Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, in this interview with ERIC DUMO, talks about ways his administration is tackling youth unemployment and also addressing economic development
Embarking on infrastructural development is a tedious task for every administration, at the time you came into office what were the things you expected to achieve and have those targets been met?
In terms of quality, I will say yes, but in terms of speed, I will say no because we came into government with a blueprint on what we wanted to achieve. However, nobody knew that 2016 and 2017 would witness one of the most brutal recessions ever.
So, in terms of speed, we are not there. Secondly, there are typical African problems that we have had to deal with. Even though we made provisions for these, it has been a little bit frustrating. By now, the construction of our deep-sea port would have gone far even though our consultants believe that it is one of the fastest ever in this part of the world.
When we came in, we said that to lay a proper foundation for our economic development, we needed to look at the three gateways – land, air and water, but we encountered some bottlenecks.
However, in terms of the things we promised to deliver, I think we have tried. Outside Lagos, we are number one in terms of foreign direct investment. This is a huge plus for us as an administration.
How is your government funding the projects?
I keep telling people, especially the media, that there is a difference between money and cash. You can develop a lot with money, but you might not have cash.
So, the essence of my being here at this time is to create money to develop my state, but I may not have cash. If you ask us for cash, we might not have, but we can create money to develop the state.
Do you think your administration can complete the various projects that you have embarked upon between now and May 2019 when your first term in office comes to an end?
The problem with Nigeria and Africa is that we focus a lot on the short-term in our processes and that is what is affecting their execution and even our investment decisions. That is why in Nigeria today, if you go to any city, you find kiosks everywhere and these are helping the Asian market to grow its small and medium-sized enterprises. Everybody is looking for commerce and quick sale; everything produced in Asian market, we must buy and sell.
Ninety per cent of the things we are doing are not focused on the short-term because we cannot do them in a short period of time. We are not doing anything that will terminate by next year; we are doing things that people will see their value, so that irrespective of what God decides tomorrow, those things should continue to run.
The point is that beyond road construction, infrastructure development, social services and amenities, you can see factories, which shows that investors are coming in. In fact, apart from the coconut refinery that we have, there is no other one (company) that government has one per cent share in.
With the coconut refinery, we wanted to make a statement. If tomorrow, the state government says, ‘Look, we do not have a hand in this thing again,’ we will sell that investment at a profit because you need only one million nuts every day to make a profit of at least $220m a year in that refinery. Tell me how many governments in Africa can boast of that kind of profit let alone jobs that would be created. At the moment, we have employed 1,200 workers to execute the various processes involved.
Concerning the coconut plantation, the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research is following up. Our target is to plant two million seedlings. Let the worst happen, there is no way that out of the two million seedlings, we won’t come out with about one million. They are highbred coconuts and each bunch is expected to have about 57 nuts, and coconuts sprout about four to six rounds. At times, you have three layers at a go.
We are not doing typical white elephant projects, we are doing projects that by tomorrow, even if we want to privatise them, their Initial public offering will realise initial investment and even give us room for expansion.
Today, virgin coconut oil in the international market is $6 per litre. We might not refine as much as we do in terms of crude oil, but if you look at the numbers, there is no way that we will not operate at maximum capacity. Our next target will be bamboo, because if you scan the entire South-South, every little bush you see, you will see bamboo sprouting on its own. It is natural, it is like palm trees that you can see everywhere. Like our creed says, we see beyond what others see.
In carrying out these various projects, what level of support have you received from the Federal Government and the Niger Delta Development Commission?
I am one of those who believe that anyone who holds an executive position in any development-oriented agency, not only the NDDC, shouldn’t seek political appointment. It is extremely contradictory; it is only in Nigeria that you will find such a thing.
Secondly, this is not propaganda; we are the largest contributor to the NDDC fund. NDDC runs projects in nine states and all international oil companies contribute two per cent of their budget to the commission, but drive round Akwa Ibom State and show me one road that is up to two kilometres that was built by the so-called NDDC.
The roads we are building, are of high quality. But most of these federal agencies will go and put bitumen on top of clay or top soil. As they are leaving, those things are gone. The essence of NDDC and Federal Roads Maintenance Agency was to bridge this gap, but how come that has not been so even with all the money they have collected?
These are questions people should answer because if we speak, some people will say that we are playing politics. I don’t play politics with issues of development. I am talking about things you can see. We are talking about capacity here; you cannot give what you do not have.
Are there specific initiatives that you have put in place to tackle youth restiveness, which is a major problem in the country today?
The various projects we have initiated are part of a wider strategy aimed at addressing this issue. The biggest employer will still be agriculture. We will still build more factories where many of our youths will go and work. We have at least 26 hectares of cocoa plantation.
We are bringing one of the best cocoa processing plants you can ever think of because what differentiates the cocoa you get from Nigeria from the cocoa you get from any other place is the flavour. It is as a result of the way we dry cocoa in Nigeria. That is why even with all the cocoa that we have in this country, we do not make anything out of it.
One of the best flavours you can get in terms of cocoa is from Akwa Ibom because of our vegetation.
Your administration is building a new stadium in Uyo, don’t you think you should reserve that money for other projects since Akwa Ibom already has a good stadium?
We are building something that would require less maintenance. Secondly, consumption is a function of availability. So, we must provide the facilities.
In three years, we have won the FA cup twice. This is something we have never won since independence, but as a state, within my three years in office, we have won it twice.
Excellence doesn’t happen by accident or mistake; you must deliberately have a strategy to achieve it. This is the only state in the country that organises youth sports festival every year, where we discover talents.
The essence of building a new stadium is to afford more of our youths the opportunity to express themselves through sports.
What is the population of Jamaica? Jamaica is half the population of Akwa Ibom State. Look at how many gold medals they won at the Olympics. Somebody, somewhere, somehow, one day, we must rise to the level of greatness. We must live what we preach.
The Standard of education is falling in many states of the federation, are there specific initiatives that your administration has adopted to tackle this problem?
They say what you sow is what you reap. First, we started by reviewing the quality of teachers we put in schools. We also have what we call education monitors. We equip them with the adequate resources to go round to check.
We operate free and compulsory education at the basic level. There are certain children that if they had the right opportunity and facilities, they could beat any other children. Most of them love the village setting, so we take education to where they are rather than drawing them to go to school somewhere else.
The number one thing in schools that people tend to neglect is the quality of teachers. Even as a governor, when I go on community visits, I enter the classrooms, I observe what has been taught that is written on the board and we come back to do a review.
We also try to make sure we provide facilities. We must provide Nigerians with quality education.
How do you hope to market the various items being produced in the state?
The Ministry of Trade, Investment and Industry is planning to organise a trade fair to exhibit the products. But, for a trade fair to be attractive, we cannot just show three to five product lines, we still have a whole lot more to introduce into the market.
Secondly, even if a young chef cooks in the kitchen, he would always like to make sure it has the right taste. Now, we are producing for the local market. What brought China to where it is today was the domestic market. Certainly, as the company grows in quality, we will improve.
Research will also be financed and a whole lot of improvement will be there. First, we need to make sure that the domestic market is absorbing as much as it can. This will help the economy of the state in terms of distribution and help the entire value chain. It will also help in appropriate pricing.
So, let us first of all make sure the quality is of standard and that awareness is created in the domestic market.
There have been rumours of plans by some people to distabilise Akwa Ibom during the 2019 elections, how do you intend to deal with this assuming the threat is real?
Those calling for war either have wars in their homes or within themselves. But we that have peace, we preach it.
I just want Nigerians to ask those preaching war to do so where their children are. Whose children do they want to engage in the war, when they have hidden their children somewhere else? Unfortunately, that is one of the disadvantages of freedom of speech and human rights.
We are aware that they have even gone ahead to sew fake police and army uniforms and are trying to bring in all kinds of ammunition through different routes.
I normally ask people that if the intention is to serve, why do you have to kill the people you want to serve. We all campaign, present our manifesto and call for votes so that we can serve our people, but if you sincerely want to serve your people, why do you have to kill them? This means that they have other motives in which serving the people is not included.
What we can ensure is to make sure that the state is always peaceful. The people of Akwa Ibom know what they want and who they want. They are so enlightened, educated, and are politically savvy. So, they know someone who is sincere and have the capacity. I believe the people will speak out for what they want.
There are certain things we are noted for and everybody has certain traits of leadership. There are certain statements I will make and the whole world will clap, and there are certain statements I will make and the whole world will be disappointed.
You must determine within yourself that if you have come to serve the people, the interest of the people should be paramount. The state is well organised, and things are structured. We do not just do things on intuition; it is a planned and well-mapped out system that we are running here.
Nigerians are yearning for a genuine change in fortunes during the general elections, do you think the Peoples Democratic Party has what it takes to defeat the All Progressives Congress in the presidential election in 2019?
The level of confidence has no probability; it is as constant as the North Pole. It is not even a probability, I am certain it is the PDP or no other party (that will win).
What’s your relationship with former governor of Akwa Ibom, Obong Victor Attah, and how have you dealt with issues of gratuities and pensions since coming into office?
Obong Victor is the leader of the largest ethnic group in the state – the Ibibios. Also, being an elder statesman, everybody here accords him that respect. He is somebody I respect a lot. He loves the state and every policy he made while in office shows love for the state.
On the issue of gratuities and pensions, immediately we came into office, our government paid 10 years’ gratuity arrears. After that, there were many issues concerning pensions.
Under the state government, the gratuity we inherited, we have cleared it and brought it up to December 2015 as of today. As of today, I do not owe even one-hour pension for state government workers as I have paid pension up to September this year. The work is tedious but God is helping us achieve our targets.