Uduaghanomics and poverty alleviation
On this year’s Democracy Day, this writer visited what was thought to be a mini-exhibition showcasing proudly Delta products. The venue was the Convention Centre in Asaba. It was an exhibition to complement a seminar on Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) held in the state to mark the Democracy Day.
Like a typical Nigerian seminar, there was so much talk at the podium. The theme of the event was how to leverage on the micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) to drive the new policy thrust of the Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan administration which is ‘Delta Beyond Oil’. The concept of Delta Beyond Oil is the new thinking in the state which has a rich history as well as a rich repository of crude oil. But oil is a non-renewable resource and like all such resources, there is heightened anxiety that someday, the oil wells may dry up.
Worst of it all, global experience has shown that in nations where there is undue dependence on crude oil (or any extractive product), there is a likelihood of what is now called the ‘resource curse’ or the ‘Dutch Disease’, a term coined in 1977 by The Economist to describe the decline of the manufacturing sector in the Netherlands following the discovery of vast natural gas fields in 1959. The sweet taste of petro-dollar deceived the Dutch and the country abandoned its thriving manufacturing industry and was not smart enough to reinvest the petro-dollar to other productive ventures. The dependence and heavy concentration on crude oil exploitation thus asphyxiated the primary sector and over time resulted in a weakened economy. It has happened to Yemen, Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria among others.
In Nigeria, with our legendary lust for easy money and showy lifestyle, the matter is worse. Nobody wants to till the earth, weave a hat, stay at the loom to make fabrics, grow rubber to produce latex, cultivate palms for palm produce or engage in any meaningful manufacturing venture. It is a hard path to thread, a difficult road to travel. But it was never so. In those days, the nation’s economy ran on the engine of a strong primary sector. The Naira was strong. Manufacturers and farmers got commensurate rewards for their efforts. Financial institutions were too willing to finance manufacturing even at the micro-levels. Cooperatives were strong and effective. These days, everything has gone awry.
Manufacturing and farming hold no attractions. Why bother to manufacture even a needle when we can conveniently import ship-loads of same? Why farm when we can import grains, fishes, meat, etcetera from all over the world? There is a gradual but sustained inclination to import just about everything we consume including those things we don’t need. The leadership is not helping matters. Successive Nigerian presidents, governors, cabinet members, policy-makers, private sector elite and the burgeoning army of latter day bourgeoisie drink, eat and wear the exotic.
It is total paralysis of a once pristine value system. But one man is saying ‘enough is enough’. Uduaghan is reversing the trend at least in his state. Somebody called it ‘Uduaghanomics’. It is an economic concept that gives impetus to micro, small and medium scale enterprises. It is bottom-up economics which empowers the skilled artisans, the poor, the peasants and rural folk. Such empowerment does not only end with providing the right environment, it also involves giving them access to funds to start their businesses and grow existing ones. The state micro-credit scheme which fuels the MSMEs is under the purview of the Ministry of Poverty Alleviation. The scheme has revived the dying agro-business, the indigenous fabric industry, jewellery production among others. Much more, it has proved the most potent tool for poverty alleviation. It has even become an effective counterfoil to capital flight. If in doubt, ask Madam Ireyeesorieseone Woods Okumagba, the Itsekiri spice-maker who leveraged on the state micro-credit scheme to turn around her spice-making skills into a money-spinning mill. She now exports her spices to earn foreign exchange. Not only her, others have courtesy of interest-free loans from the state become employers of labour in various fields. Cassava flour, honey, fresh palm wine, human-size catfish, hybrid fingerlings and seedlings, locally-made fruit processors, delicately woven hats and colourful fabrics from local looms, an assortment of colourful beads and footwears formed the proudly Delta products on display at the exhibition ground which added substance and significance to the seminar. The scheme has created over 90,000 jobs. It has created wealth and birthed peace by actively engaging the youths who yesterday were up in arms against the society especially the exploitative oil companies in the state.
Professor Mohammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner who was jointly honoured with his Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, once said that it is possible to banish poverty from society. “The one message we are trying to promote all the time is that poverty in the world is an artificial creation. It doesn’t belong to human civilization, and we can change that, we can make people come out of poverty …. so that people start believing that we can create a poverty-free world”, he told Adam Smith, the editor-in-chief ofNobelprize.org shortly after he was announced the winner.
This is exactly what Uduaghan is doing, fighting poverty not through charity but by empowering ordinary people to enable them unleash their innate capacities and talents to achieve impactful results. Uduaghan may not have won the Nobel Peace Prize for his revolutionary anti-poverty programme but as three-time winner of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) award for excellence in micro-credit management for SMEs growth, he stands on the dais of history as the man who dared to end poverty among his people. The Delta State micro-credit scheme is something Professor Yunus would be proud of.