TBY talks to Hon. Aisha Abubakar, Minister of State for Industry, Trade & Investment, on tackling challenges in the manufacturing sector, boosting industrialization, and its work on promoting education for girls.

Aisha Abubakar
Hon. Aisha Abubakar is a multi-disciplinary professional with a strong background in SME development, microfinance development, program development and monitoring, strategy, public policy, innovation, general administration, and human resource management, as well as strong institutional outreach and linkages. She holds an MA in development studies from the University of Leeds, UK, and a BA in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. President Muhammadu Buhari appointed her as minister in November 2015.

What measures is the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment taking to reverse or minimize the effects of current industry challenges?

One thing this administration has been able to do is ensure that it takes advantage of the synergies amongst the different ministries, departments, agencies, and parastatals. We see ourselves as united in tackling the challenges facing our manufacturing sector. In terms of fiscal and monetary policies, there are many discussions going on. We are aligning our fiscal and monetary policies for proper impact to be felt especially by the manufacturing sector. Efforts are also being made to tackle energy issues, credit access, and forex problems. Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced the dedication of 60% of all available forex for the manufacturing sector in addition to the adoption of a flexible forex regime.

What type of incentives does the ministry provide for international investors?

Nigeria is open for business and our main focus is on improving the business climate by creating a friendly environment for doing business. It is in that vein that President Buhari approved the establishment of a Presidential Council on Ease of Doing Business tasked with the responsibility of removing all the bottlenecks that impede smooth business operations in the country. We have also signed numerous investment promotion and protection agreements with several countries to fast-track investment flow. There are also comprehensive packages of incentives and relief, which are sector specific. For instance, the sugar sector has incentives such as development of free feasibility studies, provision of improved seed cane, and long-term land lease of up to 99 years in addition to the provision allowing all investors to legally repatriate profits. We have several investor-attractive incentives such as the Export Expansion Grant (EEG) and pioneer status (tax holiday for pioneer companies ranging between three and five years), which are currently under review and have been some of the biggest incentives enjoyed by investors. The revised waivers and incentives scheme will be taken to the federal executive council for approval. In the area of access to land and acquisition, discussions are ongoing with various state governments to facilitate access to land.

There are many large international industrial companies in the country. How can the ministry ensure that those investments translate into maximum benefits for Nigeria?

The ministry is focused on the implementation of the Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) and the Nigerian Enterprise Development Program (NEDEP). These are policies aimed at boosting industrialization and support for micro, small, and medium enterprises and ensuring that the benefits of all investments are fully tapped, especially the provision of jobs to our teeming youths and improved contribution to the GDP. This provides a platform for the implementation of the industrial, trade, and investment policies of the government, on the foundations of macroeconomic stability and fundamental improvements in the enabling environment for doing business in Nigeria.

What should be done to empower and unleash the potential of girls and women in Nigeria and across Africa?

Education is key here, and girls need to be educated. School enrolment represents the largest component in human capital investment. Education bestows on girls and women a disposition for lifelong socioeconomic skills. It is essential therefore that both governments and the private sector encourage and institute scholarships specially dedicated to promoting education for girls. Women make up over 60% of SME ownerships and have the highest rate of loan repayment. It is, however, ironic that this demographic faces the most daunting challenges in business in terms of access to land and finance. We need to create more opportunities that provide access to finance and markets for women. Businesses and industries should be encouraged to see the importance of employing women in the workplace and the advantages it brings to efficiency and business sustainability. We need to give women more opportunities and roles to play. We need to be challenged more and acknowledged for the great and exceptional work that we are doing.