This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Her Passion for Stimulating Business Growth

Aisha Abubakar is the Ag. MD/CEO of Abuja Enterprise Agency, a Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Centre established by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA). Her agency recently won the global citizen award in the United States. In this chat with Tokunbo Adedoja, she speaks on the activities of the agency, its challenges and the plans for the coming months

She had just met with members of her team in one of the meeting rooms at the agency's building located in Abuja and was back on her seat waiting for the brief session with THISDAY on the activities of Abuja Enterprise Agency (AEA), which she heads. Aisha Abubakar, Ag. MD/CEO of Abuja Enterprise Agency, is a reporter's delight when it comes to fielding questions from newsmen.

AEA was set up in 2005 and commissioned in 2006 by the FCT administration to provide excellent support for residents by developing relevant programmes and activities to start and nurture business, entrepreneurial skills acquisition and development, financial support, business infomation and advisory services, outreach services, and research services.

An enterprise development expert and a strong advocate for rural enterprise and women empowerment, Aisha is also a certified Islamic microfinance manager and trainer from the Centre of Management Development. She has also attended several conferences in Bangladesh, Canada, Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

With a degree in Politics and International Studies from the University of Warwick, and Masters in Development Studies from the University of Leeds, Aisha Abubakar is no doubt prepared for the challenges of helping businesses grow.

She has 20 years experience covering banking and investment, international development and policy analysis, and rural enterprise development and women empowerment.

She was Cooperation Officer at Continental Merchant Bank, and Senior Bilateral Cooperation Officer (responsible for the Nordic Countries: Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Germany) with the African Development Bank, Abidjan, Cote d'lvoire. She also served as Principal Manager, Corporate Banking at the African International Bank, Corporate Branch, AIB Plaza, Victoria Island Lagos.

Set up in collaboration with the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and support of the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID), The agency which she heads FCT's vehicle for Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) development and poverty reduction.

Global Poverty Project, an NGO that looks for organisations and persons that actually do well in poverty alleviation recently gave the agency the global citizen award. AEA participated in the HP Life e-Learning initiative along side over 200 participants and its efforts were recognised by the Global Poverty Project.

"For that, they wanted to commend our efforts and encourage us to work harder. So, Abuja Enterprise Agency was given the global citizen award", she said.

Speaking on AEA, she said, "The agency which was set up in 2005 and officially commissioned in 2006, commenced business that year. We support business communities, business owners basically in the FCT. But we now do consultancy services for government, for individuals and corporate organisations outside the FCT.

"The AEA function is to support upcoming businesses, dying businesses and promote the start up of new businesses. We provide a number of services that include business advisory, mentorship, business clinics. We also support businesses in the rural communities on programmes and outreach, and also groups, associations, and cooperatives."

Listing some of the achievements and notable activities of the agency under her leadership, Abubakar gave appropriate credits to her predecessors while reeling out some of the achievements. Apart from several businesses that had been helped to spring up in the FCT, she listed several other achievements of the agency.

"I think the movement to our permanent site, even though I didn't start it, but I was on top of the project with my previous MD. I also think that the commissioning of the Microfinance Bank in Kwali, that was also not something that I started", she said.

She noted that the bank was now operational and three more branches were about to be opened in Abaji, Karu and Gwagwalada.

Abubakar, who hails from Sokoto, said her team had also helped to build a closer relationship between the FCT administration and the board members, and a board/management retreat was in the offing.

Abubakar said her agency recently signed a memorandum of understanding with The Raw Materials Research and Development Council, adding, "we are going to set up sheabutter village and we are currently working on cassava project as well".

The agency, she added, was also working on the Abuja talent academy for which she said the FCT minister had graciously granted a waiver of over N8 million.

Like every organisation, AEA has its own share of challenges. According to her, accessing the people to be provided services to and making them to understand why they should have the agency's services are some of the challenges confronting the agency/

Funding is also a challenge facing the agency, she said, but quickly added that "funding can never be enough for anybody, so that is a common problem".

Capacity building and developing synergy with other stakeholders are other challenges which the agency is working to address.

The coming months would however witness enhanced provision of the agency's services, she assured FCT residents.

"They should also expect enhanced quality services interms of turn around time. We promise to give them the delivery of their expectations, more robust training faculty coming up in this 2014 which is going to be quite exciting. We have different kinds of programmes for the youths, for women, for professionals", she said.

In addition to this, she said the agency had a couple of enterpreneurship programmes coming up and would work towards setting up a laptop assembly plant in Abuja, and work on a fashion academy all aimed at job creation

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