AKWA IBOM AND OUTLANDISH REPORTS (SUN NEWSPAPER)
Elections, to a large extent, have been won and lost but the drumbeats of political manipulations and propaganda are still echoing in the background.
The recent barrage of questionable statistics released by some otherwise reputable national agencies, including the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), raise a lot of concerns about the professionalism and intentions of such agencies. It is more of grave concern that the Federal Ministry of Education is also quoted to have joined the fray by asserting, incorrectly, that Akwa Ibom is one of the states with the highest number of out-of-school children. Before then, the report listing Akwa Ibom as the state with the highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS was not just hilarious but clearly depicted the skewed and malicious intent of the proponents of the orchestrated reports. From all indications, there are more of such scripted reports and phony statistics being brewed.
We are inclined to believe that the latest deluge of negative reports about Akwa Ibom State is an orchestrated smear campaign aimed at putting clogs in the wheels of the state government’s glorious march towards transforming the state into a destination of choice. In one of such reports, Akwa Ibom was listed as one of the states with the highest unemployment rate of 37.7 per cent (1,357,754) in the third quarter of 2018. The same report contradicted itself by stating that between third quarter, 2017 and third quarter of 2018, Akwa Ibom was one of only nine states to record a reduction in their unemployment rates despite an increase in the national unemployment rate.
It is instructive to note that, between 2015 and 2019, the National Bureau of Statistics has, at various times, listed Akwa Ibom as the state with the highest volume of Foreign Direct Investment in Nigeria only behind the commercial capital of Nigeria. During the same period, Akwa Ibom has been one of a handful of states in Nigeria to offer its citizens and residents within school age free and compulsory education at primary and secondary levels, including an annual average of N600 million expenditure on payment of WAEC fees for indigenes.
In just four years, the state has attracted 16 industries across various sectors, with an impressive value chain that provides direct and indirect employment. These industries have elevated the socio-economic life of their host communities by alleviating poverty, creating wealth and jobs. Since the advent of the Udom Emmanuel-led government, Akwa Ibom has variously been adjudged by security agencies to be one of the safest states in Nigeria. This level of security was exemplified by the peaceful manner the 2019 elections were conducted in the state. The agricultural initiatives of the state government have seen a proliferation of farms and plantations in every nook and cranny of the state. If the basic laws of demand and supply are to be applied religiously, the quantum reduction in the prices of foodstuff in the state bears testament to the monumental successes the state government has recorded in agriculture and food sufficiency. In 2015, a cup of gari sold for a whopping N200. Today, for the same amount, you take home between 12 and 14 cups of gari depending on where you are buying from.
The spurious reports on unemployment that indicated more than 1.3 million people were unemployed in the state clearly did not take into account the over 350 workers in the 11,000 hectares coconut plantation spanning the three local government areas of Mkpat Enin, Ikot Abasi and Eastern Obolo, the hundreds of workers in 2,100 hectares of cassava plantation in 15 LGAs and over 1,200 hectares of rice farmlands in Ini and environs. The 48,000 rice farmers registered for CBN anchor borrowers scheme, 450 youths trained and engaged in cocoa maintenance were obviously not considered by the NBS as being in employment. The bureau, clearly, did not take into account the indirect jobs accruing to host communities from the 16 factories across the state and the numerous entrepreneurial endeavours that have sprung up in the last three and a half years.
Currently, there are more than 189 road construction sites in the state with an average of 100 workers at each location. Additionally, there are over 300 rural development projects across the 31 LGAs and over 400 inter-ministerial rural intervention projects with an average of 10 workers at each project site. There is also the “small matter” of the recruitment of over 5,000 teachers into the education sector.
Also worthy of mention is the fact that the job creation agenda of the Akwa Ibom State government encapsulates youth empowerment and capacity building. So far, more than 30,000 youths have been trained in various vocational and entrepreneurial skills while over 317,000 people have benefited from the state government-funded, interest-free loan scheme for small scale entrepreneurs and traders.
Given the scenario painted above, one wonders why the Akwa Ibom State APC had to import hundreds of youths as thugs from a mid-western state if the youths in Akwa Ibom were so jobless, unemployed and out-of-school as ridiculously alleged in the phony reports and statistics. Going by the outlandish reports being bandied around, there should have been a massive supply chain of jobless and out-of-school youths readily available in the state for that nefarious role.
With reference to the alleged high number of out-of-school children (OOSC), it is pertinent to note that the OOSC data on Akwa Ibom State as purported by the Federal Ministry of Education is at variance with 2018 National Personnel Audit (NPA) on the state for children aged 6 to 11. The NPA, which was a physical headcount and not a cursory extrapolation, revealed that, between 2016 and 2018, the state recorded a 40 per cent increase in pupil enrolment. The over 400,000 increase was evidently due to the intensive and dedicated attention the state government has given to basic education in the last four years. The same audit report also indicated that the total number of children in Akwa Ibom State’s public primary schools is the third highest in the country and the highest in southern Nigeria. Despite these glaring and verifiable facts, the Federal Ministry of Education curiously listed Akwa Ibom as one of the states with the highest number of OOSC.
As part of its avowed commitment to the development needs of its people, the government of Akwa Ibom State, in the last four years, has upped the ante in the healthcare sector. From the general hospitals in Etinan, Ikono, Ituk Mbang, Ikot Okoro to Iquita, Awa and Immanuel Hospitals, it has been stories of total transformation in the secondary healthcare sector. The state government has not only renovated these hospitals but has equipped them with state-of-the-art medical equipment. To date, over 25 containers of equipment have been delivered. The ongoing medical records digitisation of these hospitals has raised the bar in the secondary healthcare sector in Nigeria. A combination of these initiatives have increased life expectancy in the state with an attendant impact on all facets of the socio-economic life of citizens and residents.
From all indications, these remarkable landmark strides by the Akwa Ibom State government have been swept under the carpet by political antagonists whose only preoccupation is to mudsling and cast aspersions on efforts of the state government.
It is dumbfounding that, at a time when our nation is in dire need of a reference point in people-oriented and sustainable development, the strides of the Akwa Ibom government, which supersede all expectations, are still taking a bashing on the altar of political mind games.
Despite the recent shambolic statistics, outlandish reports and stone-throwing antics aimed at distracting the government of Akwa Ibom State, Governor Udom Emmanuel remains undaunted, undeterred and firmly focused on delivering maximum dividends of democracy to citizens, residents and visitors, in fulfilment of his social contract with the electorate. The next four years promises an even brighter prospect for the state.
• Udoh is the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner of Information and Strategy