26th October 2018
“I just want Nigerians to ask those preaching war where their children are. Whose children do they want to engage in the war…?”
By Ismail Omipidan
Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel, speaks on 2019; his efforts at restructuring the state and why he believes the people will queue behind him in next year’s election.
Q: What was your level of expectation at the time you conceived the various projects embarked upon by your administration and how far have you gone in achieving your projections?
In terms of quality I will say yes, but in terms of speed I will say no because we came into governance with a blueprint. If you check, you would see that we had a blueprint when we started, but nobody knew that 2016 and 2017 would witness one of the worst recession ever. So, in terms of speed, we are not there.
Secondly, there are typical African problems that we are having, which we made provisions for, but some of them are a little bit frustrating. By now, 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. So, I do not think I am up to speed that I had in mind, but in terms of quality and deliverables that we promised, I think we have tried.
Q: How have you been able to fund these projects given the recession that you talked about?
Let me first of all thank you for your choice of word. Thank God that you did not say cash. I keep letting people; especially the media know 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 the cash. If you ask us of cash, we might not have, but we can create money to develop the state. And that is what we have been doing.
Q: Do you see your administration completing these project between now and May next year, when your first term elapses?
The problem with Nigeria and Africa is that we are too short term in our processes and that is what is affecting their execution and even our investment decisions. And that is why in Nigeria today, if you go to any city, every inch is a kiosk, helping the Asian market to grow its small and medium scale enterprises. Because everybody is looking for commerce and quick sale, everything produced in Asian market, we must buy and sell. Ninety percent of what we are doing in Akwa Ibom is not short termed because we cannot do them in short term, and that is why Nigeria has not developed small and medium scale enterprises up till now.
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 run. The point is that outside road construction, infrastructure development, social services and amenities, you can see factories, which shows that investors are coming. In fact, apart from the Coconut Refinery, there is no other one that government has one per cent share in.
With the Coconut Refinery, we want 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 N220 million dollars a year in that refinery. When I am talking about numbers, I am talking with all the sensitivity analysis you have ever been taught on earth. Tell me how many governments in Africa that can boast of that kind of profit not to talk of jobs that would be created because as of today, we have employed 1,200 on the various processes involved.
Concerning the coconut plantation, the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) is there following up. We are targeting to plant two million seedlings. Let the worst happen, there is no way out of the two million seedlings we won’t come out with about one million. They are high-bred coconuts and each bunch is targeted at about 57 nuts, and coconuts sprout about four to six rounds. At times, you have three layers at a go. So, if you have one million stands, it means that in about 200 days, you cannot finish about 200 million nuts.
We are not doing typical white elephant projects, we are doing projects that by tomorrow, even if we want to privatise, their Initial Public Offering (IPO) will realise initial investment and even give us room for expansion. Today, virgin coconut oil in the international market is $6 per litre. If you remember your mathematics very well, 221 litres make one barrel. So, multiply that to get how much it is a barrel. 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, with all your sensitivity analysis 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.
Q: Where does Akwa Ibom really have competitive economic edge?
You cannot arrive at a score if you have not finished the examination. I am not so quick at scoring what we have done, and what we have achieved. And in life, you are not good until someone says you are good, which is why you are here. So, you as the examiner will tell us whether we are good.
Q: Are there specific initiatives that you have put in place to tackle youth restiveness, which is a major problem in the country?
What you are seeing on ground is actually aimed at that. The biggest employer will still be agriculture. We will still build more factories where they 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 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 did not make anything out of it. We didn’t invest in the processing of the cocoa to meet international standards, so we could not get appropriate pricing for the cocoa we grow in Nigeria. One of the best flavours you can get in terms of coca is from Akwa Ibom because of our vegetation.
Q: What are the essential pillars that are driving you on the development plan?
Once the passion is right, nothing is impossible and you can easily realise your potential.
Q: What about the marketing of the various products being produced in the state?
The ministry of Trade, Investment and Industry is planning 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 inside the kitchen, he would always like to test 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. We first of all need to make sure that the domestic market is actually absorbing as much as it can. This will help the economy of the state in terms of distribution and the entire value chain. It will also help in appropriate pricing. Once you start introducing those things out now, by the time there is so much pressure, the single interplay of demand and supply will actually make the prices go up. So, let us first of all make sure the quality is of standard and that awareness is well created in the domestic market.
Q: During your opening remarks, you talked about the invasion threat by the opposition ahead of the 2019 elections. Are you planning to match force with force as some PDP governors have boasted?
Those calling for war, it is either they 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 where their children are. Whose children do they want to engage in the war, when they have hidden their children somewhere? Unfortunately, that is one of the disadvantages of freedom of speech and human rights. We are aware that they have even gone ahead to sow fake police and army uniforms, and are trying to bring in all kinds of ammunitions through different routes. I normally ask people that if the intention is to serve, why 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 is not included.
What we can ensure is to make sure that the state is peaceful. The people of Akwa Ibom know what they want and who they want. They are so enlightened, educated, and they 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. This is the time for people to recreate, redefine and restructure. There are certain things we are noted for and everybody have certain threats of leadership. There are certain statements I will make, 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 by human intuition, it is a planned and well mapped out system that we are running here.
Q: What is your take on 2019 presidential election?
The level of confidence has no probability; it is as constant as the North Pole. People that usually play pool will use the money they should have used to eat to play, hoping that they will win, how much more the biggest party in Africa that has structures across all the units and has brought development to Nigeria. It is not even a probability, I am certain it is PDP or no other party.
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