By Chinelo Obogo
Amaka Aniekwe is the chief executive officer of Somes Multidynamics Company Limited and a politics enthusiast. In this interview, she speaks about how young Nigerians will determine the outcome of the election and on the need for the government to strengthen businesses.
As we look forward to the 2023 general elections and considering the business outlook, do you think there is a prospect for businesses?
I will say that it looks very bleak even though we are in a very crucial time now. Right now, businesses are suffering because the dollar exchange rate is very high and so it is very difficult to plan. Hope you can see the dollar exchange rate as of today? Businesses are in a very challenging time.
Do you think any of the front-line presidential candidates can effectively tackle the economic challenges like the dollar issue that you just mentioned?
I am concerned about the activities of some of these presidential candidates because we expect to see them talk about national issues, how they are going to address them especially in their campaigns but unfortunately we are not seeing that. What we see is a situation where they come out instead of speaking about issues; they would start to malign their colleagues in the race. We have about N77 trillion debts as a nation. The concern should be how to addreszzs these issues. They should be worried about how to fund the budget. Unfortunately, we don’t see them discuss these issues in their campaigns. We don’t see them talk about the killings and many other issues; these are the concerns. Like I said in one of the interviews, what happened at the primary elections of the two major political parties a few months ago was worrisome.
Both the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have impacted the economy adversely through their action and these are Nigerian leaders and potential leaders. While entrepreneurs like us are looking for dollars to power the economy, the politicians on the other hand were throwing the dollars like pebbles that you see on the streets. We have issues that should bother us and unfortunately the political players do not seem to be on the same page with the business people, and it is very unfortunate.
Do you think that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has done enough work to guarantee credible elections?
Well, INEC has been telling us that it is ready. We want to believe the electoral body, even though there were complaints here and there about collection of the Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs). I will want to quickly say that the 2023 presidential election is a very important election. This time around it is not going to be business as usual because the youths have woken up from their slumber, and they are very enthusiastic about the election. You can see that play out in their readiness to participate in the electoral process. They have made a committed effort to pick up their PVCs and are waiting to vote for the right candidate and should not be disenfranchised or cheated out of the process.
In this election there should be no sentiments. It is not an issue of “it is my turn”, because Nigeria is not for sale. The capable candidate should be voted for. Nigeria should not make any mistake this time around because if there is any mistake, it is going to be very costly for us as a nation. We have so many challenges plaguing this nation, we have issues of poverty, unemployment, humongous number of out of school children, insecurity, rising inflation, energy issues, and a host of them, and so we need a president who can address them. We need somebody who has the capacity to fix Nigeria, the most important reason that we should see this election as “a make or mar” election. We need the presidential candidates to focus on issue based campaigns to help Nigerians make the right choice. INEC should ensure that the votes count and the security agents should be on ground to provide security for the citizens who would want to exercise their franchise during the elections.
Businesses have improved this election year with the level of economic activities in some sectors like printing and advertising, what are your thoughts?
It cannot be disputed that businesses like advertising, printing are booming this time because they are the platforms that politicians use for their campaigns but we have other sectors that need to be strengthened as well. We will appeal to the government to do something that will affect every sector positively. The return of the queue to the filling stations is a very disturbing situation. A lot of businesses are affected by fuel scarcity. The government should address that urgently. The pump price of fuel has risen to N350, in some states across the country; it sells for as high as N400 per litre. How can the economy thrive under such conditions? The Nigerian government must be intentional to strengthen businesses in the country. The government must address the issue of rising pump price of fuel. It should solve the issue of fuel scarcity, issue of hike in foreign exchange rate, issue of insecurity, and above all the government must understand that it is the private sector that drives the economy. We keep talking about empowering the private sector but I don’t think that the government is interested in addressing the issues that affect this sector.
How do you cope with these challenges that you just mentioned?
Prices of everything in Nigeria are skyrocketing, and I must say, the truth is that Nigeria does not encourage those of us that are business owners. Every day in this country, businesses are closing shops and insecurity is on the rise. It is so because people are jobless and when they don’t have jobs, they will create one for themselves in the crime sector.
Can you elaborate on the issue of foreign exchange for business owners like you?
The truth is that I don’t see things becoming better with the forex because Nigeria doesn’t have good regulations for export because that aspect is completely ignored. We have a lot of things we can export and this will help generate more forex but no structure at all. The forex policy is nothing to write home about. There is a need for a total overhaul. You cannot plan in this country as a business owner. I have related my challenges in sourcing forex so many times to journalists during interviews and as we speak things are getting worse.
What do you think the local manufacturers should do in this difficult time?
Anybody that is producing now in Nigeria deserves to be given kudos because the epileptic power system is worse now. How does one produce, as diesel prices keep going higher day by day? The private sector that is creating jobs for unemployed Nigerians is not encouraged even when the government doesn’t have jobs for these Nigerians. The infrastructure is not on ground for the entrepreneurs to leverage on and so where there is no job these unemployed Nigerians will create jobs for themselves in the crime sector, and it is so unfortunate.
Do you think that female entrepreneurs deserve any kind of concession?
A lot of concessions are supposed to be given to female entrepreneurs to encourage people like us who are striving to do business in a difficult country like Nigeria, but then again no structure is in place. The policies of the government are not helping anybody. The policies are not helping the men and they are not helping the women, even international investors are not encouraged to come to Nigeria.
There must be a total overhaul of policies to boost businesses in Nigeria as I mentioned earlier. I also stated earlier that the government must be intentional about strengthening the private sector and that starts with overhauling some of their policies that affect businesses adversely.
What is the prospect for your business considering the harsh business environment under which most companies are operating now?
Most companies are closing down; I don’t know if any company in Nigeria still has any prospects unless Nigeria is restructured by a good economist like Peter Obi, one of the presidential candidates. I mentioned him because we have seen his blueprint and I am not sure any of the other contenders have done so. We need somebody who can fix this country before it collapses.