Udom Emmanuel’s New Drive to Reshape Akwa Ibom

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Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel inherited a largely Civil Service State despite being one of the major oil producing states in Nigeria but he is already creating a new image for the state in terms of drive for private sector investments, writes Olaoluwakitan Babatunde

Since the return of Nigeria to civil rule in 1999, the successive administration in Akwa Ibom State, had worked to improve the level of infrastructure in the hydro-carbon rich state to attract private sector investment. While much has been done in area of physical infrastructural development, the state is still a far cry from hitting the target in getting the much-desired private sector-led economy.

However, the dream of former Governors Victor Attah and Godswill Akpabio is finding actualization with Governor Udom Emmanuel whose administration in the last two years has worked to give a new drive and impetus to give the state a new character different from being a sleepy civil service state.

Development in Akwa Ibom under Emmanuel is integrated to deliver sustainable economic growth, where the private sector will play a leading role and create massive employment opportunities for the youth through massive industrialization especially through manufacturing, agriculture and agro-allied and service businesses.

Coming from the banking sector where he was an Executive Director at Zenith Bank before he ventured into public service, Emmanuel recognized that he must continue with the expansion of infrastructural projects which his predecessor started especially roads to connect the entire state and for easy movement of people and goods. In this wise, his administration has, in the first half of his first tenure, constructed over 700 kilometres of roads across the state with 17 bridges to connect communities whilst boosting trade and commerce.

With the upsurge of economic activities in the state/inflow of local and international investors into the state with the attendant increase in commercial flights to Uyo by local airlines and Executive jets, the Emmanuel-led administration is neck deep in the completion of a second runway at the Ibom Airport for ease of landing and take-off of aircrafts.

In 2016 and the first half of 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics rated Akwa Ibom as the second best state for high inflow of Foreign Direct Investment due to the deliberate policy of the government to open up the state for private sector with business friendly fiscal policies, incentives and ease of doing business in the state which allow fast approvals to land titles and other government related approvals.

Vice President Osinbajo recently in a state to commission major factories among which are the largest Syringe Factory in Africa that will produce 400 million syringes per annum with a future capacity to produce 1 billion in a year. Nigeria as a country currently imports all syringes. The country will save money and foreign exchange that go into importation of syringe with the new factory in Akwa Ibom now running.

The state government also attracted an Electric Meter producing company which was also commissioned by the Vice President during his 2-day visit. In the two years of Udom Emmanuel, the government revived the state-owned Peacock Paint Factory and started a cottage industry to produce pencil and toothpicks. It was something that should make any Nigeria citizen sad that as a country, no company was producing pencil in Nigeria and toothpicks until Akwa Ibom state ventured into it in partnership with the private sector.

As part of the private sector-led investment drive of the government, an investor is embarking on a multi-billion naira Coconut Refinery project in the state which will soon be commissioned with a capacity to employ more than 5000 people directly and indirectly. As part of the agricultural value-chain and backward integration to service the Coconut Refinery with raw input from local farmers, the state had embarked on the cultivation of 11,000 hectares of Coconut Plantation.

To also diversify the economy of the state to wean Nigeria from reliance on oil, the Akwa Ibom State Government has also registered 4,920 rice farmers in the state who are producing rice for local consumption and sales to other party of Nigeria and the West Coast. The state is also boosting its comparative advantage in growing Cassava with the cultivation of at least 1,450 hectares of Cassava Plantation in 5 local governments. Animal production and husbandry is also part of the overall agricultural policy of the Udom Emmanuel led-administration.

To date, the state has Akwa Prime Hatchery that produces 10,000 day old chickens per week and the government is also working with the Carlos Farms, a Mexican group that is investing in massive commercial farms – both crops and animal production in Nigeria to develop ranches for Cow Production and processing of Cow Milk for diary companies.

For Cocoa production, the state has also trained 450 youths in new methods of planting cocoa and other extension services to cocoa farmers in the state.

Beyond the expansion of road networks and the Ibom Airport, the state government is working with the private sector to develop the Ibom Deep Seaport on 2,565 hectares of land as part of the 14,000 hectares Ibom Industrial City. The Deep Sea Port is designed to process 9 million containers in a year and integrated into the Ibom Industrial City Plan designed to cater for Seaport need of the business people from the South-South, South-East and the North Eastern parts of Nigeria.

Speaking on the drive to boost private business presence in the state, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh, who also came from the banking sector to serve the state, noted that after 16 years of investment in critical infrastructure that will drive and support private enterprise, the vision of Udom Emmanuel as a Governor is to integrate a new template that would ensure big businesses come to Akwa Ibom to maximize the huge investment made by the state in infrastructural development.

According to the Commissioner, it is only the private sector that can create the economic and social opportunities that the people, especially, the youths want to move up in life and have a better life adding that government can only act as an enabler by providing the conducive atmosphere for businesses to strive and thrive.

“The government has invested in roads, security, healthcare and also boosting manpower, but the previous governments and Governor Emmanuel didn’t just spend huge money to provide infrastructure for the sake of just spending money. The investments in infrastructure were made with an expected end in mind. Governor Emmanuel recognized those critical infrastructures are needed to power and create a new economy outside the civil service for the state. No investor will come when the roads are not good, the healthcare delivery system is poor, security etc. They will come when the supporting infrastructure and social services to help their businesses to grow and profitable are in place. Now that we have good infrastructure, the Governor, a private sector man himself believes that the state and people can only enjoy shared opportunities, prosperity and inclusive growth when businesses- small, medium and big come to the state.

“The Governor, working with his team, identified massive industrialization as the only way to employ thousands of youths in the State. He is changing the character of the state and he is investing in the required hard work. In two years, the people of Akwa-Ibom have seen the benefits of private sector coming to invest in the state. The jobs are coming that are not civil service. Akwa Ibom people are now beginning to know they can work without looking for government jobs.

“The Government is creating employment in agriculture, supporting SMEs, where we have given out over N2 billion to beneficiaries to improve on their businesses. It is a journey and a revolution the Governor is leading and we are convinced with better commitment and strong fidelity to the vision the current administration with the support and goodwill within and outside the state will change the economic fortunes of the state with a private sector-led economy,” the Commissioner stated.

Mr. Udoh also noted that the state was open for business for local and international investors and listed areas where the government is willing to partner with the private sector to get the state to grow in a sustainable way.

The projects where the state government still seeks private sector investments include the $150 million MRO Hanger at the Ibom Airport where aircraft can be maintained and serviced; a $600 million Fertilizer Plant; a $350 million Flour Mill; a $250 million Steel Plant; a $150 million Ceramic Factory; a $350 million Tyre producing factory; a $750 million Power Plant to produce 500 megawatts of electricity; a $30 million office complex and a $1 billion Free Trade Complex.

 “We want to change the narrative for our people such that in the next 10 to 20 years, the whole social and economic landscape of the state would have changed and our young people will no longer think of government jobs as their first call. As leading oil producing state in Nigeria, Mobil and many of the oil servicing companies and other smaller operators do not have their head offices in our state. There is no purpose built and multi-storey office building in Akwa-Ibom State that these companies can rent for offices. You can imagine an investor coming to build office complex in Uyo. Such investor will make very good money on leases from the private companies that will take office spaces. Akwa Ibom is green and a great state for investment,” Udoh said.