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‘Ibom Deep Seaport to complement other Nigerian ports, enhance maritime industry, ease burdens of importers, exporters’

In an independent tour of Akwa Ibom State in March/April to either disprove or approve of the various claims in the media about developments in the state, Governor UDOM EMMANUEL granted an exclusive interview to BusinessDay’s News Editor, OSA VICTOR OBAYAGBONA. At the discussion, the Governor spoke passionately about what the state was doing to make agriculture become the key sector in preparing the state for life beyond crude oil, what Ibom Deep Seaport would contribute to the Nigerian economy, and other developmental issues. Excerpt:

In percentage terms, how can you score the Five Point Agenda in your first term in office?

Thank you and let me say welcome to Akwa Ibom State, the state that is now known as “Nigeria’s Best Kept Secret.” I think given the dire economic circumstance that welcomed us in our First Term, given the depression we had experienced, the fluctuating rate of the naira against other foreign currencies, the dip in oil prices which affected our allocations, that we were able to achieve as much as we did, with the initial Five Point Agenda of: Job Creation, Poverty Alleviation, Wealth Creation, Economic and Political Inclusion and Infrastructural Consolidation and Expansion, which we have now condensed into the 8-Point Completion Agenda, I think without sounding boastful, I will score us 85 percent.

In the area of agriculture, which is a critical element of the social contract, how are you able to feed your population and keep them healthy?

I think we have done so well in this area. I have always said that any society that fails in this all-important task loses a critical bond with the people. Here in Akwa Ibom State, with our huge investments in agriculture and the re-orientation of our youths through our Dakkada philosophy on the need to embrace agriculture, we have succeeded in producing the food we consume here locally.

This vision became clearly manifest during the lockdown occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic last year, where all the palliatives, especially the staple food items, rice, garri, flour, vegetables, etc. were all locally produced.

In healthcare delivery, we made the promise that to drive our industrialisation agenda, we need a healthy population and so, we invested heavily in secondary healthcare facilities. Today, we have built modern hospitals equipped with amenities that can compare with similar establishments anywhere in the world in all the 10 Federal Constituencies. The remaining two: Ikot Ekpene and Ikot Abasi General Hospitals, respectively, are to be commissioned soon.

We have equipped the Ibom Specialist Hospital with state-of-the art medical facilities, and these investments came in handy during the COVID-19 pandemic where the great and talented medical professionals at the hospital’s Isolation Centre and the ICU were able to work hard to minimise the rate of infections and deaths.

Last year, we performed what has come to be known as “the miracle of Ituk Mbang,” when we constructed and equipped in less than six weeks, the Infectious Diseases Control Centre, a 300-bed facility equipped with a PCR laboratory.

In infrastructural consolidation, our state, from the airport and across the three senatorial districts today, is a construction hub. During our First Term, in spite of all the harsh economic conditions we faced, we were able to construct and commission or have ongoing over 1,700 kilometres of economically viable road network. If you go round the state, you will see various road construction works currently ongoing. We are determined to open up this state and connect it with the hinterlands, so as to facilitate the free-flow of commerce among our people.

Shortly after I was sworn in for our First Term, I dreamed of the establishment of a thriving airline and we went to work on it. When we first mooted the idea, a lot of people thought it could not be done. As a matter of fact, our perennial naysayers sneered at the idea, reminding us that if various countries could not set up an airline, how then can we be able to pull off such a feat. We ignored them and kept our heads on the drawing board and our eyes on the ball. Shortly before the end of our First Term, we received three new Bombardier CRJ aircrafts and Ibom Air was born!

In June 2019, we started commercial operations. Today, Ibom Air has become a national sensation in Nigeria’s aviation sector and soon, would begin regional short haul flight. The airline’s fleet has grown to five CRJ Bombardier aircrafts and soon, we will add two more brand new Airbuses to its fleet, thus consolidating its place as a dominant brand in the Nation’s aviation sector.

The linchpin of our initial Five Point Agenda was to rapidly industrialise this state and lift the toga of a Civil Service State from her definition. In our First Term, we were able to attract over 20 industries, and we achieved the feat at a time Foreign Direct Investments were difficult to attract. Today, Akwa Ibom State boasts of the largest syringes manufacturing company in the Nation, the Jubilee Syringes Manufacturing Company.

We have made the billing of electricity consumers easier with the establishment of the Metering Solutions Company, which produces metres for power companies. We brought in the first digitalised Flour Mill in this part of the Nation, the Plywood Manufacturing Plant, the Coconut Virgin Oil Refinery, whose works would have been completed but for the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the Fertilizer Blending Plant, the Rice Mill in Ini Local Government Area – these industries have also helped in creating thousands of employment opportunities and other value chain gains in line with our employment and wealth creation agenda.

We have made huge gains in the Power Sector, by upgrading and rebuilding of the Injection Sub-Station, on Four Lanes, Uyo, and the Transmission Substation in Ekim, Mkpat Enin Local Government Area, which was commissioned by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, and another Sub-Station in Ikot Ekpene along with several dedicated lines. All these are geared towards the realisation of our “Power for All by December 2021” vision we had unveiled.

We have also successfully re-oriented our youths through our Dakkada philosophy to look inwards and embrace the spirit of entrepreneurship, knowing that what they need to succeed is embedded in them; that a cradle to grave entitlement mind-set is antithetical to their growth.

We took a hard look in our educational sector and felt we needed to rejig the curriculum, aligning it with the needs of the 21th Century globalised economy, which is predicated on technology. To achieve that, we not only worked to change the curriculum, but to also enhance the physical structure of our schools and the amenities. We have refurbished, constructed, reconstructed numerous school blocks and equipped them with modern amenities, and the result has been very encouraging. Our WAEC pass-rate has improved significantly and we hope with the emergency on the sector we had just declared, our success rate would be one of the best in the nation.

Let me also add that the critical aspect of the Social Contract is the preservation of peace and security for the overall development of a given entity. We are generally known as one of the most peaceful and secure states in the nation, and we achieved that by introducing a new tone and tenor in governance, a tone that places God at the centre of our common enterprise, where power is exercised with humble dedication to the principles and precepts of Christianity, where leadership is not seen as an all-knowing and hectoring bull, breathing down the necks of the followers, but one of symbiotic affiliations and affinities.

Above all, we have made integrity and transparency the hallmarks of our governance philosophy.

So, I think given the lean resources we have been availed, and given the breath and extent of what we have used those resources to execute for our people, it would be in order to score ourselves the 85 percent mark as far as the execution of the Initial Five-Point Agenda is concerned.

What do you think you could have done differently?

Well, I think if the economic circumstances were not as challenging as we had encountered, if the exchange rates were not as volatile as we had hoped, if the resources available to us were in the same range as what the state had received in the earlier years before we came in, I think we could have recorded an almost 100 percent success rate with our initial agenda.

But as I said earlier, given what we had experienced, given the lean resources available to us, we were able to utilise the resources for the overall development of our state.

We are determined to go as far as our resources can allow. But as you know, the government is a continuum. One of the key elements that have helped the developed societies attain the level of development we all admire is the culture of continuity they have established.

That is why we have continued with a great number of projects that were initiated by earlier administrations. For instance, the 25 kilometre Uyo- Ikot Ekpene dual carriage Road was inherited by us, with less than a kilometre of work done.

Today, that road is near completion. The Tropicana Entertainment Centre was a den of snakes and reptiles; we have turned it into a thriving shopping mall, today. The Ibom Specialty Hospital was less than 20 percent equipped, today, we have put in place world-class medical facilities there, complete with an ICU. The hospital is run like a business concern.

The Ibom Deep Seaport project was on the drawing board, but to the glory of God, today, in my Administration, we have secured the necessary approvals from the Federal Government to commence operations. The Four Points by Sheraton in Ikot Ekpene was a mere building without a Special Purpose Vehicle ((SPV), but today, the building has been turned into a real hotel and is ready to be commissioned.

The Science Park was a great idea started by our highly respected Elder Statesman – Obong (Arc.) Victor Attah. It was abandoned but we are in the process of reviving it. We would have gone far with it, but for the coronavirus epidemic, which slowed down work on the project, since our foreign counterparts are mostly Chinese. As things return to normal, we will continue work on the project.

I have gone this far to illustrate the fact that the bold and legacy projects which we have started, such as the Ibom Deep Seaport, the Ibom Air, the numerous industries we have attracted, the road network we are currently constructing, the Sterling Petrochemicals, the Coconut Plantation, the $1.4 billion Fertilizer and Ammonia Plant, the Liberty Oil and Gas Free Zone, all these great projects which we are committed to finishing, but which time and space may not allow us to finish, will nonetheless be completed by the incoming administration. That is the reason why my successor must be one who is totally and unwaveringly committed to continuing with our march to industrialise this state and make life more comfortable for our people.

So, to answer your question directly, we will endeavour to complete most of the projects enshrined in the Completion Agenda, which is the reason why as I am sure you have witnessed, the entire state is a construction hub.

You set up a Committee on Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) to help actualise your industrialisation agenda. So far, how much has the Committee attracted? How can you score the Committee? And what percentage of the FDI is from the indigenes in the Diaspora?

Yes, it is true that one of the first set of tasks I had performed in 2015 shortly after I was sworn in was to set up the Technical Committee on Foreign Direct Investments as a vehicle to help attract the desired foreign investments. So far, I think the Committee has performed well. As I am sure you are well aware, Akwa Ibom State was named the second state with the most Foreign Direct Investments coming only after Lagos by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, so that in itself should answer your question.

The Committee has done very well, with the guidance and contacts we have established over the years, drawn from both local and international levels. We are actively courting and interfacing with our Diaspora population across the world and they are very pleased and excited with the level and number of industries we have been able to attract to the state.

Your focus on opening up the three gateways into the state: Air, Land and Sea, as you may know, this has also opened up the state to the good, the bad and the ugly. What do you hope to do to control the crime rate that may follow?

Let me thank you for acknowledging our determined efforts to open the three gateways and drivers of industrialisation: Land, Sea and Air. As I said initially, through these strategic engagements, we have been able to attract numerous industries because of the superior and economically viable infrastructure developments. We have made the ease of doing business in our state very attractive with Ibom Air, where you may leave Uyo in the morning for a meeting in Lagos or Abuja, Calabar or Enugu and still return to Uyo the same day if you so wish. And of course, the Ibom Deep Seaport, which has been on the drawing board for decades but which to the glory of God we are in the process of realising with the approval we received recently from the Federal Government.

These gateways have been the sources of our growth and development, and not the platforms to attract criminal elements. As you have also attested to, our state remains one of the safest and secure states in the Nation, which is the reason we believe we should attract foreign investments. We take the issue of safety and security very seriously and have zero- tolerance for such tendencies.

What is your vision for the Ibom Deep Seaport when completed? What is the Federal Government commitment to this project and how can you score its commitment?

The vision of Ibom Deep Seaport is to add to the port capacity of the Nigerian Ports and overall maritime development. There is no doubt that the Nigerian Ports capacity is severely constrained. The opening up of more ports will provide employment to thousands of our youths in such areas as logistics and general maritime services and lead to the expansion of income generation capacity for the Nation.

Also, because of the draught of the port, it will give room for vessels of 120 Dead Weight Tonne ((DWT) to berth. It will also serve as the transhipment port for the neighbouring West African countries.

The Federal Government has given the necessary support through the regulatory agencies for port development: Ministry of Transport, the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC), the Bureau of Public Procurement, etc. So, I score the Federal Government very high and we express our deep appreciation for their cooperation.

With the above, how are you preparing for possible disruptions from pirates through the Gulf of Guinea? As the Minister of Transport has always said pirate activities are mostly responsible for most importers bringing their goods to Lagos?

I am sure you know that our state by its strategic location in the Gulf of Guinea is primed to become a major maritime hub, and so it goes without saying that adequate security patrols must be in place. I want to commend the officers of the Nigerian Navy and other Security Services for the great job they have done in securing our maritime assets so I don’t think the Ibom Deep Sea Port will suffer major security setbacks. I think our youths are also acutely aware of the enormous economic benefits that this project will bring and would do all they can to protect the assets.

Our port will help complement other ports and thus enhance our maritime industry by easing the burdens experienced by importers and exporters who sometimes have to wait over six months to have their goods cleared in Lagos and other logistics challenges such as the perennial gridlock in Apapa. So, I think this is a win-win proposition.

Where are you now on the $1.4 billion Fertilizer/Ammonia Plant project fund the state attracted early this year? Is the fund going to be invested in cash crop or food crop production?

Well, the $1.4 billion project we recently signed with our Moroccan counterparts is mainly for fertilizer and ammonia plants. But as you know, the project will definitely enhance the planting and cultivation of both cash and food crops. As the world begins to look for alternative sources of energy with emphasis placed on renewable energy, I think it is strategically imperative for us to turn our attention to non-oil earning sectors of our economy.

Agriculture becomes the key area in this push and so we are preparing for life beyond crude oil. I am sure you know that we have a fully-functional Directorate of Agro-Allied industries that is domiciled in the Office of the Governor, with an expressed mandate to look into areas we can leverage through our comparative advantage in agriculture. The ground-breaking ceremony of the plant will be performed soon by President Muhammadu Buhari.

By fixing basic infrastructure in the state, how do you plan to cope with rural- urban drift due to industrialisation of the state?

We have been very strategic in the location of these projects. Most of these industries are located in local government areas far from the city centre. This has seen the fast development of those areas, and if I may add, the rate of electricity supply in the hinterlands is almost 22 hours daily. Our rural dwellers enjoy a very good quality of life, so the push to migrate from the rural to urban centres is greatly reduced.

People see the building of a 21-storey smart office complex as a form of ‘peace offering’ to woo the International Oil Companies (IOCs) back to the state after earlier serious disagreement, especially Mobil. What is your take on this?

I don’t know where you got your facts because the last time I checked there has been no “serious disagreement” with the major IOCs operating in our shores, which is Exxon- Mobil. What you may call disagreement was our demand for more Corporate Social Responsibility undertakings by the oil company and we have enjoyed a very close and wonderful relationship with the company as with other energy companies operating in our state.

The 21–storey smart building which as you noted is about the best of such building in our part of the world was not built to “woo the International Oil Companies” but rather to offer a great real estate with great ambience and an awesome panoramic view of our beautiful state capital, Uyo, to companies, especially the IOCs and other agencies associated with oil and gas, such as the NNPC, DPR, etc.

By May, two new aircrafts would be added to the Ibom Air fleet. What is the equity percentage of a Nigerian bank in this?

Ibom Air is fully owned, funded and operated by the state government, the first state to ever own an airline in Nigeria and possibly Africa. Again, I don’t know where you got the bank equity percentage angle from. We are very proud of the success Ibom Air has recorded and as you rightly pointed out, we will be adding two brand new Airbuses (A220-300 series) to its fleet, bringing the total planes in its fleet to seven in readiness for the commencement our West African regional commercial operations soon. We are very proud of the achievements of the management of the airline.

What is the percentage of night life to the State’s Gross GDP?

Well, Uyo, our peaceful and serene Capital City, of course enjoys a robust nightlife as is expected of any major city. We are also one of the preferred locations for conferences, seminars and other socio-political events, so it is expected that as tourists flock into the state, places of relaxation or the hospitality industry also will grow.

So, we are investing in tourism, and the associated elements of the industry-music, theatre, (currently ongoing is the theatre production of Ibiom – “When Doves fly” that celebrates the peace we enjoy here as exemplified by the dove, which is a bird that signifies peace) movies, good hotels, good food which we are nationally and internationally known for, etc. Akwa Ibom is now called “Nigeria’s Best Kept Secret and that’s why once you visit here, you will subsequently plan towards coming to not only visit, but to live and invest. We are very proud of the quality of life we enjoy here.

Thank you, Your Excellency, for your time, despite your busy schedule.

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