1.1    Background to the Study

          As one of the component units of the Nigerian Federation, Akwa Ibom has been part of the nation’s rural development experience. Generally, rural communities poor and economically underdeveloped. There are cases of malnutrition and hunger among the young and old. Also, some rural areas are surrounded by a number of formidable socio-cultural forces such as tradition, custom, value systems, superstitious beliefs, institutional taboos etc, which tend to foster the development of negative attitudes towards changes and innovation (Ijere, 1981).

In addition to the formidable socio-cultural forces mentioned above, there is a rising social problem of unemployment in the rural areas, resulting in rural-urban migration in search of non-existent jobs in modern industries which are non-functional, civil service etc. Also, there is a complete absence of infrastructural facilities such as good roads, hospitals, pipe-borne water, electricity, transport and communication system. With this kind of situation, rural underdevelopment in Akwa Ibom has persisted. Given the large percentage of its rural population, agriculture has been its major occupation and the main income provider. But, the growth rates of the agricultural sector have not been impressive and domestic food supply shortfalls are manifested in soaring food imports from other parts or states of the country with higher food prices. The secondary rural activities in Akwa Ibom are trading, food processing, weaving (basket and raffia works), construction, stool fabrication, carving, carpentry and pottery.  These activities provide supplementary income and could constitute a major source of diversification of the rural economy if looked at seriously in terms of small scale industries.

It has been widely accepted that rural areas and rural people have a crucial role to play in the future progress and prosperity of the national economy; and in fact, no meaningful economic progress can be achieved in the absence of an integrated dynamic rural development (Uwakah, 1976). Nigeria’s development plans, like those of other developing countries, have always contained policy statements on the need and intention for the development of rural areas. The Third National Development Plan 1975-1980 for instance, states in parts.

Another aspect of balanced development is the relative development of the rural and urban areas in development resulting in increasing disparity between standard of living in the rural and urban… In the past the rural areas have lagged behind the urban areas… special effort will be made to ensure that these rural development programmes are effectively implemental. (NDP, 1975-1980).

Akwa Ibom State has shared in the chequered history of rural development efforts in Nigeria and has obviously experimented with certain believed to form catalysts for sustained rural transformation.

Firstly, the multisectoral programmes for rural development were introduced in such a way that they coveried more than one sector. Under these, we have the former Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), the Better Life Programme (BLP) or Family Support Programme (FSP) and Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP). For instance in line with Decree 4, 1986 which established (DFRRI), the Directorate in Akwa Ibom (as in other states) was charged with many functions among them were; to involve and support viable local community organizations in the effective mobilization of the rural population for sustained rural development activities; to formulate and support a national feeder road network programme involving construction, rehabilitation, improvement and maintenance especially in relation to the nation’s food self-sufficiency programme as well as general rural development and; to formulate and support a national rural water supply programme together with a national on-farm storage programme with emphasis on full initial involvement of local communities and local government personnel to ensure sustained maintenance of built infrastructures, (Akhomu, 1987, Koinyan, 1986, Ogurinde, 1987 and Iloegbunam, 1984).

Secondly, the agricultural sector programmes were Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs), River Basic and Rural Development Authorities (RBRDA), National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA), the Strategic Grains Research Programme (SGRP) and Accelerated Crop Production Programmes (ACPP). Focusing on ADP, the programme in Akwa Ibom State as in other states operated the training and visit (T&V) extension service system. The emphasis was on Unified Extension Service System whereby one Village Extension Agent (VEA) passes all technical information and advice to all farmers in his/her area in respect of all sub-sectors of agriculture. Additionally, to get agriculture and food production moving along the above lines, a number of critical programmes have been identified such as massive production of improved seeds, cultivation of fruit trees and vegetables, aquaculture, livestock production etc, (Adelakun, 1986, Watts, 1983, and AKADEP, 2007).

Thirdly, health sector programmesincluded the Primary Health Care Scheme, Guinea Worm Eradication Programme (WEP), National Commission for Mass Literacy and Currently the Universal Basic Education (UBE). Since the creation of Akwa Ibom State in 1987, the reduction of illiteracy rate through education has been an important policy thrust of the government especially in the area of Adult Education. This has help to teach reading, writing and numeracy in the local language through basic literacy programme. It has also help the rural population to apply literacy skills to increase agricultural production of local commodities and enhances local arts and crafts production through programmes of vocational education relevant to local situation.

Fourthly, the most prominent programme in the transport sector is the Federal Urban Mass Transport Programme (FMTP), which was established in 1988.  The programme was aimed at rescuing the public transport system from imminent collapse. This programme extended from the Federal level to the state and local government areas, where many rural areas were linked to the metropolis.

Although the need for efficient transportation facilities is acknowledged as essential for economic development, the emphasis on road constructions, reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes has very often been focused on urban and inter-urban highways while minimal effort and resources are committed to the provision of transportation facilities in rural areas. And so, like in other aspects of development little or no attention is given to transportation needs of such rural people in spite of the constant clamour of these rural dwellers for the provisions of transport facilities to enable them to evacuate their farm produce as well as move around in pursuit of their other economic and social activities.

Lastly, under the financial sectoral programme, we have Rural Banking Scheme (RBS), Nigeria Agriculture and Cooperative Bank (NACB), the People’s Bank (PB), National Economic Reconstruction Fund (NERF) and Community Banks Programme and Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (CBPACGSF). Focusing on the Community Banks Programme, the need for this programme arose from the fact that, inspite of government’s various credit programmes, commercial banks had failed to meet the credit needs of millions of small borrowers, including small farmers. Most small borrowers have no collateral to surrender for loans. This is coupled with the enormous paper work and cost involved in processing small loans that pose a serious obstacle to the success of loan scheme for small borrowers. The introduction of this scheme was to address the above problems associated with the commercial banking system. The scheme was expected to exploit to the fullest the advantage of local knowledge and trust of its people especially in credit generation within the community for enhancing the development and the purposeful improvement of the economic status of the communities and their individual members.

Given the foregoing effort, it appears these programmes did not yield intended consequences as the problems of rural underdevelopment continued unabated. At this juncture, the Akwa Ibom State Government conceived the idea of establishing the Ministry of Rural Development with the clear mandate of formulating and implementing rural development policies. This it becomes pertinent to do a programme evaluation of the Ministry with a view to assessing it effectiveness in rural policies implementation.

1.2    Statement of the Problem

Rural development issue has been at the epicenter of policy debate and planning in developing countries. This is true because of the critical importance of rural sector to national and state aspirations. Robert Chambers (1974) clearly identifies four main reasons for giving priority attention to rural development. Firstly, and most obviously, the majority of our people lives and find their livelihoods in the rural areas. Secondly, the drift to the towns (rural-urban migration) is a matter of concern, because of the increasing rate of urban unemployment, housing problems, accelerating crime rates and other attendant social evils. Thirdly, it is the rural areas that most of the poorer and most disadvantaged people are to be found. Fourthly, there is a cluster of new orthodox economic arguments for giving priority to rural, and particularly, agricultural development. These reasons include the production of raw material for industrial purposes, the feeding of growing population, the productivity of capital and the expected return of invested capital in agricultural production. In the nutshell, Akpan (2006) observed that even the most primary requirement for rural development such as roads, water supply and electricity have eluded the Akwa Ibom State let alone other complex development strides.

As a consequence, Akwa Ibom State Government from inception, has embarked on various development programme at state level alongside Federal Government programmes for rural development which involved Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), River Basin Development Authorities (RBDA), the Green Revolution (CR), the World Bank Assisted Agriculture Development Programme, National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Community Bank and Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI)  (Ebong, 1991; FGN, 1982).

The above mentioned programmes testify to the priority attention given to rural development in Akwa Ibom State. But the experiences so far indicate that rather than transform and modernize rural areas in any significant manner, the implementation of these programmes have contrary to their objectives, hardly impacted positively on the rural areas, leaving the silent majority who resides there as victims of neglect, deprivation and exploitation.