Listening to the Special Assistant to Governor Udom Emmanuel on Traders’ Matters, Akparawa Idorenyin Raphael on Tuesday on Comfort FM reel out the benefits and incentives the current administration has placed at the doorsteps of traders, I came to terms with why traders in the State are in sizzling courtship with Governor Emmanuel. He has not only carried them along, he has made traders an integral part of his administration. Thanks to creative vision which underlines every facet of his administration.
Akparawa Idorenyin Raphael is the President of Traders Association in Akwa Ibom State. According to him, during the run up to the 2015 governorship election in the State, they undertook an in-depth assessment of the candidates and decided to cast their lot with Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel. As a component of that decision, they decided to adopt him as a group. The Special Assistant observed that it was not the first time Traders in the State would decide to subscribe their support to a candidate as a group. He asserted that as a group, they constitute one of the largest voting strengths in the State. For them therefore, it was a normal course of action to adopt a candidate.
Akparawa Raphael, however, noted that the endorsement of Udom Emmanuel has turned out differently as traders have never had it so good. He recalled how the governor during campaign promised that he would have a representative of the traders in his government to enable him have first hand knowledge of the concerns of the Traders and how they took that promise with a pinge of salt. The Special Assistant to the Governor on Traders’ Matters stated that his is a fulfillment of that promise and expressed gratitude to Governor Emmanuel for upholding the tenets of truth which is seen as an anathema in politics.
But appointing Akparawa Raphael as Special Assistant is not the icing on the cake for the traders. It is what Governor Emmanuel has done with traders in the past years which have conduced into a robust and vibrant relationship between traders and government that deserves elucidation. Also of primacy is how government’s policies have helped in stimulating the informal sector to maintain the vibrancy that our local economy is witnessing.
Commerce is a strong artery of any vibrant economy. Of course, commerce involves activities that relate to buying and selling of goods and services. But the aspect which often hamstrings effective commerce is access to capital. Just like in any other business venture, access to capital by way of loan, credit or grant has remained the bane of economic development in Africa. With interest rates at rooftops and the stringent conditions associated with accessing loans, most businesses suffer stillbirth and remain at the realm of ideas.
The stringent conditions stem from the attitude of the people towards loans repayment. Recovery rates of loans in our clime have been known to be either very slow or non-existent. People believe that loans, especially if known to come from government are their own part of the national cake. And so they take loans with no intention from the outset to repay. The plough such funds into non productive ventures and frivolities thereby making repayment a mere mirage. This is contrary to what is prevalent in other climes where small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) survive on facilities from finance institutions to buoy their local economies.
It is therefore interesting to observe that Governor Emmanuel’s pragmatic approach in the revamping of commerce and indeed SMEs in the State has dramatically changed the attitude and mindset of the people towards loans utilization and repayment. This change of orientation is a direct consequence of the strategy adopted and which is holistic. There is a manifestly honest relationship with the traders which has invented and given them a sense of entitlement in the government of the day. This in further evaluation is the fruit of transparent leadership.
How did Governor Emmanuel achieve this? The first thing he did was to demonstrate to the traders that he had not come to use and dump them. And that he had come as a partner in progress. To accentuate this, he appointed for the first time in the history of governance in this clime, a special assistant to oversee the interest of traders from his office. He did not do that arbitrarily, he requested the Association to give him its choice. That is how Akparawa Idorenyin Raphael, an enigmatic workaholic who commands the respect of members of the Association emerged.
With a special assistant in place, Governor Emmanuel sought and obtained a revolving loam facility of N2 billion to be disbursed to traders at zero interest rate not as start-up capitals but expansion capital. The bases of qualification include, having a running business and belonging to the over 1,800 existing co-operatives or establishing a new one that would be assessed and adjudged to be in line with extant stipulations. The gratifying part of this is that the State Government has paid the entire interest package leaving the beneficiaries to pay only the actual sum collected. So far, about 8,500 beneficiaries are on record with sums varying from a minimum of N100,000 to N2 million. Imagine the number of beneficiaries and the multiplier impact the facility has done to the informal sector.
Interestingly, petty traders are not left out of this largesse. The sum of about N210million has been domiciled in an appointed micro finance firm and made accessible to petty traders with existing businesses who wish to expand their trades. In this clime, they are people who need amounts as minimal as N50,000 to expand their businesses and position them adequately to meet domestic needs with such businesses still surviving. When a loan facility trickles down to such level, banishing poverty becomes an achievable endeavour.
One other incentive that has endeared Governor Emmanuel to the traders is the compassionate waiver which gives them one free day of the week for non purchase of tickets. The traders see this gesture beyond the cost of the day’s ticket into the cumulative value of the sum in terms of bringing succour to the family. They are also view the interest free loan as a rare act of benevolence but appeal for the removal of encumbrances in the next batch of disbursements which is to be flagged off in March 2018, the first having run a duration course of one year. On enquiry on the recovery rate, Akparawa Idorenyin boasted: “Traders are the best people to give loans to. They are honest and trustworthy. We have recovered at least 95% of previous disbursement and we are ready to launch batch 2”. This is indeed cheering news for commerce and the local economy of the State.
By Joe Iniodu
Public Affairs Analyst