By Aniekeme Finbarr
It was a Wednesday, July 15, 2015 and as he stepped down from his car, accompanied by a few aides and security men, he was greeted by tiny drops of rain and the presence of women and children who had become accustomed to recent visits by government officials and engineers to the area. It didn’t appear he was ready for a long walk but the first few minutes increased his desire to see more of the damage the rains had wrecked on roads and houses.
The heavens seem to accompany his steps as the rains descended destructively as he paced along and soon everyone became soaked. He was offered an umbrella and a pair of rain boots to wade through the flooded roads. From Uya Oron to Mainland avenue, Bassey street and other roads in the area, he observed the devastation caused by severe gully erosion with a calm countenance as he intermittently paused to interact with his commissioner for works and the engineers. By now, the crowd had increased with every step, men, women and especially children who now had a genuine reason to play under the rain.
After nearly an hour of manoeuvering through the streets, wading through the pool of water and jumping where necessary, Mr Udom Emmanuel, Governor of Akwa Ibom State paused to address the large crowd that had gathered. He first confessed that he deliberately embarked on the visit on a rainy day to enable him assess erosion and flood situation in the area with a view to taking steps to control the menace which, he admitted, has ravaged the town.
He said he was committed to restoring economic and aquaculture life which Oron had long being known for and that he will commence the construction of drainage channels to control flood in Oron town before reaching out to the hinterland. He said he didn’t like what he saw on one of the days he came to Oro and it was raining. According to him, Oron used to be one of the finest ancient cities where visitors preferred to live because of its economic and aquaculture life. “We want to restore the lost glory of Oron. Once we finish with the drainage system, we’ll rehabilitate roads and install street lights”. He added. Governor Emmanuel hinted that two major companies had arrived the state to invest in Marine and Tourism Resources of the area and that necessary effort were being put in place to make Oron town habitable to the teaming investors who were expected in the town.
The most striking line for me in his brief remarks was when he said, “I am that Oro Governor that you were looking for, we are brothers and sisters from one family, I drink from the same river so I feel the plight of the people of Oro Nation.” That line has got me thinking since and I think should serve as an antiphon for a deeper reflection on the journey of Oro nation to development.
The story is different today as the people of Oron are pouring encomiums on the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr Udom Gabriel Emmanuel for what they say, is the awesome strides in rehabilitating dilapidated roads and constructing new ones in the Oron council area. Recently, a select group of journalists took an unscheduled tour of some roads that the governor promised to undertake their reconstruction last August . The roads include, Mainland street, Efiat street adjoining Efiat lane, Bassey lane, Anwana Esin street, Mary Hanny, and the Post office street among others.
The response they got was inspiring. A resident Chief Anthony Udoh described the road project at Anwana Esin as incredible. Chief Udoh said, the state governor has wiped tears and decades of suffering. The roads which he said had completely collapsed and rendered the areas inaccessible even to pedestrians has been turned around to a beautifully built streets with underground drainages to deflood the area. He thanked Governor Emmanuel for keeping his promise and finishing the project before the rains this year.
A petty trader who identified her name as Madam Anwana while praying God to bless Governor Emmanuel maintained that, he is the Oro governor, they were waiting for. Madam Anwana said all residents of Mary Hanny and environs will heave a sigh of relief as their homes will not be flooded again. She argued that, the frustrations they experienced with being displaced by heavy flooding and the danger of encroaching gully erosions is now a thing of the past. She said Oro nation are happy that the decades of neglect and marginalization is now over as the governor is poised to deliver more road projects in the area.
Speaking in the same vein, a youth leader, Mr Amba Utibe commended the efforts of the state government in delivering over 6 streets in Oron metropolis within its first eight months in office and expressed confidence that Governor Udom has turned the page for the people and residents of Oro nation.
Many other residents shared the same joy and enthusiasm and however added that, Oro is desirous to see more projects in the area to make up for the past neglect and expressed belief in Governor Emmanuel as the right governor Oro nation should support, since he has proven that, he is a man of his words and kept his campaign promises.
The Oron people are comprised in five Councils in Akwa Ibom state; Oron , Udung-Uko , Mbo, Urue-Offong/Oruko , and Okobo. They have a rich history. The story of the Oro nation dates back 2370 . Oro people had already been settled down in the present location known as Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria on the West Coast of African Sub Region, Akwa Ibom Gulf Line to Gulf of Guinea Atlantic Ocean South, after the Great flood (Noah`s deluge). The land is tremendously rich in human and natural resource. Oron is rich in oil and natural gas. Oron is presently rated as having one of the highest supplies of natural gas deposits in sub-Saharan Africa with large amounts of untapped natural gas and oil at Ukpata, Udung Okung, and Edik Ekpu.
The region is extremely fertile and is known for its topographical Oil Palm Belt, tropical rainforest, swamps, and beaches. The mangrove forests also provide timber and raw materials for medicinal purposes. There are also deposits of solid minerals such as iron, free silica or glass sand and gravel. Seafoods such as crayfish, snipers, oyster and periwinkle abound richly in all coastal areas. Interestingly, Oro people are largely enlightened and educated. Oron people were among the earliest to encounter Western education in West Africa. This is most evident with the establishment of the Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar in 1895 and the Methodist Boys High School, Oron in 1905. These schools are the oldest in the history of Nigeria and attracted students from all over Western and Central Africa.
In what is a sad contrast, the physical location of the Oro nation as at May 2015 did not appear to reflect this great history, reckoning, intellectual and natural resources. The little infrastructure the nation had muscled through the years was fast decaying coupled with the road network increasingly crippled by the menace of flooding. It was an emergency situation. The emergency situation required quick out-of-box ideas. It required that the burdens and sentiments of the past must be left behind. It required that the people had to adopt a positive, forward looking mentality to confronting the enemy of decay, poverty and lack.
The journey to greatness had begun. It is a new day and a chance for Oro nation, nay Akwa Ibom State to meet up with the rest of the world. Like Professor Ene Henshaw would say, “The world outside is moving fast, we must move with it. This is our chance!” The first leap has begun with the positive gestures and brave plans of the Udom Emmanuel administration in Akwa Ibom State for the Oro nation. The Governor has bared his mind severally on his dreams of taking Oro nation to a condition far better than where they are. Oro people have understood that the development of the Oro nation is not entirely a political affair. Even if the Governor were to be of Oro extraction and all the commissioners nominated from Oro nation, without a comprehensive plan and committed spirit to develop the area, the material conditions will remain and cycle of underdevelopment will endure. With the construction of the Airport road-Okobo-Oron dual carriage road, the entire region will be opened up to development.
Therefore, when Mr Udom Emmnuel said in 2015, “I am that Oro Governor that you were looking for, we are brothers and sisters from one family, I drink from the same river so I feel the plight of the people of Oro Nation”, he meant every word of it. As a focused and result oriented leader, he had made the first significant step by inaugurating a star studded 10-member Technical Committee on the actualisation of Ibom Deep Seaport with the charge to pilot the process for the actualisation of Ibom Deep Seaport on or before December 31, 2018. The committee included great people of Oro nation extraction like Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem and Mrs Akon Eyakenyi. The Governor had mandated the members to draw up a road map in collaboration with other stakeholders for the next project phase. He has also asked the committee to review the Outline Business Case (OBC) and other relevant documents to guide in the timely delivery of the project and to ensure compliance with the ICRC Act, 2005 and the National Policy on Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in the overall project implementation. They are also expected to to liaise with the Federal Ministry of Transport, Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), and Ministerial Project Development Steering Committee (MPDSC) in all procurement processes in line with the Public Procurement Act 2007; evaluate Technical reports from the Transaction Adviser (TA) & Operator and ensure implementation. Work is in progress!
The Ibaka Deep Seaport is an audacious attempt to re-write the maritime story of Akwa Ibom State. It holds the promise of an industrial revolution of our State. It holds the promise of the industrialization of Akwa Ibom. It holds the promise of the creation of over 100,000 jobs. It holds the promise of a self-sustaining commercial city with oil and gas support services. It holds the promise of our finally tapping into our awesome and largely untapped maritime potentials.
Udom Emmanuel calls it is a seed of greatness which when we plant it, and it germinates, it shall provide economic and social shelter for millions of Akwa Ibom people. It is a project with multiple benefits to our state, our nation and our sub-region. It encapsulates the dream of this administration for the industrial rebirth of Akwa Ibom State. Mr Udom Emmanuel knows that the list of countries that trace their roots of rapid industrialisation to seaports is endless. Foreign Direct Investments flows ceaselessly in Malaysia because of its freight business. Port Klang alone has trade links with over 180 countries, and more than 500 ports. With this, there is no way their economy will fail to thrive. Even the economy of the United States of America is also largely dependent on its waterborne trade. More than 13.3 million Americans work in port-related jobs that generate nearly 650 billion Dollars in annual personal income and 212.4 billion Dollars in federal, state and local taxes. In Florida specifically, sea ports generate more than 550,000 direct and indirect jobs. The story is not different in Singapore and other Asian Tigers. It can also be our story.
The Oro people are proud of the Governor’s commitment and they share in the urgency of the moment. The Ibom Deep Sea Port will be an industrial mix that will pump the economy to its highest calibration of performance like it is in other climes. These initial significant moves of the Governor of Akwa Ibom State is a clear testimony of a sincere and honest disposition to change the fortunes of the people of Oro nation. The Oro people have shunned detractors who are bent on gaining capital over a worrisome situation. What the Oro nation has done now is to fully support a government that is genuinely interested in the welfare of its people. The stakeholders, royal fathers and youths have given full cooperation to the system to enable it arrive at its goals at a minimum cost. There is a time to play politics and a time to deliver the promises of good governance. The people have put on a countenance of hope and great expectation anchored on a passion of a government committed to sustaining superior performance. The Oro people are grateful. The signs are written on the skies. Certainly, better days lie ahead for the Oro nation.