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13 Jul 2017

Dr.Mrs Eunice Ortom’s Drive towards Benue Economic Renaissance

By Lucy Ackanyon.

Current economic challenges in Nigeria have made the quest for economic renaissance of Benue state more crucial and urgent. Recall that Nigeria’s economy hit the rock when global oil prices went down steeply and the quantity of the country’s crude oil production also dropped, sequel to the restiveness of youths in the Niger Delta.
In the prevailing situation, most macro variables have worsened significantly: exchange rate (from 197/215 to 305/465); unemployment (from 7.5% to 14%); GDP growth (from 2% to -1.56%); market capitalization of NSE (from N11.658 trillion, or $54.2 billion at parallel market rate, to N8.658 trillion, or $18.6 billion at parallel market rate— with daily trading down from around N11 billion to N1 billion, as analysed by Former Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo.
With average nominal wages declining while real wages dramatically shrunk ,(with high inflationary pressures), Nigerian workers are faced with unprecedented hardship with many families barely striving to survive. Depletion in the nation’s resources occasioned by the recession consequently led to shortfall in allocation accruing to states, creating issues of non-payment of workers’ salaries. States including Benue that depend heavily on the centre for funds to pay salaries, are the worst hit.
The Benue state government has continuously restated that the monthly allocation of about 3 billion naira that accrues to the state is grossly inadequate to pay salaries altogether amounting to 7.2billion naira. The Minister of Agriculture and Rural development, Chief Audu Ogbeh also confirmed the claim of the state government during the Youth Summit organised by wife of the Governor, Dr Mrs Eunice Ortom in Makurdi that,Benue has one of the highest wage bills in the country. He described Governor Ortom as a victim of circumstance who is faced with tough reality.
While the blame game persists, civil servants in the state groan and moan over the excruciating hardship that stares them in the face over many months of non-payment of salaries.
Evidently, many think that the state is where it is now because of lack of viable revenue generation alternatives. Not a few observers and commentators are amazed that Benue, a state richly blessed with vast fertile land and numerous mineral resources still depends heavily on the federal government for survival, 41 years after it was created. It is their contention that the abundant natural resources found in the state could be properly harnessed to create wealth for the government and people, and prevent over reliance on the central government.
Benue state is acclaimed the nation's "food basket" because of its rich and diverse agricultural produce which include yams, rice, beans, cassava, potatoes, maize, Soya beans, sorghum, millet and coco-yam. Benue began to export yams to other states far back as the 1960s. Today yams produced in Zaki biam , Afia, Gbeji and other places are sold in almost all the states of Nigeria.
The state also accounts for over 70 percent of Nigeria's Soya beans production. It also boasts of one of the longest stretches of river systems in the country with great potential for a viable fishing industry, dry season farming through irrigation and for an inland water way through irrigation and for an inland water way. Its mineral resources include Limestone, Gypsum, Anhydride, Kaolin, natural Gas, Salt, Petroleum Oil, Lead and Zinc, Barytes, Clay, Coal, Calcite, Gym stones and Magnetite. Of these mineral resources, only limestone at Tse-Kucha near Gboko and Kaolin are being commercially exploited.
Though efforts were mad the first civillian Governor, Late Aper Aku's government at industrialisation of the state through setting of industries such as the Taraku Mills Limited, Benue Brewery Limited, Benue Burnt Bricks, Benco Roof Tiles and Ago Millers Limited, however, the bold steps could not be sustained.Attempts at privatising them for more effective management, had no obvious gains to show either. Many of the industries have since folded up.
Even the shares owned by the state in some companies along the line were sold out for reasons which the government of the time considered important.
The messy financial situation of Benue State at the moment therefore required the critical need to take bold steps to drastically change the status quo not only for the present but also for the future.This was the impetus that propelled the Wife of the Benue State Governor Dr Eunice Ortom to, organise the Benue Youth Entrepreneurship Summit on the platform of her NGO, Eunice Spring of Life Foundation, which held from 14-15th June 2017 at the CBN North Central Entrepreneurship Centre, Makurdi.
The two- day summit tagged “Made in Benue is Possible” brought together youths selected from each of the 276 council wards of the state. Top executives of successful business ventures invited from across the country and experienced economic experts took turns to deliver richly packaged and inspirational lectures on entrepreneurship development.
The aim of the summit according to Dr.Mrs Ortom was to, unlock the creative potentials in the youths and inspire the spirit of entrepreneurship which could lead them to start up their private businesses and consequently,create a beehive of small and Medium scale businesses in the state thereby providing employment opportunities to the teeming unemployed youths. It was her intention to complement the efforts of the state government at facilitating economic growth and development as well as desire to improve its internally generated revenue base in order to curtail over reliance on the federal government, she explained.
The governor of the state,Samuel Ortom and the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Chief Audu Ogbeh also graced the event and mentored the youths using their personal success stories. The summit featured showcasing of items locally produced by youths in the state. There was also a competition for creative business ideas and at the end, participants with very sound business ideas were identified for further engagement.
Dr Mrs Ortom asserted, in her address during the summit that "Benue state has many very creative and hardworking youths who once they set their mind on a task perform exceedingly well", citing the examples of Benue born musicians and artists as well some successful youth entrepreneurs. In the long run, according to her, the fruits of the summit and other efforts will shift Benue state from a wholly civil service state to an industrialised one.
The wife of the governor had earlier in November 2016 organised a similar summit for women in the state. The aftermath of that summit was the selection and training of 600 women from the 23 LGA"s, on relevant skills to start their businesses. Majority of the women showed preference for agribusiness against the background of the rich agricultural endowment of the state.
Aware that funding is one of key obstacles to starting a business, the wife of the governor took a step further to facilitate loans from the Bank of Agriculture that will be given to beneficiaries through their cooperative organisations.
Interestingly, Dr Ortom’s ESLF has adopted the follow through approach to the initiatives to ensure effective realisation of target goals. Past experience shows that many project of government are implemented without proper mechanisms for supervision and monitoring, the end result which is incomplete or haphazard implementation leading to outright failure. The systematic approach of selection and training embarked by the ESLF indicates focused and purposeful pursuit of the goals of the empowerment initiatives.
Additionally, adopting the structure rather than the individual approach for loan facility has the benefit of engendering commitment from the beneficiaries both on the side of loan repayment and success of business.
A journey of one thousand miles which they say begins with a step appears to be the body language of Mrs. Ortom’s approach towards economic revolution of Benue State, according to observers.
If successful, the seeds sown in the initiatives will spring up a group of successful entrepreneurs. The effects of this are obvious. Not only would there be so many self-reliant people, but a set of employers of labour will emerge. In the long run, the desperately sought paradigm shift in Benue economic practice will be achieved. The over aching problem of youth unemployment facing the state will be reduced. There is no gain saying that that will also reduce youth restiveness.
The segment of the population which Dr Ortom has chosen to turn around the state’s economy is adjudged as very strategic. Women and youth empowerment is highly key to the development of any society. As she observed during the Youth Entrepreneurship Summit, youths are full of strength and innovative ideas that with proper support can produce great results. Singapore’s economy was drastically moved from third world economy to an ultra-industrialised economy because a youth, Mr Lee Kuan Yew led a revolution.
Finally, it is a fact that women empowerment has multiplier effect, and as the saying goes, "train a woman and you train a nation"
Lucy Ackanyon is a staff of The voice Newspaper posted to office of wife of the Governor, Benue State
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