The Senior Special Assistant (SSA) and Chief Press Secretary to Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Ekerette Udoh, in this interview spoke on the efforts made to steer the state’s economy base away from oil. He also spoke on what the people of the state should expect from this administration in terms of infrastructural development. Excerpts
Sir, Governor Udom Emmanuel promised that industrialization would be the focus of his administration but not much has been seen?
The governor started by inviting investors and performed ground breaking ceremonies, which is a starting point in industrial process. I have often said that industrialization or developing an industry takes a lot of time. It involves various levels of approvals, authentication and licensing. For instance, he performed the ground breaking ceremony for the Automobile Assembly plant in July last year, today the firm is on site with container loads of equipment. They had to go through licensing and other registration processes, ditto for several others.
Governor Udom Emmanuel has taken time to encapsulate his vision for the state in a five point agenda of Job Creation; Poverty Alleviation; Wealth Creation; Economic and Political inclusion; Infrastructural Consolidation and Expansion. To achieve his vision, therefore, he inaugurated a Technical Committee on Foreign Direct Investment, Technical Committee on Ibaka Deep seaport project, Technical Committee on Agriculture and Food Sufficiency, and rehabilitated and re-commissioned the Peacock Paint factory in Etinan.
Also, to consolidate the infrastructural edge of the State, the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel has ensured the clearing of 85 hectares of land in Eket for 100,000 barrels per day petroleum refinery, and another 15 hectares along Eastern Obolo – Mkpat Enin axis for coconut plantation and refinery. As I speak, over 50 foreign investors have indicated interest in coming to setup shops in Akwa Ibom State, while ground breaking ceremonies have been performed for the take-off of a number of industrial concerns.
Shortly after he was sworn in, Governor Udom Emmanuel set up technical committee on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) headed by Mr. Gabriel Ukpe as the Chairman and others. Those guys have hit the ground running and attracted tons of industries to Akwa Ibom state. They have signed numerous Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
The governor is of the opinion that you have to diversify. Why we are where we are today is because our leaders in the past refused to diversify because of the monies from oil. The governor is of the opinion that you cannot run an economy that is based on one product. The governor from day one told the world that his policy is to ensure that Akwa Iboms state does not rely solely on oil but we want to look at other areas that can add values and create a value chain and of course that is Industrialization.
The governor has done a lot in agriculture. If you look at what is going on in the country, even payment of salaries of workers is a huge problem to some state governments. Governor Udom Emmanuel has done so well in the sense that Akwa Ibom is one state in the country where salaries of workers are not been owed by the government. He has achieved that be deploying his skills as a financial services expert.
The key thing the governor has done is diversifying the economic base of the state away from oil and into vital areas like agriculture and industrialisation. He has also maintained some of what the immediate past governor started like the free and compulsory education. Kids under one to five years are still given free medical care. The aged and pregnant women are also given free medical attention.
There is a new turn in governance. One that is based on the fact that the people come first and that is based on his old definition platform of Christianity. All the governor is doing is based on Christian ethics, values and orientation. So the people come first in every consideration. Also he has constructed numerous roads across the state despite the paucity of fund. He has done over 250 km of roads in the state. A lot of places that were affected by flood water, the governor has addressed that and made it motor able also. The governor is also embarking on a lot of capital projects. The governor deserved to be commended and applauded.
A lot of people at the national level have singled Governor Udom Emmanuel as one of the governors to watch. If he has performed like this in the last 14 months despite paucity of funds, you can imagine how the governor will perform when things pick up. For us it is going to be a wonderful ride going forward.
Can you give an insight into some of these projects of the governor?
To bring in industries is a process. We are running a Federal system of government but the centre still unfortunately most times determines how things are done. The people that are tasked with the responsibilities of ensuring these industries come on board have done a good job. The process is ongoing.
Every week the governor is either meeting with certain investors or signing MoUs. So people have seen Akwa Ibom as hospitable place that is relatively peaceful. People don’t realize that industry is a process because they want it to start immediately. It is not done that way. We have only done 14 months. By the time those industries come on stage, I can assure you that employment is going to be created massively.
One thing that has occupied the mind of the governor is how to eradicate poverty. This is a man that just cannot afford to see people suffer and the notion that able bodied men and women would graduate from universities without jobs is something that agitate the mind of the governor. The governor wants to do as much as possible to alleviate poverty and create opportunities for young men and women to have jobs. He can only do that by looking beyond oil. Soon now or later some of those industries are going to come on stage and people will applaud and appreciate the governor for what he is doing.
How would the governor eradicate poverty in the short run since those industries are for long term period?
I am sure you have been following the governor’s activities. The small scale loans the governor is giving to farmers and market women. That is still ongoing. That is a vital area that can immediately impact the lives of the people. Akwa Ibom is one of the few states that have given small scale loans to people across the board.
Akwa Ibom State is number one oil producing state with no refinery, is the refinery project still visible?
I am not going to go into technical details. But I think you were at the town hall meeting when the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu came out and stated what they intends to do. Akwa Ibom is the largest oil producing state in the country. I think it is scandalous to even imagine that Akwa Ibom doesn’t have a refinery or even a depot. If you are talking about the cocoanut refinery, that one is part of the effort by the governor to diversify the economy. Again, this shows the capacity of the governor to think outside the box and doing things that has never been done before.
How would the governor be able to achieve all these lofty ideas with the paucity of fund?
Akwa Ibom state is lucky to have a man who is a financial services expert. He knows how to make money. He knows how manage resources and where to deploy scarce resources to get the most result. He is determined to take Akwa Ibom state to another level in terms of infrastructure development. Despite the paucity of fund, the governor is still doing a lot in terms of infrastructure upgrade. He’s been able to do a lot for Akwa Ibom people inspite of the fact that what we are getting from Federal Allocation is far below what we used to get as a state but he’s still been able to meet his obligations. It takes a deep sense of ingenuity to achieve some positive results.
Pensioners of Local Government recently protested over unpaid gratuities while the state government claimed it does not owe the pensioners, what is the true position?
My boss the governor came out to address the world that he does not owe any worker. It is just the machination of certain elements that still do not want to believe that the 2015 election is a settled affair and some of those elements still believe that the more they agitate for certain things that would never be may be the more they would draw some mileage out of it. They should know that this case is a waste of efforts. There are three tiers of government, the Federal, State and Local Governments.
The payment of salaries, pensions and gratuities and all of that is the sole function of local government council. State government has nothing to do with payment of salaries and pension of local government workers. The local government council go to Abuja to collect same allocation as the state government.
Nobody interfere in how they deploy the resources. But given the fact that we are operating in a challenging economy, the governor has always in spite that it is not his responsibility pay the gratuities and salaries of local government workers. He has always intervened in his own magnanimity because the governor will not be comfortable seeing people not collecting salaries. The governor has been helping local government chairmen pay salaries and pension even when it is not his direct responsibility.
In this aspect, the principle of federalism works. There is a clear separation of powers. When the governor came in nobody asked him to do it but he was touched by the plight of the people and he paid workers 10 years backlog of gratuities and the people were so appreciative of the governor. I am sure you saw the letters they wrote thanking the governor.
I am sure certain people thought the governor was going to have lavish birthday party and they wanted to reign on his parade but they don’t know that the governor is not into all these razzmatazz. His own is to focus on the work of the people. The protest was a carefully orchestrated effort by certain elements to grand style and play to the gallery. The discerning people of Akwa Ibom state didn’t buy into all that. It was utterly condemnable because the people should appreciate what the governor has been doing. Just last week he gave out money to local government chairmen to pay gratuities of pension and that again is not his responsibility.
Are you now saying the protest were politically motivated?
Absolutely so, I will not mention the name of any political party but the protest is orchestrated by certain element that still don’t believe that the 2015 election is a settled affairs but the good people of Akwa Ibom state didn’t buy into that. Some of the people that took part in the protest actually confessed they were paid N2, 000 each to show up.
We also heard that the governor has banned protest across the state, how true is that?
Another lies from the pit of hell. Another manufactured subterfuge. The governor wouldn’t say that. We are living in a democratic environment where you have the freedom and right to agitate for certain needs.
What the governor said was if you are being used by certain element to cause public disaffection and that it is illegal assemblage then you have broken the law. You know we cannot live in a chaotic society where anybody can wake up in the morning and begin to block the road.
For you to protest there must be police permit. That was not done. It was just a rented crowd of certain element and the governor as the chief security officer of the state said he won’t allow people to cause public disaffection. So the governor didn’t say that he is banning protest but illegal protest is what the governor is against.
A protest that has not been approved by the police and if you were contacted by certain people and paid to go and cause public disaffection, I don’t think there is any government in the world that will fold its arms and watch people cause public disorder.