A Gentle Reminder to the Leaders of Akwa Ibom State at 33rd Anniversary

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By Akaninyene Udonkwo

First, I would like to appreciate all the leaders, stake-holders, family heads, village heads, paramount rulers, clan heads, local government chairmen, traditional rulers, public sector administrators, political appointees, legislators past and present. The Executive Governor and indeed all citizens of our dear state, “Akwa Ibom State” for their immense efforts, roles, sacrifices and contributions in bringing the state to where it is today.

Akwa Ibom State was created 23 September 1987 and she will be 33 years in September 2020. The state has a land mass of 7,249 square kilometers and a population of about six million people, one of the most densely populated states in the Federation.

The creation of the state was celebrated by the people of the state for good reasons. The state is the biblical land of promise, a land filled with milk and honey, and specially blessed by God with abundant of land, human and natural resources. A state where many are longing to be, our dear and glorious state. A state of princes and princesses, beautiful and grandeur, brilliance and intelligence, honest and hardworking people.

We have three main ethnic groups in the state, Annang, Ibibio and Oron.

The people have traditionally lived together in relative unity and peace.

The credit for this must go to the peace loving people of the state, to our traditional rulers and the political class. We are a state that is rich in culture. Cultural displays, the cultural attires, festivals and the dance steps of the people are expected to attract people to the state and hold tourists spell bound. It is such a pity that we have not effectively harnessed and marketed the cultural events and tourist sites in the state.

The culture, cuisine and hospitality of the Akwa Ibom people is legendary. The last time I had the privilege to visit Uyo, to come home with some members of my Christian faith from other parts of the country, it was such a delightful experience. I had much to offer than I imagined. The good road network in Uyo, a selection of some of the rich local cuisines including, “edikanikong” and “afang soup” specially prepared. The delicacies included roasted fish, roasted plantain, assorted fruits and a rich combination of vegetables prepared in Akwa Ibom way. The pepper soup joints were handy.

An assortment of dishes, goat heads, catfish and dry fish. My visitors had too much to relish. They were grateful for the visit and experience and left with fond memories.

Thirty three years is a short time in the existence of a state, considering that states and nations exist in perpetuity. But 33 years is appropriate point to reflect on our common patrimony, on the journey so far. It is a good time to take stock, do self-examination or appraisal and determine whether the expectations of the people in state creation were appropriate or misplaced. This exercise is more the reflection of a man who has limitless admiration for his state. But it is also an effort to encourage the good people of the state to have a closer engagement with their government, influence the direction of government, provide feedback on programmes and help the state manage resources better.

Akwa Ibom is the highest producer of crude oil in the country. It produces 504,000 BPD, which accounts for 31.4% of crude oil output in the country.

The state has rich deposit of natural oil and gas, coal, kaolin, limestone, lignite, clay, rock salt, glass sand, silica and granite, all of which are expected to provide the broad base for appropriate industrial processes in the state. Akwa Ibom State like other parts of the country has had its share of industrial companies in the past. There was a brewery company in the state, the brewery has managed to live beyond the fatality of failed companies in the country. We had a steel plant, a ceramic company, a biscuit factory, Oku Iboku paper mill and battery company, all of which have wound up operations several years back.

Agriculture is the main economic activity of Akwa Ibom people. The goals of agriculture include sustainability, food security and self-sufficiency in food production. They have to do with earning enough income from agriculture as a guarantee for employment of the people, especially those in the rural communities. The state needs high agricultural output for export of agricultural products and reduction in importation of food items. Successful agricultural activities are expected to provide raw materials for industrial processes. Good agricultural practices ensure protection of the soil, the ecosystem and the environment.

Our main agricultural products are cassava, maize, yam, cocoyam, plantain, palm produce, rubber, cocoa, coconuts, melon, fruits and vegetables. They also include fish, poultry products, sea foods and forestry products.

In reviewing agricultural activities in the state, many questions come to mind. Do the people of Akwa Ibom State produce enough food to meet their food consumption? Does agriculture provide enough income to the farmers? Does agriculture guarantee employment in the state? Is agriculture producing the required raw materials for industrial processes? Several other questions resonate. What is obvious though is that agriculture is a key activity in the state and provides significant employment and food in the state. But agriculture is still largely at subsistence level. Income level from agriculture is low and most of the youth migrate to urban areas in search of white collar jobs, abandoning farming to old and uneducated people. The country still imports a large quantity of its food requirement.

One other economic activity that beckons in this evaluation is industry. Sustainable development of Akwa Ibom State requires the complement of industrial activities. The state needs industry to give practical content and experience to its educational curriculum. It needs industry to transform from an essentially civil service state to an industrial state that can create employment for the soaring youth population that are being turned out from the educational institutions. Akwa Ibom State has to create industrial processes to transform agricultural products to finished and more economically valuable products. The State Governor, Emmanuel Udom, said he plans to make Akwa Ibom the industrial hub of the Niger Delta. He has partly made good this promise vide the establishment of Ibom Air.

At thirty three what grade would you score the government past and present, who have been saddled with the responsibility to administer the state as it relates to road infrastructure? Road construction and maintenance are critical elements of good governance. The social and economic mobility of people depends on good road network, drainage, bridges and means of transportation. Farmers need good roads to transport products from their farmlands to the market in the urban communities. Good road network is required by industrial organisations for their operations and for conveyance of finished goods to the market. Roads provide linkages among various communities in a state and between one state and the others.

Akwa Ibom has 9,000 kilometres of road network, some of it tarred. The roads in Uyo, the state capital, are a great source of delight to the people of Akwa Ibom State and visitors to the state. The state also enjoys good roads network in a few of its other urban communities.

However, the state has for some time now experienced deficit in road infrastructure. Long portion of roads in the state collapse and motorists moving from one part of the state to the other spend hours on failed portions of our roads or collapsed bridges. Poor drainage has aggravated the problem of flooding in many urban communities in the state. Akwa Ibom State has a number of deplorable roads that are calling for urgent attention.

Education is another important factor in the lives of any people. Education is the vital tool for enhancing learning and knowledge and developing skills. It is the instrument for creating values, building character, enhancing the capability of people to manage resources and cope with challenges. The state government should show a greater passion for education even though the state has made primary and secondary education free and compulsory.

What is the state of healthcare system in the state? Are the primary health care facilities at all level available and accessible in all the local communities? Are the health centres and hospitals well equipped and equally distributed among the thirty one local government areas in the state and ready for the potential care seekers? Lopsided distribution pattern of healthcare facilities will hinder good access of high quality healthcare services in the state.

Unemployment rate in the state is as high as 37.7%. Government must as a matter of priority create an enabling environment. There is no gain saying that idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Our young, energetic and enthusiastic youths are not gainfully employed. Some have taken to roasting of plantain and chicken wings by the roadsides instead of taking to crime. One of the enabling environments is by providing electricity to the citizens. The power supply in the state is nothing to write home about as the largest oil and gas producing state in Nigeria. The socio-economic benefits of power supply cannot be over emphasized.

What is the level of security in the state? No state of the country can boast of 100 percent security at the moment. Not with so many youths unemployed and pounding the streets daily, helplessly, hopeless and angrily. But Akwa Ibom has enjoyed relative peace and security, much more than other states of the country. This has made the state the first destination of trade, tourism and investment. It is expected that the new industries in the state and other programmes of government will create employment, take the youths out of the street and further guarantee peace and security in the state. Again the primary responsibility of any government is to protect lives and property of the citizens. This, in my view is a going concern for all good and law abiding people of the state. At this point I want to commend the state legislators for the passage of the bill which seeks to address the issue of banditry in the state.

What is the state of portable or pipe bone water in the state? Many years ago, some communities used to have good drinking water system but now the situation is pathetic. Digging of borehole in every household has become the norm. Water supply should be seen as a necessity. Many people trek several kilometers every morning and evening in search of water while others depend on polluted water from ponds, stream, rainwater and floods for domestic use which is not healthy.

One other challenge facing the state is abandoned projects and programmes. lhuah and Benebo (2014) define the abandonment of development projects as the act of discontinuing any activities or maintenance works on such development project within the time frame of the contract agreement and with no intention of returning to the development. Akwa Ibom state like every other states of the Federation is overburdened with the inglorious weight of abandoned capital projects. Government as an institution is a continuum. If this assertion is true, why then do we find abandoned projects everywhere and in every state of the federation as a normal practice? Against this backdrop, I will like to suggest a model that will tackle this pandemic. “ONE SIZE FITS All” STYLE OF GOVERNANCE FOR THE STATE.

The concept behind this is simple. It is an idea from the contemporary experience in the present day running of states affairs within the country.

“One size fits all” is a concept that seeks to promote continuity in government policies and programmes and help to accelerate growth and development and demote corrupt tendencies in a state within a given period of time. This is what I refer to as “Create your own model”. Experience has shown that over the years, government policies and programmes are not being followed through by the successive governments or regime due to the “soldier come soldier go” mentality, leaving the barracks to suffer.

It is on this evidence that I wish to proffer a feasible and concrete blueprint for the State, which would ensure and guarantee a brighter and a prosperous future for all.

A roadmap should be drawn for all the elected Governors of the state to key in. The idea is that, if the state is redesigned in a way the mandate, projection and developmental agenda are laid down for a period of say fifty years, it would put an end to so many irregularities like projects abandonment within the states. The perception of cancellation, suspension and in some cases an outright withdrawal of appointments and employments from people as is commonly practice today, will be a thing of the past.

This will also as a matter of fact help to enhance and accelerate the performance of the government in power irrespective of which political part they belong. The incompetency and the inefficiency in the performance of the Governor or the government of the day will not be easily noticed.

The Governor and his team will rather concentrate more on the enforcement and the implementation of already laid out programmes for the period. The question of each regime coming up with their political parties agenda, “7th or 9th points agenda” that will not be achieved at the end of the tenure will stop. Incessant and indiscriminate award of fresh contracts when the initial ones has not been completed will be minimized and equally demote corrupt tendencies. Directions must be in place to fast track all developmental programmes.

Permit me to say that, if all or most of the issues aforementioned are passionately considered and attended to, the state will record a high volume of economic activities and job creation both from investors outside and within the state. Most of us would love to stay back and contribute our quota toward the development of the state. But some have left the state in search of greener pastures and stay in perpetuity in the diaspora for the fear of the unknown if they return. Why would I want to live my entire life on earth in another part of the world when in the actual sense the state has the capacity and capability to create for her citizens such an environment that will not push or move them to “sokoto” when everything is in “shokoto”.

I love my state, I want to see the state soaring higher in all it’s ramifications. I love to see my state as a role model to other states of the federation. I will like to see the table turn around, so that people from other parts of the country and the world will be willing to relocate to the Land of Promise to help boost the economy of the state.

Beyond these, Akwa Ibom State has to be fixed, and must be fixed by all of us. Nobody or group of people from elsewhere would fix it better.

I therefore, urge our leaders to put on their thinking caps and come up with concrete developmental strategies that would ensure the dream and expectation of where we would love to be at 50 years of existence as a state. This should be our collective desire, not necessarily about APC or PDP as a political party, not as an Annang, Ibibio or Oron as a tribe, not about religious inclination but about us as a people of same state with a common goal and one destiny.

*Akaninyene Udonkwo is a Fellow of Chartered Institute of Local Government and Public Administration of Nigeria (FCPA)