By Dr. UDEME NANA.
Economic downturn challenges leaders to think out of the box to explore options designed to drag their people and societies from the brink.
In Akwa Ibom State,Governor Udom Emmanuel ,an Accountant who rose to the position of an Executive Director in Zenith Bank and was tapped to return to his State to serve as Secretary to the State Government (SSG ) in 2013, seems to have been influenced by the economic philosophy of E.F Schumacher ,a German born British Economist whose Book “SMALL is BEAUTIFUL – A Study of economics as if people mattered ” advanced the idea that small but relevant firms are vital to the empowerment of the common people in sharp contrast to the more popular and dominant concept of “bigger is better ”
In just 3 years on the saddle as Governor ,Akwa Ibom State now hosts TOOTH-PICK ,PENCIL ,PLASTICS ,BAMBOO PULP ,HYDROFORM BLOCKS MOULDING ,ELECTRIC METERING ,SYRINGE and Coconut oil factories in addition to a FLOUR MILL and a FERTILISER BLENDING PLANT. Other small concerns include the AKWA PRIME HATCHERY and TOMATOE FARMS. There is also a GARRI PROCESSING AND RICE MILL .
In the 30’s ,when the United States of America relapsed into recession ,it took the bold steps of President Franklin Roosevelt to generate policies to benefit those tagged as the ” forgotten man at the bottom of the pyramid “.Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was a programme whereby government took direct action with projects targeted at restoring the fortunes of Americans by providing jobs and relief to the people.
The foundation of the economic octopus which China has become today was laid by Chairman Mao Zedong’s great revolution in the late 40’s .During Michel Gorbachev’s era in the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in the mid 80’s, he introduced the twin policies of Glasnost and Perestroika aimed at kickstarting the decaying economy of the Soviet Union.In Singapore ,small and medium enterprises are central to the economy .They make up 99% of the enterprises ,employ almost two thirds of the work force and they account for almost half of that country’s GDP.
Back home in Nigeria, Military President Ibrahim Babangida rolled out the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in 1986 and the current effort at the National level in Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari to draw Nigeria back from the precipice is encapsulated in the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP).
During a recent inspection visit to the Coconut factory built by his government in Mkpat Enin , Governor Udom Emmanuel was quoted to have revealed that the factory would provide direct employment to 1500 employees.Hell was let loose.Critics of the Government were bemused at the “small” number. However ,according to Emmanuel Enoidem,an indigene of the State and a keen supporter of the Government , “the coconut factory would be supported by an 11,000 hectares of coconut plantation which could become the largest such planned cultivation in Africa on completion .
The former Commissioner further revealed that the plantation ,on its own ,would employ between 2000 and 3000 persons directly while the factory is designed to process one million coconuts daily for full capacity production .
Analysts looking at the perspective of direct employment as stated by Governor Emmanuel may miss the point about these “small” businesses.This is because ,when seen from the angle of the communal society with its web of extended family ties and affiliations and the cultural demands exerted on such relationships to cater for the needs of dependents down the line , employees in such “SMALL businesses would be empowered to give succour to a million people across the State.
The Governor also revealed that the “small”coconut industry is projected to yield $200 million to the coffers of the State monthly which is an immense boost to the Internally Generated Revenue of the State.
More dispassionate examiners of the government’s economic strategy look at the prospects in the value chain ,the cumulative impact and multiplier effects on the common people like food vendors ,soft drinks ,water ,groundnuts ,bananas etc in addition to other petty traders in the vicinity of the factories .
These “small” but beautiful firms are also environmental friendly and have the potentials of a transformational impact on the economy , enhancement of productivity of the people and improvement in the work culture besides engendering a positive psychology among the people .
The “SMALL is BEAUTIFUL “economic model adopted by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State is grounded in the Buddhist economics which is based on sheer simplicity -” an amazingly small means leading to extra-ordinary satisfactory results.”
In the words of Jeffrey Sachs ,an outstanding American Economist ,Bhuddist economics is designed to give guidance to all who seek peace ,fairness and environmental sustainability”
These “small” but beautiful industries add to the N2billion interest free loan extended to small scale entrepreneurs in the State.
Indeed , great strides often begins with small steps.This Writer believes that the small industries attracted to Akwa Ibom by its present Government to produce goods and services needed for the existence and well being of the people can stimulate the economy of the State,transform the people and change ,in a positive way ,the economic profile of the State.
The Author,Dr.UDEME NANA is a Mass Communication Scholar and former HEAD ,BUSINESS & ECONOMY DESK of THE PIONEER NEWSPAPER in Uyo.