In continuation of his consultation with constituents, Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, arrived Uyo, the Akwa Ibom state capital, for a town hall meeting with representatives of oil producing communities and other stakeholders.
Prior to the Akwa Ibom visit, Osinbajo had visited Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Abia and Imo states and consulted with the people in a strategic move to galvanise support for government and end the perennial loggerhead between government and some dissenting groups whose actions had impacted negatively on oil production and the nation’s revenue base.
In tasking himself with finding a solution to the nagging problems, Osinbajo said he came as an angel of peace. He told the people that “my particular reason for coming is that we are at the moment consulting with oil producing states of Nigeria. There is a role for the Federal Government to play to ensure justice and equity to oil producing states. We must ensure that oil communities benefit from the oil.”
This strategy may have informed the Vice President’s decision to order oil majors to relocate their headquarters to the Niger Delta region, a core request of oil producing communities in the region. Their location to Lagos had impacted negatively on job opportunities. On the directive, Osinbajo said: “I think it is the right thing to do.”
Previous response to dissensions by militants, whose protests against continued neglect of the country’s resource base, had been military action. Rather than calm frayed nerves, it increased the level of agitation and shutting down, or, destruction of oil installations leading to drastic drop in oil production, gas availability and revenue.
Statistics show that Akwa Ibom state accounts for about 30 percent of Nigeria’s total crude oil production. It also has the largest offshore production per-acreage with more petroleum reserves, offshore, than any other oil producing state. It is also the home to Mobil and has gas reserve, and in commercial quantity too, at Ibeno, Mbo, Etinan, Idu, Enwang, Mkpat Enin and Onna local government areas. These have attracted a lot of oil and gas businesses to the state thus making her a strategic ally of the government.
These businesses contribute to Nigeria’s tax profile. It is, therefore, imperative that for effective harvest of their import to the Nigerian economy, there must be a re-assuring pat on the back, which is what Osinbajo is now doing. And in doing so, he assists the Governor in ensuring that Akwa Ibom goes beyond the pedestal where Obong Godswill Akpabio, now Senate Minority Leader, had placed it.
Beyond oil, Akwa Ibom commands an enviable place in the country’s annals as a destination for tourism and business conferences. Improvements in infrastructure, which were the hallmark of the Akpabio era, made Akwa Ibom the first consideration for business conferences and leisure. That is also a vision that Gov Emmanuel has sustained with his stylistic touch and deepening of participatory democracy.
Thus, Acting President Osinbajo’s visit is like an icing on the cake. It settles well with the people, who though are strongly of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also desire federal government appreciation and embrace as members of the one large Nigerian family.
That federal government’s support will prove strategic in assisting Gov. Emmanuel to drive home, and deliver on his campaign promises to turn Akwa Ibom into an industrial haven. He told the Akwa Ibom people during his gubernatorial campaigns to become governor that “we will build industries in all nooks and crannies of the state and the ailing ones will be revived. Ibom Deep Sea Port will be the flagship of the industrialisation process”.
These lofty ideals need federal government backing especially in the realisation of the Ibom Deep Sea Port, which will also be a gas processing hub with capacity for ship building. These are also the key to massive job creation in the state.
Such will be the quickest avenue to engaging restive youths in jobs that would enable them seek more productive future and keep them away from militancy and vandalising of oil and gas installations. The deep sea port project envisages some 100,000 skilled and unskilled jobs. The effect will engage much more than 50,000 others in other ancillary and support services.
What the federal government ought to do going forward, is to buy-in into the visions of the Akwa Ibom state government to drive home the development of the region and re-create negative perceptions about the Niger Delta region. This will mean a re-energised Niger Delta region with focus on positive economic actions that would boost both state and federal economies.
Osinbajo understands this. He stated that much during the town hall meeting. He assured that the government would partner Akwa Ibom to actualise the dreams of the Deep Sea Port. “Indeed as a matter of fact, in the 2017 budget there is already a provision for the Ibaka port. There is already N1billion provision. It is a matter we take seriously to partner with the Akwa Ibom State Government”, he told Akwa Ibom people.
Vice President Osinbajo’s visit comes at a most important time in the life of Akwa Ibom when Gov Udom is demonstratively leading the way towards industrialisation and job creation. He has already broken-the-ground for the construction of an automobile plant, and LED factory, a fertilizer plant and a metering firm; he has acquired massive land for a coconut refinery –the first of its kind in Nigeria; and has taken step towards achieving a refinery with capacity for 100,000 barrels per day. He has taken steps to revive state-owned peacock Paints and even added another production line in marine paints manufacture. Plasto Crown is about to be brought back on stream.
Prior to these, Akwa Ibom had secured the nod of government at the centre to build an international jetty in Ikot Abasi Council area, which would come in handy for haulage. This is set on 36 hectares of land with capacity to host tank farms etc. The state is also investing heavily in oil and gas and agricultural projects for the sake of its future. These are take-homes for the federal government, which must also begin to re-create itself as a government for all.
Beside the above, Gov Emmanuel asked for a better appreciation of the abundant human capacity in the state in the management of affairs of the federal government. “In most cases, when Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) is appointing Vice Chancellors (VCs), they look at that locality and pick a professor that is qualified to be the Vice Chancellor of that University.
If we are the highest producer of crude oil, how come we have never produced the Managing Director of NNPC? I want to assure that we have intelligent people that can fill up those vacancies. It is a political appointment, but look into it based on qualification. We are eager to also occupy some of those positions based on our strategic economic importance”, he said.
He also asked for a greater sense of understanding and more partnership with the state in pushing through federal government’s vision of revitalising moribund industries and creating more job opportunities for the people.
In envisioning an Akwa Ibom state driven by private enterprise, Gov Emmanuel said “we have started a Maintenance, Repairs and Overhaul (MRO) facility, which could have catered for maintenance of some of the planes, but today, most of the aircrafts we have in Nigeria had been abandoned because the MRO that was supposed to serve as maintenance facility has not been fully completed.
“The Akwa Ibom State Government has taken a giant step on this. We need to partner the Federal Government to see that this is done. Even if the federal government wants to give us loan, we would accept it so that we can complete the MRO and put it to use. We will pay back the loan from the revenue that will be generated out of that MRO,” Governor Emmanuel said at the town hall meeting.
This vision became necessary in answer to a need that has cost domestic airlines great resources and capital flight. “Domestic airlines in Nigeria are having challenges because there is no standard maintenance facility anywhere in West Africa. If you go to the domestic terminal in Lagos, you will see the number of airplanes that are parked without facilities. Meanwhile, we have a facility that is over 70 per cent completed. Which one is cheaper for the Federal Government? The Governor asked while reminding that Akwa Ibom is already providing an answer.
Also thinking of a future without crude oil, Gov. Emmanuel said coconut oil would be the next goldmine. Hear him: “Today, as a state, we are already taking a step forward to find alternatives to crude oil. We have discovered globally that there is something that generates more revenue than crude oil. We are setting up a plantation of at least two million seedlings of coconut. We want to extract coconut oil.
Coconut yields for over 99 years and we are not sure if we will still have crude oil in the next 99 years. If the federal government supports us to have a coconut refinery, which will also refine palm kernel oil, that will change a whole lot. A litre of coconut oil goes for six dollars and I don’t think a litre of crude oil is anything near that.”
Akwa Ibom is proving that when the visions are right, strategies for delivery cannot easily go wrong. Vice President Osinbajo obviously saw a state with vision and strategy to navigate into a prosperous future. His visit was re-assuring on that vision as the people wait to reap dividends of the visit.
Ima-Ima Ibanga is a journalist based in Lagos
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