By Aniekeme Finbarr
The eternal words of John Scully, an American businessman and entrepreneur best captures the approach of Governor Udom Emmanuel to governance in Akwa Ibom State-“The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious”.
Only those who belong to the future will sense the steady progress and change of gears towards self reliance and sufficiency in Akwa Ibom State since May 29, 2015. Needless to emphasize that years of socio-political and economic instability had robbed a once industrious people of an innate zeal for self-reliance, leading to impoverishment from the lack of self-belief and financial overdependence on Government. The dearth of industries in the Akwa Ibom state had since instigated unemployment and a high level of dependency on the state government for employment. Consequently and sadly too, our great state for all its natural and human endowment has been denigratingly tagged a “civil service state”.
For that, Mr Udom Emmanuel, visioner, leader and Governor saw the need for a mind-set change and attitudinal rebirth, which gave birth to the Dakkada Initiative. Dakkada is a movement to unshackle the people from underachievement by inspiring self-belief, confidence and courage to utilize skills to maximize results. Dakkada charges us to see beyond what others see, human and intellectual. It inspires us to rise to the faith that as a people, we can move beyond ethnicity, biases, religion and gender. The Dakkada efforts are yielding fruits. As we look around, there is a proliferation of various trades, crafts, products and services across the state and it is very heart warming to see the sense of accomplishment with which these entrepreneurs, at their various levels go about their businesses.
It is also instructive to note that the successful execution of any developmental blueprint strongly hinges on infrastructure and government under Mr Udom Emmanuel is pursuing that goal with increased vigour. It is focused on the three gate ways to a vibrant economy; road, water and air transportation. The allocation accruing our state from the centre has crashed astronomically but inspite of the shortfall in federal allocation, several kilometres of roads and bridges have been constructed and many more are under construction. These roads are strategically networked to provide efficient movement of goods and services around the state and to accommodate the looming influx of vehicular traffic in the state. So far, government has constructed over 200 kilometers of roads, and 15 bridges across the three senatorial districts. Communities that were once cut off have been opened up. As part of the activities to mark Governor Udom Emmanuel’s first year in office, he commissioned some of the shorter roads, a couple of them like Efiat, Mary Hanney, Anwana Esin were some of the over 6.6km internal roads with outfall drains in Oron where the entire terrain was taken out by flood as at the middle of 2015. The Information Drive In Uyo, the Ikot Udom road in Ibiono Ibom local government area, Mkpok Okat and Awa Iman roads in Onna, including the internal roads at the Cornelia Cornelly College, Uyo are some the roads we commissioned in our first year in office. Several other road projects are ongoing in all the senatorial districts of the state, including the dualization of the Eket-Ibeno road, Remodeling of Eket metropolis, the Nto Edino-Ekwere Azu road in Obot Akara Local Government Area and several others. The second taxiway is nearing completion at the Ibom International Airport to support the industrialization drive of our administration.
To further expand infrastructure, Mr Udom Emmanuel has commissioned a 40 apartment residential estate for the expatriates that are manning the key aspects of the Ibom Specialist Hospital ‘s operations. That is in addition to constructing a brand new 300 bed capacity block the Dr Ann Ward Gynecology block at the St Luke’s Hospital Anua including the rehabilitation of the Pediatric and male blocks of the hospital. A modern state secretariat complex to supplement the existing state secretariat has been built to improve working conditions of the state’s workforce.
Three of our hospitals in Oron, Eket and Ikot Ekpene have been given provisional accreditation by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) to provide training for House Officers in the state. Still on hard infrastructure, Governor Udom Emmanuel has intervened in a number of places ravaged by gulley erosion at Enen Atai along Calabar Itu road and School of Nursing, Anua are prime examples. Electricity has improved tremendously in our state and several communities such as those in Okobo and Eastern Obolo now enjoy regular electricity. License has also been acquired for the generation of an additional 495 megawatts of power. It may now appear as normal but has electricity supply not improved around you?
As part of the bold plans to build and empower a robust youthful population, the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel has adopted and strengthened the free and qualitative education policy. Education remains the surest and quickest sustainable way out of poverty. Every child means everything to Mr Udom Emmanuel and his administration and for him, every child must be equipped for future challenges and relevance. Governor Udom Emmanuel believes that those who have come to hold important positions in public offices and in the corporate world are products of this public school system. Consequently, he has made huge financial and human capital investments in schools beyond just regular obligations.
Governor Udom Emmanuel has ensured prompt payment of primary and secondary school teacher’s salaries despite the economic situation while also providing subvention for the payment of newly recruited staff of Akwa Ibom State University. As basic as this sounds, several states in the country are owing worker’s salaries for several months. The Government has not only offset WAEC and NABTEB examination fees for students, but have also provided funds for laboratory reagents for practical examinations. Governor Udom Emmanuel has provided counter- part funding to access UBEC fund for over 300 projects across schools in our state. ICT has been boosted with the commissioning of two ICT centres at Government Technical School, Ewet and Topfaith Int’l School, Mkpatak while releasing 250 laptops and computers to various other schools. Beyond the basic level, scholarships and grants are still on-going (like that for law and Medical students) 30 Akwa Ibomites recently returned from a government sponsored Master’s programme on ICT.
As the government strives to achieve so much within its means, It is trite to ask, of what benefit will projects be to us without good health? The first place Mr Udom Emmanuel visited as Governor was a health facility, the St Luke’s Hospital Anua. He did not mind that the long standing hospital was not owned by government, he immediately swung into action to give it a face lift mindful of the large number of child births recorded there, the largest number in the entire region. The health sector has experienced an unprecedented revolution since the advent of this administration. The Ibom Specialist Hospital has started operations, and the government recently commissioned the state-of-the art residential quarters for the expatriates that will man the key aspects of the hospitals’ operations. Governor Udom Emmanuel is committed to providing affordable health-care services to our people. Other achievements in this sector include the upgrading of three Hospitals in Eket, Oron and Ikot Ekpene with provisional accreditation from Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) to provide training for House Officers in the state, 48 House Officers had been employed and commenced training, immunization of our children and mothers, free Healthcare Programme and Malaria Elimination Programme (MEP) were pursued with success. HIV/AIDs reduction has also recorded progress as government is showing commitment in this respect.
Governor Udom Emmanuel works tirelessly to ensure that the people of Akwa Ibom state continue to enjoy the highest standard of healthcare within the framework of planed programmes through improving free Healthcare for pregnant women, children under the age of 5yrs and the elderly, 65 years and above, improving maternal, newborn and child health, scaling up HIV/AIDs, malaria and TB control programmes, commencement of activities at Ultra Modern Diagnostic Centre at Ikot Ekpene, and improvement in infrastructure and service delivery, etc.The health and wellbeing of the Akwa Ibom person remains the centerpiece of all our developmental efforts and actions as a government.
My dear brothers and sisters, one of the greatest assets a state can boast about is her youthful population. A properly educated, inspired and engaged youth is the greatest assurance of a secured future. Governor Udom Emmanuel believes and understands that though not all of them were born with equal talents, they should be given equal opportunity to explore their God given potential and be equipped for future challenges.
The administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel has devised many creative strategies to make our youths to be relevant in a competitive world. As he stepped into office, he set in motion several training programmes to ensure their employability beginning with the 1000 of our sons and daughters that are on a state government training on Oracle Database Management. Another 200 have also completed a power sector training in Abuja. That power sector training was designed to equip the trainees with basic skills involved in power generation, distribution and maintenance. 100 youths have undergone a special programme on mechanized farming in Israel which was strategically factored into the annual pilgrimage. He had since floated a scheme tagged the Akwa Ibom Employment and Enterprise Scheme where young entrepreneurs are encouraged to be self reliant employing different combined methods like the franchise, common facility and business incubation system to address unemployment. Governor Udom Emmanuel places very high premium on education and skills development as both are pivotal to human capacity development.
It is heartwarming that Governor Udom Emmanuel also sees sports as a window of opportunities to unlock hidden treasures for our younger generation . Last year, he sat at breakfast with the management and players of our state owned team. He charged them to write the name of Akwa Ibom State on the national sporting map. He followed them all the way until we broke a 20 year old jinx. We won our first national football trophy at club level when Akwa United won the 2016 Federations Cup and qualified to play at the continental level. Akwa Ibom State is taking sports back to schools and to further develop sporting talents in our state, Governor Udom Emmanuel is building ten sports centres in the ten federal constituencies in the state. He commissioned the first one few weeks ago at West Itam Secondary School, Itu LGA. The second sports centre at Ikot Mbong, Onna is at advanced stage. He is running a youth-friendly government, and he knows that unemployment is the major scourge of the youths. He is designing more plans to provide opportunities for our youths and give them employment. His belief is that our youths should earn a living through the works of their hands as opposed to begging for a living. In the same vein, he have set up loan schemes for small-scale businesses, especially for our women.
As Governor Udom Emmanuel leds the charge on one hand, his amiable wife, Mrs Martha Emmanuel is advancing the cause of women and families in our State. She has, in line with our Five-Point Agenda, has brought succor to the weary, hope to the forlorn and strength to the weak. Her uplifting programme, Family Empowerment and Youth Re-orientation Program (FEYREP) has become a pool of Bethesda providing solutions to the problems of multitudes. AKISAN, USA and Pro Health International have supported her in organizing free surgeries for Akwa Ibomites across the three senatorial districts in the state.
As a leader, Governor Udom Emmanu has also charged the youths and indeed everyone to take to agriculture. With our dwindling fortunes at the oil market, agriculture is the surest way out of poverty and lack. We are on the right track diversifying into agriculture. For us, agriculture has gone beyond a subsistent engagement to a business project. Do you know Akwa Ibom is known to have one of the best flavours in the country? That is why Governor Udom Emmanuel has resuscitated cocoa production through the establishment of Cocoa Development Committee chaired by the Deputy Governor, Mr Moses Ekpo MFR. He also flagged off the Cocoa Maintenance Scheme to improve the yield of cocoa from the present 300kg/ha to 1,500kg/ha between 2016 to 2019. Governor Emmanuel has provided support for 8,200 cocoa farmers to cultivate 30,000 hectares of Cocoa. He has trained 480 youths on Cocoa Maintenance Scheme. Experts have been brought in to work with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Technical Committee to teach Cocoa farmers conventional agronomic practices to improve cultivation of cocoa in the state to earn foreign exchange.
Apart from cocoa, 6,000 hectares of land has been designated for the cultivation of cassava. We have cassava multiplication farms in Ikot Okudom in Eket LGA, Ikot Ekan in Abak and Ishiet Ekim in Uruan to teach cluster groups best practices in cassava production. approved counterpart funds for FADAMA 111 Programme. Under this programme, cassava is targeted for cultivation annually between 2016 and 2019. The state is expected to cultivate 6,000ha of cassava in 2019 thereby moving the present cluster to core status. In addition I have approved the establishment of three new cassava processing factories in the three senatorial districts in the state namely: Ibesikpo Asutan LGA (Nung Udoe, Eket LGA (Ikot Okudom) and Abak LGA (Ikot Ekang). This will reduce the cost of processing cassava into other derivatives such as fofo, garrison, and pallets as well as their prices significantly. I have approved the reactivation and management of the defunct state premier fisheries at Obio Eket, Nsit Ubium by Merlot Anny Limited.
We have secured 10 billion naira for small scale rice growers through the Anchor borrowers program of the Central Bank of Nigeria in collaboration with the Bank of Agriculture, a total of 63,715 hectares of swamp land is targeted for cultivation by 48,920 rice farmers in the state. Government is currently partnering with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development under the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) on the provision of farm inputs for a total of 3,600,000 farmers in Akwa Ibom state between 2016 and 2019. A breakdown shows that 600,000 farmers will benefit from the scheme in 2016 while 800,000, 1,000,000 and 1,200,000 farmers are earmarked for 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively. Farmers in crops, livestock and fisheries subsectors will benefit from the scheme.
To put an end to capital flight from the state, an ultra modern poultry hatchery complex which will produce at least 520 day old chicks per day. It has commenced operation at Mbiaya in Uruan. The hatchery which comprises a feed mill and a breeder farm had commenced production It is expected that the hatchery will attain its full production capacity of 520,000 Day Old Chicks per week by November 2016.
Akwa Ibom State is located in a geographic belt of fertile soil and good weather capable of sustaining an agrarian revolution. We should be able to feed ourselves as well as other parts of Nigeria. That’s our target.
The main focal point of Mr Udom Emmanuel’s government remains the industrialization of our state. This is a process not an event. He is making progress after one year in office. His eyes are on the ball as he aspires to make Akwa Ibom State one of Nigeria’s gateways to the world and a hub for international commerce and enormous employment opportunities. For the development of our Ibom industrial city, PricewaterhouseCoopers has been engaged as consultants. Global Maritime and Port services Pte Limited have been picked as developers while Dal-Andersan are the transaction adviser. Governor Udom Emmanuel has put Akwa Ibom on an onward journey. The three Technical Committees on Direct Foreign Investment, Agriculture and Food Sufficiency, and Ibom Deep Seaport, which he formed at the inception of this administration, has risen to the challenge of strengthening our economic stakes. He has signed several MOUs, done ground breaking ceremonies and other preliminary for a wide range of industrial projects like the Automobile Assembly Plant in Itu, the LED Industry in Itam, the Metering Industry in Awa-Iman, Onna. He has also flagged off the Coconut Plantation and refinery situated in parts of in Mkpat Enin, Ikot Abasi and Eastern Obolo Local Government Areas. He has also done the groundbreaking for Petro Chemical/Jetty Project in Ibeno and signed numerous MoU’s with investors who would soon develop refineries as well as clay refining in our state. Previously moribund industries like Peacock Paints Ltd have also been revamped and continues to increase in production capacity. As a footnote, I can say that these proposed industries are building blocks targeted at the creation of hundreds of thousands of employment opportunities for the people of Akwa Ibom State Ideally, when there are industries, jobs are created. Workers then earn wages, pay taxes, make savings, and help circulate money through purchases. All these have a multiplier effect on the economy as they generate revenue for the state to foot Government’s social responsibilities.
The challenges facing us require that we look beyond political affiliation and the factors that separate us in sourcing requisite manpower to pilot development. We count on all Akwa Ibom people to succeed, including professionals, entrepreneurs, business people, women, youths, the unemployed, the disabled, the aged, workers and pensioners.
Akwa Ibom is rising and we must rise with it. We must together face tomorrow with greater commitment to unity, love and brotherhood. When we stand united, no foe can defeat us. We can strengthen good friendship, cement our bond of unity, bridge the communication gab and help foster the true Akwa Ibom spirit for our common goal and our commonwealth. The government is open to suggestions and advice, even as it seeks to entrench a bottom-up approach to development.
We ought to pull forces together in love and confront the forces of lack and joblessness. I have a deep seated conviction that it is enterprise which will drive development in our state, changing the fortunes of our people and altering the Akwa Ibom narrative for the better. I believe that everything we want to achieve as a state—from economic growth, to improved standards of living, to better health, to a more robust democratic space—all of these things are predicated on a thriving private sector.
Akwa Ibom is rising under Governor Udom Emmanuel. Akwa Ibom is rising. Once the passion is right, nothing is impossible.
*Finbarr is a Media Aide to the Akwa Ibom State Governor