By Linus Etim
I hadn’t been to Akwa Ibom, my home state, in about four years. My knowledge of what happened in the state during that period, from socio-economic and political perspectives, was based on secondary sources – individuals and the media. I had no way of knowing what was the truth, half-truth or outright falsehood. An opportunity to obtain first-hand knowledge of Akwa Ibom came through an emergency, whistle-stop, three-day visit that had me traverse virtually the length and breadth of the state, early June. I looked forward to the trip with excitement. I was going to see, with my ‘naked eyes’, the stories I’d heard about what the Udom administration is doing in the state.
The choice of airline for the trip couldn’t have been any other. My state owns an airline. A combination of curiosity and patriotism compelled the use of Ibom Air. The government had established the airline about two years earlier – on June 29, 2019. And within the period, I had heard of, and read about the soaring success of the first state government-owned airline on the African continent – a company that started with two aircraft operating on two routes, namely, Uyo-Lagos and Uyo-Abuja, growing to seven aircraft servicing two additional routes – Uyo-Calabar and Uyo-Enugu.
The Ibibio translation of the announcement welcoming passengers as they settled into the cozy seats of the sleek Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft flying to the Victor Attah International Airport in Uyo brought home to me the fact that I was, indeed, going home. I started to feel at home even before the aircraft took off from Lagos. Quite a thrilling experience! The airline did not disappoint me in terms of services and professionalism. It lived up to its billing.
Leaving the Victor Attah International Airport for the drive into Uyo town, my antenna was activated to detect any image or sign of development that wasn’t there during my last visit to the state in 2017. I noticed that expansion work is being undertaken on the dual carriage road. At first glance, one was tempted to question the wisdom in expanding a road that is virtually bare of traffic, leading to and from an airport that has yet to operate optimally. But a deeper scrutiny revealed that Governor Emmanuel may be seeing what others are not seeing.
With the planned commencement of international operations at the airport in 2022, which would see Ibom Air flying to different destinations in Western and Central African countries, that road would accommodate more traffic than it currently does. The rate of appreciation of real estate on the route would be rapid. Already, several structures, many of which attract commercial benefits, have sprung up on the route. There is a secondary school, a polytechnic and many other structures. The government may also be trying to avoid having to tangle with communities on the route over issues of compensation if the need arises in the future for expansion at a time it may not have the resources.
The structure that caught my attention, as far as development is concerned, is the greenhouse project, which is an integral part of the government’s agricultural programme. The expanse of land on which the project sits is far bigger than the picture I had in mind based on what I saw in photographs and television screens. This is where vegetables which cultivation the soil of the state was hitherto believed not to be suitable are being grown – tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, onions, etc.
The road project I saw on the Uyo-Oron Road, the expansive roundabout from where Udo Udoma Avenue begins, made me to understand that infrastructure development is still work in progress, despite the rate at which the Uyo landscape has changed. This impression would be re-inforced by what I saw on the trip to Onna Local Government Area, going through the Etinan-Onna Road that is under construction, where a well-lit dual carriageway has replaced the old, one-lane road that was built in the 1970s. I needed intermittent explanation by my host to know where I was at any point, despite the fact that it was a route I used frequently up to about two decades ago. Akwa Ibom is a very peaceful state, a departure from what it was about five or six years ago. The kidnappings that are regular occurrences in many parts of the country are remembered in the state as something that occurred in the past. The pockets of armed robbery and bag-snatching cases that occur in Uyo, the capital, only serve to drive home the fact that crime is a concomitant effect of development, as is the case all over the world.
Night life thrives in Uyo – proof of the peace and security that reigns in the capital. On the night of Thursday, June 10, when popular televangelist, Paul Enenche, was in town for a crusade at Ibom Hall, the crowd that thronged the IBB Avenue as late as 10 p. m., literally making vehicular movement impossible, did not belie any fear of insecurity.
One industry that is fast emerging as a dominant player in the economy of Akwa Ibom is hospitality. My enquiry revealed that hotels are being established at a rapid pace. This is because at any point in time, there are people from different parts of the country in need of hotel services while in Uyo for one purpose or the other – business, conference, seminar, wedding, etc. There is an expectation of more visitors to the state in the coming years, especially with the transformation the state is undergoing, from a civil service to an industrialized state.
I cannot end this piece without mention of the Uyo Central Business District, where the iconic, 21-story Dakkada Towers stands. The structure is a sight to behold. I was told the building has been commissioned and is awaiting high profile tenants from the oil and gas industry who have indicated interest to occupy it.
The last time I visited the Ibom Tropicana Complex, it cut the picture of an abandoned, decrepit structure. Now remodeled into a huge shopping arcade, a visitor who has been to Paris, London or New York would be forgiven if he thought he was in one of those places.
As the old saying goes, seeing is believing. I went to Akwa Ibom to see. I believe everything I saw there.
Etim lives in Lagos