I was a young reporter just cutting my journalism teeth at the Nigerian Chronicle in Calabar when the push for a state to be created from South Eastern State was on. The advantages of state creation were obvious: government would be next door, near enough for a knock at the door; there would be more revenue coming to the state and the local governments from the federal allocation; there would be more representation in the legislative houses at the centre and the state; there would be more opportunities for employment and self-actualisation. But the Mainlanders who opposed state creation when Murtala Muhammed wanted to do it were too blind to see.
They thought, if a state was created, their properties in Calabar would be seized as abandoned items as it happened to the Igbos in Port Harcourt during the civil war. They fought tooth and nail to stop the split. Muhammed’s government was afraid of the bloodshed that was predicted. So, it merely changed the name from South Eastern State to Cross River State. The Mainlanders who fought against their own self-determination prospects regretted it when they saw the joy that the exercise had elicited in the seven new states created. They pursued the exercise with greater vigour after that false step. That effort was rewarded by President Ibrahim Babangida on September 23, 1987. Thirty three years later, how has the journey been?
The League of Akwa Ibom Professionals (LAKPROF), with headquarters in Abuja, held a webinar to examine the foundations and imperatives for Akwa Ibom’s global competitiveness. The webinar was chaired by the league’s president, Dr. Enobong Umoessien. I was the keynote speaker, while Professor Kenneth Ife, an international development consultant with considerable experience in macro-economy, competitiveness and development policies, was the guest speaker. Because of some technical problems, I was unable to share my thoughts fully with the audience. I have, therefore, decided to provide my thoughts as a road map to the future on this platform. Akwa Ibom has had 10 governors, military and civilian, in 33 years.
That is a reflection of the thoughtless, irregular posting and deployment of governors during the military era, an exercise that deprived states of stability and long-term planning. However, since 1999, there has been an appreciable level of stability in the transition. In the last 21 years, we have had only three governors, Obong Victor , Chief Godswill Akpabio, with each of them doing eight uninterrupted years, the third governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, is on the last lap of his eight-year journey. Attah, a man of big, transformational ideas, laid the foundation, taking up the gauntlet against the oppressive policies of the Olusegun Obasanjo government against the oil-producing states.
He is, for me, the true champion of resource control; he used his immense intellectual resources in waging a forensic battle against the enslavement of the oil-producing states. It was only during Attah’s tenure that Akwa Ibom indigenes, regarded as lethargic, laid-back and docile, joined the growing league of protesters against oppression. It is Attah who inspired that. When my editor in the Nigerian Chronicle, Mr. Nelson Etukudoh. assigned me in the 1970s to go to the oil-producing areas of Eket, Esit Eket, Ibeno, etc, to look at the living conditions of the people, I was stunned to see poverty walking on four legs as opposed to the haughty luxury in the Mobil quarters, a little distance away. I described in stark terms what I saw: the desolate life of the people in the oil-rich areas and the unconscionable opulence in the oil workers’ quarters. To me, one side was hell, the other heaven. After the series I wrote were published, I went back, incensed by what I saw, to meet the chief of the community, Chief Ndarake. I told him I wanted to work with the youths in organising a demonstration against the oil company. He agreed. That was how I helped the youths to block the terminal. After that, the oil company woke up, gave them water, roads and other amenities.
So, Akwa Ibom was largely a community where people hardly protested for or against anything. Attah changed all that. Now we have lots of generals – all of them are generals, mark you – in the creeks of Akwa Ibom brandishing their AK-47s. Nigeria is a country that has been consciously, unjustly pushing its youths into taking arms against its sovereignty. In that struggle in the Niger Delta led by Isaac Adaka Boro, and later Ken Saro Wiwa, and much later Asari Dokubo, there has been a lot of blood spilled. Not much has changed in the Niger Delta since then. There has been created a Niger Delta Ministry, NDDC and an Amnesty Programme but in sum they amount to tokenism. PANDEF submitted a 16-point shopping list to President Muhammadu Buhari a couple of years ago. Only one has been implementation. Look at the earnings from oil since 1990. Between 1990 and 1998 ($112.8 billion), 1999-2009 ($481 billion), 2010-2014 ($381 billion), 2015-September 2018 ($112 billion).
There are three oil refineries in the region. All three are moribund and of no use to the Niger Delta people or anybody else. In the last 13 years, N10.413 trillion has been wasted on fuel subsidy, through corrupt arrangements. A few years ago, Senator Ita Enang published a list that showed who were the oil block owners in Nigeria. Most of them were non-Niger Deltans. There was a little uproar, some finger pointing, some fence mending and the expose died an unnatural death. Today, you can probably count on your fingertips the number of Niger Deltans who have marginal fields or are privileged to be awarded oil lifting contracts. Akwa Ibom State, which provides about 33% of the oil revenue, has no oil or gas-related industry sited in the state, because Nigeria is very unfairly run by our political elite. Thank God, the BUA Group, which signed a refinery contract with a French company recently, has decided, based on sensible economic calculations, to site its 200,000bpd refinery in Akwa Ibom. All the economic fundamentals favour Akwa Ibom: good security, abundant raw materials, airport, seaport, a good network of roads, yet all the past federal governments ignored it. However, the three governors that the state has had since 1999 have each contributed significantly to the state’s stature today. Attah laid the foundation, Akpabio worked more on infrastructure while Emmanuel has earned a name for industrialisation. Together, they have paved the path that can take the state to the shores of modernity. Akwa Ibom has a lot of assets that can make it very competitive.
It has a population of 5.5 million. It has both land and water. So, it can do agricultural and industrial activities, build schools, hospitals, housing estates and everything else you can do on land. It also has water, with a coastline of 129 kilometres, second only in length to Bayelsa’s coastline, which is 203 kilometres. Our coastline, which is a major asset that such countries as Barbados and The Bahamas have developed optimally, has been largely neglected because we are running a feeding bottle economy in Nigeria. Every state goes to Abuja for monthly handouts. Akwa Ibom has not exploited its water asset and beaches, which is tremendous. Such beaches include Ibeno, Okonette, Oron, Ibaka, Akefe, Igwenke and Ikot Abasi. Its seafood includes catfish, barracuda, squid, sardine, croakers, shrimps, prawns, crayfish, blue marlia, oysters. So, the state can create opportunities for a flourishing fishing, tourist and holiday resort with seafood as its specialty and its many cultural festivals. That is what takes many Nigerians to Hawaii and Brazil yearly. A lot of entertainment assets can grow around those facilities, which would be attractive because these places will be easily accessible by road, air or by engine boats. That is a much untapped resource. That is why Akwa Ibom indigenes and others who live in littoral states must resist the attempt to take their water from them by the oppressive, despotic water bill that is being canvassed at the National Assembly now. Its enactment must be resisted because in Section 2 (1) the bill says that “All surface water and ground water wherever it occurs is a resource common to all.”
It is not a resource common to all because when the water gets angry it only kills the people near it, destroys the livelihood of the people who live near it, who earn a living from it. That hazard is not borne by all. The attempt to centralise everything in Nigeria is the source of our current asphyxia. Apart from oil and gas, Akwa Ibom is rich in solid minerals such as limestone, silver wart, silica sand, kaolin, clay, gold, coal and gravel. Since the Federal Government is lukewarm about exploiting solid minerals, which are present in all the 774 local governments, the state can do nothing but wait for a time when the Nigerian government will wake up from its long slumber. A lot seems to be happening now in agriculture. The state is producing food and cash crops. But it needs to add value to its agricultural products. Cassava, for instance. I would like to see huge industries springing from cassava. Cassava can be used to manufacture adhesives, gum, wall paper, foundry materials, dusting powder, drugs, plastic, stain removers. So can palm oil and kernels produce spin-off industries whose products can be exported. Akwa Ibom can, even with the constraints of centripetalism, do something to move itself into a higher realm. It must operate as if it gets nothing from oil. That way, it can think outside the box. The private sector must be the driving force of its economy but the government must create the enabling environment for it. It must build education, health, water and electricity and road infrastructure to make this possible.
It should create space for industrial clusters to spring up in various parts of the state by providing appropriate facilities: schools, hospitals, roads, et cetera. In education it must place special emphasis on STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine). It should build a gifted children’s college, properly equipped for child prodigies. There is one in Suleja and another in Jigawa.
It will throw up special kids for special nurturing to global excellence. The state should establish a Think Tank made up of thought leaders in various fields, people who place much value on knowledge and research, people who can think. They will generate ideas, hold innovation fairs and exhibitions and discover talents, inventors, creators, fabricators to drive the mission for renaissance. It is ideas that propel societies that have made significant changes in their communities. However, to get to this destination, the state government must work to improve the mentality of the people. They must think big, subscribe to gender equality, believe in hard work for achievement, instead on prosperity preachers, fight for what they want, oppose what they don’t want. In Akwa Ibom, people spend a whole day attending one event, a wedding or a burial. In Lagos, people can attend two or three events in one day and still have time to rest. Time management is important for growth.
Ability to compete depends on us. We must discover brilliant engineers and challenge them to produce software that can be used in solving our many problems. India has done it. So has Ethiopia. We can do it.