Under Emmanuel Udom, Akwa Ibom is a breath of fresh air.
At age 32, Akwa Ibom State is inching its way slowly but steadily into the rarefied zone of modernity. Where the State is today is the work of many hands, military and civilian leaders.
A state is always built block by block and it is the cumulative efforts, big and small, of all the builders that have produced today’s Akwa Ibom State.
Since 1999, the state has been run by three men from the same party, the PDP, which has given it a reasonable measure of stability. Each of them has had a signature niche.
Obong Victor Attah can be called Mr. Resource Control for his activism in the battle for fairness and justice for the Niger Delta people who have been the burden bearers of Nigeria’s resource curse. Chief Godswill Akpabio made his name largely from infrastructural development which he called uncommon transformation. You can call him Mr. Infrastructure.
The man in the saddle today, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, has established his firm footprints in the sands of industrialisation among other sectors. If you are looking for a sobriquet to hang on him, you can call him Mr. Industrialisation.
As we speak, he has attracted to the state more than 20 industries, some of which were commissioned a few days ago by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who seemed quite impressed with what he saw.
Akwa Ibom has been known as a civil service state since its creation. Even with its frontline position as an oil and gas producing state, it has not attracted any ancilliary industry from the decision makers at the centre to the State.
About seven years ago, when Governor Godswill Akpabio declared 1000 vacancies to be filled in the State Civil Service, 76, 000 young university graduates applied for the jobs. By a simple arithmetic, it meant that 76 graduates were hustling for one position.
Since then, the situation may have changed only slightly. This is probably part of the reason Governor Emmanuel has devoted considerable attention and resources to industrialisation.
Industrialization brings jobs, brings goods, brings technology and skills transfer. Further, it reduces poverty and creates wealth. It is an unfailing strategy for life transformation.
He seems to adopt a multi-pronged approach to job creation by his partnership with the private sector because he knows that there is a strict limit to the number of jobs that can be created directly by the government. Today, Akwa Ibom is number one on the oil and gas league. It still doesn’t have any oil or gas related industry established on its soil. That is the spelling of unfairness.
So, it is appropriate for Governor Emmanuel to take the bull by the horns otherwise poverty and unemployment can lead to an implosion or worse in the state. By the third quarter of last year, Akwa Ibom State reportedly recorded a 37.7% unemployment rate. This is according to the Labour Force Survey published by the National Bureau of Statistics.
If true, then the situation is alarming especially when we remember that the national economy is facing strong headwinds and will not be able to stimulate any sector effectively to absorb the battalions of unemployed youths. Therefore, the integrated approach to job creation by Mr. Emmanuel is admirable.
Here is why.
His decision that Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic and Akwa Ibom State University must have compulsory programmes on entrepreneurship is a master stroke. With the knowledge of entrepreneurship, graduates can create jobs for themselves and for others instead of pounding the streets and wearing out their shoes in the search for non-existent jobs.
If all universities in Nigeria, Federal and State, adopt entrepreneurship as a compulsory subject, our universities will be producing young people that are ready, on graduation, for the hard school of life. The second reason that his approach seems right is his plan to ensure that by December 2021, the state will have 100% power supply.
Power is invaluable both for domestic and industrial consumption. Once there is power 24/7, small and medium businesses will thrive and there will be an all round multiplier effect. The third reason is that private investors will be happy to invest in Akwa Ibom for four reasons:
First, it is peaceful. Two, the people are friendly. Third, the operating environment is right and finally, there is easy accessibility through air and land transportation.
Chief Leo Stan Ekeh, chairman of Zinox Group and Konga, online and offline retail giant, told me a few weeks ago that his company has made massive investments in Akwa Ibom State. When I asked him why he chose Akwa Ibom State, he said the conditions in the State are perfect for investment. That should be a happy story in the ears of all Akwa Ibomites.
It smells fresh like green tea.
Development does not occur by the gift of serendipity. It is possible that Akwa Ibom would have recorded more development in the last 20 years if the mentality and values of the people had been right. It was the view of Obong Victor Attah that Akwa Ibomites needed an ethical re-orientation for growth and development.
The Dakkada philosophy is aimed at achieving that too, I believe. But it has to be more comprehensive. Today, our people still treat the girl child contemptuously and throw into the streets women who deliver girls.
They send male children to school and female children into marriage. The young people all want to be made PAs and SAs even if they do not have the right qualifications for them because they think that is where the money is.
I had a brilliant relation who dropped out of the university because he wanted to become a councillor. I asked him why. He said he wanted to make money. I read the riot act to him before he went back to the university.
A friend told me a few days ago that he got a job to tar a road to his village. The chiefs and youths asked him to bring money before they would allow him to tar the road, their road. Even after he gave them money, they still charged him for every lorry that brought materials for the work.
A few years ago, I did hear some youths in Uyo saying something like “na roads we go chop.” Today, they are probably also saying “na industries we go chop.” Of course, you chop roads when you walk or ride on them and you chop industries when they produce goods and employ people.
People who say those things simply want “awoof.” No society with that sort of mindset can progress. So, I would recommend that in addition to Dakkada, the State Government should organise a colloquium on values and recommendations from the conference can be printed and utilised for civics lessons in schools.
Our values are warped. Young people are into drugs and cults. Old people, even pastors, are raping young people and committing all kinds of abominable things. It is a national malaise which has left no state unaffected.
As I said earlier, development is not a chance find. It has to be meticulously planned. Good a thing the Akwa Ibom State College of Education has been upgraded to a degree-awarding institution which will produce graduate teachers.
Indeed, the world is knowledge and technology-driven today. I suggest that the State Government pays special attention to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Akwa Ibom students who graduate in the first class division in these four areas should be given scholarships to study abroad up to Ph.D level.
Education, high education, is a great transformer, a great liberator. Education in Nigeria is poorly funded by the Federal Government. Less than 10% of the Federal budget goes to education whereas the UNESCO prescription is 26%.
Ivory Coast and Ghana spend about 30%, South Africa 25.8%, Kenya 23% and Uganda 27% on education funding. So, it is obvious that ASUU is not crying wolf where there is none. The excuse of the Federal Government has always been that its funds are finite and education is expensive.
It is Derek Bok, President of Harvard University who said some time ago: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” It is not education only that is expensive. All aspects of development cost money.
The internally generated revenue (IGR) of Akwa Ibom State for last year was N24.21 billion. It is expected that when the 21-storey building erected in Uyo by the State Government is done and dusted and ExxonMobil moves its headquarters there, the State Government will earn considerable revenue from pay-as-you-earn taxation.
The Udom Emmanuel completion agenda is quite impressive. There is a US$60 million investment in Qua Steel in Eket, two automobile plants by Israeli and Chinese investors, a US $3 billion fertilizer manufacturing plant in Ikot Abasi and an ethanol plant and a LED factory for the manufacture of low energy bulbs. There is also a 50, 000 sq metre free trade zone at Ikot Abasi which is expected to harbour a logistics jetty, petrochemical plant and liquefied natural gas plant.
If and when these various life-transforming industries come on stream, the Akwa Ibom narrative will be very interesting.
Election propaganda always leads to rising expectations which are sometimes unfulfillable. But Mr. Emmanuel, a financial and corporate governance expert, has often given the assurance that since he is a “professional in politics” and not a “professional politician” we deserve to believe him.
If he is able to fulfill all his plans by the time he leaves office, Akwa Ibomites will be whistling joyously on their journey to the happy shores of prosperity. And a decent place will be reserved for Emmanuel in the history books.