Posted by News Express | 4 September 2018 | 7,617 times
Being an exclusive interview recently granted News Express Editor at Large Sunny Okim by Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh.
News Express: Governor Udom Emmanuel is aspiring to go for second term. Why do you think he deserves it?
Commissioner Charles Udoh: Well I think for every person who has followed the events, programmes, activities and happenings of the government of Akwa Ibom State in the last three years, I don't think any such person would be left in doubt weather this government has done significantly well. It is only people who are on the different side of the divide that will tell you not to see the positive things that happen in the state. If you even start from appreciation outside the state; appreciation from the central government, you'll realise that the sitting governor who is of a different party as the government of the center is still being appreciated by the centre!
And so even if you start from there and look at the numerous recognitions that Mr. Udom has received from the center, you'll not be left in doubt.
Let's start from the fact that when President Buhari published his mid-term report, Akwa Ibom State Government under Mr. Udom contributed the largest volume of content for that document across MDAs. That was unprecedented. Mr. Udom was also given the Integrity and National Service award at Aso Rock conference room last year. Add that to the fact that the Federal Ministry of Sports has on countless times recognised our Governor's contributions in national sports development. All these line up with the number one agenda of government which are job creation, wealth creation, poverty alleviation, infrastructural consolidation and political and economic inclusion.
Now the 5-point agenda was anchored on a tripod which had on one leg, industrialisation, on another tourism and the third leg agriculture. And so if you had to put this on a spreadsheet and take it item by item to analyse what government has done, we'll begin with industrialisation.
Examples are found in Nigeria where we have tried as a country to go down the path of industrialization and the success level was really minimal. Part of the reasons being that the industrialization efforts of the past were propelled by government parastatals using government funds. When you do that, the reality of the days that even when you set the industries up, you'll have a challenge getting those industries to be competitive because bureaucratic systems of civil service and all that will impede the progress of that industry. And so learning from that experience and other experiences of the developing world and the developed world, the government of Governor Udom Emmanuel set out to building industries always from coffers of government. But creating an enabling environment that industrialisation can thrive. And then we are going out there to seek investors that will invest in our industries, run the industries, manage them properly as proper business entities. Not just setting up industries but doing so where we identify opportunities. Today we are proud to say that the dividends of industrialization in Akwa Ibom is visible for everyone to see, touch and feel.
From the syringe manufacturing company, if you go round pharmacy shops, by the fourth one, you'll find that syringe. It is less than one year since that factory was inaugurated. But already, the syringes are all over the streets of Akwa Ibom State. And that is the largest syringe manufacturing firm in Nigeria. Sorry, in Africa!
As a country, Nigeria consumes 6 billion syringes and spend about $30 billion every year averagely, importing syringes. So huge, humongous opportunities in the industry. So setting up that syringe factory, the government has entered into a venture where continuous profitability is guaranteed.
However, this syringe factory was not established by the government. It is owned by foreign investors who found the government trustworthy and capable enough. But the government gets an equity percentage because of the land we provide them.
What is the equity percentage?
The equity contribution is the land. For every land we provide, that is the equity contribution. Not percentage.
There's also an electric metering factory that produces prepaid meters.
We have a flour mill as well as a coconut refinery under construction.
As you are aware, the Pencil and Toothpick factory will soon be completed. Every school, restaurant and home has need for those two items. There was a need, need analysis were done and that's why that factory is being constructed.
Then we have garri and rice processing factories all over the state. There’s the fertiliser blending factory and plastic factory.
So when you look at all these, you see humongous opportunities. The government is also focusing on diversifying the economy of the state. For a larger part of the 30 years of this state, our economy has been centered round the oil sector and civil service orientation. So every child who gets out of school wants to be a civil servant. But today, we are looking for opportunities where we can redress that and begin to funnel people into the private sector. We are beginning to record successes. It won't become full blown overnight. The success will come gradually. And so today, I'm proud to say that we have at least, nine functional industries; all dotting all over the state. You can go take a tour and see them. We are not like previous government that don't set up industries and fabricate them for publicity.
So, that is on the one hand.
What is the level of employment in this sector right now? Put a figure on it
Well, again, because it is not civil service, it is not a sector where you’ve absolute control. It is very difficult for you to say this is the exact number or percentage. The reason being that, you'll recall that late last year or earlier this year, National Bureau of Statistics recorded Akwa Ibom State as the state with the second highest volume of unemployment.
And I kick against that and the reason is simple. If it based on the civil service, then yes,
probably. But the farmers in the 11,000 hectares coconut plantation are not counted as well as the farmers in the 10,000 hectares cassava farm. The guys in the distribution companies of these factories were not counted. The guys in recharge card, fast-food and real estate business were not included. The guys that transport Akwa Ibomites were not counted.
So you see, if you aggregate the value chain, the value chain is long and enormous.
A cup of garri in 2015 went for N200. Today, for N200, you can buy 13 cups of garri.
In three years, we trapped it down to that. Now, the reason is simple; mass production of cassava!
Mr. Udom's government installed cassava processing plants all over the state. And individuals as well are running their own. So, basic laws of demand and supply have forced the prices to drop.
And if you really look at these things, people are getting empowered. Even the youth. Many young people earn an average of N50,000 to N100,000 through the use of their mobile phones. There's digital marketing and online blogging. All they need is data!
There’s a factory that has turned cocoyam into powder. It makes cooking so much easier for Akwa Ibomites.
There's a young lady that markets coconut water. It is well packaged and NAFDAC approved. So we see so many young entrepreneurs coming out like that and going into businesses. Those are all employment opportunities the government has created. And there's also sports. We've started the project of building sports centre across the state in 10 federal constituencies. Now, one of them is ready, others are under construction. The reason is simple. We need to create opportunities for young people. Not everybody is educationally inclined. Not everybody wants to go to school. And so what do you do with the guy who is talented?
Christiano Ronaldo is a multimillionaire. I'm not sure his level of education. Same with Lionel Messi. And Bolt Usain.
So we thought we needed to create opportunities for young people to begin to thrive. And part of the dividends of that is that in three years, Akwa United has won the FA Cup twice, which is not by accident but by careful planning and administration.
Talk about education. Today, we have pressure in our schools, fact. Today, we are struggling with infrastructure in our schools. Fact. Today, we are struggling to raise the standard of education in the state. Fact. But what to do?
We inherited a state with over 2,000 public schools and you cannot upgrade over a thousand schools in three years so we are using a phased upgrade approach where we take the schools in batches and work on them. And so far, we’ve upgraded over 400 schools. Work is ongoing in another hundred. One may argue that 500 out of 2,000 is too small, but the thing is that if the government before had done 500, we would be talking about a thousand or more.
But that did not happen so we are starting from ground zero! The one thing is sure, if God keeps Mr. Udom here, all those things now will be fixed! Because we are running free and compulsory education, we are also seeing pressure on infrastructure.
Children are migrating to public schools and you cannot send them away. So a school that used to have an average population of a thousand students overnight had four thousand students. So where are the classrooms? Where is the furniture? So that has pushed us to beginning to expand the facility and spread the children to other schools.
There’s still a lot more we can do in three years. Another aspect is quality. I grew up being told that teachers have their reward in heaven. But teachers today want theirs right now. (Laughs)
Realising that, we said, look, inasmuch as we pay regular salaries, we need to ensure we have good teachers. That’s why we reversed the employment of 5,000 teachers that was done because it wasn't done through the right channel – through the right processes. The idea is that if you want to be a teacher in any level of education in Akwa Ibom State, you must. I repeat, must pass a written exam on basic use of English. That exam is based on the curriculum you are supposed to teach. If you didn’t pass then you cannot teach. The sad thing is that we did that and we could only harvest 3,000 from the 5,000.
But other states are promoting their dialects . . .
Even while they encourage dialect, how do they teach it? They teach first in English before they interpret. The dialect is just one small arm. You are still going to teach them Physics, Biology and Commerce with English!
Is the Udom Administration doing anything as per securing lives and property in the state?
If we want to correctly gauge security, we must first look at in the context of Nigeria. Who owns police? Who owns the military? The Federal Government!
Yes, we have certain issues in Ukanafun. The question you'll ask yourself is where these guys get ammunition from. How come they are able to sustain the firepower?
Maybe, maybe not, somebody is sponsoring somewhere. Who knows?
Nigeria as a country has the responsibility. Yes, the Governor’s the Chief Security Officer but he has no control over the army. But what we’ve done proactively is to try and support the police and military by creating enough of their presence here through the establishment of Police College, Air Force schools, Naval schools and others. In the last three years, if you've been following the Akwa Ibom State, the security situation has been probably one of the best in the last eleven years. The good thing is that we have only pockets of them in some communities and it has not spread beyond those pockets of communities. We’ll need a lot of help from the Federal Government to help eradicate them.
There's this topic about the Governor not wanting to continue with projects the former governor initiated. How true is this?
Let's talk about Four Points by Sheraton. The former administration claims that it had completed 98% of that. And did they tell us how much money they had collected? Did they tell us what state they left the hotel?
There's a difference between commissioning a house and commissioning a home. When you build a house, you can't call it a home until there are furniture and fittings. First, let me say clearly, the last administration left the project at 64% completed. They drew 95% of project cost and left the project at 64%. What happened to the balance? Where was Mr. Udom going to get money to complete the balance?
On the other hand, when the so-called commissioning was done, why were caterers brought from outside to serve food if the hotel was ready? How come the next day, doors were locked during working hours? If it was commissioned, it would have meant that from that day, guests would have been able to check in.
Would you call that a scam?
You deduce. (Laughs)
When you want to get into hotel business or any business at all, you must have a special purpose vehicle that can sue and be sued.
The hotel was “commissioned” with Four Points by Sheraton written on it without a franchise agreement being entered into. So it means that the name was used illegally. That’s what this government inherited. The former government said they had acquired the right. And we challenged them. Show us the MOU that you signed. Show us the special purpose vehicle you claimed to have used.
But one would say that the present Governor was once the Secretary to the State Government . . .
SSG and Governor, what is the difference? You own your company so can your staff challenge you? Can’t you decide to sideline your staff? So that’s no argument.
So what is the Governor doing on that matter right now?
We'll commission the hotel this year.
The money that was not used for the project must have been taken by somebody. What is the government doing to get the money back?
The thing is it is the public domain. The laws of Nigeria are clear. We've put the fact in public domain. It is for the appropriate authorities to look at it and go and investigate. This government is focused on the sustainable development of Akwa Ibom State. This government is not focused on irrelevant projects because we are men of integrity. The leader of the stage play is a man of integrity. It would be a distraction to start chasing shadows.
What about Uyo – Ikot Ekpene Road?
At the appropriate time, we’ll release the fact on that.
But is the Governor interested in completing it?
Of course! It is already under construction. Julius Berger is working 24/7. There’s no one road today that is abandoned.
How will you place the relationship between the Governor and the immediate past governor? Are they still friends?
(Laughs) You should ask the former governor, not me. It is a personal thing. I speak for the State Government, not any human being.
There’s no official relationship anymore. We are no longer in the same party.
How is Chief Akpabio's defection going to affect Akwa Ibom State in terms of the forthcoming elections?
You could see evidently. After he defected, how many commissioners followed him? Only two. How many local government chairmen followed him? None!
How many House of Assembly Members followed him? Two people who seek third term in office and they know that we won't give them.
How many House of Reps members followed him? Another two looking for third term. Even his two brothers did not follow him. So that says it all. See, if God blesses me through you, that doesn’t make you my God. When God wanted to send Jesus to the world, He sent him through Mary and Joseph. That doesn’t make Joseph the father of Jesus. Today we say Jesus Christ the son of God. So Joseph can’t play God. It is erroneous for anybody to think that he can become God.
First, you are blaspheming. Second, you challenge the potency of God and we wait to see the result. No one person can claim to be God.
You claim you own Akwa Ibom State. Were there no people working for you? There were people who made it happen. Akpabio wants to play God in Akwa Ibom but he has failed already.
Is it true that the name of the stadium – Godswill International Stadium, Uyo – has been changed?
As at the declaration, the name was still the same. Last Friday.
And there are no plans to change it?
(Laughs) If we had such plans, it would have been changed before the Governor's declaration (for a second term in office. This government is too sophisticated for such silly games.
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