While campaigning for election to be governor of Akwa Ibom State more than two years ago, one of the campaign promises that Udom Emmanuel made was the pursuit of industrial development as a means to deal with the growing menace of youth unemployment.
In fact, industrialisation was one of the 5-point agenda he presented to the people while seeking to be elected as governor. It is now history that he was elected governor following his victory at the 2015 polls.
And as the next election scheduled for 2019 approaches and with the governor most likely to seek a second term in office, it seems pertinent to take a second look at the governor’s promise as it relates to industrialisation as a way of ascertaining to the extent to which the state government has kept faith with the promises made to the people.
A recent report credited to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) stated that Akwa Ibom has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the country.
Though this did not go down well with the state government resulting in a rebuttal, there is no denying that thousands of youths are in need of gainful employment in which the lack of it has resulted in many of them being involved in anti-social activities.
Among the 56 suspects paraded recently by the state command of the Nigerian Police, those allegedly involved in violent crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping were all young men and women. Many of them claimed they were drawn into it after being confronted with the stark reality of unemployment starring them in the faces.
Indeed, with thousands of youths graduating from colleges and universities each going into the labour and searching for jobs that are not available, many experts have warned that the situation was akin to a time bomb, waiting to explode.
Though many are wont to say that it is not the responsibility of government to establish factories, it is however agreed that it is the business of government to ‘create an enabling environment’ for businesses to thrive.
Similarly, others have insisted that if government can contribute to the construction of hospitality facilities like hotels and recreation parks, building of worship centres, they see no reason why it cannot facilitate the building of factories.
This they say would engage the teaming youths roaming the streets and hanging around elected office holders across the country.
For instance, the decision of the Akwa Ibom State government to build a 8,500 capacity worship centre estimated to cost N3 billion in which the foundation-laying has already been performed by the governor despite the criticism that has trailed the move.
The state government has stoutly defended its position that apart from hundreds of jobs to be created during the construction phase of the worship centre, the central place of worship has long been overdue.
In the same vein, the over N60 billion sunk into the abandoned Ibom Tropicana project which was expected to create thousands of jobs is a sad commentary on how the state government appears to have wrongly spent its scarce financial resources instead of directly investing in the setting up of factories.
Nonetheless, since Governor Udom Emmanuel took over in May 2015, a lot seems to have been achieved industrially with both cottage and large scale factories. Indeed, the state government has initiated and facilitated the setting up of cottage factories and industrial ventures.
Apart from the coconut refinery which is likely to take a longer gestation period before coming on stream several factories have started producing various items and many other industries are believed to be on the way.
Experts say cottage industries can be seen as a short term effort to address the problem of unemployment while waiting for the major industrial projects like the Ibaka deep sea port, the flour mills and fertilizer plants as well as the car assembly factories to be ready to start production.
According to Ufot Ebong, the industrial development agenda of the Akwa Ibom government has already stated yielding dividends with the arrival of sundry equipment for a plastic manufacturing factory.
This is coming after the toothpick and pencil factories have been up and running in the last one year.
Ebong, who is the coordinator of Akwa Ibom Employment and Enterprise Scheme (AKEES), the brain behind the cottage factories said the idea is to address youth unemployment in the state and help to create the spirit of entrepreneurship among them.
In addition, a metering solution firm as well as a syringe manufacturing factory which is believed to be one of the largest in the country had already been established by the state government.
The arrival of the plastic manufacturing machines has also added to the list of other industrial concerns in the state government with a good number of them having reached advanced stages of construction.
Furthermore, the Jubilee syringe factory reputed to be the largest in Africa with an installed capacity of 400 million units of syringes per annum was inaugurated last year by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo during the 30th anniversary of the creation of Akwa Ibom State.
The factory, which is set to hit the market in the next weeks with its products according to Zubeir Gulabi, its managing director, is coming after a successful period of test-running the plant. It is expected to produce over one million syringes daily.
Gulabi explained that the factory is a private initiative established as a result of its ability to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and the enabling environment created by the state government, adding that the products are of the highest quality and are being certified by the appropriate agencies both within and outside the country.
To ensure standard and professionalism, he said workers are regularly sent on training in foreign countries while also partnering several European countries on technical and marketing processes.
Gulabi disclosed that the company when fully operational would offer employment to many Nigerians adding that already, it is working with local manufacturers for the supply of raw materials used in the factory.
“The products have a ready market with patronage coming from within and outside the country, but for now Nigeria is our key target,’’ he said.
Charles Udoh, commissioner for information and strategy, agreed that with the commencement of production by the factory, it would result in many small and medium scale enterprises springing up in the state and urged youths to avail themselves of the opportunity created by the industrial agenda of the state government.
Making use of the opportunities provided by the factories in the state is what the youths should embrace but fears are being expressed that with lack of entrepreneurship skills, the youths might miss out.
“The syringe factory, the biggest in Africa, was attracted to the state by Governor Emmanuel as part of measures to fulfill his five-point agenda, especially in the areas of job creation, wealth creation and poverty alleviation. With the factory fully alive, it will go a long way to boosting the industrialisation-drive of the Udom Emmanuel-led administration”, he said.
But experts have warned that the vision of an industrial economy could be a mirage if the perennial problem of irregular power supply is not addressed.
Though electricity generation is reported to have peaked at 7000 MW in Nigeria, many parts of the country are still experiencing power outages and Akwa Ibom State though has its power generators contributing about 153MW to the national grid, has not fared any better.
Apparently to remove any impediment posed by inadequate supply of electricity, the state government has boasted of a 24-hour power supply in parts of the state, a development which many say is quite ambitious.
It is believed that this light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel optimism might not be unconnected with the upgrade of key power infrastructure in the state and the development of additional power transmission facilities by the state government.
Among the facilities recently upgraded include the construction of a 2X15KVA 33/11 KVA distribution injection substation in Uyo, with dedicated lines for electricity supply to both residential and industrial estates within the capital.
In addition, the construction of another substation in Ekim in Mkpat Enin Local Government to boost power supply to five local government areas of Ikot Abasi, Eket, Onna, Eastern Obolo and Mkpat Enin is due commissioning soon, according to government officials.
“We are in serious discussion with Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) to give one dedicated line from 1×60 MVA from Afaha Ube (Uyo) that will be completely dedicated. Once that is done, we will then have 24-hour power supply,’’ said Meyen Etukudo, managing director of the state-owned Ibom power company.
“The vision of Governor Emmanuel is the industrialisation of Akwa Ibom State and it would be difficult to achieve industrialisation without power.
“The Ekim transmission substation was initially meant to be undertaken by TCN but when they wasted a lot of time, the governor took over the project to power that axis that has already been earmarked as one of the three industrial hubs in the state,’’ he said.
Also, there are plans to develop the second phase of the Ibom power project to rein in 500MW of power and this is expected to be undertaken through public private partnership, though when the actual construction of the second phase of the power project is not yet certain.
ANIEFIOK UDONQUAK, Uyo