By Charles Udoh
When in 2015, Akwa Ibom had a new helmsman, many were sceptical of what a political greenhorn had to offer.
They argued that there was a gulf between being a high flyer in the corporate world and surviving in the turbulence of the political arena.
But Mr. Udom Emmanuel went about his duties as the captain of “Team Akwa Ibom” with an ecclesiastical devotion. He outlined a 5-point agenda as his key performance indicators and also initiated the reawakening of the spirit of enterprise in the indigenes.
His 5-point agenda encapsulated job creation, poverty alleviation, wealth creation, political and economic inclusion as well as infrastructural consolidation and expansion. To actualize this well thought-out agenda, he casted the foundation on a tripod of goals namely: Industrialization, Tourism and Agriculture.Fast-forward to four years later, Udom Emmanuel has an encyclopaedic volume of achievements to show on his scorecard. From basic and everyday home needs to commercially viable products, the governor has actualized his industrialization agenda with cold-blooded verve.
From a zero position in industrialization in 2015, the state has over 16 industries across various economic sectors. This feat is remarkable given the monumental failure of similar ventures in the past across Nigeria.As pedestrian as a tooth pick and pencil industry may sound or appear, the naked reality is that there is a toothpick and a pencil in every home of the almost 200m Nigerian same as every foreigner resident in the country. These items have mostly been imported since independence with attendant flight of scarce foreign exchange.
Earlier this year, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Audu Ogbeh, while defending the ministry’s budget before the National Assembly Joint Committee on Agriculture lamented that the importation of “Toothpick every year costs the country 18 million US Dollars, tomato paste costs the country 400 million US Dollars”. While the nation is wailing and engaging in the game of trading blames, the Akwa Ibom State Government had quietly commenced the process of addressing the obnoxious trend by setting up a toothpick factory. The factory, which is in its third year of operations, has taken advantage of the natural endowment of the state; that allows bamboo to thrive unaided, to use this readily available plant as its main raw material.
The minister also mentioned the humongous foreign exchange that leaves the shores of the country in search of tomato paste. This admission leaves a sour taste in the mouth especially when we consider that by geographical location, Nigeria is blessed with year round arable vegetation and climatic conditions to allow for commercial cultivation of tomatoes and ultimately production of tomato paste. Sadly this had become a blind spot in our economic agenda but the agriculture and food sufficiency agenda of the Akwa Ibom State Government; since 2015, has opened new vistas in this area. From the greenhouses for cultivation of high quality vegetable to the numerous sprawling farms of the Akwa Ibom Employment and Enterprise Scheme (AKEES) littering every nook and cranny of the state, the agricultural revolution has lifted the state from being a consumer state to becoming potentially Nigeria’s emerging food basket. The state has become self sufficient in the production of tomato and other staple food stuff; with its sights set at commencing local production of tomato paste in commercial quantity.
Our national population consumes a whooping six (6) billion syringes per annum with an approximate annual expenditure of over $30m on importation of this essential commodity. For some unexplainable reasons the African continent had gone to sleep becoming oblivious of this potential cash cow. Only one major syringe factory was reported to be in the African continent before the Jubilee syringe factory was commissioned in Akwa Ibom State in 2017. With an annual production capacity of 400m syringes per annum, the factory dwarfs the 95m syringes per annum production capacity of the only other known syringe factory in Africa. The Jubilee Syringe factory currently has a proactive expandable provision to increase its production capacity to one billion (1bn) syringes per annum without putting up additional structures.
It is a well-known fact that the Federal Government in a spirited bid to address the hiccups in electricity distribution in the country had initiated a process of replacing post electric metering system with a pre-paid metering system. However, this noble idea seemed to have been heading towards extinction because of the prohibitive costs of importation of pre-paid meters especially against the backdrop of an epileptic foreign exchange regime in the country.
But through the efforts of the Akwa Ibom State government, there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. The commencement of operations of the Electric Metering Solutions Factory in Akwa Ibom state in 2017, cleared the path for the acceleration of the pre-paid metering implementation exercise in Nigeria. In the words of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo during the commissioning of the Metering solution factory a little over two Septembers ago,“This is an excellent innovation, again it ties into some of what the Akwa Ibom state government is already doing; you already have a generating capacity in the order of 155/153 megawatts of power which means very soon, practically everyone in Akwa Ibom state should have power”. Indeed, the government of Akwa Ibom Sate is committed to ensuring sustained round the clock power supply in the state, even though the government efforts are not being helped by the ability of the Transmission Company of Nigeria to evacuate only 40% of power generated by Ibom power plant
From Rice, fertilizer, pencils, paint and even plastics, our national economy has perpetually taken a bashing from foreign exchange flight in pursuit of these items in the international market. In the first quarter of 2016, Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology Ogbonnaya Onu projected that Nigeria will start producing pencils by the year 2018. The pencil production plant was to be the first of its kind in West Africa. But Akwa Ibom State had gone ahead to beat the national projection by 1 year.Every home, office, and school in Nigeria today has need for pencils, unfortunately, it remained another item of foreign exchange flight until the doors of the pencil factory in the state swung open using recycled newspapers as one of the main raw materials.
In fulfilment of his commitment to aggressive industrialisation, Governor Udom Emmanuel made a clear statement of intent in his first 100 days in office by resuscitating the Ibom Paints Ltd (formerly Peacock Paints Ltd) that had gone into receivership within. Other notable strides in industrialisation include the Fertilizer Blending Factory in Abak, Rice Mill in Ini, Palm Kernel Crushing Plant in Ibesikpo Asutan and Ukanafun, the Plastic Manufacturing Factory in Itam, and numerous Palm Oil Processing Plants. The Flour Mill and Coconut Refinery have both reached advanced stages of completion.
As the dawn of a second term in office approaches, the Governor; whose landslide victory at the just concluded polls upset the applecarts, is doubly determined to up the tempo of industrial revolution in the state. As we speak, Ibom Air; the state government owned airline is taxing; ready revolutionise the airline industry in Nigeria while the Ibom Deep Sea Port Project is firmly on course. Indeed in the space of four years, Akwa Ibom State has metamorphosed from being a geographical end point to being a preferred destination for investors and tourists in Nigeria. It is safe to say that Governor Udom Emmanuel has redefined governance and taken sustainable development beyond the realms of political pyrotechnics that seemed to be the norm since the advent of democracy in Nigeria.
The next four years promise to probably be the most prosperous years of the only State in the world named after God. It is not just about fanfare or myopic pursuit of selfish interest as typified by the proponents of “Warsaw saw war” and his cohorts but a well oiled economic development machine with a well crafted plan. The Governor is set to implement a comprehensive developmental blueprint; aptly christened the completion agenda, which forms the basis of his social contract with the citizens. In the Completion Agenda; Industrialisation, Agriculture and Infrastructural development will continue to remain on the driver’s seat. Other key areas of focus are Aviation development, Rural Riverine Area Development, Small and Medium Scale Enterprise, Security and Human Capacity Development.
Charles Udoh, is the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Akwa Ibom State