SPEECH PRESENTED BY THE NATIONAL COORDINATOR OF THE ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIAN WOMEN BUSINESS NETWORK (ANWBN) – BARR. NKIRU JOY OKPALA – DURING A COURTESY CALL ON THE SENATE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, HIS EXCELLENCY, DR. ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI, ON TUESDAY, 18TH DAY OF OCTOBER, 2016, AT THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY COMPLEX, ABUJA
Your Excellency, The Distinguished Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, Distinguished Senators and all other Key Officers of the National Assembly here present, our Honorable Business and Professional Women, the Media Group, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Afternoon!
We express our profound gratitude to H.E., the Senate President for deeming it important granting us this audience. We are most grateful for this reception, and pray that the outcome will be far-reaching and beneficial to not just Women, but the generality of the Nigerian People.
Our Association which is known as the Association of Nigerian Women Business Network is a coalition of 18 Women Business and Professional Associations in Nigeria housing over 920, 000 entrepreneurs who had come together with the common goal of encouraging and improving sustainable entrepreneurial development among women through research, advocacy and policy directional reports. The Association was born in February 2013 through a program organized by the Centre for International Private Enterprise in Lagos, on the theme, “Enhancing the Participation of Nigerian Women in Decision Making”. ANWBN serves as a unifying voice to address effectively, issues affecting business and professional women across the thirty-six states of Nigeria, including Abuja. Membership of this Association cuts across all states and local areas of Nigeria.
ANWBN has in its membership, the following Organizations.
- Association of Nigerian Women in Business – ANWIB
- Association of Women Farmers of Nigeria – AWFN
- Country Women Association of Nigeria – COWAN
- ECOWA Federation of Business Women
Entrepreneurs – FEBWE
- International Federation of Business and
Professional Women – BPW-Nigeria
- International Women Society of Lagos – IWS
- Market Women Association
- NACCIMA Women Wing – NAWORG
- NASME Women Wing – NASME Women
- NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women – NNEW
- Nigerian Association of Women Entrepreneurs – NAWE
- Nigerian Network of Women Exporters of Services – NNWES
- Women Entrepreneurialship Program – AWEP Nigeria
- Women in Business and Management – WIMBIZ
- Women in Successful Careers – WISCAR
- Women’s Consortium of Nigeria – WOCON
- Women’s International Shipping and
Trading Association of Nigeria – WISTA
- Women’s Rights Advancement and
Protection Alternative – WRAPA
ANWBN is still open for Membership.
Few weeks ago, we had our first Annual General Meeting in Lagos, and a new Executive Board to steer the affairs of the Association for the next two years was elected. We are glad you have accorded us this audience. ANWBN has in its short span of existence, done a huge lot on issues bothering on the challenges women in business face.
Your excellency, there is no doubt that the economic situation in Nigeria today is very worrisome. Poverty still remains a real problem and unemployment is ravaging the talents of our youths. The fact that Nigeria is not a magnet for international investment despite the abundance of natural resources in it remains a thing of immense concern. The Global Economic Forum found in its study in 2014, that Africa leads the world in the number of women starting businesses. It was also shown that in Nigeria and Zambia, 40.7% of adult women are the owners and managers of their own businesses. Among the committee of nations, Nigeria undoubtedly has abundant human and natural resources which are under-utilized or untapped at all. Yet, it is unfortunate, that despite its huge population, even with women constituting over 50%of it, the 2015 UN Human Development Index ranked Nigeria no. 152nd out of 188 Countries in its report, and 46 percent of the population are still below the national poverty line. Then again, in 2016, the report from World Bank shows that Nigeria ranked 169th out of 189 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report.
It is true that while many women are becoming entrepreneurs, and venturing into diverse economic activities, they seem not to be catching up with their male counterparts. This is because, Women-owned businesses still face a set of challenges which hamper their growth. Yet, there is no doubt that when women are legally and economically empowered, they bring their families and communities along with them
ANWBN’s has in its capacity, and with the support of CIPE tried to identify some of these major impediments and seek for credible ways of ameliorating them. In 2014, ANWBN conducted an advocacy project on access to credit for women entrepreneurs after a national survey carried out by us through a Consultant. With the adequate data collected from the survey, ANWBN developed policy recommendations to overcome these challenges. We subsequently approached the Central Bank of Nigeria, commercial and development banks as well as all the relevant government agencies in Lagos and Abuja to discuss the findings and seek support to improve women’s access to finance. We are glad the efforts yielded positive results as there are some changes made; like the Central Bank of Nigeria directing financial institutions to increase credit services to women, by simplifying its loan application process for women SME operators. Yet, a lot still needs to be done.
This year, however, ANWBN with the support of CIPE again, took time to examine the Business Environment under which Nigerian Women operate. We also engaged a Consultant to help gather data on the challenges and possible ways of overcoming these challenges. This we did with the aim of improving the business environment for women entrepreneurs across the whole states of the nation. Some of these environmental factors of constraints are internal, and inherent in the manner of management and operations of the businesses. However, the rest are largely external and beyond the control of the individual women and their enterprises. We on our own are doing the much we could to build the capacities of our members and other women in business on manners of tacking internal environmental factors towards business growth. Then on the external factors, the major identified issues are:
- Lack of adequate Infrastructure – patchy energy supplies, transportation logistics;
- Security, Health and Natural Disaster concerns;
- Lack of Government Priority Patronage for Made-In-Nigeria Goods;
- New Technologies/ ICT Networks,
- Lack of Access to Finance and Financial Incentives; According to the International
Finance Corporation, almost 70% of female-owned small and medium businesses in the developing world are reported to be unserved or underserved by financial institutions.
- Legal and Regulatory Frameworks;
- Business Registration Costs and Bureaucratic bottlenecks from Government Agencies (such as NAFDAC, SON, Ministries, etc), lack of ease in securing business permits in relevant areas of enterprise;
- Understanding and Building domestic expertise and knowledge,
- Multiple taxation.
- Inadequate Consultation and Inclusion of Women Business and Professional Associations in Politics, Economic and Socio-Cultural Matters at all Tiers of Government.
- Critical Cultural Values
On these, factors, therefore, Sir, we have picked out four major issues to concentrate on. These are:
- Lack of Government Priority Patronage For Made-In-Nigeria Goods;
- Poor Access To Finance For Women-Owned Businesses
- Inadequate Consultation and Inclusion of Women Business and Professional Associations in Politics, Economic and Socio-Cultural Matters at all Tiers of Government
- Illegal, Arbitrary and Multiple Taxation of Businesses by Government Institutions in Nigeria
These four issues have come to form part of our Business Agenda. We are glad the Government is taking some proactive steps towards addressing some of these issues, particularly issues Number 1 and 2. Yet, a huge lot needs to be done on all the issues particularly Issue No.3, because women find it difficult to project their opinions and get their voices heard due to poor representations in government.
We are doing a lot on our individual organizations to educate women on the need for standardization and quality control. It is always a huge embarrassment to the Nation each time any of our products is rejected on the international market due to poor quality or lack of standard. It even takes a greater effort regaining such lost confidence on the international market.
In all, we have tried to proffer suggestions on the solutions that will speedily aid in addressing these issues. These solutions are well detailed on the Policy documents which we shall here be handing over to the Senate for proper examination and possible implementation. We have admitted that it is not just the duty of government to create enabling environment for businesses to thrive, it is also the responsibility of the business owner/operator, as well as that of groups like ours, to ensure that their staff and members are performing within the required local and international standards. So for us to achieve a lot in reviving our economy, all hands must be on deck. We are ready to do our bits, but we seek your constant support to ensure are bits go far.
In any case, Your Excellency, based on the four major issues identified above, we have developed a National Business Agenda for Nigerian Women in Business. The National Business Agenda for Women-Owned Businesses is a tool that educates the private sectors on the public policies that affect them. It identifies the regulations or bureaucratic measures that hinder business activities in the nation, and proffers solutions for reforms, and equally stipulate measures that will stimulate economic growth as well as credible job creation. It is designed to serve as a collective identification of challenges to business growth and sustainability, be a channel through which their voices are heard, as well as an avenue towards addressing these challenges. This document has been formulated as a Policy Direction Document and we are here to present it to you.
We have slated the 23rd day November to 2016 to have the official Lunch of the National Business Agenda. Our intention is to present the agenda before the Government on that day. We shall, therefore, be asking you to please, set aside that day for Nigerian Business and Professional Women and be in attendance on that day as our Special Guest of Honour, and Keynote Presenter. We shall be expecting you to be in attendance with other Distinguished Senators.
Anne-Marie Slaughter of the U.S. Department of State had once said,
“Conditions that allow for creativity and entrepreneurship, which make markets work, are also conditions for vibrant civil society that makes democratic institutions work”.
This we agree to because market economies and democratic governance go together to improve the quality of life of citizens of a nation.
On this not, therefore, we know we all have a common goal, that is, to have a great nation Nigeria, where democratic governance delivers to the needs of its people. We advocate for a business environment where women should have equal access with their male counterparts. We seek for a market economy which would provide efficient and sustainable systems.Thus, we are clamoring for continued partnership between the Senate and Women in Business here represented by ANWBN for us to move positively towards the actualization of this common economic growth and sustainability agenda, as well as be one of the first nations in the actualization of the Agenda 2030 – Sustainable Development Goals.
We thank you once more for this great opportunity to address our issues, we are optimistic you will handle our requests positively. We look forward to inclusive governance, and equally ask the Almighty to direct your paths.
Thank You, Sir!
Barr. Nkiru Joy Okpala.
National Coordinator, ANWBN