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One Woman’s Own “Widow’s Mite”

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Grace Ekpenyong’s  pet project while her husband was the Akwa Ibom State deputy governor has blossomed into a big industry whose products will soon hit the international market

In 1999, Grace Ekpenyong, wife of Chris Ekpenyong, former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State, started a pet project, which she christened Widow’s Mite. The name is derived from the Bible story where Christ commended a widow for casting into the church treasury her last money and also noted that the widow’s gift was bigger than those of the rich who gave out of their thousands.

The project was to alleviate and eradicate poverty among widows, orphans and the very poor of society through creation of jobs and promotion of their economic activity mainly in the area of indigenous food production. Married people who were not sure of their next meal were also to feel the warmth of the mite.

For purposes of greater comfort and longevity, Ekpenyong promptly registered Widow’s Mite as a non-governmental organisation. Today, the project is breaking new grounds, years after her husband left government. “Before my husband and I joined government, I asked myself what I could offer to the people of the state that would give succour to the poor, boost the effort of government in terms of job creation and form an industrial platform to take many to a higher level of life. I decided it was time to put the creativity and experiences I acquired in Lagos where we lived before then into full use,” she told Newswatch.

Such creativity included those she acquired at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi , FIIRO, where she learnt soap making and cosmetics and International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, IITA, Ibadan, where she acquired technical know-how in cassava processing.

It was after acquiring the skills that Ekpeyong, the University of Ibadan Zoology graduate and holder of the Post Graduate diploma in Education of the University of Lagos, abandoned teaching for business and production. As a first step, Ekpenyong set up a cassava processing factory. In 2002, she recruited some of the widows and poor young couples that hitherto were coming to her for little amounts of money to feed as workers and partners of the factory.

But there was no sufficient cassava in Akwa Ibom to meet their demands. At that time, cassava tubers were being bought from farms in Odukpani local government area of neighbouring Cross River State. The team discovered that the cassava brought from Odukpani was not of very good quality because it was grown in water-logged farms. This made Ekpenyong to look for and eventually acquired farmlands at Obio Akpa in Abak LGA and planted cassava for processing in the factory.

Ten years after, Widow’s Mite is fast becoming a household name in Akwa Ibom State and its products such as packaged food, beverages, cosmetics and other agricultural products have become very popular. The food products include yam flour, wheat flour, beans flour, odourless cassava flour (fufu), plantain flour, soya bean and soya milk. It also bakes and packages bread and pure honey. Some of the food products like the special cassasva flour (garri) have been certified and issued number by National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC while the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, has blessed them with the NIS certification.

Ekpenyong said at a recent public presentation of the products that the Widow’s Mite products were  ready for the international market, mainly the United Kingdom and the United States where she said people in California, were already asking for them. The products are said to be healthy foods that also help the diabetic, hypertensive and weight-watchers.

In the cosmetic group, Widow’s Mite has manufactured such items as liquid wash, hand wash fluid, hair shampoo, body & hand lotion and hair formula. A lot of people and organisations helped to see that the project make good progress. These included the IITA and the state ministry of agriculture. They assisted with the right species of cassava.

“The objective of the organisation was to produce and process indigenous agricultural produce and contribute effectively to global food security. It was also to produce cosmetics and related products useful to people everywhere in the world. We wanted to initiate something that would stop widows from going away from their husbands houses. We needed something that would drive away the evil spirit, which made widows indulge in funny things including immorality, thereby endangering their health. We wanted a project that would give accommodation to widows. We wanted a structure that would, at the end of the month, put some stipend, allowance or even salary in the hands of widows. And I’m happy we have achieved that and even more,” she said in Uyo at an event marking the 10th year of Widows Mite and her 57th birthday.

The event was chaired by Anthony Etukudo, a retired army general and former director- general of Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, who noted that the Widow’s Mite products were of very high quality and had met what he called regional and international standards and could be shipped to neighbouring Ghana. He said it was a great delight for him to see Akwa Ibom products meet such high standard and called on other Nigerians to imbibe the culture of high quality.

Others who gave kudos to Ekpenyong and her products included Imoh Isemin, wife of the late first executive governor of Akwa Ibom State and chairperson of the Forum of the Wives of Former Governors and Deputy Governors of the Akwa Ibom State. Isemin said the Widow’s Mite products would compare favourable with other products in the shops of London.

Aloysius Etok, a serving senator, urged Nigerian women to go into industrialisation as the state government was solidly behind them.

Eunice Thomas, commissioner for Women Affairs, who stood in for Ekaete Unoma Akpabio, wife of the state governor, commended the Widow’s Mite initiative and announced that the state government had set aside N20 billion for agriculture development this year.

Some challenges facing the organisation is lack of funds for the acquisition of machine and expansion. Ekpenyong laments that so far, no assistance has come from government to boost the project. “For now, I pay tax to government to run the project. I pleaded with the Abak local government council to even be part of it but it would not. Early this year, the local government council served us a tariff of N31, 500 before we could move our products to where we wanted to process or sell them. I am yet to see the touch of government in the form it should be,” she told Newswatch.


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