A’Ibom: Empowering SMEs for Human Capital Development

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By Ubong Essien

Small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) constitute the foundation on which any economy rests. In fact, they are the engine room that powers economies around the world, including the developed economies. A country that seeks to have a strong economic base must have a thriving SMEs sector.

This understanding has been playing out in Akwa Ibom State where, in the last six years, Governor Udom Emmanuel has been busy developing the SMEs sector by empowering small businesses and encouraging the setting up of new ones through various interventions that are aimed at supporting the state’s industrialisation efforts.

His administration has been encouraging the people of the state, especially the youths, to demonstrate the Dakkada spirit by taking their destiny in their hands to chart the course that would change their socio-economic circumstances and, in so doing, contribute to the economic development of the state and Nigeria as a whole. In fact, the SMEs sector is one area where the philosophy is finding expression most – through self-help.

The youths are designing their destinies by taking advantage of the numerous opportunities that abound in the state to seek to become business owners in diverse areas such as hospitality for which the state is well known, fashion, agriculture, furniture making, ICT, etc.
Government’s efforts at supporting the growth of the SMEs sector is aimed at enabling it to contribute to the gradually changing status of Akwa Ibom from a public service to a private sector-driven state that would be Nigeria’s industrial hub and a major player in the economy of the West African sub-region. A pointer to the government’s commitment to growing this sector is the existence of the Directorate for Microfinance and Enterprise Development, with responsibility to, among others, periodically organize business advisory and training of start-ups in what is tagged, ‘My Entrepreneurship Goals Programme (MEGP).

At one of such trainings that ran for three months, youths were trained and given orientation on businesses that are relevant to the development of the SMEs sector in the 21stCentury. The curriculum of study for the programme was designed to develop small businesses through value addition. A major value addition to the growth of the SMEs sector is government’s commitment to attracting start-up funding for young entrepreneurs.

The Directorate for Microfinance and Enterprise development has been a channel for discovering enterprising youths in the state through the Dakkada entrepreneurship and business campaign. This led to the formation of Dakkada Multipurpose Cooperative Societies in all the 31 local government areas of the state, as well as the Dakkada Business Forum. The recruitment of over 18, 000 Dakkada ambassadors is part of efforts to ginger the youths to participate in shaping the economic fortunes of the state.

The failure of governments in Nigeria at the federal and state levels to match words with action has resulted in a situation in which there is a huge trust deficit between the people and governments. People are wont to view every government promise and action with skepticism and, in some cases, cynicism, if not outright hostility. This doesn’t seem to be the case in Akwa Ibom, where Governor Emmanuel has proved to a man whose word is his bond, the reason he has endeared himself to the people of the state.

The governor announced, on assumption of office in 2015, his intention to industrialise a state that was traditionally public service oriented. At that time, the state boasted of only one industrial establishment – Champion Breweries – which stood as a reminder of the Second Republic era of the late Clement Isong, when the state was part of Cross River State. By the time he was ending his first term, he had delivered about 16 functional industries in was nothing short of a feat. No government in Nigeria’s modern history had done that, whether at the federal or state levels.
With every sector – industrialisation, infrastructure, health, manpower development, power, agriculture, aviation, etc – littered with unparalleled achievements, the people of the state have no difficulty trusting him to deliver on every promise he makes.

The enthusiastic response to the effort to establish a strong SMEs sector to support the administration’s industrialisation drive, especially by youths, is evidence of that trust. They now see themselves playing more active roles in their own personal economic emancipation and also contributing to the sustainable development of the state.

There is, at the moment, a frenzy among the youths to participate in the ‘Ibom 3000 Project’, a programme the government is putting in place to train a total of 3000 entrepreneurs in all the 31 local government areas of the state in different areas. The programme targets creation of over 14, 000 SMEs in industrial clusters to be set in the three senatorial districts of the state. The clusters will be equipped to offer the kind of specialized training that would enable entrepreneurs to go into such sectors like agriculture, mining, ICT, hospitality, leather and raffia works, fashion, furniture, confectionary, bakery, etc.

It is quite remarkable that while the government works to create direct, paid employment through establishment of industries in different parts of the state, it also encourages the people to create self-employment through entrepreneurship. It must be noted, also, that every entrepreneur will be in a position to offer employment to others, as there is no kind of business that only one person can operate. The benefits that will accrue in the entire value chain are quite enormous – availability of products and services at the micro, small and medium level, stimulation of economic activities, job creation and improvement in standard of living.

Essien, a businessman, lives in Uyo.