Tony Ezekwelu is contesting Anambra Central senatorial seat on the platform of African Democratic Congress (ADC) in the February 16 National Assembly elections. In this interview with WILLIAMS BABALOLA, he speaks on his plan for aspiring entrepreneurs and small businesses owners.
In what ways would you help improve the growth and survival of aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners in your senatorial district, if elected?
The issue of entrepreneurs, the young ones, mostly, is a priority in my vision and mission in the Senate. This is because no nation can develop or be economically self-reliant without having entrepreneurs that contribute to economic growth.
Entrepreneurs are like the engine that holds the economy. I am going to ensure that we establish young entrepreneurs across the senatorial district in Nigeria through our ‘Entrepreneurship Development Fund’. This special fund shall be available to all entrepreneurs. Not like the one they are doing presently through the N-Power or TraderMoni. TraderMoni is a scam. It is not in any way useful to our development. We are talking of a fund that will be available on a standing level, which we will have budgeted for.
Any young person in any institution of learning (primary, secondary or higher institution) that is ready to go into entrepreneurship will be trained for a period of time through that fund. From that fund, the person will get a business proposal and have a guarantee. You will then get the fund needed for your shop or workshop and to help you run the business till you start making profit. In so doing, the young and old engaged in entrepreneurship will have access to fund, and this will be distributed through the microfinance bank, which is available in every community in my senatorial district. It is going to be an interest-free loan for everyone that has been properly trained to go into business.
We’ll also have experts that will supervise the development of the entrepreneurs. I will make sure that all entrepreneurs that are interested in the scheme have access to the loan. They are going to be institutionalised. Even when I leave, the person coming after me would have no choice than to follow the good work he met. A board of reputable individuals will manage the project. I will also ensure that our state and local governments also set aside funds for entrepreneurship development and youth empowerment.
Do you have any plan to work with the private sector or foreign investors to improve entrepreneurship?
I am a private sector individual. I am an engineer and an economist. I am into design application. I am a general engineer. This is the area that I see as a hobby. For over 15 years, I have been helping entrepreneurs grow. You cannot train entrepreneurs effectively without involving the private sector. We shall invite private sector operators during their training. After the training, they shall go for practical training, and this can only work when you involve the private sector.
We will also get bigger companies to invest in the project, so that we get them very high quality skills. They can also help to step down their products or business investments.
Most of these big companies require skilled personnel that will step down their products, so that they can sell better. Then get better sponsors like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and other foreign agencies. I will also move around through United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other foreign and local establishments to assist in the funding, training and the supervision of this establishment. This is to ensure the sustainability, credibility and development of the project.
We will also engage Nigerian experts from across the world to come in, because some of these experts will come into town as mentors for these young people in their various areas. Mentorship helps grow business. These mentors will inspire the new or struggling entrepreneurs and probably pick the best among them after training to partner with. We shall also take some to train in technical and engineering field across the world. By so doing, we will have world-class entrepreneurs and skilled individuals. We will start this from my constituency before we establish it in other constituencies. I shall always move round as an advocate, using media and all other channels to talk to our youths everywhere to go into entrepreneurship.
What is your plan for an inclusive economy in your senatorial district?
Most times, our youth and women are neglected or screened out of serious opportunities. Also, the disabled people in the societies are always neglected. It is my plan, vision and mission to carefully create an enabling environment that will ensure that our young people, women, widows, the less-privileged and the physically-challenged are all included in this programme. Because of their large number, if we don’t include them in economy activities, the country is wasting economically. By engaging them in serious economic activities, the economy will grow.
I am thinking of seriously establishing institutions that will make sure that no one is excluded from gaining access economic activities. Anambra people are one of the most industrious in Nigeria, Africa and the world at large. I will make sure that we expand that particular natural gift we have. We are thinking of a way to make sure our people travel less. This can only happen by providing a conducive atmosphere for them; an atmosphere where you can access all these things whether you are rich or poor, connected or not. I am going to have my constituency office in every local government in the senatorial district and my liaison office in every community in my constituency. Through these offices, we will coordinate the project. That is where you will register what you want to do. You don’t need to travel to meet us; these offices will be everywhere. Even the rich in the society need help too. We will assist everyone, those who don’t have access to government jobs and ready to build a business. By the time you have the rich, the middle class and the poor in economic activities, you will have a holistically developing and fast developing economy.
If you are unsuccessful in the election, what will happen to all these ideas?
These are the things I have been doing as someone in the private sector. I have a foundation called Tony Uche Empowerment and Leadership Foundation. We are already involved in these things I am telling you. God forbid that I don’t win; but even if, I will partner with the winner to ensure we get these things done. If the person is not interested, I will reach out to other people in government. The project is not about me; it is about getting the right thing done. I want it to be institutionalised.