A better way to get a deeper understanding of why Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was moved to describe Governor Emmanuel as “a very clever Governor” on September 23, 2017, is to look back at how Akwa Ibom has fared in the last three years in the area of wealth and job creation.
If you take your eyes for a moment off the Jubilee Syringe Factory and the Metering Solutions Industry where many Akwa Ibom indigenes make up at least 70% of the entire workforce in each of these companies; and if you also take your gaze away from the vast possibilities of wealth creation that the two other industries – The Flour mill at Onna Local Government Area and the St Gabriel Coconut Refinery which are almost completed hold, then you are likely going to find your gaze fixated on other stimulating cases of wealth creation through enterprise support and development championed by Governor Udom Emmanuel.
Let’s begin with a true-life story.
A few years ago, Ekemini Usoroh, a graduate of Physics from the University of Uyo, Nigeria could have been a part of the statistics of unemployed youths in Nigeria from Akwa Ibom State. In 2016, after returning from the compulsory Federal Government-run National Youth Service Scheme, Ekemini had set out on a path of entrepreneurship.
He had set up a small-scale nylon production factory in Ikono Local Government Area. The first few months were quite promising as his output grew to reach a weekly production scale of 10 bales of nylon bags. “That production capacity was way below the demand for the nylons. I would go out and canvass for new supply deals and get the nod from prospective customers to supply only for me to be unable to meet the demand. Everything conspired against me – chief, was the epileptic power supply in Ikono where I was operating from at that time. I was producing with just one archaic machine as that was all I could afford at that time. All these factors conspired against me. I almost stopped producing and then I decided to move to Uyo”, Ekemini recalled.
The turning point
The turning point for his business came when Ekemini entered for the Season 2 of the Umbrella Business Quest. The Umbrella Business Quest is a flagship programme initiated by the Peoples Democratic Party in Akwa Ibom State where Governor Udom Emmanuel holds the reins as leader of the party.
Ekemini Usoroh by pitching his business idea of nylon production before a panel of preliminary assessors for the Umbrella Business Quest Show, got selected as one of the three contestants to slug it out before another panel of assessors made up of entrepreneurs on Live radio. He emerged the overall winner. The Cash Prize as Business Capital or support fund for the position of the winner was N250,000.
But little did Ekemini Usoroh know that his fortune of his business was going to change for the better on the day of the presentation of the Cash Prizes. On that fateful day (May 28, this year), Governor Udom Emmanuel had made a stopover at the Peoples Democratic Party Secretariat in Akwa Ibom State for a stakeholders’ meet. After listening to the rundown of the kind of enterprise that each winner was going to invest the cash Prize in, Governor Emmanuel decided to announce an increase in the categories of the Prizes. Ekemini got one million, five hundred thousand naira (N1,500,000) in addition to the statutory N250,000 cash prize he won. This made his business N1,750,000 richer.
Still at that event, a popular food vendor in the city of Uyo, Mr Grace Bassey popularly known as “Eka Udo” who was selected for the honour category of the Business Icon Award which originally comes with a cash prize of five hundred thousand, got rewarded with an additional One Million, Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N1,500,000.00). Eka Udo started her food vending business hawking food around before making enough money to open her outlet which currently has about 17 people in her employ. Sadly, Eka Udo had lost her sight about two years ago. Governor Emmanuel had also directed the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for health, Dr Dominic Ukpong to initiate the process of conducting immediate medical examination on the now visually impaired food vendor, Eka Udo to find out if her eye defect could be addressed medically, so that government can foot the bills for the operation.
Today, Ekemini Usoroh is back to full scale nylon production business and is currently employing about 4 persons in addition to himself. When I visited his new nylon production factory at Afaha Ube Itam, sometime in July, Ekemini proudly showed me the new Automated Extruder Machine he acquired with the prize money he got. “This new machine has brought efficiency into my business by reducing labour inputs and increasing productivity. This machine (pointing to the Extruder Machine) cuts, seals, and counts the nylon on its own. So, all my staff do is to put them into bale bags for delivery. And because I have people who work for me, it is now easier for me to go and make deliveries while also seeking for new distributorship deals. Right now, we have distributors in Abak, Ikono, Ikot Ekpene and Arochukwu in Abia State. But I will pause with trying to penetrate new markets as I have just landed a contract to train 20 Akwa Ibom young people in my factory as part of the wealth creation initiative of the PDP”, Ekemini explained to me in July.
Now, although I have taken the time to mention just two cases where Governor Udom Emmanuel decided to reach out and help fan the embers of enterprises owned by these Akwa Ibom indigenes, the Governor’s action, by my lights, reflects his tact in leading the journey of wealth creation in Akwa Ibom through a two-pronged approach of creating jobs through industrialization and enterprise development through support to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs).
Stimulate business growth
For example, in a sheer determination to ensure that the prong of enterprise development through support to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs), records many success stories, Governor Udom Emmanuel in a deliberate effort to stimulate business growth in an economy that was under recession, had approved the release of two billion naira, as interest-free loans to Akwa Ibom traders to bolster trade and commerce within the state.
On why the loan is interest free in a country where interest rate from commercial banks is from 25 percent, Governor Udom Emmanuel had said during the inauguration of the scheme, “Interest rate in the country is high, but we are making our scheme interest free to empower the entrepreneurs to grow their businesses for more outputs optimisation. This is because if we charge these entrepreneurs interest rate on the loan, as they are into small scale businesses, the interest rate would automatically wipe out their profits, making it difficult for their businesses to thrive. Also, we decided to give the market women first, because if you empower 1,000 women, you have indirectly empowered a large population in the state.”
Through a strategy of adapting and localizing globally tested and trusted models of communal prosperity, the Governor Emmanuel-led administration has also hatched many success stories of wealth creation through the Dakkadda Multipurpose Cooperative Society. Under this scheme, Akwa Ibom indigenes numbering several thousands have received support to drive economic enterprises in diverse areas of investment in fish farming, palm fruit cultivation, palm oil processing and other ventures.
Approach of creating jobs
With the approach of creating jobs through industrialization, Governor Emmanuel has through a Public Private Partnership model, dotted the landscape of Akwa Ibom with industries like Syringe Manufacturing Company, the Fertilizer blending factory in Abak, the Metering Solutions Company, the Toothpick and Pencil factories, even as the Coconut Refinery located in Mkpat Enin, the Flour Mills, and the Plastic Making Company nears completion. Aside from the direct jobs created by the existing factories and the new jobs which will be created by the ones soon to be commissioned, these factories have unlocked newer economic opportunities for residents in the communities where these factories are located. For instance, there is a marked increase in accommodation in all the communities where these factories are located. Cottage businesses have and will continue to spring up to support the rising demands occasioned by the influx of people to these communities.
There is no gainsaying the fact that it was in recognition of the audacious moves and big bets Governor Emmanuel has made in leading the wealth creation journey in Akwa Ibom this far in just three years that the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Nigeria’s public broadcaster, recently deemphasized partisan politics and celebrated these milestones by honouring the governor with the “Integrity and Service Award”. The Award ceremony was held inside Aso Presidential Villa, Abuja and the presentation made by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha.
It would be foolhardy to assume that the road that Akwa Ibom people travelled to make these wins in our wealth creation and economic empowerment journey was not fraught with discouraging setbacks. It is logical to conclude that what would have kept us moving aside from the unfailing benevolence of God Almighty must be the dogged determination, vision and courage of Governor Emmanuel to leave behind a state where Akwa Ibom people will look back to his era as Governor and refer to the years he held the rein as the golden era of Akwa Ibom State history.
The road ahead looks brighter and hold bigger promises!
*Borono Bassey, a Public Affairs analyst, wrote in from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.