I created 25 Nigerian billionaires as President, says Obasanjo

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In what appeared to be a challenge to the federal government to encourage wealth creation as well as entrepreneurial initiatives, former President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday said his government was able to produce 25 billionaires.

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The former president said this at a ceremony for the second edition of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurship Forum in Lagos. He however did not name the 25 billionaires.

“My delight is to be able to create Nigerian billionaires. I always say it proudly that my aim when I was in government was to create 50 billionaires from Nigeria. Unfortunately I failed, because I created only 25,” he explained.

Responding to an earlier remark by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who was also at the event, that the federal government had taken steps to improve the business environment, Obasanjo said Nigerians and investors “want to see the results.”

The former president urged the federal government to ensure that they create conducive environment for entrepreneurs to succeed in Nigeria.

The former president added: You have to create a conducive environment for people who want to do business here. We have to make them wanting to come to Nigeria and if we cannot do that, we have failed. If you say you are doing that (referring to the minister of information), let us see the results.”

He noted the difficulties faced by prospective investors coming to Nigeria and the challenges they face when setting up their businesses in the country.

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Obasanjo said: “A situation where somebody wants to come to Nigeria to invest and it takes almost six days to get visa is not proper. In other countries, they would get visa at the airport. We need to be able to register a company at just one point. We have not taken advantage of all the opportunities we have to support our SMEs to be able to produce and sell outside our shores. And if we don’t do a lot of that, those of you (the TEF Entrepreneurs) may be frustrated.

“Let me tell you what I know. Agric and agri-processed products from Nigeria cannot enter into the United States. Even yam from Nigeria have to go through Ghana before going to America. You know why? There is a certification that is required for our agric produce to enter, which we don’t have. Simple thing, we don’t have, but Ghana has it. And it doesn’t take much to put that in place. Unless we have it, we can’t export these items to America.”

He however urged the young entrepreneurs to be resilient, saying it would not be a bed a roses.

Earlier, Mohammed said President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration was focused on moving the country away from a mono-product economy, to a diversified one.

The minister said: “We are left with no choice but to explore other areas because of the slump in crude oil price. The areas we are targeting include agriculture, solid minerals and the creative industries. As part of the government’s efforts at diversifying the economy, the federal ministry of agriculture is encouraging the local production of rice, maize sorghum, millet and soya beans. Today farmers in 11 of the country’s 36 states are receiving credit support through the Central Bank of Nigeria.”

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He cited the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme which he said was successful in Kebbi State, adding that it would soon be extended to some other states. The minister said there had been efforts to boost power supply, and that funds for capital projects had improved significantly.

According to Mohammed, insecurity in Nigeria was being tackled decisively and the regulatory environment was improving.

“To encourage young entrepreneurs in the country, this administration is committed to improving the Ease of Doing Business in this country. In fact, the president has approved the setting up of a Presidential Council on Ease of Doing Business in order to remove unnecessary impediments in the registration of businesses, clearing of goods from the ports. This administration is also committed to improving the imbalance in the foreign exchange market,” he added.

The founder of TEF, Mr. Tony Elumelu said 65,000 applications were received and the Foundation in the past two years was able to select only 2,000 due to limited resources. “Friends of Africa need to seek ways of helping those that were not selected, young Africans who can change the fortunes of Africa. In the 21st century, no one but Africans will develop Africa and those that are blessed.

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“The rich should do more by re-investing in the young ones because what counts is not how much you have in a bank account but the legacy you leave behind and the impact made. Talks with the African development bank in advanced stage for the ADB to take up additional 1000 out of those that were not selected,” he added.

The President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, called for more support from policy makers in Africa to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.

Africa, he said, is richly endowed with enormous resources which must be explored with value addition.

According to him, local production of goods through value addition should be encouraged such that Africa’s raw materials would no longer be exported, but processed in the country. He said the country’s young population should be given the required support.

Africa’s richest woman, Mrs. Folorunso Alakija, urged the TEF Entrepreneurs to ensure that they wre outstanding.

“The business world that you have decided to play is fraught with many challenges, dangers, difficulties and discouraging circumstances. You may need to fight and compete in other to succeed,” she added.

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