Governor Emmanuel is running governance with a business orientation based on international best practices – Akwa Ibom Info Boss
The Honourable Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Charles Udoh, in this interview with Atlantic FM, bares his mind on the achievement of the State Government within two years and five months down the line since Mr Udom Emmanuel came on board as Governor of Akwa Ibom on May 29, 2015. What has been the policy thrust and direction of his administration? What has been the approach of his administration in economic development of the state? What are the strategies of the administration? What programme defines what the government stands for? How far has the current administration gone in achieving its goals? What has been done to improve the welfare of the people?
Good afternoon Sir…
We are happy to have you…
I believe you are happy that the government is fixing the road to your studio.
(Laugh…) That’s nice. Just last month, Akwa Ibom State marked her 30th anniversary. How significant was that to the state?
Thirty, in the life of a human being, an institution, and in the Biblical sense signifies the age of maturity. It represents several milestones. David became King, Saul became King and Jesus Christ performed His first miracle at 30. As a state, when we turn 30, it sign-posts the fact that Akwa Ibom State has reached the age of maturity.
Thirty years is not something that you pick by the roadside. It is significant to us that is why we all rolled out the drums and celebrated not as people from different ethnicities, religious backgrounds, political parties, but as one Akwa Ibom people, and so it was significant. That was why we went everywhere to ensure that everybody was part of it including the youths, the elderly and the women.
Our focus today is the policy of this current administration. What policy drives this administration?
In 2015 when His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel, took over the mantle of leadership of Akwa Ibom State, he clearly outlined the five-point agenda that would drive his administration. The agenda talked about job creation, wealth creation, poverty alleviation, economic and political inclusion, and infrastructural consolidation and expansion. Each point of this agenda was carefully picked, taking into consideration the background where we come from as a state and as a people.
He had just taken over from an administration that had focused on infrastructural development, and so it was important that we consolidate and expand under infrastructure. He had also taken over from an administration which his predecessor had done significantly well in positioning infrastructure development in the state and putting the state in the map in terms of facilities.
How do you tap into these facilities? He needed to move in a direction. He needed to create something out of those facilities. He needed to put those infrastructures into use. To that, His Excellency decided to focus on few things in his five-point agenda – industrialisation, tourism, and agriculture and food sufficiency.
For a greater part of the 30 years of existence Akwa Ibom State, have predominantly been a civil-service state, meaning that everyone young man and woman who finishes from school of some sort, aspires to be employed in the civil service; the young man who starts a business focuses on getting his business from the coffers of government; and so you find out that there is much pressure on the lean resources of government. That means that other sectors of the economy are not being taken care of, and so the Governor decided to diversify the economy in other places where development has been more advanced than our country. People do not depend on government, rather, government depends on the people and private sector to drive the economy of the state, and that is the focus of this government.
How do you revise that trend to be sure that the young man who graduates from school can have other opportunities and not government especially in an era where the minimum wage is from the centre?
A lot of things that have to do with the civil service structure are from the centre, and we no longer have the control of the centre. The only thing that can be done is to create an alternative source of employment, wealth, poverty alleviation. To do this, it means you have to reverse the economy and begin to drive it from the private sector.
Normally, people would say government will have to fund industries, but experience and history have shown us that industries that are funded, built and run as government properties and parastatals, there are chances that when the owner of that idea exit leader, that idea dies. Take for instance the news print manufacturing company and the aluminium smelters were built and run by an administration and died after the end of the administration.
The Governor decided to take international-based practices, how is it done in other places of the world and how they succeeded? Nike, an American company, has its factories in China and Malaysia, thereby creating jobs for Chinese and improved the economy. It is the same thing our Governor is doing here. To drive industrialization in Akwa Ibom State, we needed to create an enabling environment. We had started on the path of mass infrastructure and we needed to consolidate on them. We had started on the path of trying to diversify the economy, we have attract investors into the state. Factors that attract investors are accessibility, security, and sustainable and transparent governance.
Governor Emmanuel carefully set these machinery in motion and today facts are there to show that Akwa Ibom is gradually becoming the emerging industrial hub in Nigeria. In 2016 and the first quarter of this year, the National Bureau of Statistics listed Akwa Ibom as the number two destination for foreign direct investment in Nigeria, behind Lagos State. This means that the dream of driving industrialization in Akwa Ibom state through creating enabling environment is yielding results because we are number one in Nigeria, aside Lagos.
Also in that period, if you look at other states in Nigeria today, how many states can boast of the number of industries we have in Akwa Ibom within the space of two and a half years? In that space, we have Africa’s largest Syringe Factory, Nigeria’s digital Metering Solution and a lot more to come. You see that it is a careful and methodological plan to ensure that we drive industrialisation in a sustainable manner. Mind you, these industries are not funded by government, meaning that when the tenure of Governor Udom Emmanuel ends in 2023 by God’s grace, those industries will continue to run independently because they are driven as proper business entities.
Now what are the benefits of these industries? From direct employment, it means that young man and woman who graduates from school, who would have been looking at the civil service for employment, can now have an alternative means of employment. He or she can bargain for his/her pay structure because the pay structure is not centralised. In civil service, we have the minimum wage structure compared to the private sector which has a flexible pay structure.
Beyond that, the syringe, metering boxes and meters that we are manufacturing would need distributors to them to all nooks and crannies of this country. He/she can aspire to be a distributor. That is massive opportunity. Those companies that have come to stay in Akwa Ibom State will also need people to provide services from security, cleaning and all kinds of services that a business entity would need. An Akwa Ibom person can set up a cleaning company and become a cleaning contractor to those companies and employ people. If you set up a food vendor service around the neighbourhood, you are guaranteed of heavy patronage, even the man who owns a land in that area can aspire to be a landlord, thereby growing the economy of that neighbourhood.
These are things that government is trying to Akwa Ibom people for us to see the benefit in them, for us to tap into the benefits and take advantage of them. The industries are not built by government on party or religious lines. As a government, nobody should try to deliberately twist the minds of people not to see the good things that are happening in their neighbourhood so that they cannot take advantage of it. If you try to that because you want to get into governance, you will end up shooting yourself on the foot because you will end up depriving your people of opportunities that they would have taken advantage of.
As part of government effort to diversify the economy, there is interest-free loan for the women to the tune of about N2 million. People need to be encouraged to take advantage of that loan.
Over the last two and a half years, we have had a bit of concentration in terms of road constructions. That is not by accident. We are not just building random roads, but economic roads – roads that connect the economic nerve centres of the state. We are not building roads on political lines, but to connect the economic nerve centres.
There are those who argue that some of the industries are not functioning. For instance, the Peacock Paint. What is your position on this?
When you start an industry, there is something called speed time. Every industry cannot start and get to optimum capacity immediately. When you resuscitate an industry, it takes sometimes to gain market penetration probably because they have been dead for a long time. Don’t forget that consumers have choices. Government cannot compel you to use Peacock Paints neither will it compel you to use Jubilee Syringes. It is a choice.
The major concern of the creation of the industries is to create job, alleviate poverty, and create opportunity for people directly or indirectly. The concern of distribution is that of the management of the company. Government will not market products for companies. We are setting up government to run as proper business entities not as an arm or parastatal of government.
Others also argue about the viability of the Toothpick company. What is your position on that?
A 100 mile starts with one step. The biggest company in the world started somewhere. The owner of Apple computer started a company and was fired from his company. Steve Jobs had to start another company and later bought back that company. Even studying entrepreneurial services tells you that you have to start small and grow big. No company ever starts on a large scale.
Excerpts from the interview with Honourable Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Charles Udoh, in this interview with Atlantic FM today as transcribed by Umoh-Obong Kingsley
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