I will like to preface this piece by stating the obvious – since the restoration of democracy in the country in 1999, successive administrations in the state have not been able to lay a solid foundation for the local economy to thrive.
However, as an incurable optimist, I believe that this despair is transient; and like a lonely cloud crossing a clear sky, the gloomy situation will disappear if the present administration sets the right agenda.
There is no doubt that Cross River State is endowed with enormous natural resources, but the human resource component should be seen as the state’s foremost asset.
Our people are energetic, vibrant and enterprising, all that is needed to build a virile economy in the state is to show the people the right direction and nurture their potential for innovation, creativity, self-confidence and determination.
Suffice it to say that in the last 16 years, successive administrations have approached development from the top of the pyramid with the Top-Down model.
This is not how an all-inclusive development approach should be carried out in a state without a substantial local economic base. Although failure is a great teacher, we cannot afford the luxury of time to keep learning from our failures.
The learning curve is over and the state can no longer be subjected to the rigor of trial and error. At this time, there is zero tolerance for mistakes and no margin of error is allowed. Failure is not an option! History shows no mercy for failure.
Because we are dealing with the destiny of our people, the present administration must opt for a successful development model with empirical evidence and a scientific approach that can be applied to build our local economy.
Drawing from our involvement and experience in the last 16 years, Governor Benedict Ayade is under obligation to evolve a progressive and pioneering approach towards development in the state.
To this end, the Governor must entrust his agenda for the state on a unique approach with a Bottom-Up development model.
This model is all-encompassing in its concept, excellence and competitiveness. This is a comprehensive and integrated model with great attention on building capacities in our people through grassroots participatory approach.
In this context, key areas where communities in the state have competitive edge or comparative advantage in natural endowment should constitute the nucleus of development.
So far, Governor Ayade’s body language and commitment have been quite reassuring which is an eloquent testimony to his perceptive quality as an academic, a businessman and an accomplished congressman from the hallowed chambers of the Nigerian Senate.
However, his vision has to be properly conceptualized and re-jigged to improve the status of the majority of our people.
Cross River State is far from ideal in spite of the mind-boggling investments in gigantic projects by the last two administrations. I have read some narratives in the past that were capitalized in staunch endorsement of the ‘audacious’ projects of the last two administrations in the state.
What I find entirely strange in these narratives is the strenuous attempts to extrapolate that the duo of Mr. Donald Duke and Senator Liyel Imoke through their policies and programs, left huge milestones to bequeath posterity. This would appear extremely galling to the masses of our people.
The public records of Duke and Imoke have left the entire state in grim privation with a mortgaged future of our unborn generations. It is against this backdrop that the assertion in some quarters that the last two administrations in the state achieved a lot, seem to have struck a raw nerve within me.
It is common knowledge that today, Cross River State is submerged in a bazaar of financial woes owed largely to some of these projects that are now moribund. Some of these ‘legacy’ projects have become grave designers of our state economic misfortune.
Some analysts have alluded to lack of sustainability as the reason for the failure of some of the ‘legacy’ projects of successive administrations in the state. This argument is quite hollow and falls flat in the face of simple logic of development economics.
Let us take a ‘laudable’ project like Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort as a case in point. It is my considered opinion that Tinapa was unadvisedly embarked on by the Donald Duke led government. To that extent, I believe that the project failed on arrival.
Tinapa was badly conceptualized, wrongly envisioned and awfully implemented. It is therefore grossly misleading for anyone to adduce the failure of Tinapa to lack of sustainability. There was absolutely nothing to sustain in the first place.
The question then is: Why did Tinapa fail? The development model for the project was Public-Private Partnership (PPP) anchored on retail trading as the core marketing strategy to drive business activities at the resort.
This partnership collapsed in the process while huge investments were being made at great cost to the state. For a non-productive economy like ours, the concept of retail trading meant that Tinapa would depend entirely on goods from outside the state and country.
Again, it should be noted that the regulatory framework for a project like Tinapa established as a Free Trade Zone has never been within the purview of a state government. The establishment of a Free Trade Zone is a matter under the exclusive legislative list of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
Senator Liyel Imoke had corroborated this position in an exclusive interview with the Daily Trust Newspaper published on 25th December, 2011. He explained, ‘’To begin with, as a public sector, the government went into what should be a private business. There was a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) idea which didn’t work out.
“So, part of the problem was that we have a Free Trade Zone built by the state government but regulated by another entity. We have no regulatory environment that could make Tinapa viable’’.
This disturbing remark by Senator Imoke was a clear acceptance of the colossal failure of the multi-billion Naira project. The gushing comments signal important lessons for Governor Ayade to appreciate the need for a shift in his development paradigm.
It goes without saying therefore, that, the current dispensation brings with it a historical chance to transform our state through a workable development model from an inward looking perspective.
The present era also offers us the chance to move the state from a core civil service and white-collar job orientation to one where entrepreneurship is the life-blood of growth and development.
This dispensation has afforded us another rare opportunity to set the state on the path of sustainable progress with a well-marshalled development plan that would enhance the wellbeing of our people from rural communities to urban centres.
The present administration in the state must showcase open-minded leadership that would give our people from villages to urban cities a free rein to create unique opportunities for themselves through small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs).
This is the formula for building an economy, the one that has provided the blueprint for development in other climes. This blueprint must be anchored on an ample empowerment policy of the local people and the army of young men and women (graduates and non-graduates) seeking jobs.
This policy should be a top priority of the government, based on the conviction that an average Cross Riverian is hardworking and enterprising. It is the responsibility of the government, therefore, to reinvigorate that entrepreneurial drive in our people.
In pioneering entrepreneurship, it would not be merely for the acclaim this government would receive in history, but more for the basic sustenance, survival, progress and prosperity of our people.
The importance of promoting business ownership through SMEs as a deliberate state policy is not restricted to its intrinsic value as a means of strengthening self-determination for our people.
But it also highlights the ability to energise the use of our natural resources to boost performance, reduce dependence on government for job creation, open new development horizons and create enduring legacies for our people.
In order to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, government must embrace the concept of small businesses wholeheartedly. The state can adopt a robust stance in trade and commerce under the umbrella of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) development.
For instance, Cross River State has a huge comparative advantage in the production of cassava in virtually all the Local Government Areas. The establishment of cassava processing plants in the three Senatorial Districts to produce chips, pellets, flour and starch could generate thousands of jobs across the state in less than two years.
The demand for these cassava related products locally (across the country) and globally is unprecedented. The role of the state government in this instance is to serve as guarantor to would-be investor(s) for a key development bank in the country to bankroll the project.
Government can also get an insurance company to underwrite the facilities and set up good internal control mechanism to safeguard the proceeds after sale to ensure remittance of the funds to the bank. The investor must be requested to present a workable business plan with the profitability indices well-spelt out.
We must note that the concept of small and medium scale businesses does not require huge manufacturing and production complexities.
Therefore, in a bid to develop the state economy, Governor Ayade cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this concept. Therein lies the engine room which has accelerated development in other climes.
Governor Benedict Ayade owe it to Cross Riverians to strike a good balance between attracting big ticket projects and creating a veritable atmosphere for the establishment of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs).
Missang Oyama is an Economist and a Public Policy Analyst. Oyama writes from Lagos, Nigeria. firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
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