By John Olisa
Beyond the shiny street lights which chase darkness with unkind fierceness, bringing to the fore the immersive beauty of Uyo and lighting bulbs spluttered around homes in Eket, electricity plays a much bigger role: powers industries and empowers small businesses.
Governor Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom State understands this perfectly. So, he strategically placed rural electrification and provision of necessary infrastructure to improve power supply in the state at the heart of his eight point completion agenda.
Well, before now, the poor farmer in Mkpat Enin never knew that electricity played these primary roles because he had cherished it from afar and perhaps thought it was an exclusive preserve of the rich which would eventually not get to him while he lived. But with the massive rural electrification project and connection to the national grid by the Udom led administration, residents of Mkpat Enin and other parts of the state now have a first hand experience of what electricity does.
From far flung communities to industrial clusters, it’s been tales of surprise and hope, joy and gratitude. The decision of the current administration to invest so heavily in rural electrification and provision of adequate infrastructure for power supply to improve in the state is laced in the governor’s desire to make Akwa Ibom a state of reference in industrialisation and employment generation.
The pivot of this drive has been well captured in recent budgets of the state. In 2019, the governor presented a budget titled ‘Budget of Industrialization For Poverty Alleviation’ while the 2020 budget was the phase two of it christened ‘Budget of Industrialization For Poverty Alleviation, phase two’.
While presenting the 2020 budget to the state House of Assembly late last year, the governor emphasized that the “2020 budget is christened, Budget of Industrialization For Poverty Alleviation, phase 2, because my completion agenda is predicated primarily on the rapid industrialization of the state”. This, he has done so perfectly even during his first term in office.
Well, hardly anyone would be surprised given the background from which the governor came from as an accomplished investment banker who so clearly understands the nuances of investment and management, and most importantly, the primary place of small businesses in the economic development of any state or country.
So, when he approved the construction of a 2 x 5 MVA, 33/11 KV injector substation along Edet Akpan Avenue, Uyo, construction of Ibom International Airport’s 2 x 15 MVA injector sub-station, he had a bigger picture in mind. When the state secured license for the generation of 685 megawatt at Ibom Power Plant, Ikot Abasi, began the construction of Power Sub-Station at Ekim, Mkpat Enin, and the rehabilitation of PHED facility at Etim Ekpo, Mkpat Enin, Ikot Ekpene, Ikot Abasi Ekpu Village, as well as construction of 1x60MVA, 132/33KV transmission sub-station in Afaha Ube in Itu LGA, he knew electricity opens new doors and trajectories.
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These interventions speak volumes of the governor’s understanding of the interconnectivity of the sectors and the importance of providing the backbone for all sectors of the economy to thrive. Linking communities in the state which had, albeit, been in darkness to the national grid, has also been at the heart of the governor’s agenda, because he understands that about 96 million Nigerians live without electricity, according to World Bank data. And the state, being a trailblazer, has to do its quota to crash this grim figure. The launch, in 2019, of Power-for-All — an initiative of the state government which seeks to see that every home in the state has power supply by the end of 2021 — also speaks of the governor’s desire to for a better life for the people of Akwa Ibom.
With this backbone set, the governor began what many watchers have called a silent industrial revolution across the state.
As of the last count, of course, there are many more which are under construction, Governor Udom’s administration has brought to stream not less than 18 industries, which are currently producing consumables across the state. This is in tandem with his goal and commitment of ensuring that 80 per cent of consumable items used in the state would be produced therein before his administration winds down in 2023.
In this regard, the state is now the home of the largest Syringe manufacturing factory in Africa with a production capacity of 400 million syringes per annum, Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing (JSM). The firm has provided hundreds of direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs and is greatly tapping into the global syringe market expected to be worth over $1.64 billion by 2021 from a market value of $1.22 billion in 2016, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5.98 per cent. The best and first ever digital Electric Metering Solutions manufacturing company is now situated in Akwa Ibom State with a lot of direct and indirect jobs created for residents of the state. The firm has a production capacity of three million prepaid meters annually. The Lions Plywood and Timber factory at the moment is providing direct and indirect jobs to hundreds of young people in the state.
The Ibom Industrial City is another massive project the state government is carrying out. It is a part of the government’s long-term economic development strategy.
It will be a modern state of the art industrial city that fosters innovation and attracts global investment, harnessing its strategic location to become a national and regional industrial and economic hub.
The Udom led administration tends to use the project to attract international investors to develop industries and businesses. Its strategic location which provides a gateway
to southern and eastern Nigeria and other major cities along Africa’s western coast remains one of strengths.
The revolution is not sector-focused: it embraces all sectors in the state and the agricultural sector is not left out. The state has tapped into the agric sector which contributed approximately 22 per cent to Nigeria’s GDP as of first quarter (Q1) of 2020; the largest employer in Nigeria, employing more than 36 per cent of the labour force. The governor’s eyes were, no doubt, on the fact that Nigerians spent about N22.8 trillion on food items in 2019, representing more than half (56.7 per cent) of the total household expenditure of N40.2 trillion, with the aim of exploring the potential of revenue generation in this market.
And with the establishment of two huge rice mills — the Ibom Agricon Rice mill, producing the Family Rice and the SACAM Afro Processing Rice Mill, producing the Three Rose Rice, alongside the construction of 33 cassava micro-processing mills — the desired results have begun trickling in.
The State also boasts of the Greenwell Fertilizer blending company with a production capacity of 400,000 metric tons per annum. The firm produces assorted kinds of fertilizers for different soil types. The Kings Flour mill and the Ufani Palm Kernel Crushing Plant in Ukanafun are other firms that speak of the governor Udom-driven industrial revolution going on in Akwa Ibom State. Others include: the Plastic, Toothpick, Pencils and the Quality Ceramics and Tissue production factories in Itu. There is also the Ibom Industrial Park/Jetty at the Ikot Abasi coastal area of the state, Cassava processing mills in Abak and Ibesikpo-Asutan, oil palm processing depots, power and gas processing plant in Ibeno and the ongoing Ibom Deep Seaport. The $4.2billion seaport project will be a game changer not just for the state’s economy but for the country’s. With these, one can easily admit that Akwa Ibom stands tall as the emerging industrial hub of Nigeria.
There is also a massive Coconut Oil Factory in Mkpat Enin Local Government Area of the state. The factory has the capacity to generate about 1,500 direct jobs and indirect jobs of about the same figure for the people of the state. It is also expected to contribute about $200 million in IGR to the state. To ensure the smooth running of this factory and boost availability of raw materials for the refinery, the state government has set aside 11,000 hectares of coconut plantation. The plantation has about 2,000 stands of coconut trees planted, which will also generate employment.
Transportation systems play very important roles in the economic development of any state. Here’s why: without a good transportation system — especially roads, which are the most popular and most used in Nigeria — the movement of goods and humans which drive the economy would be hampered. For instance, a state with a poor road network would have farmers lose their farm products in hinterlands because of the inability to transport them to city centers were the major markets and buyers are. And those who eventually succeed in taking them to the markets would increase the prices to cover for the cost incurred during transportation. In the same vein, factories which should ordinarily be located close to their sources of raw materials would be discouraged to come to stream because they would end up incurring more cost while transporting the produced goods to their target markets.
Gladly, governor Udom has a good understanding of this dynamics and has since embarked on massive construction and rehabilitation of roads not just in Uyo but in hinterlands where residents had given up on the dream of having good roads. Residents of Esit Eket, Eket, Urue Offong Oruko and Okobo local governments who had never had good roads are now enjoying the magnanimity of Governor Udom’s commitment to seeing infrastructural development spread across all nooks and crannies of the state. Others, who governor Udom’s politics of inclusion has changed the narrative for, include: Ika, Ini, Ikono, Uruan, Obot Akara and Oruk Anam LGAs.
Just a few of the many roads include the 4.6km School of Arts and Science Road in Nung Ukim Ikono, the 14.1km Ikpe Ikot Nkon–Obot Mme–Arochukwu road. Others are the 19.3km Anua-Mbak Ishiet road in Uruan traversing Anua, Ifa Ikot Okpon, Mbak, Ikot Otoinye, Ekim Enen, Adadia, and Ishiet; the 4.0km Mbiatok – Ekritam – Mbiaya Uruan road; the 8.5km Nduetong – Oku Ibiaku Uruan – Ekritam road; the dual carriage 20km Ekom Iman – Etinan road traversing Ikot Oku Ikono – Asuna, Ishiet Erong, Etinan Urban to the roundabout by Etinan Institute; the 14.5km Uyo – Oron Road (Airport Road – Okopedi Oron – Oron Road by East West Road) cutting across Ekpene Ukim, Ikot Asua, Ikot Etieidung, Nung Atai Eta, and Okopedi Okobo in Nsit Atai and Okobo; the dualization of the 19.5km Eket-Ibeno road which opened up access from Marina Junction in Eket to Edebok, Esit Urua, Mkpanak and Ukpenekang villages; the 6.4km Nto Edino – Ekwere Azu Road linking Mbiaso and Nto Edino villages to Ekwere Azu, a border community of Abia State.
The governor also understands that roads are not enough, hence the heavy investment in Victor Attah International Airport. Currently, Akwa Ibom is the only state in Nigeria that owns a commercial airline — Ibom Air. A visit to the airline’s website shows the carrier is actively in operation, connecting the state via Uyo to other major cities like Lagos, Abuja, Enugu and Calabar.
Industrialisation and employment generation could be herculean tasks. However, Governor Udom has shown that with his love for humanity and commitment to see Akwa Ibom state transformed from a civil servant state to an economically viable state with little or no reliance on the revenue allocation from Abuja, it could be as easy as defeating his opponents at the polls.
Olisa wrote in from Abuja