December 30, 2017 •
By TONY ANICHEBE
Charles Udoh is the Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Akwa Ibom State. In this interview with TONY ANICHEBE, he threw more light on the activities of Governor Emmanuel Udom in the last two years. Excerpts…
How has it been in the last two years of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration and why did you recently said that the governor should seek a second term?
Governor Udom Emmanuel will seek a second term not just because he deserves it, but because that is the collective desire of the good people of Akwa Ibom State. That is what the people want him to do. All over the state, this is what the people are saying and asking for. Various organisations, groups and platforms are calling on the Governor to be ready to go for a second term.
In Akwa Ibom, we believe in sustainable development. And we have seen the good seeds being planted by the governor. Some of these things need some times to be effectively in place for us to enjoy them. So, we want the governor to get another term for him to be able to nurture these laudable projects into effective fruition for the benefits of the good people of our state.
It’s has been fruitful years so far, despite the challenges, it has been well for the people of Akwa Ibom State. The last one year with the economic meltdown have not been easy for a state like Akwa Ibom that depends mainly on oil revenue. The fall in oil prices and cut in production quota adversely affected the earnings of the state.
When you put that against the background that the state is predominately a public service state whose economy is dependent on government. However, the Emmanuel administration is gradually moving the economy of the state from the public sector to the private sector driven economy. We all know it won’t happen overnight but efforts are on to make it a reality from infrastructural development to agricultural, health, industrial and so on.
There are complaints that over 80 per cent of the state projects are sited in the governor’s home town. Is that fair?
Let me make it clear, location of industry depends on the investor who owns the money and technology. The expatriates decide where to site their company and we have no justification to say no.Right now, we are having issues in a part of the state where we sited our coconut refinery. The local communities are disturbing the progress of work there.
Government do not have control over the location of industries, it is the investors who choose where they think suits their investment. We have done a lot with regards to industrialisation. In the last two years the administrator have strived to have a people-oriented government that focuses on development.
When it comes to industrialisation, few things have to be on ground to drive it and its mainly good road networks. Power and security are key factors; we have strived in the last two years to provide enabling environment to build investors’ confidence in the leadership of the state.
We have succeeded to a large extent in driving our industrialisation dream with a lot more industries in the pipeline. This is notwithstanding the fact that 2016 was the year all the plans, projections and aspirations of governments ended in the dustbin owing to the economic recession. We never expected that the dollar would appreciate to N500.
Don’t forget that projections were made when one dollar hovers around N150/N160 and suddenly after projections, things crumbled leaving us gasping on how to start all over again. It is on record that Akwa Ibom in 2016 attracted the largest Foreign Direct Investment outside Lagos State and that much was confirmed by the Bureau of Statistics and that gives credence to what the governor had achieved.
What are we to expect from the industries?
The industries when fully functional will be a huge income opportunity for the state as it will crea
The industries when fully functional will be a huge income opportunity for the state as it will create jobs too for the youths. For instance the stringe factory which is the first in the country will be producing 400 million stringes per annum and available statistics shows that Nigerians consumes more than 100 million stringes per annum. In Africa there is only one stringe factory which is in South Africa with the capacity production of 95 million per annum. Before now Nigerian import stringes partly from South Africa and partly from Asian countries.
So the stringe factory in Akwa Ibom State is huge enough for local consumption and exports to earn foreign currency, which will do a whole lot for the economy of the state. Needless to remind you that it will help reduce the army of graduates who daily seek government jobs and want to be involved in politics as a career.
The coconut refinery which will soon start production is another master stroke that will help build our economy and create jobs. These industries will help create several clusters of jobs which will further employ people. Incidentally the plan for these industries in clusters will make it easier to access power and security among others. It was deliberately done to ensure the survival of these firms beyond government assistance.
Today we are encouraging industrials to grow and stand firm as the era of government dumping funds in industries that are run by politicians are gone. So government participation in industrial revolution is on equity (lands) and conducive environment. Industrialization takes time to take shape and two years is not enough. We are equally harnessing cottage industries and that too have given jobs to so many people. Akwa Ibom is the only state so far in Nigeria producing pencils, the second was the one a minister had promised Nigerians that will come on stream in 2018. Akwa Ibom pencils are produced with recycled old newspapers and that creates business for Newspapers houses to market their unsold newspaper.
There is a serious clamour for Exxonmobil to move it operational headquaters to the state, what is the situation presently?
Mobil and other oil firms movement to the Niger Delta States depends on the states of the Niger Delta. If we have our way, we will make it happen immediately but the Federal Government have a big role to play. Again, most of these multinational don’t have their headquarters in Nigerian and you need to engage their headquarters in dialogue on the need for their relocation to Niger Delta. In Akwa Ibom, our governor had done enough to prove to the oil giant on the need to relocate to the state by providing an enabling environment with the future in mind. So far over 700 kilometer of roads have been delivered.
Not just ordinary roads but quality ones with side drains. These road networks have made it possible for movement of Agricultural products to the urban areas form hinder lands in Akwa Ibom, we don’t discriminate between federal and state roads since our people are using them, so we go ahead and construct every road especially the federal roads to give free movement to our people and visitors.
Much have been invested in power and security and all these are geared towards providing an enabling environment for the multinational oil firms and our people. Our clamour for relocation is in order because that will positively affect the state economy in many ways like employment opportunities and other positive effects. Their coming will take so much pressure off government in certain issues.
What are the successes recoreded so far?
We have embarked on a huge industrialization drive across the state. The governor, being a private sector person is creating an enabling environment for industrialisation. He is doing this right from the hinterlands of the state to the commercial hubs. Roads are being built to link the various parts of the state.
Soon, we will commission Africa’s biggest syringe factory. It will start with a 400million syringe per annum capacity. This will improve as the years roll by. Nigeria is the highest consumer of syringe in Africa and we see an opportunity here. We import these syringes. So, with our decision to establish such a factory, we see economic and employment opportunities.
Just like we did with the toothpick and pencil factories, we are opening up Akwa Ibom for business and investment opportunities. AS we speak, we are al;ready supplying two states in the country pencils. And one beautiful thing about our pencil factory is that we use old newspapers in the production.
This way, the ecosystem is also helped as old newspapers are picked and not allowed to litter the environment. That has also created some form of engagement for some of our people. Also, these industrialization efforts fare unlike the usual practice in Nigeria where government pour money into such efforts.
Rather, what we have hewer are strictly private sector initiatives with the government only providing the land. So, it is sustainable and encouraging. We encourage these private sector investors with enabling environment and then the economy is helped. One of such is the governors decision to build roads that are of international standard.
This is because he believes the ongoing industrialization efforts will soon yield fruits and pressure will be put on the roads in the state. So, they must be built in ways that they can withstand the influx of all forms of vehicle that will come with the expected boom in industrialization.
What is the place of agriculture in the plan for the state?
Governor Emmanuel is very keen about Agriculture too. He has made tremendous efforts in the area of reviving agriculture in Akwa Ibom state by using incentives to urge the people to return to the farms. We encourage the people to farm so that we can flood the market with foodstuff and force the prices to come down. That is the theory of demand and supply. Lots of incentives like free seedlings, free fertilizers, trainings and several such encouragements are being offered to farmers across the state to help make farming lucrative. And many of our people are taking the initiatives to go back to agriculture. This is also helping to solve some unemployment problem across the state. We now have many young persons embracing farming in Akwa Ibom.
But prices of foodstuffs are still high. Why?
Agriculture like industrialisation takes a process, government is doing the best to ensure food sufficiency but prices of goods is still subject to the dictates of demand and supply. Supply must surpass demand to bring down prices. And with the massive investment in agriculture this year it is expected that the bountiful harvest coming soon will help bring down prices. Again you can recall that there was a time in the country we have price control board which is no longer functioning. Here we apply the laws of demand and supply.
The government through the wife of the governor had set up cassava processing plants to help people mass produce common stable food like garri and a lot of people have been encouraged to plant cassava for at least domestic consumption and when people only go to market to buy for commercial use, the price no doubt will fall.