By Harris-Okon Emmanuel
Sir Charles Udoh is Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information. In this interview, he talks about Governor Udom Emmanuel’s agenda in the next four years, government’s efforts at actualizing the Ibom Deep-Sea Port and the aviation industry, among other issues. Excerpts…
What were the major achievements that helped the governor to be re-elected for another four years?
The book ‘Touching Life’ has encapsulated the achievements of Udom Emmanuel in the last four years. The margin of victory, the commitment and dedication of Akwa Ibom people bore testimony to the humongous strides of Emmanuel. It is unprecedented that one governor in just four years would attract 16 industries. It is unprecedented that one governor in just four years would construct 1,700 kilometres of roads. It is also unprecedented that one governor in just four years would have almost all the general hospitals fixed. So, this clearly bears testimony to the achievements of Emmanuel. Akwa Ibom unanimously returned the governor to office. These are clear testimonies.
Was the election really about him or the party that he represented?
The party and the person are the same. You would also realize that if the party had chosen a wrong candidate, the party would be at risk. For the first time in the history of Akwa Ibom politics, the governorship candidate was unopposed and unanimously adopted across board and no other person showed interest in the party. That shows that everybody had deep confidence in the ability of the governor. Everybody had maximum satisfaction in his achievements. Everybody was pleased with his milestones and strategies.
Talking about milestones, many people are saying that the governor is not celebrating the achievements you have enumerated. What is your ministry doing to highlight these achievements?
The governor has said severally that he is here on a cause and not for accolades and he is more focused on delivering dividends of democracy and not on a circus show. That is why the governor has remained grounded, focusing on delivering dividends of democracy and not going on applause jamboree. And because the governor is a private sector person who is well exposed, vastly experienced in business development, he has learned and borrowed from best practices and has brought these to Akwa Ibom. In addition, we do not see those industries stalled in anyway because they are purely market forces driven.
A school of thought believes that for government to benefit extensively from the industries, there should be a clear stake-holding. What is your take on that?
Government’s interest is clear. The governor in 2015 promised job creation, wealth creation and poverty alleviation. The governor did not promise that in civil service and political circle. For you to drive those three points, you have to create an enabling environment, create industries. Government said, ‘look, when you bring in industries, you create employment within the community and, therefore, government interest is covered.
What about His Excellency’s agenda in the second term vis-à-vis the time and resources?
The Completion Agenda is an offshoot of the Five-Point Agenda. What we have done is just to expand it. You would also see that His Excellency believes in continuity. It is the first time in the history of Nigeria politics that you see a governor returning his entire Executive Council to continue with him in the second term. This clearly shows that the governor believes in the team and he wants to focus on developing Project Akwa Ibom to achieve result. The governor has also said repeatedly that no project started by his administration would be uncompleted. Therefore, we are poised to deliver dividends of democracy. This government is aware that time is against it. So, the governor is passionate about delivering on the Ibom Deep Sea Port and making Akwa Ibom a hub in aviation industry, among other things. The Completion Agenda consists of eight points. Ibom Air is clearly the toast of the aviation industry. We also talk about industrialization, rural and riverine area development, human capital development, security, infrastructure, and small and medium enterprises. This stems from the desire of government to harmonize everything it is doing and get result for the Akwa Ibom people. That is why we also said politics is over and let people forget about the myopic thinking along political, ethnic or religious lines. Let people think only of ‘Project Akwa Ibom’.
What is the governor doing to bring the opposition on board?
We are not going to bring everybody on board. We are not going to bring strange bedfellows into the plan. What government is saying is that wherever you are, play your role. We are saying, if we are bringing in investors, allow the investors to come and we will employ people irrespective of party affiliations.
Akwa Ibom people are anxiously awaiting the manifestation of Ibom Deep Sea Port, which is the signature project of this administration. How realistic is the project?
If it were within the control and scope of the state government, I would have given you a definite timeline. However, Ibom Deep Sea Port is a project that has the interest of the Nigerian Ports Authority, the approval and all that need to be done by the Federal Ministry of Transport. Realistically, there are 22 steps involved in getting the approval and, as we speak, we have gotten to 20 with only two steps left. We have the preferred investor and one of the biggest port managing companies in the world. We are confident and that is why this government has created the Ministry of Economic Development and Ibom Deep Sea Port. Just like what we have done with the Ibom Air, the process of Ibom Air started in October last year and it is unprecedented that by March, Ibom Air became a reality.
The youngest aircraft flying the Nigerian commercial airspace does so with 21-year-old aircraft, but Ibom Air has entered the market with aircraft that are 6-year-old, almost brand new. If you are familiar with the aviation industry, if you buy new aircraft, you are giving five years warranty period; so those aircraft are only in their first year out of their warranty period. This means that we have almost brand new aircraft in our hands. Beyond setting the standard in terms of age and quality of the aircraft, we are also taking into cognizance the fact that one of the drawback in the Nigeria aviation industry was that many people went for jumbo jets despite the attendant cost of maintenance and all that. But ours are newer, breakdown is not frequent and you can easily break even. As a government, we are breaking new grounds.
We are bringing in this airline to redefine standard. And people would ask, what is government interest in managing airline? And I would say that British Airways, Emirates have huge governments’ interests. The economy of Ethiopia is driven largely by the Ethiopian Airline. The same with Kenyan’s Airways, which is driven by government. Also, the Singapore Airline and I can go on and on. Something tells us that for these governments to have the huge interest, it means there is something significant, it means the profitable level is encouraging and so we jumped into it.
There is speculation that deep politics is involved in the actualization of the port project?
As we speak, there is no deep-sea port in Nigeria that has gone as far as Ibom Deep Sea Port and no deep-sea port in Nigeria can start before Ibom Deep Sea Port. None of them has gone to ten points. And we are at the 20th level and you know how long it took us to get there. It took us four years. They have also studied the scenario. Businesspersons in South-West and South-East know that it is a nightmare going to Apapa, going to Tin Can Island.
So, Ibom Deep Sea Port along the coast of West Africa, Central Africa is going to be the only deep-sea port with dual channels which means that you can process two ships at the same time. Lagos has single channel. All other ports have single channels. Beyond that, they are also taking cognizance of the problem of Apapa and that is why we are having Ikot Abasi jetty, designed to take care of smaller ships, because it is within the same proximity. That is why we are making that area an industrial city. We have studied the management of ports in Nigeria and let me tell you, if it was not politics, this would have become a reality a long time ago.