By Eseme Eyiboh
AKWA IBOM STATE is unarguably one state in Nigeria with the prospect of economic fortune. With about five million population matched with the enviable status of the highest oil-and-gas-producing state in Nigeria, economic prosperity should be the lot of the people and the state. But socio-economic matrices of the state do not correlate with the abundance of natural mineral, agricultural and aquaculture resources.
According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 1.8 million of Akwa Ibom’s 3.3 million economically active population is unemployed. That means, more than half of the working population in the state is out of work.
With such an unusually high degree of joblessness and the attendant poverty, the state has the second highest unemployment rate in Nigeria. This is an antithesis of the ambitious start the state had under Governors Obong Victor Attah and Godswill Akpabio. Growth, Opportunities and development in Akwa Ibom State have been in doldrums since May 2015. Transforming the state into the economic powerhouse that it should be, that is a challenge the incumbent leadership has not demonstrated a capability and capacity to tackle.
As we enter the last 60 days of intense politicking before the 2019 elections, none among the various contenders for the governorship seat in Akwa Ibom has presented a well-articulated manifesto as Nsima Udo Ekere, governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party.
Ekere, a cutting-edge character and reform minded asset manager currently, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), cannot be mistaken for just another politician seeking to capture the exalted office of the chief executive of the state. Neither should his declaration – “it is time to get our state back on track,” be taken in vain. He is a man who knows what to do to turn around a critical situation. Aside from building successful businesses, his cogent national and international experiences in real estate, urban and regional planning and construction are in areas critical to the resuscitation of the Akwa Ibom economy.
Ekere served briefly as Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State between May 2011 and October 2012. He was for five years, from 2007 to 2012, the executive chairman of the Akwa Ibom Investment and Industrial Promotion Council AKIIPOC, the state’s investment agency. He has chaired simultaneously, the Akwa Ibom State Emergency Management Agency and Ibom Power Company – the state’s independent power generating company. That put him in a pole position as the best candidate for the job at the Government House in Uyo.
The plan he unveiled recently is concise and convincing. “The strategic focus of my administration will be to build a better tomorrow filled with opportunities for all Akwa Ibom people,” he said. In a simple sentence, that is building and sustaining a state of economic prosperity. Ekere has made this the first of the Five Pillars of Change he is advocating.
His vision, recently unveiled, is founded on policies and programmes aimed at creating jobs and opportunities and promoting and propelling private enterprises to build industries and businesses.
His strategy focuses on reflating the economy in the short term via a smorgasbord of direct job creation initiatives and initiation and implementation of local content requirements in all government activities. He has planned to tackle mass unemployment and poverty with a “quick impact action” in the first three to six months, driven by massive public works to reflate the economy and stimulate job creation in a way that “put money in the pockets of artisans, suppliers, and contractors.”
Overall, the gamut of the policies and programmes aims to create 400,000 direct and indirect jobs every year.
A programme of conditional cash transfers of N5, 000 to the extremely poor, N5, 000 to orphans, N100, 000 per delivery for multiple birth mothers and N5, 000 for the physically challenged is also embedded in the plan.
His plan to domesticate key Federal Government economic programmes namely MSME Clinic, the Bank of Industry-sponsored GEEP project, Anchor Borrowers Programme, and NIRSAL is an action that will further broaden the scope of economic empowerment for the state and its indigene. And this, shows his quality as an astute administrator and cutting edge character.
The longer-term strategy he outlined showed a bold approach to purposeful development. For instance, the launch of a N20 billion fund to raise a critical mass of transformative entrepreneurs (TEs), about 6,000 every year who would be empowered to stimulate the economy and create no less than 120,000 jobs. The initiative will be complemented with a vortex of skill acquisition programmes and funding that will allow them to function and be productive. This is a realistic way of shrinking the unemployment pool and growing the private sector.
His plan to establish an Enterprise Development Fund, seeded with five billion naira annually to provide collateral-free, single-digit loans to SMEs, can hardly be faulted, neither his proposal to restructure and recapitalise AKICORP with N50 billion and use it as a vehicle to attract investment into the state.
An aspect of the plan that shows him as a leader with foresight is his plan to diversify the state’s economy to make it less susceptible to the pitfalls of petrodollar economy. Using a slew of agricultural initiatives as a job-creation vehicle that engages young people is at the same time “killing two birds with one stone” as the initiative will be driving the state towards self-sufficiency in food production.
One of such initiatives is the Graduate Farmers Scheme that will promote the participation of 500 youths from each of the 31 local government areas. The scheme is conceived to engage an average of 15,500 individual every year as farmers and extension agents. And to demonstrate leadership by example, the government will lead the way by setting up three model Songhai Farms in the state while the launch of Community Farming Initiatives (CFIs) in three key areas of fishing development, food crop production and cash crop development will complete an elaborate agricultural plan.
A particular objective is to make Akwa Ibom a top rice-growing state in Nigeria and a state with massive oil palm production.
And with a Commodities Trading Cooperatives (CTC) “to promote and manage trades in export commodities like palm produce, rubber, cassava value chain, rice and aquaculture,” Akwa Ibom will be armed with an armada of agricultural plan that will ensure its economic future.
Ekere is not attempting to reinvent the wheel; as shown by his plan for resuscitating the economy, he has simply tweaked a tested blueprint that produced results for the Asian tigers.
The economic plan he unveiled has a human face,his promise to address all outstanding pensions, gratuities, local government workers’ salaries, primary school teacher’s entitlements and allowances.
In totality, the action plans of his agenda are pragmatic and are designed to drive growth and opportunities in a way that address the state’s critical economic challenges.
Can Ekere deliver the goods? He has a track record. Upon his appointment in 2016 as Managing Director of nddc, he took over a commission that seemed to be jinxed with mediocrity. The 4-Rs Strategy he conceived worked like a magic wand and in two years, everyone agreed the NDDC had never been that effective. It won him public accolades and a back-to-back garlands of The Sun and Daily Telegraph Public Service Awards in 2017 and 2018.
His agenda is a workable roadmap for the economic prosperity of Akwa Ibom State. AKWA DESERVES THE BEST!
Hon Eyiboh, erstwhile spokesperson of the House of Representatives, is current Chairman, Cross River Basin Development Authority.