Hope for Akwa Ibom after COVID-19
By Emmanuel Sam
Akwa Ibom state government is milling a handful of post COVID-19 economic recovery plans in a bid to wriggle her citizens and their businesses out of the turbulent impacts of the novel Coronavirus pandemic which has put the world economy on a standstill for seven months now.
The Coronavirus pandemic has altered all known human interactions in politics, social affairs, religion, diplomacy, business and others. And, there are growing uncertainties of an apocalyptic post COVID-19 era, where economic activities are restrained and new terminology like ‘social distancing’ has forced on new ways of doing businesses. Markets, offices, sporting activities, travels and social events had closed up. Some businesses have downsized or folded up within this seven months period; job loss, poverty, unemployment, hunger, social unrest and, violent crimes have gone up on an exponential scale.
There are great uncertainties about the world economy. No one is sure of the future anymore. Nigerians are living in fear; the possibility of economic rebound seems farfetched at the moment. States are trying to build buffers. Federal and states governments have cut their budgets because their revenue projections at the beginning of the year are no longer be attainable. Recall that the federal government has sliced its 2020 budget from N10.59 trillion to N10.52 trillion, and has brought down crude oil benchmark from $58 at the beginning of the fiscal year to $25 per barrel.
The post COVID-19 economic projections are pointing left, forcing businesses and many state governments to approach the future with fear.
In the face of the gloomy economic outlook, Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom state is milling out buffers that will cushion the impact of the seven months economic lull caused by the Coronavirus outbreak; and build a post COVID-19 economy based on the lessons the pandemic threw up.
One of the buffers is, a grant to small business owners. The state government launched a programme to give grant to women, small -scale traders, to help them make up for losses incurred during the lockdown, and the skyrocketed prices of commodities in the market after the lockdown. The grant, called “replacement capital” is intended to ensure that commerce in rural markets remain strong after the COVID-19 lockdown. There has been an interesting and overwhelming buy – in into the replacement capital programme by the governor’s aides and supporters across the state. For instance, State Publicity Secretary of Peoples Democratic Party, Barrister Iniobong Ememobong, Hon. Akan Tommey and Dr Ikpe Ibanga, who have partnered to dole out the sum of N300,000 replacement capital to 300 petty traders at various markets across the three senatorial districts including Akpan Andem market Uyo local government and Itam market in Itu local government; Urua Ator in Ikot Ekpene and Urua Anwa in Oruk Anam and others. Everyone has seen the viability of this initiative, hence more aides of the governor have bought in. Last week, Special Assistant (Public Affairs) to the governor, Mr Raphael Edem; and the Senior Special Assistant on Multilateral and Donor Agencies, Mr Nana Udom also donated replacement capital to female traders Itu local government area.
While states were fixated on fighting the outbreak of the pandemic, Akwa Ibom was fighting the pandemic and working out sustainable economic recovery plans. Governor Udom Emmanuel saw beyond the chaotic health care crises the pandemic threw up. Towards the third stage of the virus, the community spread stage, ahead bending the curve of the virus, the governor set up post COVID-19 economic reconstruction committee. The committee chairman by a renowned world class economist, Professor Akpan Ekpo, had top brass representation from all sectors. The committee, according to the governor, is to guide the state government in the formulation of a policy framework needed to create a viable post COVID-19 economy; identify and explore ways and means of sourcing funds and attracting investment partners, with realizable terms, locally, nationally and internationally in realization of every identified revenue generating project. Its task will also involve the re-designing of policies targeted at attracting technical assistance, including bilateral and multilateral donors plus Foreign Direct Investments as well as state measurable sources/indicators of sustainable socioeconomic growth and development of Akwa Ibom State with little or no revenue from oil.
Another step taken to prep the state to meet the challenge of a global economic downturn by Governor Udom Emmanuel is in agriculture. The state is seeking to increase production in agriculture by getting more citizens to embrace farming and guarantee food security in the state. Accordingly, the Governor Emmanuel has flagged off farmers’ enumeration exercise in the state. The Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation, AKIICORP, which drives this vision in the agricultural sector, has deployed 1500 enumerators to cover 2500 villages in the state. The corporation intends to utilize data collated as a major customer base for the proposed Ibom FADAMA Micro Finance Bank. The objective is targeted production of specific food crops like cassava in commercial quantity, which the government will off take and supply to all the Garri processing mills in the state to produce staples including garri, fufu and starch among others at affordable prices.
The farmers’ information and other data the state will generate in this endeavour will help in planning investment and support services to farmers.
In the same vein, the state has announced plans to create a portal of her manpower. At the state executive council meeting recently, it was decided that portal should obtain data for skilled, unskilled, employed and unemployed and indeed every citizens of the state work are within the active working age. With these data, one can safely say that Akwa Ibom state is preparing for the future empirically.
Furthermore, Akwa Ibom has bypassed other states in setting up a framework to key into the world bank post COVID-19 intervention programmes. As strong member of the National Economic Council, Governor Emmanuel has blazed trail in setting up the Akwa Ibom State COVID-19 Action Recovery and Economic Stimulus Programme – State CARES in accordance with world bank economic stimulus plan. Being among the firsts to key into this global intervention programme shows Governor Emmanuel is in a hurry to lead the state out of the post COVID-19 economic fears. The state – CARES committee led by the Honourable Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport, Mr. Akan Okon, is expected to work out modalities that will make the state benefit from the world bank’s support scheme. It will also undertake coordinating and delivering systems to scale up emergency support; regulating guidelines to support effectiveness and sustainability of the livelihoods and food security activities; capacity building and the necessary guidance to enable the State achieve the Seven Disbursement Linked indicators (DLIs).
So far, Governor Emmanuel has replaced fears with hope through his multiple economic policies and programmes aimed to wriggle the state out of a post COVID-19 economy and Akwa Ibom will be counted among top winners after all things about COVID-19 are laid to rest.