Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh spoke with Jonathan Eze on how Governor Emmanuel Udom is diversifying the state’s economy with special a focus on Industry and agriculture. Excerpts:
Akwa Ibom State government is attaching so much importance to agriculture and building industries. Is that the focus of the administration?
The Akwa Ibom state government has been pursuing a goal of ensuring that the state becomes the next industrial hub in Nigeria and for the state to become the preferred destination in terms of tourism. If we add agriculture to that, we have a dream of ensuring that at some point, the state becomes an agricultural hub. Therefore, we focus mainly on driving these initiatives.
You will recall that when we took over office, the governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Emmanuel Udom introduced a five-point agenda, which talked about poverty alleviation, job creation, wealth/economic empowerment, political inclusion, infrastructural consolidation and expansion.
All these are geared towards ensuring that we diversify the state economy from its originally public sector driven economy to private sector driven economy. Therefore, everything we have done in the last 24 months is geared towards realising these goals.
What are the attractions or what has the state been promising investors that is making them prefer or see it as choice destination?
We have and still creating an enabling environment which is investor friendly. Also, we are building infrastructure. In 24 months, we have built 700 kilometers of roads and people are asking us why we are focused on building only roads, our response to them is that if we succeed in the dream of industrialsation, we need good roads.
Today, we are looking at Ikot-Abasi as the industrial hub of the state. It has a single carriage road, if we donâ€™t make it dual carriage way and start the industrial dream in that locality, itâ€™s going to be chaotic. So we are doing everything to create an enabling environment to realise that industrialisation dream.
Again, people have been asking why we are spending so much resources building a second runway at the airport, our response to them is that, look, few months ago, we all woke up to the reality that Abuja airport needed to be closed to overhaul its runway for improved service delivery. Now if we look at our state, we are surrounded by few states and the road linking Akwa Ibom State to these states are federal roads which are in deplorable conditions. Therefore, if the airport in Uyo is shut down, it will adversely affect the economic life of people in the state as a result we are spending that huge sum.
We also believe that to bring down food prices, agriculture is the way to go. By simply applying the basic law of demand and supply, agriculture is the way to go. Years ago, Nigeria was an agricultural driven economy. However, with the advent of oil meant that people abandoned the farms and went in search of white collar jobs. What has happened is that the agricultural sector has suffered greatly and over the years, the prices of food stuff have continuously been on the rise. Now nobody can build a sustainable economy with that kind of vision. So today in Akwa Ibom state, we are driving agriculture; industrialisation and we are driving towards making the state the preferred tourist destination. Not just the generalised tourism but we are focusing on different sectors of tourism.
We can say proudly say that we are experiencing educational tourism. What do I mean by that? Akwa Ibom State is one of the states where basic education is free and compulsory in primary and secondary schools? The state is also probably one of the few states, which pays WAEC Enrolment fees for its indigenes. The state spends N600 million yearly. We believe the future is in educating people especially the young ones, therefore we are providing them with the academic environment. We also discovered that if you train your children and you abandon your neighboursâ€™ kids, they will turn out to be problems to them. So now we are having inflow of children from neighboring states and weâ€™re training them too.
Apart from factors you have discussed, are there other attractions?
What attracts investor is that first the investor must have confidence in your integrity. Second, the investor should see the transparency and accountability in you. If you look at the state governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, he is someone who has an impeccable track record in the financial service industry and rose to the top. He has interacted with the top players in the world economy and they have built that mutually beneficial relationship which has translated into transparency and integrity. He has brought that to the public sector by ensuring that he is running a transparent and accountable government with integrity as the focus.
This is the first time in Akwa Ibom that state budget is been published online for people to look at. When you have that type of leadership, people will be willing in coming to do business with you. The things that attract investors are basic infrastructures, good road network and transparency.
But note that we are not just building roads. We are building economy roads which will connect all the economic nerve centres of the state. From Agriculture we are trying to apply the basic laws of demand and supply to ensure that we drive down the prices of food stuffs, now if the farmers in those localities were given free seedlings, fertilizers, if those farm produce are ready and there is no access road to evacuate them, they will go bad. This is why we are providing the access road to evacuate those products and services to where they can be harnessed and used.
We also know that the dream of industrialisation is being impacted by good network. Why do you need an industrial city? because of the huge cost of creating infrastructure from power to water to everything you need to take advantage of the share services? If you aggregate all these within an area, it means that you can have one power substation that meets everybodyâ€™s needs, and one sewage plants serving everyone. It is cheaper to secure in an environment you have all these. With things we have done, it encourages people to know that there are prospects. Beyond that, investors still show interest.
Tell us about the state industrialisation project?
Today, we are building Africaâ€™s biggest syringe factory. That is not Akwa Ibom state project; we attracted investors who brought in finances 100 per cent. The only participation that the state government has is the provision of land free. Therefore, we are telling investors who have viable projects to come because we will provide the enabling environment free with security. Few weeks ago, the Commissioner of Police made a statement that from police record Akwa Ibom State is one of the safest states in Nigeria in terms of crime rate. He also added to the fact that the national bureau of statistic recently published a report that Akwa Ibom state is the second state to attract foreign direct investments into Nigeria behind Lagos State.
For me, we are number 1 because Lagos state is in a league of its own. We have between four to five factories that are springing up. The syringe factory is one of them. The Electric Meter Production Company is ongoing now, in another few months that should also be ready for commissioning. Remember that in May, we also inaugurated the Flour Mill and the Coconut Refinery. We also have the tooth picks and pencil industries functioning. Today, we supply two states of the federation pencils. The interesting thing about the pencils we produce is that we are not degrading the environment, we are using old (recycled) newspapers to produce pencils in order reduce production waste.
Therefore, a vendor who doesnâ€™t finish his sales for the day has where to sell it. For those of us who have piles of old newspapers in our homes, they have where to sell it. Consequently, the value chain is enormous. You realise that if you link that to the five point agenda, all these are lined up to ensure that we diversify the economy of the state from the public sector orientation to a private sector driven economy.
Today, we have the best Hospital in Nigeria. Our dream is to come with the best Hospital in the World. We are the best in Nigeria in terms of facility and equipment, but we donâ€™t want to stop there. Our original plan is to compete with the best in the world. We want to stop Nigerians from going to India and other places, instead come to the state seeking for advanced medical treatment because it will be cheaper for an average Nigerian. Thatâ€™s the direction we are heading to. We are also focused on the deep seaport. When all these achievements are put together, the state will be the number 1 industrial hub in Nigeria.
How can government make agriculture attractive to youths?
In the state, we have over 4,000 registered rice farmers. In every part of the state, you will see farm springing up so much that people are beginning to go back to that consciousness. What we do on our part to encourage people is that we give out free seedlings and fertilizers. Now, we also encourage people to go back to farmland because people have realised that if we donâ€™t go back to farm, we cannot force down the prices of food stuffs, for instance garri. Today, we have over 800,000 hectares of cassava plantation cutting across 16 Local Government Areas. We are also setting cassava processing plants all over the place. When you have all these put in place it will cut the price of garri in the market because the forces of demand and supply will come into play. Therefore, these are the things government has put in place to make sure that agriculture becomes the economic mainstay of the state.
What is your take on the executive bill on ease of doing business signed by the federal government?
If the bill will create the enabling environment and match word with actions, it means the future is bright for the entrepreneur. It also means that those in business can then raise the standard of their business to compete with the rest of the world. Therefore, if words are matched with action, it will be good for us as a nation.
How will you appraise this administration so far?
The governor has worked beyond his promises. He came into power committed to run the government based on his five point agenda. If you check his five point agenda, you will notice that he has made bold steps towards keeping those five point agenda. We are running a government that is all inclusive. This is why people from the other side of the divide are applauding the efforts of this administration.