By Nelson Ekanem
As a frequent traveler to Akwa Ibom State, notably the Ibom Icon Hotel and Golf Resort in Uyo, I frequently arrange retreats and seminars for my clients because of its calm, aesthetically appealing surroundings. I chose to see for myself on this latest trip with some free hours, and having seen the present Governor’s exploits and accomplishments on industrialization in the media. So I contacted Akpan, my regular local cab driver, and charged him with the task of acting as my tour guide as I explored the state. Frankly, I was astonished by the tremendous level of improvement.
In my many travels, I have witnessed what our public officials have provided Nigerians as empowerment initiatives, such as the regular distribution of grinding machines, clippers, tricycles, and motorcycles, as well as trainings in bead manufacturing, baking, and liquid soap production. In some cases, stipends ranging from ten thousand to one hundred thousand naira (N10,000-N100,000) are distributed as startup money. Most of these “empowered” people are soon overwhelmed by economic realities and never escape poverty. Beneficiaries often sell off those “empowerment items” since they were either not trained for what they were given or were chosen as a reward for being a loyal member of the same political party or organisation as the benefactor.
This is not to say we have not witnessed a semblance of such empowerment programs in Akwa Ibom in the distant past, but I am bold to say we have witnessed a quantum leap towards unprecedented empowerment programs with far-reaching impact. Since assuming office in 2015, Governor Udom Emmanuel in the six (6) years of his administration has demonstrated a strong dedication to youths’ empowerment and getting them the much-needed skills set for survival in the twenty-first (21st) century and beyond.
To signal the departure from what seems to be the norm, the Udom Emmanuel-led administration initiated a government policy aimed at supporting Small and Medium Scale Enterprise (SMEs) in a bid to reduce unemployment, promote wealth creation among the youths and also improve on the State’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is also a profound thought of the current administration, which did not establish new government agencies or necessarily hire into the state’s civil service as an easy technique for job creation and lowering the unemployment rate and poverty. Rather, in order to further its commitment to promoting entrepreneurship, transforming Akwa Ibom into an industrial hub, and becoming a significant contributor to Nigeria’s emerging economy, two agencies were established: the Directorate for Microfinance and Enterprise Development and the My Entrepreneurship Goals Program (MEGP), where shortlisted beneficiaries undergo three (3) months training on business management relevant for SMES development in today’s society. Governor Udom Emmanuel led administration also proved its commitment to SME growth by providing start-up finance for these young developing entrepreneurs
The Ibom 3,000 project was another demonstration of Udom ‘s commitment to supporting and developing SMEs in the state, as 3,000 youths from the state’s 31 Local Government Areas were trained on capacity improvement through diverse career, technical, entrepreneurship, and managerial skills in oil and gas, agribusiness, ICT, and SMEs in order to secure gainful employment or generate employment. This was followed by a second batch of 8000 indigenous people being trained for the same reason in preparation for the State’s industrialisation era. The ICT training focused on digital acquisition skills required for the twenty-first century, such as coding, software architecture and engineering, android engineering, application architecture and testing, and data structures and algorithms, all of which are required for an artificial intelligence-driven future.
The ongoing industrialization drive of the Udom Emmanuel administration has brought about a new wave of empowerment to the youths of Akwa Ibom state. I remember during my visit to the State, which took me to some notable sites/projects like the Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Complex, Kings Flour Mills and the Dakkada Industries Complex, I saw youths with newly acquired knowledge and vocation which will promote self-development and make them relevant in the nearest future.
At the Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Complex, I saw many young people operating equipment and machines. I was also told that many youths from the host villages were already being trained in the maintenance, repair, and servicing of such machines. This will make them employable after a comprehensive round of knowledge transfer. At Kings Flour Mills, except the Miller who is Turkish, all other operators are Akwa Ibom youths. There is a process in place where youths of the state are undergoing training on acquiring the special skills towards being a miller. It is safe to assume that very soon, the whole process and operations at the Flour Mills will be driven by youths of the State. At the Dakkada Industries Limited, the production of toothpick, plastics and tissue paper are done by youths of the State under the supervision of various technical partners. Products from this place are of national and international standard and there is an expansion drive in progress in order to meet up with the demands for it. This translates into more jobs and Akwa Ibom youths with specialized training.
The Ibom Air must also get a special mention as it has created jobs for indigenes of the State in a highly lucrative sector of Nigeria’s economy. We now have cabin crew and safety officers who are from Akwa Ibom State. They also make up the baggage handling, ticketing and reservation officers and with the ongoing expansion of fleet and routes, more job opportunities will be created. Also, I am convinced few years away from now, Ibom Air will have flights filled with Pilots and Cabin Crew from the State.
I must state that Akwa Ibomites are fortunate to have a leader that is committed to a more fulfilling future for his people, a leader who has provided them with a future in a fiercely competitive world.
Ekanem writes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State