BusinessDay

Our digitised seaport will address delays in goods’ clearing – Governor Udom

In this concluding part of the exclusive interview with BusinessDay, Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom told TEMITAYO FAGBULE, Editor, and ZEBULON AGOMUO, Editor, BusinessDay SUNDAY, that the proposed deep seaport in the state would correct the problem of delays in goods’ clearing; how his administration’s effort in road projects has opened up businesses in all parts of the state; why he is not going to the Senate, and also the need for a change of leadership at the centre in 2023. Excerpts:

May we know more about your iconic projects- particularly road project?

We don’t just go and build roads; the road must align with our economic blueprint. Check for example, right now, how do we move goods and services? How do we link up? You dropped at the airport; you can see our new terminal building as you’re coming out from the terminal building, the best and smartest terminal building in Africa of today. As you’re coming out, that’s where we want to operate all our regional flights into Africa; it will be from Uyo, not Lagos or Abuja. Once you come out of the terminal, you are welcome to a six-lane road, super lit up, with manicured lawn, beautiful natural flowers; you can’t find anywhere in Nigeria. If there’s anywhere you can find that, please quote me, where you’re just coming out of the airport and what welcomes you is a well-manicured median with superb beauty of flowers, natural not artificial, that welcomes you to a six-lane road well lit up, as you get into town, the road gets into 8 lanes, and then the road empties you into the city centre that spreads into a ring-road that gives you 10 lanes; all lit up super and then circulates you. As that circulates you, it takes you round the different ring roads, 1, 2, 3, and that now leads you to where you can have a dualised thoroughfare, from Uyo straight to the Atlantic Ocean, this is over 100 kilometers, dualised by Julius Berger and CECC. Then you get to where we call the centre of the state which is, for the sake of this interview, called Etinan-Ndon Eyo Road. From that centre of Etinan, commissioned by Obasanjo, is one of the finest highways you find in this country, 29 kilometers. When you drive in the night, I’m not boasting, you need to take a tour tonight and find out. If you drive from the beginning of the road to the end with two cable bridges, whether you will think you’re in Nigeria; that accesses you straight into East-West Road. And mind you, a whole lot of quarry that is done at Cross River State is within this region and all these circulate within the South-South, and the South-East region; all these people need access to get through. All these roads you’re talking about, they were called federal roads before I came into the office. I can show you the letter written by the Minister of Works; all these roads we did, he said we were not eligible; the reason we are not eligible is unknown. I don’t want to go into that, it could still be part of the policy of Nigeria, but we’ve done all these roads, and you can drive them today.

Even the Exxon Mobil that is feeding the whole nation, there was no road into ExxonMobil platform; the QIT Terminal. I’m the first governor to dualise the road to the QIT Terminal done by CECC.

By the time you come out of the airport, at the first roundabout there, there’s another axis that will take you into where we want to build a deep seaport. That’s the area we are dualising now; it takes you into Oron, and that will take you to our super highway, and then will take you into our deep seaport. So the evacuation, when we finish our deep seaport will not be what you are experiencing elsewhere. What’s the average working capital day of a manufacturing company? It takes you an average of 63 days to get goods out of Apapa into Kano, who does that anywhere in the world? We are correcting that here. It is going to be a big digitised deep seaport that even you as an importer can track your own goods, and even clear your goods online; there will be an App you can use to clear those goods, pay the required duty on them, so that when the goods come, you don’t need anybody to obstruct it once you show evidence electronically. In fact, the people to clear already have evidence that you’ve done; as the thing is, the payment is dropping and then you go.

Read also: How we are redefining aviation business in Nigeria with Ibom Air, by Governor Emmanuel

How does it tie to all the companies you set up in your second agenda? And is there a preference for state run companies? Is that your preference or is it a catalyst for private investment?

You see, these things are done by government and government’s duty is to create an environment for businesses to thrive, not to run the businesses; even all these private factories, apart from the cottage industry where we do the tissue paper, the toothpick, the pencil, the plastics, and then the tomato puree, I mean, these are cottage industries done by the state government, just to promote SMEs. But the large ones like syringe, the flour mills, the metering factory, but I’m sorry too, the biggest one is a coconut refinery, that one also is owned by the state government because that one comes with the plantation. So, outside those ones, I mean the cottage industry, the rest are run by the investors who brought the money here, and even right now, three petrochemical companies that were attracted are running simultaneously.

The ammonia fertilizer plant is about coming up in Ikot Abasi, right now, we have petrochemical and methanol plant also coming up quite fast but some of these things, when we say it, it seems as if it is one of those things you hear in Nigeria. We actually need to take you down there so that you will see that and when you see them, you’ll be surprised.

Today, the finest flour in this country is King’s Flour and it’s from Akwa-Ibom; we can’t even meet the domestic demand, so that’s why probably you don’t see them in Lagos. There’s a whole lot that you can actually do; when people just talk about this, I mean, at times, you just wonder, just doing one stretch of road from Uyo to QIT terminal, over 100 kilometers dualised thoroughfare, if you use the Federal Government rate, how much do you think that is? That’s not even enough to pay for the so-called derivation that people are talking about.

And today, a lot of people clamour; people who are in this state now, when people come in, people are eager to come and see the smartest building in Nigeria, and the sixth tallest building in this country is found where? It’s owned by a state government, a sub-national. Let one state mention that they have such a smart building today in this country and these are things to generate money. The only MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operations) in this part of the world that can service two 747-800 series at the same time is in Akwa-Ibom, owned by the state government, the Federal Government does not own. There are some states in West Africa, even the feasibility studies are paved by the western world, we all read that, not even one, check anywhere will you find an MRO and then we have here.

All our Ibom Air, the entire fleet of CRJs and airbuses we can do up to C-check here. Absolutely, Airbus has actually certified us to do C-check here. Then imagine how much of the foreign exchange that we save and earn.

Then from that smart building, if you are a businessman and you are just coming or you came in a regional flight, and you want to connect to Lagos or Abuja; and probably you have like one hour or so and you can’t miss anything, you have a business lounge you can enter, then you transact your businesses there, linked up with the office, everything, seamless. And if you want to have a shower, you have a shower, and then you’re done just done and we earn revenue from that; You have ease of doing business; once people have service, they don’t mind paying for it and you know consumption is a function of availability. Create and people will consume, so that’s what we’re doing. I wouldn’t be happy if you leave and you don’t have a look at some of these things; even on your way, go a little bit early on your flight, have a look at that terminal, you know when you’re looking at it at a distance, you might not understand; the smartest terminal building you can find in this part of the world. I’m not kidding.

While some of those that contested your party’s presidential primary but lost, have not gotten over it, you have moved on. Now, the question is, there are alignments and realignment of forces going on, and we heard that some governors from other parties are on their way to joining the PDP; as the campaign chairman, how true is that?

You see, you are putting a question and you are answering the question for me. One thing about politics, campaigns, and elections, the only truth is when you declare a winner. Every other thing is just moral suasion you use to bring people in, your power of persuasion, and whatsoever.

So, it’s too difficult in politics for you to come out and beat your chest and say, ‘Oh, this is what is going on, 200 people are joining me tomorrow, these are joining me, that are joining me.’ Nobody actually does that, it is all permutation, it’s all rumor until it happens. First of all, people need to know, your eye on the ball, where’s the ball? It is the victory. So whatever you need to do to get that victory, like for example, right now I’m on campaigns, try to convince the people why they should vote for you PDP and why you should do much better. When I was campaigning to be given the ticket of PDP, I never told anybody what I would do. I told people to judge me based on what I’m doing; I’m not that kind of a person. Don’t do what I say, but do what you see me do. I said, look, what Nigeria needs is what I’m offering to Akwa-Ibom State.

So, if what Nigeria needs is what I’m offering to Akwa-Ibom, why can’t I be given that opportunity in a larger scale for me to probably take what I’m doing here right now to a higher level? What does Nigeria need? The proper economic management, and that’s what I’m offering the state. What does Nigeria need? PeaceInline image
, and that’s what we’re having here. Peace, Security, free movement of people; this is one state that early in the morning, you’ll see white men jogging all over the street without any fear or anything.

That’s what Nigeria needs and that is what we are offering; free movement of people everywhere. You move in the night, every single street, I’m sure you saw last night, is lit up; so there is dividend of democracy, that is what Nigeria needs, security, prudent management of resources, transparency in governance and also justice; this is what Nigeria needs, this is what we are offering.

When I was campaigning, when people just say “Oh, this,” I don’t just like tumbling over those same pitfalls a lot of people fall into, trying to name names, do this, I don’t do that; let’s look at the issues. The issue today is that we’re worse off as a country, no doubt about that and we need people to rescue and I want to be on the rescue train, that’s all. How we will arrive at our destination is only God that can determine.

The relationship between predecessors and their successors in this country has in many cases, been acrimonious. Now, you have thrown your weight behind someone to succeed you. How do you ensure that after you must have left, and the person wins, the relationship will remain cordial?

Sorry my brother, that is the difference between me and every other person. You know that’s why no matter what you do, I will never tell you I’m a professional politician. That question you’re asking goes to a professional politician. I’m a professional in politics; it’s those who do not have a second address that bother about that. I have a second address so I shouldn’t be bothered about that. What you bother is you are doing the best for your people and as at today, as far as the Almighty is concerned, the preferred candidate of PDP is God’s choice for the people, not mine. So, what happens after that is left in the hands of God. I can’t be selfish to the point of trying to weave everything, that’s just those who do not have a second address, I have a second address.

I can’t wait to carry my iPad and move on and then he moves on with what God will use him to do for the people. He is God’s choice, not mine. When you start thinking; what will my successor do? What will he not do? Come on; allow him to have his own space.

That second address; is that responsible for why you didn’t aspire to go to the Senate, as others do?

No, no, I have a principle in life. The covenant I have with God is that He will increase me more and more. How can I leave as a chief executive, then go and be sitting at the back bench and be looking for a way to be identified? I am not a bandwagon man now. I’m a chief executive, controlling three senatorial districts, then I leave from controlling three senatorial districts to go and sit and be controlling one. Am I progressing or retrogressing? I don’t look at that as life. Right now, three senatorial districts are under me as a governor; chief executive of a state, then I come and limit myself now. You know I can’t go to campaign outside my senatorial district once I become a senator. So, I limit myself now to only Eket senatorial district; right now I control Eket, Uyo, and Ikot Ekpene. That’s not in line with what I believe in life. It takes a whole lot for people to have that strength of character, it is not that easy. I’m not saying it’s wrong, it happens everywhere in the world but I think it is not in line with my own principles of life. Honestly, that’s all.

I support those who want to do it 100 percent. Of course, if you leave as a governor and then you want to be a senator, I support you 100 percent, but to me, I say it is not in line with what life should offer me. Even, it is said in the Bible that I will increase your greatness; life should offer me something better. After eight years as a chief executive, I go and be a floor member. I hope you know if I go there, I will be a floor member, not a ranking member, I will be begging for me to even talk. I don’t think I will function well there, others will function very well, but I might not function well there. So, let me stay where I will be useful to myself and to my family.

As a participant in this administration since 2015, how would you describe the state of the nation?

Well, between 2015 and now, I would just say that we are worse off, that’s all; simple, we are worse off as a people; there’s no doubt about that. In all indices and in all parameters of measurement, this is without any element of bias. That’s why when I came in to contest, as an aspirant in the presidential race, I said my duty is to rescue and restore. It doesn’t really matter but we’ve found ourselves in that position, if we don’t find ourselves in that position, God will not look for people to rescue and restore. Even it is written also, it said, restore the years that the cankerworm had eaten. If the cankerworm did not eat those years, how come it was written in the Bible that God should restore the years that the cankerworm had eaten. So that’s why things like that come up. We are worse off and there is no doubt about that. You now also thank God, if Nigerians did not give a chance to try another party, they wouldn’t have known that PDP had been much better over the years. You know at times, what you see from the outside is different from what is inside and water is sweeter in the cup, because once they throw you inside the river, the same water that you see, you will run away from it. So, all these people making mad analyses all over the place, look at some of them now, who even tried in one office or the other, all those who were so good, analysing, let them show you one thing they’ve done; and that’s why I’m also surprised, at times, people just say, “what do you go to listen to, a governor who served for eight years and he cannot have something to point to will be jumping with a broom, jumping and talking.”

Tell him to show you what he did in eight years, that he is coming to tell you that he needs a bigger platform. I mean, you could not manage a kiosk and you want to manage a multinational. He will be jumping like a frog, let him tell you what he did when he was governor for eight years. A lot of them didn’t even pay salaries for 17 months even after collecting bailout funds, let them just keep quiet. You see, the destiny of this country is in the hands of Nigerians.