• Friday, June 14, 2024
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Ibom Deep Sea Port will present enormous economic opportunities for Nigerians – Okon

Akpan Okon

With the selection of the preferred bidder for the Ibom Deep Sea Port, the next phase of the project looks set to kick off under the Public Private Partnership model. Akan Okon, Akwa Ibom State commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Sea Port, in this interview with ANIEFIOK UDONQUAK speaks on the huge benefits the project, on its completion, would bring to the economy. Excerpts:

The next phase of the Ibom Deep Sea Port is about to take off. At what stage is it now?

As you can see, there have been a lot of activities in the past few days. The Ministerial Project Development Steering Committee met and adopted a few business proposals before presentation to the Federal Executive Council for approval. After the meeting, the committee also visited the site of the project.  You can see that we are getting to the end of the documentation before construction work commences. From every indication, we are going to get the approval. As it has been mentioned, we have a credible company, Bollore-Power China, that has formed a consortium to take the concession of the Port. Bollore is a French company that is well known in the shipping business. And Power China is a construction giant. They came together because it is one thing to build a port, but do you have an anchor tenant who would be able to ensure that it is properly managed? But with this calibre of companies, they would command the needed traffic to the port. You know this port is going to add to the port capacity in Nigeria. It is going to create employment for Nigerians because if there is any problem that we are facing in the country it is that of unemployment. A lot of young men and women are coming out of schools and there is no employment for them. And the revenue profiles of the state and the Federal Government would also be enhanced. So, I believe that it is a project that is good for the country and Africa, because it is not just a Nigerian thing, the port would cover the West and Central African sub regions.

How was this preferred bidder selected?

It is a very lengthy process. First, RFQ, which is Request for Qualification. When once the updated business scale was approved by the Federal Executive Council, the project ministerial steering committee gave the nod that the project should move to the procurement process and there are a lot of activities during the procurement process- issuance of RFQ for interested investor, a lot of questions asked and answered proffered. When that was done and they submitted their bid, we did our own in a way that has been adjudged by the regulator that it was very transparent. At the end of the day, those bids were evaluated by the Evaluation Committee, and those that were responsive and met the criteria were picked and moved to the next level where they were issued with the proposal. It is an international acceptable step and procedure and we followed it and at the end of the day, the preferred bidder was chosen.

But we have both the preferred and reserved bidders? Why is it so?

That is the standard practice in the procurement process. You must have a reserved bidder and the preferred bidder. So, it is the standard practice in the procurement process.

Are you saying due process adopted to pick the preferred bidder was transparent?

It was very transparent. You can check it out with the regulators. The Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Finance, among others were part of the process. And they saw that the process was transparent. It was indeed transparent.

This is a PPP project. What is the role of the Federal Government in the project?

The way Nigeria is structured, port development is on the exclusive legislative list. And the only authorised government agency who is the landlord of any port is the Nigerian Port Authority. To that extent, they would play their regulatory role as enshrined in the Constitution.

Where does the Akwa Ibom State Government come in?

The state government is the project sponsor working with the private sector to ensure that we have this port. The port is a national asset and it would add to the economy of our country. Like I said earlier, employment opportunities would be given to Nigerians and the import and export duties would go to the Federal Government as it is the standard practice which would help our economy.

This project has been on the drawing board for a long time and there had been a lot of misconception about it. Do you think this present administration is capable of delivering the project?

I have just explained to you the processes that we have undertaken to get to where we are now and I have also said that where we are now is just to get the federal executive council’s approval. Last week, we had NPA, we had Ministry of Transportation, we had Ministry of Finance, among others and they are members of the Ministerial Project Development Steering Committee and they were in the meeting and the full business scale has been adopted for presentation to the Federal Government. We are no longer talking about the drawing board again. We have moved from the drawing board to activities that would lead to the actualisation of the project.

What about the cost of this project?

The port is not a small project. And that is why we are looking for people who have the capacity because in the entire procurement process you have questions that are on the technical and financial proposals. And evaluations are carried out on all the bids. And at the end of the day, the responsiveness of each of the bidders to the questions and whosoever has the highest score is considered and two, we have to do background checks on the bidders, but from what has happened, we have a good investor.

The ground-breaking is set for March; after that, what happens?

We are working closely with the team to put out the modalities on the various studies, geo-technical on what needs to be done. No doubt, work is ongoing but you need to finish the documentation before you move to the next level of activities proper.

Are the host communities being given a sense of belonging in the scheme of things and how receptive are they?

They have been carried along and they are very receptive of the project. We have had stakeholders’ engagement meetings in the communities that this project would be sited. Mind you, we have a deep sea port and the industrial city. The industrial city is to provide the facility for the light and heavy industries. You know a port is to do import and export business. While the import comes in, the industrial city would feed the port with the export, because when containers come in here, they shouldn’t go back empty. There should be goods to go to the various countries. The industrial city will feed the port.

The communities have alleged that the port has been moved from the original location to a particular place?

It is still within the vicinity. Like I said, we have a long coastline where we are going to have the deep sea port and the industrial city.  And these two projects need to be developed and then from the design that has been concluded, it was taken into consideration by doing it in such a way that you do not dislocate them from their natural environment.

What about the name change from Ibaka to Ibom Deep Sea port?

Every state or country can have a name that is their identity.  For example, Akwa Ibom State and the government feels that anything that is owned by the government should be named ‘’Ibom’’, such as Ibom Air, Ibom Deep Sea Port, Ibom Science Park. I don’t think the name is an issue. It is the development that it would bring to our communities and the improvement in the standard of living of our people is most important thing.

The fear is that the Federal Government might not want any port in this part of the country to be developed?

Such fear is unfounded.  Currently, port capacity in Nigeria is very inadequate. And the Nigerian government is a responsible government and it would always support any project that will increase the capacity and the development of the country. Like I said, the major problem we have in Nigeria is unemployment and this project would provide employment opportunities to Nigerians. So, the fear is unfounded.

It is believed that it was your excellent performance in the Aviation sector that made it possible for you to be asked by the governor to supervise the Deep Sea port project. How true is this?

Well, I am an investment banker by profession. I have the ability and capacity by the grace of God to deliver on any assignment that I am given. I have a very capable technical committee made up of seasoned professionals in the maritime sector. As you are aware, the Chairperson of the Technical Committee is Mfon Usoro. She and other members of the Committee have brought their experiences in the sector to bear which have lifted the project to the level we are having now.

How do you feel being part of the team that is about to deliver the project and having worked with the governor for these past years, how would you describe him?

The governor is very passionate about the development of Akwa Ibom State. He believes that the state has very dedicated, talented and intelligent young men and women as such they shouldn’t beg for bread and that they would excel if they are provided with opportunities to make something for themselves. That is why you see the governor doing everything to ensure that the state is industrialized. Today, we have so many industries that are offering employments to our people- the Ibom Air, the Flour Mill, the Syringe Factory and the rest of them. So, the governor is interested in ensuring that the opportunities are created for our people and the standard of living of our people is enhanced and improved. One major thing that can lead to the rapid development of any society is power.  You have seen what the governor has done since he came into office by ensuring that there is a significant improvement in electricity supply to our people. With that, artisans and many other people would be meaningfully engaged. The governor has touched every aspect of the state economy, from education to health, agriculture, infrastructure and I believe that we are lucky to have him as our governor at this point in time.

Do you think Akwa Ibom has the required manpower for the companies the governor is bringing to the state?

That is what I have been saying over the years each time I have the opportunity to speak in any public forum. Instead of dissipating energy on criticizing the activities of government, they should try and update themselves.  Do research instead of using social media to insult somebody. You do research on the skills required in port construction. What are the skills required for port operations?  And then try to update and upgrade yourself so that you would be relevant and be able to take advantage of the emerging opportunities.  My appeal to everybody is that lets us try to strategically place ourselves.