Nigeria is never short of negative stories. Tales about poor leadership, corruption, bad economy, killings, abductions and other forms of insecurity have cast a slur on our image as a nation. It is as if we are on an irredeemable trip to hell. My interventions on this page every week have almost become a documentary of lamentations. The more one writes, the more different calamities befall us. Once in a while, I search for positive stories that will lift the soul and restore some hope in the almost hopeless situation we have found ourselves in.
In my reflections, I remembered something that struck me in my recent trips to Abuja and Kano. At the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, some young, smart ladies had attracted my attention. Initially, I thought they were cabin crew of Emirates Airline. But, on a closer look, I discovered they were staff of Ibom Air. This made me pick a special interest in Akwa Ibom State.
That state happens to be the only state running a commercial airline in Nigeria. Part of the reason for establishing it was to enable potential investors from within and outside the country to access the state at any time. The airline started with only three aircraft on June 7, 2019. It later increased the fleet to five. Penultimate Sunday, two new aircraft, Airbus A220 series, were added to the fleet. Now, the airline has seven aircraft. What this means is that the airline may be planning to expand its operations as the Airbus series is bigger than the other five aircraft, the Bombardier CRJ-900, it earlier acquired. This will likely translate into more jobs for the people of the state.
While receiving the new aircraft, an elated Governor Udom Emmanuel said: “Today marks a major milestone in the history of aviation development not only for Akwa Ibom State but in this country. Never in the history of this nation has a state established and owned a successful business airline. Never in the whole continent of Africa.”
The governor has also expanded the runway at the Victor Attah International Airport and is currently constructing the international terminal building and maintenance, repairs and overhaul facility at the airport. There are reports that the governments of The Gambia and Bayelsa State have opened discussions with the Akwa Ibom State government on the possibility of Ibom Air flying to their respective airports.
My curiosity to dig deeper into the goings on in Akwa Ibom led me into the mindset of the governor. While campaigning to become governor, Mr. Emmanuel promised a five-point agenda, including wealth and job creation, poverty alleviation, consolidation and expansion of infrastructure as well as economic and political inclusion. The central focus to achieve all these is industrialization. The aim is to transform Akwa Ibom from being a civil service state to one that has a robust manufacturing base. There couldn’t have been a better agenda as industrialization is germane to opening up any economy. It holds the key to poverty reduction and wealth creation. That is what has made China, India and some other advanced economies what they are today.
The natural question is: how far has Governor Emmanuel gone in his dream of lifting his state above others in this leadership deficit country? The governor himself said in a broadcast to mark his six years in office last month that, since 2015 when he was sworn into office, his administration had attracted over 20 economically viable and employment-generating industries to the state. Some of these industries include pencil, plastics, plywood, toothpicks and tissue paper-manufacturing plants, Ibom Airline, Sterling Petrochemicals, Flour Mill Company and metering and syringe-manufacturing plants.
The state’s Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Company, which produces millions of disposable syringes, is arguably the largest syringe manufacturer in West Africa. Similarly, the meter-manufacturing company, Metering Solution Manufacturing Services, is said to be the largest in Africa, with an installed capacity to produce three million electricity meters annually. A 21-storey smart office complex that is expected to provide office space for investors has been completed.
Mr. Emmanuel has also invested heavily in agriculture. There are rice mills in Ini Local Government Area and many cassava processing mills producing most of the staple food items such as garri and rice. The state also boasts of two fertilizer blending plants. Knowing that these industries need power to function optimally, Mr. Emmanuel has reportedly built several injection sub-stations.
The Ibom Deep Seaport is being developed. I understand that plans are at advanced stage to get the approval of the Federal Government for the seaport to commence operations. The port is expected to serve as a major gateway through the Gulf of Guinea as well as enhance maritime trade in the region. No doubt, this will significantly boost the economy of Akwa Ibom State.
These achievements of Governor Emmanuel in the area of industrialization are made possible by a friendly business environment anchored on a business-oriented leadership. The man entered into strategic partnerships with the private sector and reportedly initiated favourable tax and investment policies. Also, the administration has a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) committee whose duty essentially is to attract foreign investments to the state.
The successes in Akwa Ibom reflect what happens when a good corporate titan is at the helm in any given society. Mr. Emmanuel has over 17 years of financial services experience. He had served as an audit manager of Price Waterhouse Coopers. In 1996, he joined Zenith Bank Plc from the defunct Diamond Bank and rose to become an executive director of the bank. A chartered accountant, Mr. Emmanuel was also an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria and a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management. Nigeria needs this type of professionals in politics, not professional politicians, to take her out of the woods.
Unlike the current central government that has a policy of political exclusion, Akwa Ibom State under Governor Emmanuel has maintained a cordial relationship with most stakeholders, including many members of the opposition in the state. This has earned him great support from most citizens of the state. It is on record that Mr. Emmanuel’s main challenger and governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 election in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Umana Umana, paid him a working visit in 2017. Umana is the managing director of Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA). The governor also appointed a chieftain of the APC, Chief Enefiok Ekefre, as his honorary special adviser on grassroots mobilization.
There is also relative peace and security in Akwa Ibom State. This has made the state one of the preferred choices for investors. However, this security has been punctuated in recent times by the activities of hoodlums who have been attacking police stations and killing security operatives in the entire South-East and some parts of South-South region.
The governor needs to be encouraged to improve on the strategy he has been deploying to achieve peace so far to make the state one of the most secure in the country.
The major job of the government is to provide security and the enabling environment for people to explore their talents and fend for themselves. The level of poverty and unemployment in the country is quite high. But, as the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a step. Mr. Emmanuel has taken the right steps and should never relent in his noble endeavours. He should do more. What he has done may not immediately translate into jobs for all Akwa Ibomites, but overtime, the impact will be manifest. If his successor follows in his footsteps, there is no doubt that Akwa Ibom will be tops among the prosperous states in Nigeria.