By Akan Ubeng
I recall in September 2015, the then fresh administration of Mr Udom Emmanuel had charged Akwa Ibomites to rise to the faith of greatness with the hope and trust that the He (God) who started the work of statehood with us, will be faithful to direct our path to greatness, individually and collectively, as the Dakkada Creed quotes. For me, an indigene (though) basing at bit distant shore, that sounded like nothing more than a mere political mantra that will add no systematic value beyond adding to the identity and features of the administration. Well, I could have been wrong, but then, the task of proving me the same was on the government.
Maybe the very first case where the ‘Afirmanti Non-Neganti Incumbit Probitio’ (he who alleges has the burden of prove) legal clause would not be binding on the alleger. For the records, Akwa Ibom is my motherland though I’ve had to live outside the state since early childhood. Until this era, every election season has always met me wondering if there would ever be a time where even half of the line up of governorship considerations in my home state will boast of individuals with thick profiles like what we see in Lagos state – where even the least good is renowned or famous in their professional lines. Well, an Udom Emmanuel in the lineup for 2015 had brought some hopes in that regard. And one thing we noticed especially from the outside was that the dawn of Udom Emmanuel’s administration saw more professionals finding their ways home to identify with the state. Apparently, they were sure of someone who’d understand their own kind of political language.
But the much significant difference I expected from him notwithstanding, I could find no angle to compromise my scepticism while watching the Dakkada brand unveiling event on AIT because it is one thing to coin a mental and psychological charging mantra, but a differently tasking thing to fulfil its purpose, more so, in a way that will reflect visibly on the mass of citizens. Put simply or differently, the government of Emmanuel Udom had, on the one hand, the task of creating the mental reorientation to redirect the mindset of indigenes at home and in the diaspora towards dreaming and aiming big, and on the other hand, an enabling environment, as well as opportunities that will help them maximize their potentials. The challenge on the government was to prove this beyond the usual political trendy chorus by showing the mass of Akwa Ibom indigenes that away from politics and dependency on government, there are many paths to endless economic possibilities such as commercial agriculture, technological innovations, and entrepreneurship, among others.
It was four years after (precisely last year) that my mind got back to the initiative. It was the news of its 4th anniversary and whatever events happened in celebration of it. The citizenship spirit in me was very curious – curious to prove me right that four years was enough time to have rendered the mantra fully political and even. Or thinking differently, maybe after securing a second mandate, the government must have considered it politically useless by now. In attempts to get updates, I was ignored by a few and underinformed by few others. However, something positive came forth about a month ago when I was sure my work had finally allowed me some space to visit home after more than a year. So aside the homecoming was an opportunity to seek proper information channels.
While in the state, I found my way connecting with the department charged with the duty of projecting the Dakkada brand and coordinating activities that promote the initiative, which presented me with a list of achievements that generally gave the impression that the state is still miles before the target destination, though efforts so far have transported her far into the journey. But then, concluding everything wholly from such information would be a raised height of partial sensibility. No one with complete senses would expect a department of government to give anything different. Since I needed to compare the provided information with the realities and existences on the ground, at least, to a convincing extent, with the information provided, I made use of the details and some personal links to connect with some entrepreneur stakeholders in the state like Ms Lucy Ekpenyong of the Dakkada Business Forum and other small scale entrepreneurs who confessed being beneficiaries of at least one of the efforts of government in helping their sector rise. Not too satisfied though, but considering the sincerity of purpose involved in the government’s efforts and what I was able to gather about the brand managers’ energy in executing the plans and putting ideas to reality, there are, methinks, good and dignifying reasons to consider the government laudable in that aspect. From nurturing a baby brand through its critical need for awareness and recognition which was primary and essential at that takeoff point, to a wider reach towards ensuring the brand reached the targets with the intended and right message.
Dakkada in the literary sense is an action or commanding Ibibio word that means “stand up” in English. But far beyond the commonness of that literary meaning lies a philosophy which aims at charging the eyes and minds of Akwa Ibomites near, far and wide to see, aspire and reach the world of endless possibilities while putting their potentials to full use for maximal outputs. To achieve this, the brand’s first year was started with mobilising and recognized fifteen thousand eight hundred and sixty-one (15,861) Dakkada Ambassadors to help in propagating the Dakkada message. The ambassadors I learnt were drawn somewhat evenly from all local areas in the state. I was able to meet a few of the one hundred and twenty (120) members who were in the first year initiated and inducted into the Dakkada Business Forum. The forum according to Abasiodiong Samuel who is a member is a networking platform for business owners and professionals whose business and trade lines can serve as models for startups and starters and in my interaction with them, I learnt about the thirty-one (31) Dakkada multi-purpose co-operative societies across the state, each with a minimum of twenty-five (25) members. This idea in my knowledge serves the purpose of encouraging the integration of common business ideas within a small circle and the collective pursuit of common business goals. Subsequently, I was linked with some youths who were said to be randomly selected beneficiaries of the brand managers’ first test of productivity. To test their productivity level, they were up in small startups resulting from a partnership deal with MTN Nigeria which MTN provided 600 phone call centre starter packs for a fraction of the selected youths.
According to its second-year report, the brand and everything it represents saw the year an auspicious one, especially with the governor having reiterated while presenting the year’s budget, a commitment to harnessing all prospects towards growing the internal economy. This was a hope booster for owners of small, medium entrepreneurs, and even the large scale investors in the state. On the part of government through the Dakkada initiative, it would be a good gesture assisting existing enterprises with strategic knowledge on how to position better in order to have a share of the automatic positive touches of the growing economy. First of such assistance was the facilitation of CBN/AKSG interest-free loans of one million Naira (N1,000,000) each for 31 Dakkada multi-purpose cooperatives. This was factored by the initial thoughts that the funds when distributed whether evenly or based on needs assessment, will help business owners tackle some common challenges that can hinder or slow business growth. Such challenges like lack of required or desired production tools or lack of capital to increase production to meet demand quantity all of which can result in loss of market(s). Also understanding that having a business idea and capital to fund a startup is one thing, but having the knowledge to keep the business sustained and thriving is an entirely different thing, the government considered using the brand again as a channel to share knowledge to business owners. At the end of the free business advisory exercise, seventy-five (75) businesses owners were equipped with fresh strategic knowledge in their respective business lines. The government went further in this thought line to organise leadership and entrepreneurial training for two hundred and seven (207) small business owners in the Dakkada Business Forum while ending the year with a first Dakkada Business Forum awards and product exhibition.
The third year, according to its report met the brand with the need to consolidate on the gains of government’s efforts so far in entrepreneurial development. Hence, the resolve to create new and strengthen referral linkages for markets by taking a tour around the Dakkada Multi-Purpose Cooperatives’ primary activities. Subsequently, three hundred and forty-eight (348) business owners were added to the list of earlier trained ones on leadership, business and business leadership. Approaching the succeeding year (2019) with the same spirit and vigour, the government had very good grounds to take off with identifying and registering one thousand nine hundred and seventy-eight (1,978) start-ups and existing Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises on its database while moving to strike a partnership deal with SMEDAN to train and certify one hundred and twenty-nine (129) participants in the first batch of the MEGP programme. Somewhere within the same year, there was a successful move to assist a number of start-ups access registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), considering that businesses at such levels struggle with funds and accessing loan facilities and other aiding grants might be difficult if not impossible for them. Then came the 36 interventions with regulatory and government agencies for small business owners to end 2019.
The present year’s report was for me was gratifying because being able to ascertain an extent of veracity in the content won the government two strong points in sensitivity and proactivity. This is about the fact that despite promising at the start, the challenges and the consequential feet-sweeping economic misfortunes the year later brought leaves nothing to overemphasize about the fate of start-ups and other micro and small businesses. However, the government had looked beyond its share in the economic dwindling that was for state governments and rather acted strengthened in its commitment to encouraging entrepreneurs and growth of enterprises with outlined post covid19 lockdown plans for enterprises which included as a priority, facilitating revival loans for businesses. Thirty-six (36) businesses were assisted to secure grants meant for MSMEs while a partnership SMEDAN resulted in one hundred and thirty-four (134) participants being trained and certified in the second batch of the MEGP programmes. While on the loan facilitation process, there were still challenges of CAC registration or the lack of it which impeded most businesses and their chances of accessing the loan. To help reduce these cases, one hundred and sixteen (116) start-ups were further assisted with CAC registration, then followed interventions with regulatory and government agencies for small business owners. This exercise recorded two hundred and two (202) cases. And so far in the current year, a total of ten (10) Dakkada Networking Experiences (a networking opportunity for small business owners in the state) have been hosted and two (2) lucky business owners got awarded the participating entrepreneurs Grant of N100,000 each.
Closing, the maximum mileage has not been driven, though it is difficult to identify that point of maximality in this regard, considering that entrepreneurial development has inexhaustible challenges. However, while the efforts invested so far is enough to almost assure of a solid foundation laying, the commitment of government is also another hope raiser for investors at all levels in the state – hopes that rather than hurry to make temporally lasting visible impacts that most citizens want to see, the day’s government in Akwa Ibom state is working on an entrepreneurial plan that will not only outlive this administration but will traverse successive ones in a longer-term.