A few years back, someone asked me: “What kind of state do you wish for in the next five years?”. I barely understood the question, yet I attempted a response. It was another yearly celebration of the creation of Akwa Ibom State, something I had always seen as a needless ritual. My mind was therefore far from a celebration without a tangible anchor. To me, there must be something to celebration before the ritual becomes meaningful. So, I retorted: “I wish for a state that works!”
Back then, I had no clear picture of what that “work” meant. But with a subsequent rumination came the idea of a state that can provide work for the teeming population. That night, I had multiple dreams. I first dreamt of a $5milion ship-building project. The next day, one Charles Udonwa told Premium Times of his company’s project in a place called Oruk Anam. Norfin Offshore Ltd, is now building supply-vessels for oil platforms, tugboats, batches, ocean fishing boats, and ferries for both Nigerian and foreign markets.
When a state works, it provides opportunities for investments and employments in syringe, meter, and fertilizer factories, among others. The night I dreamt of the ship-yard, I also dreamt of taking injection. The nurse, with pride, told me the syringe was made in a factory located at Onna, Akwa Ibom State. A few days later, I learnt VKS Group, a Turkish firm, reportedly invested $30 million initial capital in the Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Company Ltd. The government made it possible with an enabling environment. The factory now sources its raw materials, polypropylene locally, providing business opportunities to Nigerians. VKS Group also has a 500-tonnes per day capacity flour mill, still in Onna. About 120 Nigerians and five expatriates currently work there.
When a state is “working’, there’s no time for frivolities. To some, much tangible achievements justify celebrations. But, this year, Akwa Ibom says she needs time to work more than to celebrate. Using Covid-19 as excuse, the government says it prefers providing and caring for its citizens, to flamboyant displays. How can a state with metering company of 150 line workers not celebrate? The Metering Solutions Manufacturing Services Ltd (MSMSL) was inaugurated on September, 2017 by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to mark the 30th anniversary of Akwa Ibom State. “This is an exceedingly important project”, he said, needed for the “full economic development in Nigeria.” With a production of an average 1,000 meters daily, and sourcing of 60 percent raw materials locally, MSMSL is expected to help create wealth and employment in the country.
My dream for a “working” state has been continuous. Another time, I dreamt of a luxuriant greenery, where agricultural products flowed like milk and honey. A few days later, the state started investing heavily in agriculture. The result soon came in large green houses of cucumber, watermelon, garbage, lettuce, pepper, radish, tomato, etc strategically located across the state. Then, the 11,000-hectare coconut plantation came, fully funded by the state, along with its coconut refinery in Mkpat Enin. Other corollaries include the palm oil processing mills, palm kernel processing plants, integrated farms, a starch manufacturing facility, a rice mill, and other agro-related factories.
Today, many young Akwa Ibom people, who had been searching for employment, have been encouraged into farming. In a state where about 2,800 tonnes of tomatoes are reportedly consumed monthly, translating to an estimated N1.3billion monthly, Akwa Ibom still really needs to “work” more in the right direction. For, the bulk of the tomatoes still flows into the state from the northern states or smuggled from in Cameroun.
So far, the foray into full agricultural enterprise seems to have encouraged another investment in fertilizer blending factory. Situated in Abak, the factory powered by Greenwell Technologies, began operation in December 2018. At the minimum, it blends in excess of 2,400 bags every 24 hours, using one blender. For the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI), the factory only blended NPK 20-10-10, but for other customers across the nation, it blends 20-10-10, 15-15-15, 12-12-17 +2MgO and specialize blending. Raw materials like potash, urea, and sulphate, etc. are sourced from within the country. Aside from the luxuriant benefits derived by the agricultural products, the factory provides other ancillary benefits to business-minded people.
More of my dreams are being actualized in today’s Akwa Ibom. For instance, a company called Quail Petroleum has already begun the construction of a refinery and a gas processing plant in Uruan. And a few days ago, BUA Group finalized arrangements for a 200,000bpd integrated refinery in the state. It is expected to produce Euro-V fuels and polypropylene for the domestic and regional market. The $4.2billion Ibom Deep Seaport Project (IDSP) is expected to change the narrative for the country’s economy when completed. The port, sited on a 14,400-hectare, is a part of a proposed industrial city, meant to accommodate major investors in shipping, oil and gas as well as petrochemical. It is scheduled to start operation next year, with a workforce capacity of about 180,000.
The IDSP will handle containers, petroleum products (export and import), crude oil, natural gas (export), vehicles (import) and bulk trade in natural resources (import and export).
Akwa Ibom of my dream has taken long in coming but it is gradually here. The journey has been slow but it is noteworthy that today’s progress has been a culmination of efforts from previous governments. For instance, “the current high inflow of investments in the state is believed to have been propelled partly by the foundational infrastructure such as good road network, an airport, an independent power plant, and a five-star hotel built by previous administrations, and partly through the ingenuity and focus of the current governor, Mr Emmanuel”, says Premium Times. His focus on providing meaningful engagements for his people through industries, since 2015, has earned him the sobriquet: Mr Industrialisation!
In 2019, the state’s budget of N670.7bn was tagged: “Budget of Industrialisation for Poverty Alleviation.” This year, the budget of N597,8bn which was later scaled to N366bn because of covid-19, was tagged: “Budget of Instrialisation II”
Within a few years, Akwa Ibom has made giant strides in industrialization, creating jobs and wealth for the people. Automobile Assembling Plant is about starting operation in Itu, just as Ibom Air, the state-owned airline received its fifth aircraft. In all the industries, so far, between 70 and 90 per cent of the workers are indigenes of the state. The government has, indeed, done well in creating the enabling environment for the budding industries. According to Udonwa, “Governor Udom Emmanuel is doing what we really wanted – creating the enabling environment for business.” One of the enablers is the infrastructure, which the previous administration had focused on. Others include peace and security, which make the state very conducive for investors – both local and foreign. Slowly, my dreams are coming into reality!
Ms Enang, a public affairs commentator, writes from Ikot Ekpene.