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Emmanuel Uduaghan’s Antidotes on Niger Delta Challenge

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Emmanuel Uduaghan

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

In a piece entitled Banters in Lagos, Poverty and Disease in the Niger Delta, posted about four years ago, precisely in February 2018.

Aside from spreading out the needs, interests, aspirations and even their problems were critically reviewed against solution plans and implementation, it among other concerns posited the following comparative scrutiny/conclusions; namely, first, that while the executives of oil companies in Nigeria daily exchange banter/pleasantries in Lagos and Abuja, poverty, disease and illiteracy orchestrated by crude oil exploration and production activities walk the creeks, rivers and estuaries of the Niger Delta.

Secondly and very important, at the same time as the oil giants look into the future with high hopes, the people of the region where the crude oil is domiciled bemoan their fate in their sorrows and their hardship.

Thirdly and most fundamental, that whereas the oil chiefs who are predominantly resident in Lagos/Abuja, daily sing the songs of praise and claims the ‘wisdom of Solomon’, the real owners of the ‘black gold’ in the creeks and coastal areas of Niger Delta, not only study the ‘book of lamentation’ but manifests hopelessness and economic powerlessness as the majority of these organizations operating in their locations neither believe in the principle of ‘equal sorrow’ nor abide by the tenets of the corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The said piece, however, concluded that though faced with interminable socioeconomic and environmental challenges, one thing is sure. Niger Deltans are troubled but not despondent. A situation that makes it easy for them to be managed and contained if only the federal government could come up with a plan and political will to tackle the challenges currently faced by the people of the region.

After about four years of that piece, a thorough examination of a recent keynote speech presented by the immediate past Governor of Delta State, Dr Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, on Thursday, October 21, 2021, at the Delta Online Publisher Forum (DOPF) annual lecture held at Banquet Hall, Orchids Hotel, Asaba, Delta State shows that each of them has something in common.

Speaking on the topic Niger Delta Economy; Building a New Face for the Region, the former Governor called on the region handlers to invest more in human capital development programmes/initiatives on prospective youths and women as a way of ensuring sustainable socio-economic development of the region, noting that this can be achieved via fostering of collaboration/inter/intra-regional trades among Niger Delta people as well as diversification of Niger Delta economy.

In his words, Niger Delta is well geographically positioned and endowed with human and natural resources. But we need investments in/for infrastructural development, peace and security.

Human capital, he explained, refers to the economic value of knowledge, experience and skills of a group of people in a state, local government or an entire region as the Niger Delta. There is a strong relationship between human capital and economic growth.

He argued that it is in the interest of each administrative state within the Niger Delta to purposely invest in skills and knowledge through education, competence training and health. Any financial investments made on human capital development do have a direct relationship with the socio-economic growth of the Niger region.

To buttress his claim, the former Delta State Governor added that the Delta State Micro-Credit Programme (DCMP) was a financial empowerment programme, under his administration, aimed at providing interest-free loans and mentorship to prospective and entrepreneurial youth including women in agro-processing, diverse business start-ups, fintech, agriculture and other creative activities. He told the gathering that the initiative produced 21,000 entrepreneurs and artisans in 730 clusters from 25 local governments of the state.

Now, this piece will spread its wings on the particulars adduced by Emmanuel Uduaghan as to why the region urgently needs to wear a new face.

On the urgent need to diversify the Niger Delta economy through the adoption of the mantra ‘Niger Delta Beyond Oil”, Uduaghan stated that 85 per cent of the population, informal enterprises are the primary sources of livelihood, but these are characterized by low productivity and wages.

“Nigeria ranks fourth among cocoa producers in the world, and the Niger Delta region produces 53% of the country’s output. It is an important crop-earning non-oil foreign exchange. Cross River, Ondo and Edo States are leading producers in the Niger Delta region, producing about 97 per cent of the region’s cocoa.

“The major processing for cocoa is in Western Nigeria, around Lagos, so major value addition takes place outside of the Niger Delta region,” he said.

On the way forward, the former governor advised that improving rural competitiveness in non-traditional agricultural products through value-added export could be one major source of economic diversification.

The region he said can readily produce rice, sugar, cocoa, roots and tubers, citrus fruits, plantains, rubber and rubber products

He said something else that has to do with imperatives for economic improvement.

Beginning with biodiversity, the region he said is home to the largest contiguous mangrove forest or wetlands in Africa and the third largest in the world with an extensive freshwater swamp forest and rich biological diversity. This factor makes the region key to agriculture/agro-processing with capacities in areas such as wholesale/retail commerce, manufacturing, aquaculture, transportation, construction and other creative activities.

Away from possession of biodiversity to its geographical and population advantages, Uduaghan observed that the region is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and blessed with a coastline extending from the mouth of Benin River to the Imo River Estuary and spans about 500km.

He added that over 62% of the region’s population are 30 years or younger and are growing youths. With an estimated population of 31 million, the region accounts for approximately 24% of the total population of Nigeria.

From the above realities, particularly the availability of coastline, it is obvious that the Niger Delta seaports, if developed, are very key infrastructure that will support and facilitate the manufacturing process and business development.

As seaports are globally acknowledged as development agents and growth drivers, it goes without saying that making the existing seaports in the region function in their full operating capacities will only reverse their fortunes as sea-land interface structure but will once again revive the once active but now dying market outpost which the port towns of Warri, Sapele, Burutu, Port Harcourt, Onne and Calabar.

Having said all these, Uduaghan concluded that there is no doubt that for us to build a new face for the Niger Delta region, there has to be an emphasis on activities that will lead to the economic development of the region, and this will require all hands on deck and all brains devoid of insanity coming into.

To catalyse the process, he, therefore, called on the leaders of the region to urgently work in collaboration with the federal government to ensure that there are good road networks connecting states and communities.

I pray that those in the position of authority will listen.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA). He writes from Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com or 08032725374.

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5 Tips for Tackling Imposter Syndrome

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Aisha Pandor CEO SweepSouth Imposter Syndrome

By Aisha Pandor

Imposter syndrome is something that most of us have felt at one time or another. Even if you know you have all the right qualifications and experience to be in a position, it can be all too easy to feel like you don’t belong.

Whether it’s someone dismissing your work or even just casually telling you about something you’ve never heard of as if it’s common knowledge, it can be an incredibly difficult space to climb out of.

Imposter syndrome can be especially insidious among entrepreneurs, who already have to deal with ecstatic highs and crippling lows. In fact, a 2020 study found that 84% of entrepreneurs and small business owners experience imposter syndrome. Many also worry that they’ll be “found out” for their lack of knowledge and ability.

That chimes with my own experiences as an entrepreneur and investor. When Alen (my husband) and I first started SweepSouth back in 2013, I had no experience as an entrepreneur. I’d come from an academic background and everyone at the various startup events and pitching competitions we attended seemed so much calmer and more confident. I couldn’t help wondering what I was doing there and why I’d sacrificed a potentially comfortable life for something I was certain everyone else was doing better at.

While that feeling occasionally rears its head again, I’ve learned a number of strategies over the years to effectively tackle it. Here are five of them.

Remember that your journey is your own

For entrepreneurs especially, imposter syndrome can be fuelled by comparing yourself to others. It can strike when a business that started at the same time as you gets a batch of great write-ups in the press or when they raise a massive funding round. At times like that, it’s important to remember that you’re on your own business journey, no one else’s. By trying to match someone else’s success because it makes you feel inadequate, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Remember, if you’re making progress, you’re doing the right thing. Many of the entrepreneurs who seemed so confident at the early events I went to have seen their businesses not perform as well as they’d hoped. The same is true of those who raised headline-grabbing early funding rounds. If I’d let comparisons to them cause me to waiver from my focus, SweepSouth would be in a very different place today.

Address your weaknesses

Sometimes the feelings associated with imposter syndrome come about because someone brings up a legitimate issue that your business needs to address. It might, for instance, be something that a potential investor brings up. The trick is not to take it as a sign that you don’t belong, but as something fixable that you can address. Every person and every business has weaknesses. That doesn’t mean they don’t belong or shouldn’t exist.

Remember your accomplishments

Write them down if you have to. Chances are you’ve had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get where you are. This is especially important if you don’t look like everyone else in the room. If you’re a woman, for instance, nothing about your male peers’ maleness makes them any more suited to their jobs or running a business.

Have a support network

Remember that stat from the beginning of the article about 84% of entrepreneurs suffering from imposter syndrome? That’s not an indictment on entrepreneurs but an opportunity. By joining a local, regional, or even international entrepreneurs’ organisation, you expose yourself to people who’ve been through the same things as you (including imposter syndrome) and who can guide you through any issues you might face.

Turn it on its head

Finally, remember that real imposters are unlikely to feel imposter syndrome. Being a successful imposter depends on outsized levels of confidence. So, if you’re feeling like an imposter, you can take it as a sign that you’re probably on the right track.

Aisha Pandor is the CEO of SweepSouth

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Reminiscing on the Loss of a Friend, Dreams Deferred, and Bold New Beginnings

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Chris Ihidero loss of a friend

By Chris Ihidero

One evening some eight years ago, my good friend Steve Babaeko walked into a mutual friend’s office looking a little less than his usual uber-confident self.

You won’t find many people who can claim to have seen Steve looking any less than assured: He consistently cuts the picture of a supremely confident man and his achievements are a testament to how that confidence has been well earned. But that evening in 2012, Steve had just put in his resignation as Creative Director of 141 Worldwide, the advertising agency he helped build from scratch and made a market leader. He would have to start all over again and the future held no guarantees. We broke out a bottle of cognac and toasted to new possibilities. As our mutual friend said that evening, “What’s the worst that can happen? You may fail, but at least you would have tried.”

When Amaka Igwe passed on in 2014 just as we were about to launch the TV channel we had been working on for about four years, it soon became clear to me that if I was going to have any shot at realizing the dream we shared, I would have to say goodbye to Amaka Igwe Studios. AIS was my home for eight years. I started out as an apprentice TV director and rose to become Chief Operating Officer. It was the place that built me. On the day I made the decision to leave, I stood in the building we had just furnished for the TV station, gazed at the transmission equipment we had installed and knew I was walking away to start all over again. Walking into a future with no guarantees.

Like Steve that evening, I was a lot less assured.

It’s been seven years since that decision and I have had an incredible run. It hasn’t been a sunset stroll in the park but I’m grateful for my contributions to the TV and film industry in Africa so far. While I worked for different TV networks, wrote, produced, directed and consulted on many film projects (and continue to do so), I started quietly building PinPoint Media. I knew what had to come next. I knew what I wanted to do with my life was to build a content delivery machinery that delivered excellence repeatedly.

In September 2019 we cranked on the content machinery we had been working on for a year and hit the set to deliver the first product off our production line, season one of Man Pikin, a family comedy series. Man Pikin is my nod to Fuji House of Commotion, Nigeria’s longest running and highly popular family comedy series I was privileged to direct for five years.

Man Pikin is the story of a man’s daily struggles with raising his kids after his wife’s passing. We shot 26 episodes for a first season and recently, IROKO TV acquired the rights for broadcast on their ROK Channels, as well as a french version for francophone Africa on NollywoodTV. It premieres on the 12th and 20th of December respectively.

In Q3 2021, we shot season two, another 26 episodes, and that’s not all we’re working on. But for COVID-19 actually, we would have rounded off the first year of our PinPoint Content Fund execution with 104 episodes of TV series in the bag. That target will now be met in 2022, starting with season three of Man Pikin and season one of a new series. Three feature films will also be shot in 2022, and we will also deliver a digital TV channel. Yeah, we have been very busy!

As I watched final edits of the episodes of Man Pikin before shipping off to our distributors in France recently, I reminisced on the loss of a friend and dreams deferred. This propels me forward as I focus on polishing and further knocking our content machinery into shape in order to deliver a five-year plan that culminates in the production of five thousand hours of content yearly from five production centres across Nigeria and Africa.

Scary, right? Well, that was the dream I once shared with an amazing woman and now I must trudge on scared, but confident that we will deliver the reference point for TV/film content excellence, whatever the challenges we will face, because, like the original soundtrack for Man Pikin says “Every day we keep moving forward ooh ooh ooh, ‘cos someday our dreams will come true ooh ohh ooh, man pikin go fall but will stand up ooh oooh ohhhh, for together we are strong and we’ll always have each other, ah ah.”

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Digital Agriculture as Panacea to Enhanced Food Production, Security

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Tolu Oyekan Inclusive Economic Recovery

By Tolu Oyekan

Recent studies on Africa’s agriculture market projects an estimated growth to $1 trillion by 2030.  This shows that the continent’s agriculture industry has huge potentials.  Informed suggestions have been made on how the full gains of this fast-emerging market will be achieved; one of which is through digital agriculture.

There is no doubt that modern farms and agricultural operations are carried out differently from how farming was done in the last 20 years.

This is mainly a result of advancements in technology. Like almost all spheres of life, technological advancements have made an in-road into agriculture to address such challenges as climate change – leading to increased temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, frequent extreme weather events and reduction in water availability.

Digital agriculture or agricultural technology benefits both farmers and end consumers by reducing the use of traditional/archaic farming methods and generating higher crop productivity. Digitizing agriculture also saves resources such as water, fertilizers and pesticides; reduces the impact on natural ecosystems; reduces chemicals getting into rivers and streams and increases the safety of farmworkers.

It is for this reason that the digitalization of agriculture should be part of the larger agricultural transformation agenda in Africa.

Over the years, there have been numerous digital agricultural initiatives and startups which by leveraging technologies, have led to improving farmer productivity, incomes, strengthening food security and enhancing the resilience of food systems in the continent.

Sadly, the impact on smallholder farmer incomes is still poor. This is not unconnected to the fact that access to technology in developing countries is an enabler of accelerated agricultural innovation.

In Nigeria today, some digital firms are focusing on ensuring that smallholder farmers benefit from the new technology revolution in agriculture. Platforms like Babban Gona, Thrive Agric and Agro Rite were created to give smallholder farmers access to resources critical to their work and the growth of the agricultural sector. But these solutions are still available to a meagre percentage of the hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers scattered across Nigeria; and these smallholder farmers still battle with the three-fold challenge of poor access to market, poor access to finance and inadequate knowledge of improved farming practices.

According to a recent report by BCG titled ‘The Digital Agriculture Revolution’, agricultural productivity will need more than innovation. Already, greater crop yields are required to feed Nigeria’s exploding population. The population of Nigeria has been forecasted to reach over 400 million people by 2050.

Estimations published in 2019 show that by that time, the consumption of farm produce such as eggs, milk, beef, cassava, maize, wheat and others will increase by almost 300 per cent! If not properly addressed, this scenario might lead to a full-blown food insecurity situation.

The truth is that lack of information and knowledge is most limiting to the growth of the sector. This presents a challenge to food security because access to the right information, education, and training enable farmers to make use of new farming knowledge and technologies.

This being the case, farmers’ knowledge and information must be constantly upgraded. Farmers must have access to information about sustainable farming practices to enable them to maintain natural resources to ensure that farmlands are productive for future generations. For Nigeria to have environmentally good food systems, farmers and other stakeholders need to have effective communication technologies coupled with relevant information.

Furthermore, the Nigerian agriculture sector must adopt climate-smart practices and technologies to increase productivity as food production demands increase. Presently, Nigeria like other countries in Africa still relies on rainfall to water farms.

With climate change and reduced rainfall as mentioned earlier, there is the need for intensified water management and alternative sources of rainwater to irrigate the farmlands.

In cities like Florida and California, USA and Beijing, China; farmers have used reclaimed water to irrigate their farms. Reclaimed water is wastewater that has been treated and transformed into a product that is clean, clear and odourless.

There is a need for stakeholders to keep investing in modern ways of farming. The emergence of integrated data sets combining satellite imagery, weather and soil data is a modern approach that can be leveraged by development partners. This will empower farmers with more affordable credit and insurance, better early warning of crop failures and improved farm management. Such practices will cushion the sector from the negative effects of climate change while adapting to sustainable food systems.

In addition to innovation, bridging capital, coupled with the right capabilities is pivotal in transforming the agricultural sector in the continent.

For farmers to benefit from a fully-functional market ecosystem, there is a need for players in the agricultural supply chain to prioritize efficient, transparent and innovative ways of connecting farmers to markets. This is where ICT enabled technologies comes into play. Mobile-phone-based services can ease farmers’ access to knowledge on extension services, market information, weather forecasts and agronomic advice.

Furthermore, they can offer price information services for inputs and outputs, enable demand, and supply aggregation, and facilitate e-marketplaces.

In fact, the Technical Centre of Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) estimates that market linkage solutions deliver, on average, a 73% improvement in farmer productivity (including through access to lower-cost seeds and fertilizer) versus just 23% for digital advisories. Our review of dozens of current market solutions revealed several successful alternatives, but no one-size-fits-all approach. This is a clear indication that agriculture is modernizing.

Unfortunately, domestic agriculture markets in many developing countries remain fragmented and inefficient, making it imperative for digital agricultural innovations to address such situations.

The beauty of digital agriculture is that it could help rural-urban migration and get young people to drive rural development because of the use of technology. The increased use of digital technology in farming and agricultural activities might actually attract and retain younger generations to live in rural communities.

For Nigerian farmers, the adoption of digital agriculture will wholly enable access to various information including information on inputs, weather and soil condition; processing and storage resources: markets and finance; and food monitoring and consumption requirements.

Hopefully, if Nigerian farmers and others in the food supply chain embrace this technology, digital agriculture could help to maximize production and reduce waste; reduce costs of production and increase yields; minimize environmental impact and maximize the quality of agriculture produce.

The cross-cutting nature of the digital solutions will continue to improve interconnectedness among stakeholders in the agricultural value and supply chains. This will improve efficiencies, productivity earnings in the sector while feeding the growing population sustainably and improving the livelihoods of Nigerian farmers.

It is important to note that to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of a world with zero hunger by 2030, more productive, efficient, sustainable, inclusive, transparent and resilient food systems are required – and this can largely be achieved with digital technologies and innovations in agriculture.

Tolu Oyekan is a Partner, BCG Lagos

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