By Ubong Sampson
Generally, Akwa Ibom is seen to be a core civil state. Though this may not be a good image portrayed by an economy in the world of today, where developed and genuinely developing economies already have long written and unwritten histories of depicting features of a first industrial revolution tracing back into decades and even centuries, but this is the reality that we must face, especially considering the importance of the first step in problem solving (which is identifying the problem). Be that as it may, it goes beyond a personal belief to a proven fact that those who made it out of a backward or stagnated economy were able to do so because there were people determined to raise lives that rather depends on government policies than its funds; and good enough, they had governments with enough will to encourage them. Akwa Ibom can also have this story to share in a not-too-far future if there is enough will to push the visions and prospects into reality.
More than once, I have heard the Speaker of the 6th House of Assembly in Akwa Ibom, Barr. Onofiok Luke say he is not one of those for a shoprite in Akwa Ibom. I was as surprised as you probably are right now, when I first heard him say that, but was quick to align my sentiments with his, after he gave his reasons. According to the cerebral lawmaker, the presence of a shoprite will be another avenue for capital flight, as we do not have enough SMEs to feed its demand strength. Hence, the company will have to source for suppliers outside the state. The implication here is that the company will be taking from us through our patronage to patronize suppliers outside. This however was as at 2016 during his first year in office as speaker. With the little efforts of government encouraging small startups in the last two years, I believe there should be a little improvement.
One of such efforts on the part of government is the creation of the Microfinance and Enterprise Development Directorate by Governor Udom Emmanuel, which he has used his appointee in the directorate launch some initiatives to encourage young enterpreneurs in the state, as well as boost business startups in line with the visions of the state government in that sector. From initiating the establishment of cooperative societies across local government areas in the state, to lending support to small rural businesses especially in agro related areas, which the consequential success stories are spreading like wild fire… add these among several others to the latest initiative of the directorate – My Entrepreneurship Goals Programme (MEGP), then it will be easier to understand why Akwa Ibom people, especially those who understand the indispensability of enterprise development in any economy are already upholding the belief and even spreading the message that with Udom Emmanuel, it is a future assured for the state. Pardon me if I dwell more on the MEGP programme because the initiative prompted the foregoing.
The MEGP programme is a human resource development scheme designed for young startups through the Directorate of Microfinance and Enterprise Development, MEGP, where exclusive and intensive business training workshop holds for participating entrepreneurs. The programme operates with the belief that entrepreneurship and business skills are teachable and learnable. This explains why organizers came up with the 3-months-per-batch programme to equip startups and other young entrepreneurs with the basic skills required to launch and run their businesses at the early stage of growth. According to the managing team, the programme is designed to bring together the best tools and frameworks to teach and imbue entrepreneurship skills into a reasonable section of the populace.
The programme comprehensively deals in core business subjects such as Starting a Business, Scaling a Business, Business Development, Marketing Strategy, Effective Management, Leadership and Product Design. And with the much resources invested so far by the government through the directorate, the programme is already meeting its goals in bits. For a programme that assembles fine business mentors, experts, solution provider to peculiar businesses, MEGP participants stand chances to become better through mentorship, exposure, as well as relevant business network. As proposed, every participating startup and young entrepreneur have the awaiting benefit of being attached to specific mentors for guidance and due support. Those working on business plans shall be aided, followed up until reasonable achievement is attained. Now, referring to the governor’s frequently expressed dream of seeing an Akwa Ibom that will compete with leading economies such as Lagos’ in self-sufficiency and sustenance, can anyone tell me what else, if not this, would be a stark example of a better way to interpret a vision?
For those who may be short of knowledge on how much enterprise development means to an economy, especially an emerging one like Nigeria’s, you may wish to take advantage of the now cheap internet access to research on the journey of recently developed and genuinely developing economies like China, South Korea and even our closer neighbour, Rwanda. This is where and they will understand the source and level of confidence Governor Udom Emmanuel has when stressing the possibility of a vibrant, self sustaining economy for Akwa Ibom in a not-too-far future.
In underscoring the importance of a developed enterprise sector in any development-conscious economy, initiating business knowledge and skills acquisition programmes such as the MEGP is one approach that can guarantee and boost Wealth Creation and Sharing. That is, by establishing the business entity, entrepreneurs invest their own resources and attract capital from investors, lenders and the public. This mobilizes public wealth and allows people to benefit from the success of entrepreneurs and growing businesses. This kind of pooled capital that results in wealth creation and distribution is one of the basic imperatives and goals of economic development.
It can also guarantee and boost creation of jobs. Primarily, entrepreneurs are by nature and definition job creators, as opposed to job seekers. The simple translation is that when you become an entrepreneur, there is one less job seeker in the economy, and then you provide employment for multiple other job seekers. This kind of job creation by new and existing businesses is again is one of the basic goals of economic development. This is one reason the Government of India decided to launch initiatives such as StartupIndia to promote and support new startups, and also others like the Make-in-India initiative to attract foreign companies and their FDI into the Indian economy. All this in turn creates a lot of job opportunities, and is helping in augmenting our standards to a global level.
GDP and Per Capita Income is another benefit of having a developed enterprise sector. Using India again as case study, her MSME sector, comprised of 36 million units that provide employment for more than 80 million people, now accounts for over 37% of the country’s GDP. Each new addition to these 36 million units makes use of even more resources like land, labor and capital to develop products and services that add to the national income, national product and per capita income of the country. This growth in GDP and per capita income is again one of the essential goals of economic development. Now, imagine an Akwa Ibom in the dream of Udom Emmanuel where up to 95% of households live above the United Nations’ defined poverty level, that would have been possible only when the enterprise sector has been developed to a level where young school leavers, undergraduates and even those seeking privileges to see them through school would not wait to be employed, but will find lots of business opportunities made possible by the business conducive environment in the state. This being possible, Akwa Ibom would have had more strength to accommodate settlers from outside the state and consequently help reduce the mass of unemployed hands in the settlers’ respective states of origin, and by extension, the country, especially where other states begin to see her (Akwa Ibom) as a model worthy of emulation.
How about the benefits of export trade?Any growing business will eventually want to get started with exports to expand their business to foreign markets. This is an important ingredient of economic development since it provides access to bigger markets, and leads to currency inflows and access to the latest cutting-edge technologies and processes being used in more developed foreign markets. Another key benefit is that this expansion that leads to more stable business revenue during economic downturns in the local economy. In recent times, I have seen on the internet, reports of people visiting the MADE IN AKWA IBOM SHOWROOM locate somewhere in Uyo – the capital city of the state. This showroom strictly exhibits only products made in Akwa Ibom and of course, these products are the innovations and efforts of our young entrepreneurs. Now, have you imagined an Akwa Ibom where more of these products are produced in far improved qualities such that they would be attracting demands from far and near outside the state? Imagine visiting a market in Lagos, Kano or Abuja and seeing a sandal from Sifon Bespoke? How about stopping by Spar or Shoprite in Port Harcourt, Enugu or Ibadan to pick few needs and you saw custards packs from Uty Trends being prominently displayed? These are examples of the possibilities the government of the day should conceive and use its relevant channels in making efforts to push to reality.
UBONG SAMPSON (08021419939) IS A PUBLIC AFFAIRS ANALYST.