RAISED TO RAISE THE POOR
By Ima Nkanta
One of the important moments at every inauguration day ceremony is the inaugural speech. Discerning members of the audience often wait bated breath for this moment when the president or governor will mount the dais just after being sworn into office, to deliver his speech to the people. While some have deployed the medium of the inaugural speech effectively to worm themselves into the hearts of the people, others have bungled the opportunity and earned public opprobrium from that moment.
Nigeria’s new president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, fell into the booby-trap the occasion of his inauguration had set. As soon as he was given the mantle of power as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he casually announced that fuel subsidy “is gone.” He didn’t offer any mitigation plan to cushion the effect of cutting off fuel subsidy.
That remark on subsidy removal has caused collateral damage to the nation; as fuel marketers took advantage of the announcement to increase the pump price of premium motor spirit known as petrol. In Nigeria, the wheels of the economy run on fuel, any increase in fuel price will cause crisis across the nation.
As expected, labour and her affiliate bodies have threatened strike action ostensibly to force the government to rescind its decision.
Imagine a government that was expected to relieve the oppressed of the oppressive policies of the immediate past administration, worsening it by just one statement.
Akwa Ibom wins
In Akwa Ibom State, the reverse is the case. Pastor Umo Eno tilted towards the discontented and disconnected segment of society – the poor.
One of the brickbats of the last administration was that it was too elitist and did not connect with the poor. This opinion is a derivation of investment portfolios many said were more elitist, like aviation, industries, and manpower.
Though these investments have spin-off effects on the generality of the citizens down to the very poor, the gap was obvious.
But Pastor Umo Eno is swiftly changing the narrative by connecting the poor, while also leveraging the legacy projects of the Udom Emmanuel’s administration for a holistic economic development of the state. This sums up what Pastor Umo Eno means by, “Connecting the dots.”
During his campaigns, he had variously promised to deploy agriculture as a tool to developing rural areas. Aside building access road infrastructure to link the rural areas, education and primary healthcare delivery; sustaining investments in agriculture and the value chain will enhance the economic standards of the poor.
This bend was punctuated in his inaugural speech, as stated: “To those of you who may be struggling to put food on the table, if I overcame, you too can! To those who may have given up on life because of the circumstances you currently find yourself, if I overcame, believe me, you too can!”
“To the youths of Akwa Ibom State, my story is your story. There is nothing you cannot achieve if you put your heart and mind into it.”
PURSUING THE VISION
While serving briefly as the Executive Director, Agricultural Investments Directorate of Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation, he was immersed by passion to connect the poor and drive projects that will improve the living standards of the poor to bridge the economic disparities between the poor and the rich. He envisioned four projects with direct positive economic impact on the poor.
First was how he could help farmers in Akwa Ibom access loans and grants from CBN and donor agencies. He was worried that Akwa Ibom farmers were not considered for loans or captured in the CBN agric programmes like Anchor Borrowers scheme. Then he realized that, though the Udom Emmanuel’s administration was investing huge resources in agriculture, there was no standard data of farmers that agric development agencies can access.
He quickly got approval of Governor Udom Emmanuel to gather data of farmers across the state. He went down with his team to the 31 LGAs of the state and the 329 wards to identify actual farmers and registered them.
The enumeration exercise was strategic and helpful, as details of farmers, such as farm locations, crop type, manpower, sources of capital and production capacity and markets were documented, with a digital format accessible to agricultural development agencies.
Also, the state government found the data important for planning and engagement of actual farmers, in order to avoid channeling government agriculture support to portfolio farmers.
Cassava processing facilities
In the first four years of his administration, Udom Emmanuel, through the Ministry of Agriculture had encouraged massive cassava planting. With supports like cassava stems and grants to farmers, the result was surplus of cassava during harvest, leading to waste and very low sales. That discouraged many young farmers, especially the new entrants from farming.
To solve this problem, Pastor Umo Eno obtained approval to establish Cassava processing facilities at Nsit Ubium LGA. This factory houses industrial processing machines, from peeling of cassava to processing it into garri. With this factory, rural farmers are now encouraged to grow more cassavas and sell them directly to the factory.
This helps farmers secure their Investments in cassava production against loss due to poor sales to off-takers.
Secondly, excess cassava feeds were to meet the raw materials need of cassava processing plants established by Udom Emmanuel’s administration across the constituencies of the state. According to Engr. Ubon Israel, an investor in agricultural product processing, inadequate cassava feeds has been a major challenge to processing plants and even the starch industry.
But with the cassava processing facilities, farmers can grow cassava in large quantities and make good profit by selling directly to the factory.
Ibom Fadama Micro Finance Bank
This bank was conceived by Pastor Umo Eno as farmers friendly bank. Now fully operational, offering financial services to a diversified profile of customers, farmers especially through their cooperative associations are to enjoy better access to loan facilities for farming. The bank’s managing director, Mrs. Imaobong Etuk encouraged farmers to approach the bank for financial support for all types of investment in agriculture.
She explains: “We have special interest for farmers and small businesses. We also have special attention for households, market women, transporters like the keke riders and people on the lower stratum who are doing business, who may not have a bank account.”
On the establishment of the bank, she said, “Farmers came together and proposed a bank that could cater for their needs based on the vision Fadama had for them, others were able to set aside capital to start Ibom Fadama Microfinance Bank Limited. The bank is owned by farmers, that’s why we call it Ibom Fadama Microfinance Bank Limited; it totally belongs to the farmers.”
The administration of Pastor Umo Eno will leverage the bank to connect the poor. “Our focus is to help small businesses grow. As a microfinancing institution, we understand the economic challenges of small businesses and are prepared to help them overcome these challenges and grow their investments,” she added.
Oil palm industries
The revamped Akwa Palm estate now Dakkada Global Oil Palms Limited, is revived not just to increase the state’s IGR but to avail the poor in the three host communities of Esit Eket, Mbo and Urue Offong Oruko LGAs endless opportunities to work and improve their economic standards. This was the goal of Pastor Umo Eno when he opted to revive the moribund palm industry.
The economic advantages of producing palm oil in commercial quantity in the state, as it is being projected through the revived palm industry, will boost Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, MSMEs, as the raw materials from the industry would be used to produce many body care products such as soap, toothpaste, shampoo and other household cleaning agents, aside foreign exchange earnings and large scale job creation opportunities.
According to Pastor Umo Eno, the sprawling palm industry would contribute massively in wealth creation, employment and also increase the state’s internally generated revenue.
CONNECTING WITH THE POOR
PASTOR UMO ENO shared part of his growing-up challenges in his inaugural address. It reads: “My story is well known to you, but please permit me to repeat some elements, so you will be further inspired by it. I was born in the police barracks and had lost my Father at a very young age and the burden to raise my siblings and me, fell on my late mother, a true Amazon, who went on to instill in us, the virtues and values of hard work, faith in the unchangeable designs of God Almighty, honesty of purpose and faith in the goodness of the human condition.
Life in the police barracks back then was drab and dreary and all around us, were things that were designed to bring out the worst instincts in us. I was the one most people thought would not amount to anything. No one gave me a fighting chance to succeed.
But because God’s plans would always confound the wise, I summoned hope and overcame. I could have fallen through the cracks of life, and be swallowed by the gaping hole that we daily encounter; I could have surrendered to some negative tendencies associated with peer pressure, but I summoned hope and kept my head above the murky waters of despondency.”
WHY HE WON’T FORGET THE POOR
In his book, Wealth Creation – God’s Way, published by Quest Publishing House, in 2015, Pastor Umo Eno shared some touching stories of how he started honing his entrepreneurship skills on the streets of Lagos, hawking soft drinks for his mother.
“My parents taught me early in life how to be a giver. My mother told me that as a little innocent boy, anytime guests would come to our house, I would do everything possible to serve them soft drinks, it’s about life, you don’t learn these things in old age, you start from your childhood.
My mother used to sell soft drinks, and while growing up, I used to help her hawk the drinks by the Lagos Local Airport, Ikeja, before and after school each time. I was already a senior prefect in secondary school then. People were making jest of me but I did not mind them.
To me, I was helping my mother. I won’t forget one day at the International Airport in Lagos as I was hawking soft drinks, I came face to face with one of my junior schoolmate who was travelling to London with his parents for a holiday. And out of shame, I dashed him a bottle of the drink. I couldn’t ask for the money due to shame, I just greeted his parents and walked away.
After the holiday, the boy came back to school and spread stories that ‘Senior Prefect Bassey’, as they called me then, was hawking soft drinks at the airport. And everybody began to mock me.
When I couldn’t bear it anymore, I reported the matter to the principal who disciplined the boy. The principal told him in the presence of his parents that “This Senior Bassey you are mocking today, you don’t know where he will be tomorrow, and that he is learning to be enterprising.
True to the words of my principal, many years after, I was driving out of my street at Ikeja to work in Lagos Island one day when I heard someone called: ‘Senior Bassey’, I turned and behold it was the same boy who mocked at me many years ago. I stopped and inquired from him what he was doing for a living. He told me he lost both parents, he didn’t have a job, and was struggling to make a living. Immediately, I recalled what he did to me in secondary school, and then I remembered what our principal also said. I put him in my car, took him to our office where I worked as the Group General Manager, and gave him a job.
That was how he started working. You don’t learn giving when you are old. You start from your childhood days. As a parent, you have to inculcate this habit into your children and let them grow with it. Teach them how to take care of people, teach them how to be hospitable and nice to people. If you follow these principles, your life will change for good. You will see your children grow in grace.”
This is the backdrop that often wells up his emotion and empathy for poor. Having been marvelously raised by God, he is on a mission to raise others. He has big plans to transform the poor. The package is buoyant, the will to execute it is strong and the season is right. Welcome to the dawn of a Golden era.