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Friday, November 9, 2018

Industrialization: The Difference With Udom Emmanuel

By Uwemedimo Umani

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership”

No one, not even the hardened critic, can deny the rate at which Akwa Ibom state is accomplishing its industrialization agenda under Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel’s leadership. In three years, the current administration has been remarkably innovative in solving challenges of development while setting new paradigms in achieving goals.

As expected, Governor Udom Emmanuel, has brought to bear his wealth of knowledge and experience garnered from years of serving in global corporate finance institutions. For instance, phrases like ‘financial engineering’, ‘loan conversion to bonds’, ‘Alternative Project Funding Approach, APSA and ‘guarantee contractor’s finance scheme, GCFS are some of the inventive tools employed to plough through the tedious path of project finance, seal leakages and save scarce fund.

According to Mr Emmanuel, “our commitment to industrialization is irrevocable. We know that through industrialization, we shall rewrite the Akwa Ibom story in employment and wealth creation that will pump the veins of our economy to overflowing, and take us to the highest rung of economic ascendency.

“I will do all I can to move this State forward by pursuing and implementing policies and programmes that will put food on the table, ensure quality and affordable education for our kids, a healthy and vibrant populace and a youth population that earns a living through the works of their hands as opposed to begging for a living”.

How the governor keeps these promises, delivers target projects yet continues to pay workers as at when due despite fluctuations in monthly allocation is a case for study. Many, including the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly (Senate), Senator Ita Solomon Enang, finds such a feat incomprehensible hence his regular demand for ‘public accountability’ anytime he saunters into the state.

Others, who are not as bold as ‘Udo Mfoniso’, anxiously wait for publication of monthly federation account and fund disbursement just to be sure that Akwa Ibom State is not paid much more than its contemporaries in the region. Some of the doubting Thomases congregate at newsstands around Ibom Plaza and on the social media arguing to and fro yet refuse to appreciate the real transformation that is happening all around them.

However, giving reasons why government is leaving no stone unturned towards infrastructural development, the commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh, reveals that “the current administration under Governor Emmanuel wants the economy to be private sector driven.

Explaining the strategy further, he says, “the current administration is poised to providing infrastructure that will attract both local and foreign investors to invest in the state. The government has consciously been building roads, developing towns. We are building economic roads; We are making sure that necessary infrastructure is put in place to drive industrialization. All these will help reduce the cost of production”.

Today, the industrialization envisioned by late Obong Akpan Isemin, crafted by Obong Victor Attah and given impetus by Senator Godswill Akpabio is springing up everywhere under the watchful eyes of Mr. Emmanuel. As attested to by former deputy governor of the state, Engr. Chris Ekpenyong, the governor “understands the needs of the people and is addressing the needs, and the need of Akwa Ibom people today is industrialization. The need of Akwa Ibom people today is communication in terms of road network from one local government area to the other”.

Similarly, development experts have described the state as one of the fastest developing in the country. Survey shows that government is constructing more roads, more bridges are built, more people have access to affordable healthcare and free compulsory basic education, more communities now connect each other for commerce and trade. Consequently, visitors and investors are migrating to the state in droves to boost its economy.

The Commissioner for Works, Mr. Ephraim Inyangeyen says building roads and bridges is a strategy to aid industrialization, but financing them all is difficult considering scarcity of funds.

Yet, Udom has devised a solution. While speaking on the specialized project payment policy, APSA, initiated by the governor, Mr. Inyangeyen notes that it is a rare approach because that has not happened anywhere in Nigeria.

“Investors accepted this approach because they have trust and confidence in Governor Udom Emmanuel, that the ISPO that we issue would be honoured”.

In addition, the administration comes out different in its industrialization policy. Its unique public-private partnership model ensures that government does business with only genuine investors that are ready to put money down. The governor insists on first conducting due diligence test on would-be investors before sitting down to talk. Thereafter, the symbolic ‘ground breaking ceremony’ then follows, showing government’s commitment to provide basic amenities while the investor provides 100% seed fund, trains and employs indigenes.

This is a notable improvement upon how his predecessors did business. It is a foolproof measure against portfolio investors and speculators. Unfortunately, many have been misled to think that when such a ‘ground breaking ceremony’ is not followed immediately by erecting structure on project site it means ‘failed projects’. Without repeating several explanations given on the subject matter, it is pertinent to state that the process of setting up an industry is long and convoluted.

Most times, efforts to achieve certain goals are completely out of reach of state government. The innumerable regulations, restrictions and at times brick walls erected by federal government and its agencies are enough to dissuade potential investors. The delayed Ibom Deep seaport project is such a case. While waiting for federal government to be more investor-friendly and adopt globally accepted “ease of doing business” policies, it is important to applaud the state government for milestones crossed so far.

Mischief makers who are fixated on spreading lies about the proposed automobile manufacturing factory and others should know better. It is obvious from its achievement so far that Udom’s administration is keen on ensuring that its industrialization policy berths long lasting industries. As a matter of fact, if the state is to enjoy hosting companies that will last like UAC, May&Baker, Johnsons, Cadbury and others, then the foundation must be properly established.

The people should not forget so soon billions lost in the past because government reportedly adopted outdated policies towards industrialization. Many such industries today are lying obsolete. Even in our recent past, government at various occasions reportedly paid as much as 90% of the investment sum, built all required infrastructure while the so called investors would cruise in to feast on the largesse only to take the closest exit out of the state when things on longer go their way.

The Science Park, MRO, Tropicana, 4Point by Sheraton are there for all to learn from. This same fate almost befell the Specialist Hospital and Five Star hotel had Gov Udom not quickly intervened.

That being the case, it is important to observe that most of the industries that have scaled through Udom’s stringent measures will stand the test of time since they are wholly built through private funding and have been proven through rigorous test to be genuine with solid business plan.

The fact that the state towers above many of its contemporaries in terms of sheer magnitude of physical projects undertaken simultaneously without defaulting on its huge wage bill is significant. It has earned accolades within and outside the country as a budding industrial hub, it has passed the scrutiny of foreign investors, won the hearts of global finance institutions and is surely evolving as a premium destination for world class investment.

These facts have far reaching implications for the future and gives credence to massive votes cast by Akwa Ibom people to elect Governor Udom Emmanuel in 2015. Also, it underscores the need for continued support for his administration by all well-meaning citizens. Beyond 2019, it is widely believed that with him in the saddle, the state will enjoy sustained peace, stability, growth and security of investment which form key assessment indicators by potential investors.

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