Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Aviation Development and Special Duties, Mr. Akan Okon is one of the loyal and trusted lieutenants of Governor Udom Emmanuel, who is frequently moved around to accomplish seemingly tough tasks for the administration
Compared to your previous appointments in the Governor Udom Emmanuel administration, would you say your current assignment as Commissioner for Special Duties is more significant?
Before now I have served as Commissioner for Economic Development. I have also served as the Commissioner of Finance. I served as Commissioner for Housing and Special Duties, as well. Recently, His Excellency, because of his focus and ambition for the state, decided to have a Ministry of Aviation Development. I’m now overseeing the Ministry of Special Duties and Aviation Development. Special Duties is very wide. I believe that whatever office we find ourselves, we should do our best to ensure that we add value to governance, to add value to the way the dividend of democracy is delivered to the people. Under this ministry, I oversee some of the flagship projects for the government. There are many critical government projects. The Four Point by Sheraton Hotel is under the ministry. If you talk about aviation development, it’s the vision of the governor to ensure that the master plan of the Victor Attah International Airport is strictly adhered to, and that all the infrastructure that were planned for the airport are brought to fruition. Even the construction of the taxi way which also serves as a runway is completed. Our airport is over 12 years since it started operation and it has been run with generator, but I’m happy that today His Excellency has provided the needed support for the airport to have a power substation. This has been completed and it’s to be commissioned soon so that the airport can be efficiently run. Given that the airport has been approved by all the international aviation agencies, it has to be operational 24 hours every day, seven days every week and 365 days in one year. I believe that given the vision of the governor for the state, he believes that the various gateways to any city which can be by land, sea or air, should be able accessible. One should be able to access our states through the road and that’s why he’s ensuring that we have good and quality road network in the state. On assumption of office, he put in place the technical committee for the realisation of the seaport. That committee is headed by Mrs Usoro and many other professionals who have worked so hard. In terms of the airport, very soon I’m sure this state will have an airline. The Governor thinks ahead, he believes that once people can come into the state easily, it’s going to attract lots of investment opportunities even in the area of tourism. I don’t think it’s in terms of the size but in terms of the value you are adding to a government that’s so determined to ensure that the standard of living for people is improved.
What do you know that others don’t, because it appears that you have been the most mobile personnel in this administration moving from one office to another, and it appears to me that everywhere you go it’s to remedy a particular situation and when you are done you are moved to somewhere else
What you just said is what happened when I was in the banking industry. Most times I was like a missionary, when you want to open a branch, I will be sent there to set it up. I believe the training I had in my profession, the commitment and believe in very high ethical standards and professionalism in the way things are done is what has seen me to the level I am today. You can only give what you have. I want say that my experience as an investment banker has been a contributing factor to the level of performance I have been able to showcase in terms of the way these big projects are handled under my supervision.
I don’t see any other state in Nigeria that has ventured into owning an airline, have you counted the cost for the state?
I’m happy to tell you that we are the only state in Nigeria that has created the Ministry of Aviation Development. Because the federal government couldn’t do it doesn’t mean other states can’t. Recently, I heard an announcement that in 2018 Nigeria will start producing toothpick, but this is something that we have done here in Akwa Ibom state since 2015. We have a toothpick manufacturing plant here, even a pencil manufacturing factory. I believe it’s a question of leadership. If you have a visionary leader, somebody who’s well-grounded in the financial service industry like Governor Emmanuel, it is not a problem to achieve these things, given the calibre of people in the cabinet working closely with him. The emphasis of the government, as the governor frequently says, is that he does not want Akwa Ibom children to beg for a living. He wants them to earn a living. The aviation industry is a major employer of labour and the advantage of us having an airline include providing employment opportunities for our people. We have only one airline, flying in and out of Uyo, in the last few days. A lot of the traveling public are finding it difficult cope. I believe there’s a market to capture and it’s going to be professionally run and 100 percent owned by Akwa Ibom state. These things are not rocket science. At least, in Nigeria you have a minimum number of aircrafts that you can have before you start operation. It’s our intention to go with the minimum. We will do what is allowed within the laws of the country. There are certain times that you need to start a business, before you let in the private sector, but it’s better for people to see your commitment and level of seriousness before you now offer some shares to the public. The intention of government is that, overtime the private sector will come in to have a significant stake in the business.
Recently, there was advert in the newspaper for people who are interested in having executive position. The airline is going to offer employment to people. Employment will be created in various dimensions for our people.
For 12 years this airport has been charging aviation development fee, when will that be scrapped?
The airport is 100 percent run by Akwa Ibom state government but it’s used by the federal government. We pay fees to all the relevant federal government aviation agencies monthly and annually and its only source of money is from revenue allocation. The airport has to be maintained. The facilities there have to be maintained. You can imagine running such a facility with generators. The attendant cost of maintenance. Diesel price per liter is on the increase, so the issue of scrapping of the levy doesn’t arise. Maybe, if it’s get to a time that diesel is free, electricity is free, but these are levies we must receive to continuously maintain the facilities for the use of the public.
How much do you get from the aviation levy?
Like I said, the number of airlines that fly in and out of the airport has also significantly affected the number of passengers that can go through there. That doesn’t mean that there’s no market because each flight that’s leaving and coming here is full.
Why are the airlines not coming?
Uyo is a preferred destination; Aero Contractors, Arik was coming but there was a problem, Dana was also coming but I’m sure recently they are not coming. The only one that is consistent is Air Peace. I think all the airlines have had issues that made it difficult for them to come.
I heard you recently had a personality clash with another individual who is also viewed as a political leader in your Itu local government, what really happened?
I’m not a political leader, and I have not had issues with any of the political leaders from my local government. There are other people higher than me, we have somebody who’s a senator, House of Representatives so I won’t say I’m a political leader.
What state of completion would you say the Victor Attah International Airport is in now?
The pace of development has slowed down due to lack of funds. When His Excellency came, that was a time when the economy was in recession. If it was the way money was flowing before now, the main terminal building would have been completed. But given the fact that the state used to receive N40 billion every month. The least was N35 billion. These days, we receive N6 or N7 billion in some moths, which is not even enough to take care of the typical government business. There are certain activities that had to slow down. Revenue has completely reduced compared to what happened in the past. When we were receiving N40 or N50 billion and the Naira/dollar exchange rate was 160/150. If you are now receiving N15 billion on the exchange rate of N370, it means that you have lost over 70 percent of value of what you are getting. The resources has come down significantly but the good thing is that we have a governor who’s a good financial manager. Akwa Ibom State is lucky to have Udom Emmanuel overseeing its affairs at this time. The airport is work in progress. It is designed to have a cargo terminal and a second runway which is on-going. In terms of percentage of completion, I think that it’s work in progress.
What level of completion do you hope the airport will be in, say, 2020?
We will leverage very strongly our partnership with the private sector to ensure that the MRO facilities are completed and functional. That particular aspect of the airport will give employment opportunities to our people and generate revenue for the government. It’s also believed that by then the terminal building will be in place. For the people in our neighbouring states, like Abia, our airport is closer. It now takes about one hour, thirty minutes from the airport to Arochukwu. There will be economic activities in the area of agriculture and from passenger services that’s provided. The cargo business is an important aspect of aviation business, right now I think the only major cargo business in terms of airports is based in Lagos. These days, it takes up to four months to get a container out of the seaports. The seaport and airport compliment each other, agricultural products will come through the cargo terminal. I believe it’s a service that if properly exhibited, will serve the purpose for which it was intended and will be of benefit to our people here and the neighbouring states.
On the basis of performance, do you see the governor winning the election?
The governor will win the election in 2019, because he has delivered on all his campaign promises to the people of Akwa Ibom state. It’s on record that upon assumption of office, one of the first major things he did was to clear gratuities that were owed to civil servants for the last 10 years. It’s also on record that workers’ salaries are paid as at when due, on the 24th of every month. He anchored his campaign on industrialization. Today, we have, under three years about 12 industries have come into this state, offering employment opportunities to our people. He has created the enabling environment. Development can’t go to a place that there’s insecurity. In terms of security, investors agreed to come and set up their businesses here because of the peaceful nature of this state.
IN THE MIRROR:
*Politician and financial expert with experience in the banking sector spanning more than two decades, Okon,
*He studied in the University of Lagos, Lagos State, for his first degree in Business Administration in 1987 and University of Calabar, Cross River State for a Master’s degree in Banking and Finance
*Okon has attended several courses in the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other countries in the course of his working career
*After his national service year, he joined the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) where he held several positions in the bank. He worked at various times as the assistant manager, International Remittance Office (IRO), senior supervisor, Investment Office (Foreign Operations Dept) and senior supervisor, Banking Office
*He was at the First Inland Bank Plc, where he served as Head Investment Banking, Area Executive, South-south. His job responsibility was to supervise all the branches of the bank in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Rivers and Delta states
*Some of the banks Okon left a stunning imprint include; FinBank and Standard Trust Bank Limited now United Bank for Africa (UBA)
*Okon is a member of many professional bodies, includeing, Fellow, Institute of Sales Management; Fellow, Chartered Institute of Leadership of Nigeria (CILN); member, Institute of Direct Marketing and member, Chattered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN), Fellow, Institute of Management Consultants
*He was the Managing Director of Fantixis Investments Limited, a financial advisory firm prior to his appointment as the Commissioner for Economic Development. He is also the immediate past Commissioner for Finance
*He was Chairman, Akwa Ibom State/Local Government Joint Derivation Committee, Member, Akwa Ibom State Finance and General Purpose Committee, (FGPC) and Chairman Akwa Ibom State Micro Credit Committee