Lifting the Spirits of the Less-privileged in Rivers

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Simeon Nwakaudu

For eight years, the immediate past administration in Rivers State tended to shun the less-privileged, as well as small and medium scale businesses that sought government’s intervention to grow. Little wonder traders, small and medium scale entrepreneurs and business owners decided to support the then Peoples Democratic Party governorship candidate, Nyesom Wike, during the last governorship election.

Wike was at the markets, the street shops and with the less-privileged, assuring them that once voted he would implement programmes that would lift them from poverty. In his New Rivers Vision Development Blueprint, which he presented to the small and medium scale enterprise owners, Wike promised on page 15 that when elected his administration would strengthen the Rivers State Micro Finance Agency to provide loans and funding for cooperatives and small businesses.

The blueprint indicated: “The New Vision will bring about economic growth, wealth creation and prosperity by leveraging opportunities from small and medium enterprises.”
On February 6, Governor Nyesom Wike gave life to his campaign promise of using RIMA to empower the vast majority of the less-privileged as well as small and medium scale business owners across the 23 local government areas of the state.
The project is non-discriminatory. It favours all enterprising inhabitants of the state, indigenes and non-indigenes alike.

Wike assured the less-privileged that his administration would take concrete steps to empower them through micro-credit schemes that will grow small and medium scale businesses across the state.
Launching the N2 billion Rivers State Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises Development Fund in Port Harcourt, Wike said the programme, which would be funded through a facility from the Central Bank of Nigeria, will assist small businesses have access to capital so that they can develop faster. The governor noted that the state government will serve as collateral for the small business owners so that they can play a more positive role in the economic recovery of the state.

He said his administration would ensure that the conditions for issuing out the loans by RIMA are friendly enough for small and medium sized businesses to have access to funds.
The governor stated, “The aim of this empowerment programme is to reach the mama-put operator, the onion seller, the barber, the table water manufacturer, and owners of medium-sized businesses for them to expand, employ more people and grow the state’s economy. “With the present reality, it is no longer feasible to rely solely on oil revenue. Therefore, my administration will ensure that these businesses have access to funds without stringent conditions. This is the first batch. Those not accommodated in this batch will be accommodated in the second batch.”

The governor added that his administration would extend credit facility to farmers in the state to enable them expand for the purpose of the state’s food security and the empowerment of a greater percentage of the people.
Wike said the N2 billion will be administered judiciously, pointing out that it will not be like similar facilities in the past that were mismanaged.
In his remarks during the inauguration, chairman of RIMA, Rt. Hon. Austin Opara, said the fund will be disbursed through three micro-finance banks. He appealed to beneficiaries to repay their loans so that the revolving scheme could be sustained.

Representative of the CBN, Mr Chinedu Zephaniah, assured the Rivers State government of the support and cooperation of the apex bank to ensure the success of the scheme.
Months after the inauguration of the fund, the processes, training and relevant due diligence have been carried out in the 23 local government areas of the state. The beneficiaries of the first phase of the programme have been identified, with their business grants and loans released to them.
Under the first phase, Wike has approved a list of 35,000 beneficiaries from the 23 local government areas. Among the beneficiaries are non-indigenes resident in Rivers State.

The list of beneficiary small and medium scale business owners includes barbers, plantain sellers, restaurant owners, painters, tailors, hairdressers, traders, market women, mechanics, fishermen, farmers, etc. These are the ordinary folks committed to developing themselves with the support of the government. RIMA under the leadership of Ipalibo Sogules, the managing director, has distributed business loans to the businesses at designated micro-finance banks in the state.

The beneficiaries got their loans in this order: 1. Cosmopolitan Microfinance Bank: 9 Agudama street, D/line Port Harcourt, for the people of Opobo/Nkoro, Oyigbo , Andoni, Asari Toru, Bonny, Degema, Eleme , Gokana, all traders , market women and all non-indigenes. 2. RIMA Growth Pathway Microfinance Bank, located at Rivers State Secretariat Complex, Podium Block, Port Harcourt, for the people of Obio Akpor, Port Harcourt Local Government, Khana, Okirika, and Omuma. 3. PREMIUM Microfinance Bank, plot 202 Olu Obasanjo Road, Port Harcourt, for the people of Abua/Odual, Ahoada East, Ahoada West, Emohua, Ogu/Bolo,Etche, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni , Akuku Toru,Tai, and Ikwere .
The injection of the N2 billion into the businesses of the less-privileged in the state has kick-started abundant economic expansion. The multiplier effect is already being felt by the people in the lower rungs of the economic ladder. The empowerment programme has led to employment opportunities, as several beneficiaries have expanded their businesses.

The comprehensive training organised for the beneficiaries of the N2 billion loan has been helpful. Majority of them have judiciously applied the funds because they know they will repay the loans so that others can benefit.
The empowerment programme of the Wike administration would have the long term effect of improving the security of the state, as more youths will be gainfully engaged.
–– Nwakaudu, special assistant to the Rivers State governor on electronic media, writes from Port Harcourt.