*What we demand from FG to make Nigeria great
Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom state earlier in the week, played guest to Brekete Tv, an audience participation platform, established by media personality, Ahmed Isa, where he fielded questions featuring his stewardship in the past six and a half years, challenges of governance at the state level amongst others. Excerpts!
By Dirisu Yakubu
Is it right to say you are a minority from the minorities?
I am from Awa Iman village in Akwa Ibom state. You can’t even find it on the map even if you search for it. If you search for the local government which is Onna, and the reason you will find it is because what brings money for Nigeria is found there. As an ordinary citizen, I struggled so hard. I went to a small school and that is why I came here to connect with ordinary people, to tell them that I was not born with everything. Growing up, if you have garri, you drink and if you find menial jobs you will do it, hoping that tomorrow will be better; so that was how we struggled and got to where we are today.
The whites will say behind every glory there is a story. If you don’t have story, you won’t have glory. That glory won’t last for long because it doesn’t have a story and if you don’t have story, it means you don’t have principles in life and you will be somebody that anything that comes your way, you will just take hold of it and you will miss your way. So that is how we walked to where we are today.
Tell us a bit about your stewardship so far? What do you intend to do more before quitting office as governor?
To be successful, you must first of all have a plan. You will also discover that in this part of the world, even if people want to go for a meeting, they will just wake up and be on their way. No plan, nothing at all! But before we came into government, we sat with our people during the transition period after we had won the election and during the campaign, we went round the whole local governments, every ward, everywhere. We understood the problem village by village, ward by ward; all the places we went to, we had to check.
And so when we came back, we sat down and we started looking at what we could do and that was how we were able to just begin certain things. And we also understood the challenges of our people, and that was why we said that other governors had tried their best; but we were going to do something different. That was how we started building small factories to cater for the needs of our people. In the area of roads, there is no local government among the 31 that we have where you will not see our signature roads. We then started what we call dualized interlink among the Senatorial districts. We linked Uyo to Ikot Ekpene and linked it up with the Atlantic Ocean.
On level of industrialization
Industrialization cannot just drop from heaven. You must put something on ground, plan and even if when you plan, there is what is called execution because once you plan and you don’t execute, there is going to be problem. The problem we have in this part of Africa is that every day we are in conference room, seminars speaking grammar; all those things we talked about, if we can put them into practice and execute 50 per cent, we will go far.
I discovered that my predecessors started airport and I said to make sure that people used this airport, if there is a problem, let them come and land on our runway. First thing to do was to upgrade the runway to category two. Now, let me explain!
During harmattan, you couldn’t land because there was bad weather in that area but if I upgrade it, in the morning if you have business to do, if you have conference, you will bring it to Akwa Ibom because you know that you can land easily. So we upgraded the runway.
Then we look at the airport, that it was beautiful but we didn’t have taxiway. So we began to do taxiway which we will complete. Let me tell you how it works. When a plane lands, if you don’t have this taxiway, the plane must go and turn on that single run way and then comes back; so other planes must wait for the plane before other planes can use the runway. But with what we have done, when a plane lands, you can now enter the taxiway to where we call apron to park; so we are constructing that one and it will be completed this year.
And then we discovered that the buildings at the airport could only process little number of passengers, we started building a bigger building, one that can process one million passengers every year.
And this airport is sure to generate businesses, create jobs and make Akwa Ibom a tourism destination?
Yes. The building is being constructed, and by the end of the year, it will be completed. Then we said in the whole of Africa, if a plane has a problem, they take it to Europe to repair. Our former Governor Victor Attah wanted to do MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) for aeroplanes. We took it from there
If we must do these three gate ways that will bring about industrialization, we must also make sure that all the planes in West Africa can come to Akwa Ibom for MRO. . If you see the level of work that has been done, you will see that there is high hope that by September this year, that place will be operational.
If you bring aeroplanes there for repair, you won’t pay in naira but in dollars and by so doing, the state will be earning foreign exchange. So from there, things that I want to bring into Nigeria with foreign exchange, I will just pay for them and earn money.
People that come to repair their planes will need hotels, local dishes and by so doing, I will introduce the dishes of Akwa Ibom to everywhere in the world because everywhere you enter, students who are schooling across the world, anywhere they enter they always ask for Chinese restaurant because that is where they will get rice to eat but meanwhile the food in Akwa Ibom is better than those ones. There is no vegetable that can cure everything on earth that you cannot get in Akwa Ibom. One vegetable in Akwa Ibom can cure diseases.
The best of them all is that if you cannot come to do business in Akwa Ibom in the morning, go back to Kano, Sokoto, Abuja or Lagos in the evening, a lot of people won’t agree to come and that would be a challenge.
We didn’t have the money because airline is about dollars but I said no that the problem we have in this part of the world is that we are always looking for cash but cash is different from money. Cash is a type of money but money is bigger than cash. People said how can we achieve this? Nigeria Airways is no longer in existence, this and that airways are not in existence but I said no, those ones may not be there but ours will be here. So let’s do our own called Ibom Air. And that is how we went, sat down and started thinking on how to do Ibom Air, we didn’t have cash but we could think.
So when we started that way, we went and signed an agreement and we did certain things I can’t divulge, and we got two CRJ900 and we came back to Nigeria. We called the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA to inform them that we bought brand new planes, give us license. That was how we started and before you knew it, we got five planes.
There were these persons that bought a factory where aeroplanes are manufactured in Canada called Airbus, that we could talk to but before you could talk to them, they will ask for your profile. I said you know me, this is my name. So they said its okay. Since you don’t have money, we can sign an agreement and they gave us two brand new Airbuses called A20200 series. We added it to the five and they became seven.
On the planned deep sea port in the state
If the federal government can give us a little help, it will benefit the whole country. Ask me how they can support us. I don’t want money but if the federal government can come out and say look, go and look for investors to help you with this deep sea port, we will give you sovereign guarantee because it will benefit everyone in Nigeria, then they give us that sovereign guarantee; we will hit the ground running.
For you to import an item to Lagos, before it gets to Sokoto or Maiduguri it will take you an average of 63 days. If you look at the working capital cycle of those that manufacture things, it is not up to that. So the federal government should look at the deep sea port beyond Akwa Ibom state.
Beside aviation, what else?
We are producing flour now. After this, we started thinking medicals which take a lot of foreign exchange in our country annually. Today, we produce syringes in Akwa Ibom state. We discovered that Nigeria consumes 6 billion syringes every year and that was an eye opener for us. Today, when you hear about the best syringe factory in Nigeria, you can quote me anywhere and you can ask any medical doctor about the best syringe in Nigeria now, it is called Jubilee syringe. It is made in Akwa Ibom. So from there, we want to start doing other little consumables for hospitals because we are looking at the healthcare sub-sector.
It was as if we knew COVID-19 would emerge, all those items that we imported at the emergence of COVID we already had them. When you see the Intensive Care Unit, ICU that we built, you would think that we foresaw COVID. When COVID, came people started asking what I would do as the governor of the state? I said this COVID that we are seeing, some people predicted that it would last for only three months, I am not a virologist but using my reasoning, it would not last for only three months.
So when people were building morgues calling them isolation centres, I called my people and told them that we didn’t have money. In few weeks, we built one isolation centre.
The population of Nigeria is said to be 200 million, how did we get there? Akwa Ibom alone is 7.2 million; so we started thinking about education. We said how we can we help ordinary citizens, people at the grassroots? We started free and compulsory education at basic level from primary to secondary school.
So we said you can finish the school but your parents may not be able to afford registering you to sit for the West African Examination Council, WAEC, so we said we would pay for WAEC for those in public schools.
We are desirous of re-organising our education system, to make it solution-centred. Before now in the area of youths and sports, we only heard our people playing in other big clubs in other places and I said no, we too we can form our own club; we are the only state now in Nigeria that has two clubs in the Nigerian Premier League, Akwa United and Dakada Football Clubs.
And for the first time since the creation of the state, it is now we are re-organising sports in such a way. This season that just ended we won the Nigerian football league. Within this period that we have re-organised sports, we have won FA Cup twice within three years. All members of the team that won this competition are now being sought after by foreign clubs.
Motivation produces result
When we expose our people like that, instead of them to sit back at the village causing trouble, they are going about engaging in sports and before you know what is happening, you will hear about another Messi that is from Akwa Ibom because even after we have won the league, big clubs are approaching them and I am using it to generate little revenue and use it to run the clubs.
You must also realize that everybody cannot be a medical doctor because if everyone is a doctor and so on, when you want to relax, where will you see Akwa United to watch. There are some people that have been gifted by God that they should be playing football and they will earn huge sums of money. So that is why we are promoting youths and sports. Even the current commonwealth 200m champion is from Akwa Ibom, she is just 13years old.
Tell us about the challenge of governance at the state level
The main challenge we have as state governors now is that we don’t control policies; there are lots of things we could have done but because our hands are tied, we can’t do them. There are so many little things that we can do as state governors that will help us a little; so our major challenge in governance is that we don’t control policies. We have the one we call foreign direct investments and what is the work of those people? They are to bring investors to the state and for two times, we have been voted next to Lagos the state with the most foreign direct investment in this country.
Today, big ones are coming. We started from small ones, those big ones might not finish during my time but if you are a leader that doesn’t think only about himself, what you do during your term won’t matter to you because Akwa Ibom sits on 36.1 per cent of the oil and gas reserves of Nigeria but do you believe we don’t even have a depot? The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC is not in our place. No Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR and all that.
So what we are doing now is that we are pleading with people that are involved in petrochemicals, refinery, LNG, they are coming now. Some of them now are constructing roads and others things to the place where they want to do refineries and so on.