and some are dead but in the NESH 100 and 500 categories they must all be alive at least as at the time that the list was released.

What about the awards for different states across the country’s geo-political zones

There is a category for one state per geo-political zone category. This will be to honour the state for encouraging entrepreneurship by providing the enabling environment for entrepreneurship to thrive because we also want states to be alive to their responsibilities, not only the federal government. That’s how the states can grow because any state that think it can depend on federal allocation from Abuja is dead on arrival because their survival will be based on taxes generated from the economies of their respective states and that is a function of what the entrepreneurs produce that will provide the taxes so we want to encourage them in that direction.

Then, we have the Entrepreneurs’ Entrepreneur category. This particular entrepreneur will be voted for by entrepreneurs in the NESH 500 category.

We will have no hand in that except to make sure that the process is transparent. Working with our partners, we already have a shortlist of 10 business leaders in 10 different sectors out of which one person will emerge as winner and will become the Entrepreneurs’ Entrepreneur for the year 2005 to 2015.

What are the indices for the states that will be honoured as being business friendly?

We have criteria, if and of course, we will keep on improving on the criteria. For example, any state that wants to encourage business would set up an investment promotion agency, states that have programmes that train and expose their entrepreneurs and of course, states that are aggressively promoting tangible projects in the public domain because if they didn’t provide such enabling environment that project won’t happen in their states.

In other words, for a $100 million project to happen in a state, the promoter would have had three or more states that the project could have been sited but because the other state would have done something extra to attract the project to its domain could be a factor.

However, for the inaugural edition and due to security situation we won’t add one geo-political zone because it won’t be fair to judge them based on their current condition and we hope that by the next edition a whole lot would have improved in the regions.

What is the thinking behind the NESH-NXT?

Sometimes we need to differentiate to get maximum returns that’s why we have NESH-NXT and we also have plans for NESH-W, which would be for women. NESH-NXT is focused on young and aspiring entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 to 35; with that, we are able to effectively target solutions to the challenges faced by up and coming entrepreneurs because their challenges are different from that of other entrepreneurs.

Importantly, it’s to nurture the culture of entrepreneurship among young people, to also put out there the achievements of young entrepreneurs as a way to encourage more young people to embrace the culture of entrepreneurship.