By Ofonwuk Jimmy
TWO years ago, when Mr. Udom Emmanuel, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, stepped on the podium of greatness with a divine mandate, his unfaltering promise to the indigenes of the state was to unlock the potential of economic growth by creating a strategic economic vision, covering the richness, diversity and opportunities for all.
In creating economic strategy and investment plan, Gov. Emmanuel did not mince words when he stated, categorically, that the major plank of his government would be to harness developmental projects that would deliver maximum returns on investments as well as create employment opportunities for the people of the state and ginger food production. This policy direction was so vividly captured in his inaugural speech.
Gov. Emmanuel started his stewardship armed with industry intelligence and candour to arrive at where he is today. He devoted enough time to identify key economic priorities and actions that would unlock the growth potentials, ascertain the barriers to economic growth and ways of tackling them, and improve security to attract investment and enterprise to the state.
Like icing on a cake, he chooses to promote economic development through participatory, coherent and coordinated economic policies. This, of course, has been the quality that stands him in good stead and sets him apart from his contemporaries. It is also the reason Akwa Ibom people are reaping hugely from his investment drive.
Instructively, having achieved so much within a short period of time, there is reason to believe that the people of Akwa Ibom State were deeply altruistic when they came out en masse to support Deacon Emmanuel as governor of Akwa Ibom State in the 2015 general elections. Looking back and taking a cursory look at what plans are there for the future, there is further reason to conclude that Akwa Ibom people invested wisely by voting massively for Emmanuel to become their governor; and also, standing by him all through the legal challenge that followed his victory.
“Mr. Industrialisation”, as he is fondly addressed, kick-started the implementation of his economic policies by setting up Technical Committees on Foreign Direct Investment, Ibaka Deep Seaport project, and Agriculture and Food Sufficiency. These think-tanks were designed and mandated to help actualise his vision of industrialisation for the state.
Emmanuel has pursued this with vigour and achieved the licensing of the upgraded Ibom Power from 190mw to 685mw. The import of this is that with the phase two of the Ibom power plant project hitting 685mw, the state government’s industrialisation policy is backed with adequate provision of power. Taking it together, the implication is that the Ikot Abasi axis of the state is open for industrial and agro parks with capacity to generate, and deliver to the people, up to 5,000 jobs.
The deep sea project is boosted by the construction of a dedicated 36.7km super highway that runs from Ukpenekan in Ibeno Local Government Area and through Esit Ekid and Mbo. It is designed to be a 12-lane highway (six on either side) with a rail line running between. If things work as planned, this would, definitely, take the shine off Lagos.
The Ibaka port complex falls within the Ibom Industrial City and is designed to have between three and four jetties, stretching from Mbo to Ikot Abasi with facilities for drafts, ocean access and ancillary services that would boost job opportunities. Those who have had the opportunity to visit the area would discover that strategic investments like the mega ocean terminal, being piloted by Port Nortel, has advanced steadily without constraint.
At the moment, Akwa Ibom is responding positively to the regular criticism of Nigeria importing toothpicks from China and, in doing so, is wiping shame off the faces of Nigerians, who bear the shame of their country importing toothpicks from neighbouring countries. The Toothpick and Pencil manufacturing plant, springing up in the state is a boost to the vision of eliminating toothpicks and pencils from Nigeria’s import list. It also boosts Federal Government’s vision on pencil manufacture locally. For instance, the AKEES’ Toothpick and Pencil Factory located along the Uyo-Etinan Road at Ekom Iman, in Etinan Local Government Area of the state, has capacity to produce 20,000 pencils in just eight hours. It also produces 50,000 kilogrammes of toothpick in one week. So far, it is the only state that has made investments in this regard.
With the vigorous pursuit of his administration’s industrialisation policy, the kind-hearted governor is driving transformation in agriculture with massive interest already shown by the people in the cultivation of cassava, tomatoes, water melon, among others.
But one massive project, the first of its kind in Nigeria, which Emmanuel is passionate about and pursuing it with all the energy he can muster, is his vision for a Coconut Oil Refinery in the state. It is a major boost to the industrialisation agenda of the state government. The plantation stretches over 11, 000 hectares of land across Ikot Abasi, Mkpat Enin and Eastern Obolo communities.
He is also taking advantage of the coastal endowments of the state to create a coconut farm with about two million trees, whose yield will feed the coconut refinery. So far, about 250,000 coconut trees have been planted. This strategic investment will alter Akwa Ibom’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) profile and keep it on the world map of coconut oil suppliers. This comes as an additive having created a new petrochemical plant for the state at Esit Eket.
This effort is without recourse to investments in oil palm plantations in the state. Palm plantations have already been established in 15 out of the 31 local government areas in the state, covering a total of 35 hectares of land.
Also, to stimulate business growth in an economy under recession, Gov. Emmanuel approved the release of two billion naira, as interest-free loans to traders to bolster trade and commerce. The loans will mature for repayment in 12 months. The impact of this on business and trade growth has been tremendous.
Still basking in the euphoria of his popularity, Emmanuel has within 24 months delivered on the construction of the second run-way at the Ibom International Airport in Uyo. No doubt, this is a strategic move aimed at expanding the capacity of the airport as a boost to trade and tourism.
To boost agriculture in the state also, the governor has, despite empowering farmers to enhance cassava cultivation, turned the Akwa Ibom Prime Hatchery at Uruan council area around. Today, the hatchery is producing at maximum capacity and adding to the drive to boost food production with a view to achieving food security for the state.
He has also resuscitated cocoa production in the state by establishing a cocoa Development Committee, which drives investments in cocoa production. The governor has also established improved cocoa plantations in six local government areas over a total of about 22 hectares of land. The local governments involved are Ini, Essien Udim, Mkpat Enin, Ikono, Abak and Ukanafun.
Typically, Gov. Emmanuel of the “Udom is right” campaign mantra, is gradually proving that, indeed, a regular politician may not be all that is needed to bring about required change as his well-thought out policies and programmes are already impacting positively on the lives of his people and neighbouring states.