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RE: FRANK OKON SETS AGENDA

By Eyenisong Ibibio
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Ever since the possibilities of having Engr Frank Okon emerged as the governor of Akwa Ibom State, I have been craving for opportunity to peep into his mind set on various issues relating to governance. Unfortunately, he has not yet granted any detailed press interview on what he intends to do if and when sworn in as the governor of Akwa Ibom State.

The long awaited opportunity came through the Ibibio Peoples Union Congress in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, where he spoke on a number of issues including the history of Ibibio people and his programme for the state.

Before I touch on a few of the issues he raised, let me use this medium to congratulate him for his dogged and principled fight against illegalities and unjust system as exemplified by the conduct of Governor Godswill Akpabio. It is my fervent prayer that God Almighty would continue to protect, strengthen and bless him so that he can be a tool fit to be used by God for the emancipation of our dear state, Akwa Ibom.

Although it might appear a bit hasty to react to his policies as enunciated during the IPU congress, it is my considered opinion that he wants those policies subjected to analysis/criticisms hence he made them public.

Let me briefly take a few of his 'suggestions':
AGRICULTURE
I am excited that he is already thinking of Akwa Ibom State without oil, using agriculture as the springboard. It is an established fact that oil will someday dry up and so will all revenues and economic activities revolving around oil. It is therefore important that sustained efforts be made to harness our agricultural potentials. Akwa Ibom State can feed the entire Niger Delta region if it properly tackles agriculture both as a means of job creation and as food sustenance. It has fertileland, financial resources and the population to do so. But care must be taken that the implementation of the policies adopted should not be politicized. In other words, the management and supervision of agriculture must not be made to be a reward for political alliance and loyalty but entrusted in the hands of committed professionals.

I have often believed that our land tenure system is a hindrance to agricultural development. Here, land cultivation/ownership traditionally rests with the communities whereby every family unit owns a small portion. There is no way mechanized farming can be practiced under this system.

I am sure this is why Engr. Frank Okon is thinking of acquisition of 20,000 to 30,000 hectares of land to free such land for full mechanized farming. But the question is who is going to manage and run the farms – civil servants, bureaucrats or political appointees? The issue of how these farms would be managed has to be properly addressed otherwise it will end up like other government projects, not achieving its mission. The proper thing to do would be to allow private investors with track records in agriculture to run these farms under PPP. It has to be noted that the rural/small scale farmers are also a chain of the agricultural development and must consequently be accommodated in government's policy formulation. There is therefore need to assist them improve on their farming methods. Recently the Dutch government in partnership with the Federal Government developed some mini machines like tractors that are affordable and easy to operate. Government can procure these machines for use by the rural farmers instead of the traditional methods concurrently in practice. Considering the machines' labour reduction capacity, even young school leavers may be interested in owning and running their farms. Agricultural management devoid of political reward system will certainly flourish .Commendable policy.

HOUSING
“100 Housing development” The issue of housing is as important as agriculture but over time it has been failure upon failure in the overall implementation. According to the policy to be adopted, prospective beneficiaries would be made to pay N10,000 and therefore qualify for the ballot to select who gets what. Who are the target beneficiaries in the N10,000 payment-for–ballot-scheme?.

Considering our Nigeria of today, the balloting process will be manipulated, thereby short changing the policy.

Again, who will construct the housing units, state government, or local government? It is my opinion that instead of the state government building the houses (1st burden) and at the same time guaranteeing loans (2nd burden) for winners of the ballot, government can acquire land for private developers who would after completion, place the houses on sale; taking into consideration government target beneficiaries. The value of the land so acquired could then be converted into equity participation by the government. The state government would, as a deliberate policy, encourage such beneficiaries to obtain mortgage loans which it could then guarantee. This way funds that would otherwise be tied down on such projects would then be free for use in other critical areas. It would appear that the government would want to offer these houses on a 30% discounted value to beneficiaries. If so, the government could deposit the value of 30% of the entire houses in an account to be accessed by the private developers on completion of the houses.

As for building housing estates for military personnel of Akwa Ibom extraction and Akwa Ibomites in diaspora, with all due respect, I strongly beg to disagree, Sir. The policy is fraught with a lot of dangers that might send wrong and unintended signals.

You don't need a separate housing estate for military personnel of Akwa Ibom extraction and Akwa Ibomites in diasporas. The major drawback of this policy is that you are creating another world of class segregation; these groups of Akwa Ibomites are supposed to re-integrate with the larger traditional society, having been away for a long time. Keeping them in special housing estates would not be the best way to encourage them to return home. Again the idea of 'dashing' them Kia motor car/$5000 appears unsustainable. Sir, this would generate so much bad blood among the populace that it will turn out to be counter productive. For all I know, there is no Akwa Ibomite in diasporas who cannot afford a car and therefore does not such handout from the government.

However, the state needs all its citizens to consolidate efforts towards rebuilding Akwa Ibom; therefore the services of our brothers/sisters in diaspora would be of immense importance. To get them to return home, government must first identify critical areas of need in manpower and work out packages of incentives for such people. The system would in that case take care of those whose services it seriously requires. It does not look right to open the gate for every Dick and Tom to draw such benefits. The major problem of Akwa Ibomites in diaspora returning home has not been lack of houses or cars. It has always been SECURITY. If the issue of safety of lives and properly is properly addressed they will be willing to return home.

WORKS:
“Policy of Connect to Uyo”. Sir, as you are already aware, the state/local government Joint Account practice has been so abused that it prompted the National Assembly to commence efforts towards giving full autonomy to local governments through constitutional amendment. It may therefore not be necessary to re-introduce any Joint Account Scheme for whatever reasons.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no Local Government that has no link road to Uyo. What we need at the moment is construction of rural roads. All over the state, rural roads have been a major challenge and here is where the government needs to face squarely.

INDUSTRIES
I do not want to waste my time commenting on Tropicana. I hate to even remember the name. To think that this rip-off took place in Akwa Ibom State of 21st century is mind boggling. However whatever will erase the psychological night mares occasioned by this MONUMENTAL fraud, will be welcome.

IBAKA DEEP SEAPORT
This project appeared to have suffered the same fate that befell others since Godswill Akpabio took over. It has been subjected to all kinds of political and selfish manipulations in favour of some people in government. I still recall a press interview granted by a gentleman in Global Concord about 2 years back. He was lamenting that the Akpabios have hijacked the project as their family business altering the locations and sites of key components of the entire project. Up till moment the report has not been refuted by the characters mentioned in the press. Surprisingly, Akwa Ibom people have kept sealed leaps over such monumental fraud.

The man in question was the initial consultant to the Ibaka Seaport Project. According to him, the state government would not need to spend its scarce resources on this project as investors were already in place to fund the entire project. It will be necessary to invite him to offer professional advice on the project as earlier conceptualized.

It is equally important to encourage the setting up of a fertilizer plant in the state. This industry or plant alone can offer over 5000 direct employment and 5 times that number in indirect employment. Nigeria needs about 15 fertilizer plants the size of NOTORE (former NAFCON) to cater for its agricultural needs.

The major challenge in setting up fertilizer plant used to be gas supply because of the bottlenecks in getting approvals and pipeline to be extended to the project location. However, with the gas gathering project already embarked upon in Akwa Ibom by some oil firms in partnership with the state government, gas supply would no longer be an issue. Akwa Ibom State has every necessary requirement to host this project.

This writer and some Akwa Ibomites in Diaspora were involved in putting together both technical partners and financial sponsors for this project but had to abandon the project in the heat of the security breaches in the state which deterred the partners This arrangement could be reactivated if the government is interested. As agreed then some of the key requirements were:

• A location with access to the sea,
• Having enough land space for a housing estate, harbour, power plant and Office Blocks. (Fortunately a suitable location was found within one of the coastal areas of the state).

EDUCATION
I could spare a smile on reading how your government intends to tackle issues on education. We are all aware that most graduates, produced now can hardly face the task of manning positions of need according to their chosen fields. It will be necessary to recall as many of these graduates as possible to be retrained in any vocation of their choice.

I dare say that were the PIB to come into affect today, Akwa Ibom State may not be able to tap fully the benefits therein, owing largely to dearth of trained and experienced manpower. The graduates roaming the streets in search of non existent jobs now can be made to undergo vocational training in various fields as may be identified. We do not have to wait to start with now entrants to commence this program.

Secondly, Your Excellency, the idea of returning textbooks used by pupils/students should be discarded. The reason is that between the periods of going into a new class from the former class, pupils/students would be made completely redundant. They will be denied handy reference/revision materials even when they would have entered a new class. Again there is no gain saying that these books may not be properly handled such that they could be passed on intact. The wear and tear of books read/used for a year would certainly make such an exercise futile.

OTHER KEY ISSUES
CORRUPTION
Your Excellency, one extremely fundamental area you did not touch was corruption. You are aware of the colossal damage that corruption has wreaked on the Nigeria society. It has become clear that without tackling the hydra headed monster called corruption no meaningful progress can be made.

There has to be a determined and sustainable fight against corruption in Akwa Ibom State.

STRENGTHENING DEMOCRACY:
Of equal importance to the development of the state is the urgent need to strengthen and deepen our democratic practices.

The way and manner institutions of democracy have been structured and managed so far especially by the present administration in the state, leave much to be desired. As a matter fact, Engr Frank Okon knows the impact of the non practice of true democracy having been a victim himself. There is no way we can advance in real terms if institutions that should otherwise offer pillars to democracy are deliberately weakened to serve desired objective(s).

Paramount among these institutions is the state electoral commission and the judiciary. Hitherto these institutions have been a mockery serving instead as impediments to the practice or upholding of democratic values. It will therefore be important to critically examine the role of the aforesaid bodies in order that the government would be well guided on how best to reform them. They should be made to serve the populace rather than serve individuals.

Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission must be taken to the theatre room for surgical operations that will enable it perform its duties as enshrined in the law establishing it.

RULE OF LAW:
Over the years, there have been a lot of cases of executive recklessness in matters of the rule of law. Recollect the illegal dissolution of elected local government council, enactment of “decree 2” by the State House of Assembly, and other executive malfeasance. All these impacted negatively on our political developments. The state suffered as true and capable leaders were not allowed to emerge. It became the rule that one's ability to handle guns, knives, and axes to kill and main was the qualification needed to be recognized for political offices and appointments. Cultism was adopted as a state policy towards winning elections and gaining recognitions.

This is unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue any further.

WEALTH CREATION
To contain the rising cases of poverty and deprivation occasioned by government's inability to cater for the needs of its citizen, it is of utmost importance that wealth creation should be pursued with every vigor and seriousness. Part of wealth creation tools should be the government's ability to distribute the resources of the state in a manner that benefits the majority of its citizens.

All through the life of this administration, there has been steady increase in capital flight/outflow from the state. Government appears not to have taken a critical look at how it has impoverished the state by its wrong deployment of state resources through contract awards and other frivolous spending. Let me re-create a true scenario: All major contracts executed by the state government have been awarded to expatriate firms. These firms do not have any form of investment in the state but would repatriate its profits as they are made. The top management staff of these companies is also mainly manned by expatriates, who also would repatriate their earnings.

The next layer is the sub-contracts. More than 90% of these subcontractors are non-indigenes of Akwa Ibom State. There are many provable instances that I don't need to mention them all, but permit me to point out that if you go to the Akwa Ibom Airport, most of the contract jobs are carried out by non indigenes; road rehabilitation (alias patching of pot holes) works are similarly given to non-Akwa Ibomites; supply of books to schools in the state and production of road signs are also awarded to non-indigenes. At no other time in history since after the civil war has the entire economic strata of the state been deliberately sabotaged in favour of non indigenes as has happened under Godswill Akpabio. The simple reason for this madness being not to empower political opponents.

Next in the line is the distributive trade - the bulk sellers (wholesale traders). It is an established fact that most of the wholesalers of essential goods in Uyo are non-indigenes. After this group is the main retail outlets commonly referred to as supermarkets.

They are owned and run by non-indigenes of Akwa Ibom State. By what means then would the resources of the state trickle down if all the above listed chains are in the hands of non-indigenes.

I am not in any way against awarding major contracts to those who have the expertise. I am not also against the non-indigenes doing their legitimate businesses here.

All I am saying is that there should be conscious efforts towards empowering the indigenes to compete in the above line of businesses. That Akwa Ibomities are not taking part in these businesses is mainly due to lack of capital.

If the state government makes it a deliberate policy that all or most sub contracts are awarded to indigenous contractors, and moves a step further to encourage the banks to finance their jobs, the impact will be tremendous.

It will do the government a lot of credit if it could guarantee loans for citizens to engage in wholesale trade as a means of boosting indigenous participation in distributive trade. The state will be the better for it. After all of what use is the mindless wasting of resources on donations to few groups that, at the end yields no economic benefit to the state.

The Igbos who are doing well today started with the East Central State government's policy of guaranteeing loans to their businessmen immediately after the war. Up till moment, they are still using their numerical strength and presence in the financial sectors to influence granting of loans to their brothers.

There are many avenues for creating wealth for the citizens that the government should look at.

The target groups should be the youth and women. I am not here referring to uniform-wearing groups like so called Uyai Iban, which has through its activities destroyed homes and damage the moral arteries of the families. I am talking of the rural women. They are the real agents of home building and development. If wealth is placed in their hands, there is no end to what the society would benefit there from.

Again the administration of the policy should not be left on the shoulders of “political women leaders”.

In conclusion Your Excellency, there will be strong need to begin genuine reconciliation moves not only within the state but across the Niger Delta states. It is no longer a secret that Akwa Ibom state is not enjoying harmonious relationship with some of her sister states owing to personality clashes of the state executives and other issues. In focus is Cross River State which has been badly hit by the Supreme Court judgment affirming the ownership of 76 oil wells as being Akwa Ibom State. As much as the language and propaganda methods employed by the Cross River State government is infantile and detestable, it should not be lost on us that the ordinary people of Cross River State who are our brothers and sisters are those bearing the brunt. We should not close our eyes to their plight in their time of great need as now. Therefore whatever the state government can do to cushion the effect of this judgment will be of immense value. There is absolutely no need to have “hostile” neighbours when we can have peaceful ones through deliberate but firm policies.

Finally I wish you and the entire people of Akwa Ibom State good luck.

GOD BLESS AKWA IBOM.
Eyenisong
Email: [email protected]

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