At 32, It’s a Mixed Bag of Celebrations for Akwa Ibom

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that while each administration since the return of democratic rule in 1999 has grappled with its peculiar challenges, the Governor Udom Emmanuel-led administration in Akwa Ibom has shown more propensity for life changing legacies that signposts the 32nd anniversary of the state

Akwa Ibom State is 32 years today. The state was created along with Katsina State on September 23, 1987 by former military President, Ibrahim Babangida. At its creation, Governor Udom Emmanuel was 21 years old and a student of Accounting at the University of Lagos. Two of the notable personalities in the ruling hierarchy of the state; Senator Bassey Albert Akpan was 14 years old, while the former Speaker of the state legislature and now a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Onofiok Luke was nine years old. Emmanuel became a member of the state executive council as Secretary to the State Government at 47 years old in 2013. Akpan joined exclusive club in his late 30s. Luke was in his late 20s when he entered the corridors of power. Today, there is none of the 24-member state executive council who is less than 40 years. The Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Mr. Monday Uko is in his late 50s.

In a bid to tackle insecurity in Akwa Ibom, Governor Udom Emmanuel has, at different times, provided all kinds of ‘empowerment’ programmes running into hundreds of millions of Naira to youths in the state, but much of these which are also complemented by constituency projects by legislators in the state and the National Assembly have not achieved the desired effect owing to mismanagement by politicians who take a larger sum of the amount and give the remaining a partisan colouration that reduces the impact of the programme.

Till today, Emmanuel has not given assent to the Youth Development Fund Bill passed by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. The bill passed into law by the 6th Assembly seeks to provide youths with job opportunities and other windows for empowerment and wealth creation. Arguably, there are a few examples of 32 year-old Akwa Ibom indigenes who have broken the glass ceiling to tower above their peers in different walks of life, but these are definitely not on account of deliberate government policies to nurture them to such heights.

In the Third Quarter of 2018, Akwa Ibom state reported the highest unemployment rate (37.7%), according to the Labour Force Survey publsihed by the National Bureau of Statistics. This simply means that Emmanuel is being challenged to do more since his campaign for office since his first tenure was anchored on industrialization of the state. Lately, this slogan has changed to viable commercialisation. The reality on ground, however, is that a larger number of its population of over five million, have not found full and gainful employment in the various road construction sites, the flour mill, pencil and plastic factories, the syringe factory, the various agricultural establishments, the fertiliser plant and the metering factory.

It may be argued that each administration since the return of democratic rule in 1999 has grappled with its peculiar challenges. Former Governor Victor Attah was credited with laying the foundation for much of what his successor achieved, while also engaging the Federal Government in a long drawn battle for 13 percent of natural resources sourced from the state. If not for anything, Attah will always be remembered as the champion for resource control. A pathfinding trait that he shares with one of the greatest Akwa Ibomites in history, the late Justice Udo Udoma, who was a Justice of the Supreme and Chief Justice of Uganda. It was Udoma who started the agitation for self-determination in the Niger Delta, by leading the Calabar Ogoja Rivers (COR) State Movement. The administration of Senator Godswill Akpabio flourished in a season of abundant wealth accruing to the state. He built roads and flyovers, built the stadium, expanded the five-star hotel, commissioned the airport, built the Akwa Ibom State University among other laudable projects, for which he nicknamed himself, ‘the Uncommon Transformer’. Akwa Ibom State University opened its doors to pioneer students in the 2010/2011 academic year.

The government led by Emmanuel has shown propensity for life changing legacies. Last week, the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom State affirmed the election of Governor Emmanuel, throwing out the petition of his main challenger, Mr. Nsima Ekere. In 2015, Emmanuel was elected Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. He contested on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), he won with 999,071 votes to defeat APC’s candidate Umana Okon Umana who scored 89,865 votes. In the March 9, 2019 Akwa Ibom state gubernatorial election, Emmanuel was re-elected as Governor of Akwa Ibom State defeating 44 other candidates in the election. He polled 519,712 votes as against that of his closest rival Nsima Ekere of the All Progressive Congress party who had 171,978 votes.

It may be the right time to accelerate the engine of governance in the state in his second tenure, broadly labelled, ‘Completion Agenda’. Clearly, one of the flagship achievement of the Emmanuel administration is Ibom Air, a commercial airline owned by the Akwa Ibom government. Every Akwa Ibomite will always recall with pride, its maiden flight from the Victor Attah International Airport, Uyo, as the aircraft, a Bombardier CRJ 900 series with registration number 5N-BWM, took off for the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. Thirty minutes after, a second flight took off for Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. Emmanuel who spoke through his deputy, Mr. Moses Ekpo said, “Today’s occasion is a watershed moment for us as a people.”

The Akwa Ibom Governor said, “Never in the history of this nation or indeed anywhere else in Africa that I can recall, has a state government gone into airline operations. Akwa Ibom state is, therefore, the first to achieve this, and we should all collectively give ourselves a pat on the back.”

The governor said the takeoff of Ibom Air was a testimony to his administration’s vision for ‘rapid industrialization’ of the state. “Investors will continue to flock into our state, given the ease of traveling the launch of this airline will engender, the peace we enjoy and the hospitality of our people. We are all winners in this. Ibom Air is a huge achievement for us all.”

Having demonstrated this capacity at a time the Federal Government suspended plans to float an airline, indigenes of state eagerly await Federal Government’s approval to commence construction works on the Ibaka Deep Seaport project in Mbo Local Government Area of the state.

The Technical Committee set up by the state government in 2015 to oversee implementation of the project had submitted its report, saying that a preferred bidder had emerged to invest in the seaport business. The technical committee which is headed by Mrs. Mfon Usoro, has experienced maritime professionals as members. The preferred is one of the leading companies in the maritime and cargo industry, Bollore and Power Channel.

Knowing that life could be snuffed out of the project if left under the bureaucracy of government, the governor put in place a technical committee for actualisation of Ibom Deep Seaport.

Steadily, Akwa Ibomites are beginning to recognize the niche of the Emmanuel administration. If he calls himself Mr. Industrilisation or Mr. Commercialisation, there is growing evidence that he has the capacity to back words with action. The state government has signed Memorandum of Understanding, (MoU) with Black Rhino, operator of Qua Iboe Power Plant, QIPP, for the commencement of Qua Iboe Power Plant Project in Ibeno Local Government Area. St. Gabriel’s Coconut Oil Refinery is expected to commence production of Virgin Coconut oil before the end of the year.

Under the completion agenda, there is a USD60 million investment in Qua Steel in Eket, two automobile plants by Israeli and Chinese investors, Maintenance, Repairs and Overhaul, MRO hangers, a USD 3billion Fertilizer manufacturing plant at Ikot Abasi, Ethanol plant in Ikot Abasi and LED factory for manufacturing low energy bulbs.

There is also the 50,000 square free trade zone at Ikot Abasi which will consist of logistics Jetty, petrochemical plant, Liquefied Natural Gas, LNG plant, among others. Modular refineries are set to take off in Ibeno, Modern-day low density housing estate along Oron road with complete amenities ranging from 1500sq-3000sq, Housing units for civil servants at Ikot Ada Idem in collaboration with APICO and the 21 Storey building office complex which is iconic and tallest in the Southern part of Nigeria.

In the catalogue of heavy key projects for the state include are a tyre manufacturing industry, Quail Petroleum in Uruan comprising a Power plant, Jetty, Gas plant; a Chinese industrial Park as well as the Ibom Power Phase 2, which will produce 500 megawatt for utilization.

As good as these projects are, questions are being asked about the working relationship between the state government and the promoters of the investments in Akwa Ibom State. Officials of state government are not willing to provide a single document relating, for instance to the establishment of Ibom Air or other companies supposedly owned by Akwa Ibom State. All the processes for establishment of these companies are being done under very secretive arrangements that give a lot of room for speculation. If there are competing projects that can yield similar or better gains for the state that are being promoted by investors who are willing to work under very liberal terms, the modalities for engaging the state government are still murky. For instance, a reputable company, E-Force InterService Nigeria Limited has a proposal on to convert the gas being flared by Mobil into power solutions for Akwa Ibom State.

For all his good intentions, it seems Governor Emmanuel has not learnt from what happened to his predecessors. All the former governors before him, including Attah and Akpabio have been invited for questioning by anti-graft agencies for engaging in financial transactions that did not follow transparent processes. Emmanuel has the privilege to leave a different legacy, as far as, transparency in government is concerned.

Another move of Emmanuel’s that is being misconstrued in the public is the bid by the Akwa Ibom state government to stop the implementation of the guidelines on local government funds issued by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU). However, all Local Government Areas in Akwa Ibom state, alongside the state government through the Attorney General of the state approached the Uyo division of the FHC seeking to nullify the guidelines issued by NFIU in a suit filed with suit number FHC/UY/CS/88/2019. Emmanuel is believed to have browbeat the council chairmen into taking the action.

The NFIU had, on May 6, issued the ‘Guidelines to Reduce Vulnerabilities Created by Cash Withdrawals from Local Government Funds throughout Nigeria’ which restored the full mandate of the operations of State/Local Government Joint Accounts to be used solely for the distribution of funds directly to the accounts of the local governments. But Nigerian governors have kicked against the direct allocation to local government councils from the federation account. However, only the Akwa Ibom State government and its local government councils have approached the courts on the matter.

Though Mr. Charles Udoh, Commissioner for Information and Strategy said the 32nd anniversary will be low key, it has nonetheless followed the pattern of previous governments which incurs bills running into hundreds of millions of Naira to host indigenes and friends of the state from all over the world. These guests  are mainly executives of Akwa Ibom town unions in different Nigerian states and overseas. This year, the budget for annual anniversary of creation of the state is said to be in excess of N1 billion, with purchase of new vehicles and hosting of a presidential delegation led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the state for three days.

The State’s 2019 budget of N670.72 billion is christened ‘Budget of Industrialisation for Poverty Alleviation’ is higher than that of 2018 figure of N646.65 billion by N24.07 billion.

It is made up of N97.09 billion recurrent expenditure, N445.94 billion capital expenditure and consolidated revenue of N127.69 billion. Emmanuel said that the total projected recurrent revenue for the 2019 fiscal year was N374.24 billion as against N289 billion estimated in 2018. He said the budget was predicated on oil benchmark of $60 per barrel at a production rate of N2.3 million barrels per day, with an estimated exchange rate of N305 per US dollar. In the 2019 budget; roads, works and transport was allocated N157.31 billion. It is the biggest sum in the budget. N53.6 billion was proposed for housing and urban renewal, while N13 billion was for agriculture. About N15 billion was for education, and N10 billion for law and justice. A significant highlight of the 2019 budget of Akwa Ibom State is that the governor granted approval for the state’s College of Education to become a degree-awarding institution. The college was now affiliated to the University of Uyo. Akwa Ibom is one of Nigeria’s richest states. Its budget is funded largely from oil derivation fund.

Akwa Ibom is one of the 34 states that were unable to raise their Internally Generated Revenue above the amount distributed to them by the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) last year. In 2018, the state’s IGR stood at N24.21 billion, while it received N69.16 billion from FAAC. But the Chairman, Akwa Ibom Board of Internal Revenue Service, Okon Okon, told the state house of assembly Committee on Finance and Appropriation, that he was happy to achieve   72 per cent of the estimated IGR for state in that period.

According to the programme released by the 32nd Anniversary Planning Committee, “Prof. Osinbajo participated in some of the activities lined up for the event, including the commissioning of some projects today and a 32nd Anniversary Church Service at the Uyo Stadium.
As part of activities marking the 32nd anniversary of Akwa Ibom State is to commission a new 2x60kva Power Plant at Ekim in Itu local government area. The governor announced this in Uyo, during a special prayer meeting to rededicate the people and government to God as the state clocks 32 years of statehood. He stated that, Vice President Osinbajo would also commission other viable projects initiated by his administration within the last four years. The governor enjoined the people to rededicate themselves to God by shunning every evil tendency that would draw back the development of the state.
A significant occurrence that has been repeated since the administration of Akpabio is continuation of enmity that is usually the result of politics with bitterness. Akpabio enthroned the attitude of winner takes it all which is being continued in the Emmanuel administration. The anniversary of the state offers one of the biggest opportunity to Governor Emmanuel to practice what he preaches by extending, for instance, an invitation to all the governorship candidates and the leadership of political parties who were on the ballot against him. The state belongs to all. Let it be seen that his olive branch was rejected.

Governor will be remembered for naming two monumental projects the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium and the Victor Attah International Airport after the persons who initiated them. There are still many great sons and daughters of Akwa Ibom who deserve similar honours including Late Dominic Cardinal Ekandem (CFR) first cardinal in English-speaking West Africa and first Nigerian Cardinal to qualify as a candidate to the papacy, Late Chief (Dr.) Clement Isong (CFR) second governor, Central Bank of Nigeria. First civilian governor of the former Cross River State, Samuel Okon Peter (OON), (DSP) World heavyweight boxing champion, Vincent Enyeama Professional footballer (Goalie) and former Super Eagle captain, Chief Don Etiebet, Former Minister of Petroleum, Emem Isong, Multi-Award winning Filmmaker and C.E.O of Royal Arts Academy, Nse Ikpe-Etim, Nollywood Actress, Ini Edo, Nollywood Actress, Ime Bishop Umoh, Late musician, Ete Ntia, musician Etubom Rex William, Nollywood Actor, Etim Inyang, Former Inspector General of the Nigerian Police Force (IGP),1985 to 1986; Imoh Umoren, award winning filmmaker, Udo Udoma, from Ikot Abasi and one time chief justice of Uganda and a couple of others who have landmark achievement in their discipline.

QUICK FACTS:

* Akwa Ibom State was created 32 years ago along with Katsina State on September 23, 1987 by former military President Ibrahim Babangida

* Emmanuel has not given assent to the Youth Development Fund Bill passed by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. The bill passed into law by the 6th Assembly seeks to provide youths with job opportunities and other windows for empowerment and wealth creation

* In the third Quarter of 2018, Akwa Ibom state reported the highest unemployment rate (37.7%), according to the Labour Force Survey publsihed by the National Bureau of Statistics

*Former Governor Victor Attah was credited with laying the foundation for much of what his successor achieved, while also engaging the Federal Government in a long drawn battle for 13 percent of natural resources sourced from the state. Attah will always be remembered as the champion for resource control

* Senator Godswill Akpabio flourished as Governor of Akwa Ibom State in a season of abundant wealth accruing to the state. He built roads and flyovers, built the stadium, expanded the five-star hotel, commissioned the airport, built the Akwa Ibom State University among other laudable projects, for which he nicknamed himself, ‘the Uncommon Transformer’

* Akwa Ibom State University opened its doors to pioneer students in the 2010/2011 academic year

*Steadily, Akwa Ibomites are beginning to recognize the niche of the Emmanuel administration. If he calls himself Mr. Industrilisation or Mr. Commercialisation, there is growing evidence that he has the capacity to back words with action

*Gormer governors Attah and Akpabio have been invited for questioning by anti-graft agencies for engaging in financial transactions that did not follow transparent processes

*The Akwa Ibom State Government and all local government areas in Akwa Ibom state through the Attorney General of the state have approached the Uyo division of the FHC seeking to nullify the guidelines issued by NFIU in a suit filed with suit number FHC/UY/CS/88/2019. The NFIU had, on May 6, issued the ‘Guidelines to Reduce Vulnerabilities Created by Cash Withdrawals from Local Government Funds throughout Nigeria’ which restored the full mandate of the operations of State/Local Government Joint Accounts to be used solely for the distribution of funds directly to the accounts of the local governments

*This year, the budget for annual anniversary of creation of the state is said to be in excess of N1 billion, with purchase of new vehicles and hosting of a presidential delegation led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the state for three days

* The State’s 2019 budget of N670.72 billion is christened ‘Budget of Industrialisation for Poverty Alleviation’ is higher than that of 2018 figure of N646.65 billion by N24.07 billion

*A significant highlight of the 2019 budget of Akwa Ibom State is that the governor granted approval for the state’s College of Education to become a degree-awarding institution. The college was now affiliated to the University of Uyo

*Akwa Ibom is one of the 34 states that were unable to raise their Internally Generated Revenue above the amount distributed to them by the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) last year. In 2018, the state’s IGR stood at N24.21 billion, while it received N69.16 billion from FAAC