It is almost two decades since the Akwa Ibom State government began the construction the Ibom science park which it later abandoned. The science park was meant to be the equivalent of the Silicon Valley, an innovation hub for start ups and tech companies in California, USA.
Coming with lots of promises, it was seen as the solution to the growing challenge of youth unemployment in Akwa Ibom State sincec It would provide the ‘enabling environment’ for start ups, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises as well as be the harbinger to the industrial revolution in the state.
Sadly however, this laudable vision was never realized as the project was abandoned soon after former Governor Victor Attah left office in 2007 and his successor, Godswill Akpabio seemed not to have seen the need to continue with the project despite the huge amount of money spent by his predecessor.
The project was initiated by the Attah administration and by the time lapsed in 2007, the state government had paid the main contractor, SBT Juul of South Africa, N5.2 billion out of the contract sum of N6 billion.
According to investigations, the N6 billion contract sum was said to have been broken into two parts, N3 billion for civil works and N3 billion for the Information and Technology component.
An investigation by the state house of assembly in 2009 had shown that the equipment and IT components said to have been imported were nowhere to be found.
As public outcry continued to grow and people asking for accountability, the state house of assembly in 2009 with Ignatius Edet as the Speaker imraised a committee to determine the true position of the projec.
The committee was chaired by Usen Akpabio, who represented Uruan State constituency with Jack Udota from Eket state constituency as his deputy while Dan Akpan from Nsit Ibom state constituency and Samuel Ikon from Etinan State constituency and Okpolupm Etteh, who represented Esit Eket / Ibeno state constituency, Etim Uno, Nsikak Ekong, Paul Owo and Akanimo Edet served as members
Specifically, it was to “determine the amount of money paid out for the project and to find out if money paid was commensurate with the work done.
It was also find out the involvement of the ‘past administration’ in the project and recommend those found to have been involved in the mismanagement of funds
When the committee turned in its report, it confirmed what many had feared, the funds released for the project appeared to have found their way to the pockets of individuals which explained why the project was abandoned though more than 90 percent of the contract sum was paid out.
In its submission, it recommended that the contractor and some top government officials who served during the Attah administration should refund N2.1 billion to the coffers of the state government.
While defending themselves, those said to have been involved argued that the “N2.1b was the difference between the payment made by the Treasury and Ministry of Science and Technology adding “ that out of the N5.2b paid to the contractor, N3.1b was paid from the treasury and N2.1b was paid from The Ministry of Science and Technology.”
It was not immediately clear whether the money was refunded to the state government but last month, it became quite concerning when the state government re-launched the science park as the Ibom blue sea science and technology park, a replica of the abandoned Ibom science project.
Unlike the abandoned Ibom science park which had gulped N5.2 billion, the new ibom blue sea science and technology project is to be private sector driven and the investors are Chinese known for their appetite for investment across Africa.
What is not however clear is the share holding structure in the project, whether it is a wholly Chinese owned project without any equity participation of the state government.
According to Governor Udom Emmanuel who spoke while laying the foundation of the project, it will be a major breakthrough in the industrial development of the state.
“ We have created an environment for people to come and invest, we are calling on other investors to come and invest in Akwa Ibom to reap returns on their investments,’’ he said.
Apart from the cost implication of the project to the state government, there is also the concern about its location.
Though it still maintains the previous location , close to the Itu-Calabar highway in Uyo metropolis, environmentalists have expressed worry over the suitability of the location being in an area that was considered to be in a forest reserve zone with the soil not fit for such a project.
When the Reigners Bible Church collapsed in 2016, killing some worshippers, the commission of enquiry was told that location of projects in the forest reserve area was done in violation of an existing law. In clear terms, the commission was told that the location of houses in the area was against the state’s policy of protecting the forest in the area. The commission was told that the soil in the area was prone to landslide due to its texture and the topography of the area. The Uyo Capital Development Authority had promised to demolish all structures in the area, but this threat had not been carried out.
The Ibom blue sea science and technology park project is located few kilometres from the collapsed Reigners Bible Church.
Again, there is a similar project in scope initiated by the state government as contained in the manifesto presented by the governor during his electioneering campaign known as The Completion Agenda. The project is the Ibom Industrial city.
“I have advanced the implementation of Ibom Industrial City in the state to stabilize my industrialization drive. The Ibom Industrial City is planned as part of the state government’s long term economic strategy and at completion will be a modern state of the art industrial city that will foster innovation and attract investment.
“It will also harness its strategic waterfront location to become a national and regional industrial and economic hub , create new jobs and function as a fully integrated new city with housing and all required infrastructure services etc fully integrated with the Ibom deep seaport facility,’’ the governor said in the manifesto.
Though many have applauded the state government for revisiting the long abandoned science park project by launching the blue sea science and technology park, others have expressed doubts saying the state government might be biting too much than it can chew given that it has only three years to complete its tenure.
According to Franklyn Isong, a public affairs analyst and newspaper publisher, the governor should focus on economically viable projects in order to complete and commission them before his tenures in 2023.
‘In view of the limited time the governor has to stay in office and the fact that the state government is embarking on several projects like the Ibom Blue Sea Science and Technology park , Ibom deep sea port, the terminal building at Ibom airport, flyover projects, the 21-storey building for International Oil Companies, the international worship centre in Uyo and several road projects, it would be better for the governor to concentrate on a few key economically viable projects,’’ he said.
ANIEFIOK UDONQUAK, Uyo