• Monday, July 15, 2024
businessday logo


Ibom deep sea port: Can Akpabio live up to his billing?

Ibom deep sea port: Can Akpabio live up to his billing?

Senator Godswill Akpabio visited Uyo last weekend on his way to Ikot Ekpene to attend a reception organised for him by the elders and political leaders of his senatorial district. He arrived on Friday with many senators and visited the state governor, Mr Umo Eno. In the evening, the governor treated the Senate President and his delegation to a lavish state banquet, one in the series of courtesies that he has extended to Akpabio since he emerged as Senate President last June. At the banquet, Eno spoke from his heart to Senator Akpabio: it is a tremendous privilege for me as a person to have the honour to host the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Your Excellency, I have some requests, and I want to please make them public. They’re just three.

“The first thing that I want to request is that you please get the Federal Government to partner with Akwa Ibom State on the Ibom Deep Seaport. Don’t bother about roads in this state; we will do roads for you. I know you can always walk into the office of the president. No state can develop the Deep Seaport on its own. If we miss it now, we don’t know when God will smile on us next. Let it be to your credit that when you were the Senate President, we got the deep seaport. We are prepared to work with you in that area.’’

“The second request’’, the governor continued, “is that Akwa Ibom is blessed with oil palm; it is one of the biggest; naturally, it just grows. We want to partner with the federal government to develop our oil palm plantation and to have an industrial oil mill in this state. I know this is the kind of thing that will also bring employment and benefit our people. Finally, Your Excellency, we would like to pay a thank you to Mr. President across party lines. We would like to thank him for standing by you and supporting you. We would like to go as a state to show that appreciation, and we know you can make that happen.’’

“The economic benefits of the port to the state and the nation as a whole are far more important than doling out favours to a few people. This is the time to be a leader, in the true sense of the word.”

Since the creation of Akwa Ibom State 37 years ago, the development of the Ibom deep seaport has remained the biggest desire of the people. It is a dream etched on the psyche of every Akwa Ibom son and daughter and a passion as strong as the desire they had for the creation of the state itself. Previous governors since 1999 (Victor Attah, Godswill Akpabio, and Udom Emmanuel) have invested time, energy, and resources to bring this multi-billion-dollar project into fruition. Udom Emmanuel did a lot, but the journey is still long.

The state government has already obtained the federal government’s approval for the full business case and the go-ahead to proceed with the development of the port. Under Gov. Udom Emmanuel, the government set up a technical committee headed by a renowned maritime lawyer, Mrs Mfon Usoro, to lead all the negotiations and technical processes on behalf of the government. The committee is currently negotiating the concession agreement with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in addition to searching for a qualified investor with the requisite technical and financial muscle.

Expectedly, issues will arise where the federal government’s support and flexibility will be of great benefit to the project. The state government is also hopeful that the Tinubu administration will include the Ibom Deep Sea Project as an item in its foreign investment missions. Senator Akpabio would be helpful here.

Akwa Ibom people and their government are also hopeful that Abuja will extend rail and road connections to the port, especially now that the Lagos-Calabar coastal road is on the front burner of the Tinubu administration. This is where Senator Akpabio also comes in, and that’s why Gov. Eno laid out his request so eloquently. The Senate President is an influential leader and a close ally of President Tinubu. Working with the state government to deliver this project should be his most important preoccupation. So far, Akpabio has only focused on facilitating the appointment of a few people, mostly from his senatorial district, into federal government positions. That is insignificant compared to what the development of the port would bring to the state. He should look beyond political appointments for his small circle of supporters and see Akwa Ibom as his constituency. The economic benefits of the port to the state and the nation as a whole are far more important than doling out favours to a few people. This is the time to be a leader, in the true sense of the word.

Ibom Deep Seaport is designed for large vessels that can load over 13,000 containers in one voyage. It will be a transshipment port, as smaller vessels will distribute cargo from the bigger vessels to other ports closer to the consignees within and outside Nigeria. It is strategically located to serve West and Central Africa, JDZ Sao Tome, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroun, Angola, Gabon, Congo, the DRC, Chad, etc. Over a million direct and indirect jobs would be created when it was fully operational.

After the general elections of last year, I wrote an article urging Umo Eno to discard the old politics of division and join hands with Akpabio to bring development to the state. I mentioned the deep seaport and the reconstruction of federal roads like Ikot Ekpene-Umuahia, East-West, Calabar-Itu, and Aba-Ikot Ekpene as key projects that require federal investments. I am pleased that Gov. Eno has bent over backwards to partner with the Senate President for the benefit of Akwa Ibom. Our people therefore expect Senator Akpabio to live up to his billing as a national leader and former governor of the state.