Akin Alabi, a businessman and the owner of Nairabet, was recently elected into the House of Representatives from Egbeda Federal Constituency, Oyo State. He sat with PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja last week for his first interview since inauguration. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and space.
PREMIUM TIMES: Could you please tell us how you intend to bring your private sector wherewithal to bear at the National Assembly?
Akin Alabi: I am going to look at improving our economy from two angles. From the core legislative part, I am going to embark on constituency outreach because that is, basically, the work of the legislator.
We are also looking at introducing some adjustments to some laws and policies that will encourage small businesses and medium scale businesses to thrive.
The reason is because I believe that if we talk about job creation, most people are not employed by the government. There is a limit to which government can employ people.
We have a bloated wage and you would not be able to pay salaries even though public workers earn just a little percentage compared to top companies, like oil and gas firms, breweries and the top banks.
Most people work in the small and medium scale field. What government can do is to find a way for small businesses to start and to thrive. Now talking about starting, a lot of people their entire capital is N100,000. But to register a small business, either a limited liability company or just a one-man shop, is taking them tens of thousands of naira.
First, business names have to be free, they need to be done online, and ready in less than 24 hours. I registered a business in Rwanda, I registered businesses in other places online in 24 hours.
The other part is we need to find a way to encourage the government to support these small businesses in terms of access to loans, access to credit facilities, even credit reporting.
Rating of credit of people is important because when you rate people, when people are creditworthy, then the banks would not find it difficult to loan them money because it is going to be easy to get the money back, They cannot run anywhere especially with the BVN in place. That is just another little part.
Then for constituency outreach, we are talking about personally empowering small business owners in different ways. This includes consistent training that I have been doing for years in my personal capacity. Training, teaching them business concepts, business techniques, marketing lessons which we have seen testimonies already.
We also have to support them financially because you can have all the practice, you can have everything, but you still need a bit of money to push it.
We are going to make money available. Interest-free loans to qualified people who present their ideas, their small business. Look at my Egbeda Federal Constituency and you will see people selling Akara, moimoi, or fish whose entire capital is less than N100,000. Yet they still send kids up to tertiary level. You need to find a way of encouraging people like that with capital so there can be more productivity and education.
Now you know some of the ways I want to bring my business acumen into public service as a federal lawmaker.
PREMIUM TIMES: How confident are you that even if your proposals scale through the parliament, the president would sign them, considering how difficult it is for capitalists like you to convince him?
Alabi: First of all, I do not agree that President Muhammadu Buhari is on the other end. The president, I think, has realised that the poverty level in the country and has been doing his best to improve the lives of those on the lower rung of the economic ladder.
You cannot say he is not pro-business. Even the established economists, you have governments in the United States introducing social policies to improve quality of life for the poor.
They give them money, housing, basic things to lift them out of poverty. Because President Buhari seems to be doing this, that is why people portray him as anti-business. He is not anti-business in any way.
In fact, the government has already introduced some social intervention programmes to give micro-credits to people and also monthly stipends.
PREMIUM TIMES: The efficiency you seek with business registration and other areas where bureaucratic hurdles often get in the way of smooth transactions, how do you intend to convince the government here? A recent attempt to implement visa-on-arrival does not seem to be effective anymore.
Alabi: We need to get the National Assembly to buy into the ideas first. We get like-minded people, and I have been able to identify like-minded people. Once we can work on these pro-business policies, the president is not against business in any form.
PREMIUM TIMES: What kind of lawmaker should we look forward to in Akin Alabi?
Alabi: Nigerians should expect a lawmaker that is assertive and independent. A lawmaker that is pro-youth, pro-jobs, pro-jobs, and pro-jobs. For me, jobs for the Nigerian youth come first and will define my career at the parliament.
PREMIUM TIMES: Nothing on insecurity or human rights?
Alabi: I appreciate your question: the security and rights of every Nigerian must be priorities. But if you look at it, you will see that everything still revolves around unemployment, which has been acute in the country for decades. Therefore, if we are able to create jobs, then you can expect to have reduced insecurity and the rights of Nigerians would not be violated perpetually.
That said, I am sure that some of my other colleagues in the parliament will focus on other areas of interest for Nigerians. At the end, we are all working for a better Nigeria.
PREMIUM TIMES: At 42, you are amongst a new crop of lawmakers elected at the last election, how did you make it?
Alabi: As you would know, Nigerian politics is full of drama. Also, it is still very expensive, which could discourage young professionals from throwing their hats in. Ultimately, I am grateful for the support I received from my friends and community people, and I will strive to deliver my best for my constituents and my country.
PREMIUM TIMES: Honourable member, thank you for your time.
Alabi: It is my pleasure to talk to PREMIUM TIMES, keep up the great work.