By Godwin Akan
Governor Udom Emmanuel’s plan to make every citizen of Akwa Ibom State experience the impact of governance through the various developmental initiatives of his administration, irrespective of place of residence, is gradually yielding results. This is coming about as a result of his ability to walk his talk.
The governor promised, in the eight-point Completion Agenda of his second term, to take development to the nooks and crannies of the state under the Rural and Riverine Development Programme. Today, with just about two years left of the term that would also mark the end of his tenure, people in the rural and riverine areas of the state have begun to feel a sense of belonging, with development being taken to their doorstep. This is a clear departure from previous practices of concentrating development in the urban centres, which made rural dwellers feel as though they were not part of the state.
For instance the investment in road infrastructure, affirms that attention is being paid to construction and rehabilitation of roads that link rural communities, beyond the big road projects like dual carriageways that connect urban centres. The government has so far constructed more than 1, 000 kilometers of roads to link all parts of the state, in addition to regular maintenance of numerous other smaller roads in different parts of the state.
A major advantage of having a road network that makes every part of the state accessible is that it enables people to live in one local government arear and go to work in another, taking cognizance of variables like rent and cost of transportation. And for those living in the hinterland, accessibility to cheap farm produce could be an attraction to live there and go to work in the urban centre. Akwa Ibom is a relatively small state where every part can be reached from Uyo, the capital, in a short time. Thus, it is possible for someone that lives at Ikot Aabsi, about 40 kilometers away, to come to work at the state capital every day from home.
Road construction and rehabilitation is not the only infrastructure the government is providing in the rural areas to make life comfortable for dwellers. Having opened up the state with link roads, the government is now focusing attention on provision of electricity to all parts of the state, more than it did in the first four years. The government has just announced the Power for All Project that will see every household in the state provided with electricity by the end of this year. About 265 villages in the 31 local government areas have been identified for the pilot phase of the project.
There is a temptation to see the Power for All Project as a pipe dream, considering the limited time the government has given itself on its delivery. This is more so because the promise of electricity in every household seems Utopian in a country where constant power supply has remained a mirage for decades, despite huge sums that have been sunk into the sector by successive governments at the federal level. However, if the administration’s feat of establishing more than 15 industries that are running at fully capacity during the first term could be used as a yardstick to measure the feasibility of the project, then the people of Akwa Ibom can look forward to another miracle.
Perhaps what makes the Power for All Project realizable is the fact that it is not the first intervention of the Udom administration in the provision of power in the state. It is going to complement what the government has been doing since inception to provide electricity in all parts of the state through establishment of rural electrification projects. The governor has proved that he can deliver on his promise.
Development of rural and riverine communities has achieved two broad objectives. Firstly, it has helped to stem rural-urban migration that increased poverty at the rural areas and swelled the labour market in the urban centres. Secondly, it has created the environment that is required to stimulate economic activities in the rural areas, to improve the standard of living of the people.
Riverine communities in the state are perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of this component of the Completion Agenda. Before now, they had been the goose that lays the golden egg but ignored in terms of development. Though Akwa Ibom, the country’s biggest oil-bearing state, has most of the oil deposits offshore, people in the riverine areas close to the Atlantic Ocean bear the brunt of oil spillage and pollution from exploration and production activities, with virtually no road infrstructure.
Apart from oil, the riverine areas close to the sea also hold the bulk of the state’s potential for seafood – another natural resource with which Akwa Ibom is hugely endowed. The state has about 129 kilometers of coastline, the longest in the country. This is complemented by creeks, floodplains, tributaries and rivers that combine to make the riverine areas rich in aquatic animals like crustaceans, shrimps and fishes. It is the reason fishing is the economic mainstay of those communities.
Now, development has reached some of those areas, and is ongoing, to cover all the communities. This has opened up the areas, stimulated their economic activities, provided them with more sources of livelihood and uplifted their standard of living. Accessibility of areas that were hitherto inaccessible is beneficial to dwellers in those communities in two ways. It has made it possible for urban dwellers to go into the rural and riverine communities for food purchases, thereby eliminating the cost of transportation for farmers and fishermen and women. And when they need to get to the markets, they do so in good time on motorable roads that reduce the cost of transportation considerably to allow for reasonable profits.
The ongoing development of rural communities is going to help actualize government’s overall plan of building structures for the sustainable, socio-economic development of the state for the present and future generations.
Akan, a businessman, writes from Uyo