The economy of any nation reflects the activities of a mix of economic agents or players interacting at different levels to generate goods and services either as input to another production process or for consumption by the end user. These players are differentiated by size, access to capital or other factors of production, economy of scale, efficiency etc.

The recent re-basing of Nigeria's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which established her as the largest economy in Africa, not only exposed Nigeria's potential, but revealed her fragilities. No doubt, potential for greater growth is huge yet "small businesses" are barely surviving in the Nigeria. The expression "small businesses" as used in this article cover businesses whether organised as limited liability companies or enterprises. This expression also connotes reference to the small entrepreneurs who are engaged in manufacturing and production on a micro scale.

The verdict of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is simply that the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have grossly under performed largely because of "unfriendly business environment, poor funding, low managerial skills and lack of access to modern technology (CBN)".

In addition to the infrastructural challenges, "small businesses" pose a problem of classification. In the Company legislation, the following criteria are prescribed for a "small company":

  • 2 million turnover
  • 1 million net assets (total asset – liability)
  • No foreign participation
  • No participation from government, government corporation, government agency or parastatals or its nominee
  • Private company having a share capital
  • Directors between them hold not less than 51% of the equity share capital

The Central bank of Nigeria has been at the vanguard of ensuring access to adequate funding through diverse schemes. Its latest overture is the N200 billion intervention fund to refinance and restructure bank loans to manufacturing sector, among other schemes. From CBN's perspective, the qualifying SME for this purpose is an "entity with an asset base (excluding land) of between N5 million and N500 million with labour force of between 11 and 300". This ultimately implies that the "small business" of the Company's legislation definition may not be accommodated under the criteria stipulated by the CBN's intervention scheme. This emphasizes the need for convergence or alignment in characterization of small businesses.

Furthermore, the re-basing of the GDP has also shown the service sector as the highest contributor. The question then arises: what is the fate of small businesses which only provide services and are not involved in manufacturing as contemplated by the CBN intervention scheme?

Rescuing and encouraging small businesses to realise their potentials require concerted but targeted intervention measures which cut across the tax and regulatory environment, in which these businesses play. For instance, intervention measures adopted in some other jurisdictions include strategic tax breaks, competitive tax rates and flexible compliance procedures.

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