By Udom Emmanuel
(Our moment to deepen our unity, development, peace and onward movement is here. Let us seize it!).
My fellow Akwaibomites,
Exactly 34 years ago, the warm and serene city of Uyo and indeed all other towns and villages in this State erupted in an uproarious applause and spontaneous celebrations. It was a celebration that was long in coming.
For decades, our forefathers supplicated, went on bended knees and prayed to God; made persuasive presentations and arguments for the creation of a homogenous State bound by shared love, values, customs and traditions.
Their prayers were not answered until that day, September 23, 1987, when our then Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, (GCFR) rtd, hearkened to the cries of our forefathers and created for us, our dear State, Akwa Ibom, the Land of Promise, the Land of daring, hospitable and industrious people, God’s own piece of real estate.
Today, 34 years later, the Akwa Ibom Story has become a national story, told in enchanting verses and engaging prose, a City on the Hill, a destination of choice and a land soaked in peace and development.
Today, my dear Compatriots, at this moment of our anniversary, I stand here again, ever grateful to our ONLY GOD to declare that though we have experienced the challenges associated with birth, the motions of crawling, the sometimes tortuous efforts to rise and maintain mobility; the steady but determined baby steps, we have nonetheless remained bold and focussed in our drive to live out the ideals of our founding fathers and turn our State into what they had envisioned her to be: The Land of Promise. All over the nooks and crannies of our dear State, these elements are manifesting. Our State is moving forward, in lock step with the symphonies and rhythm of growth and development.
Our State Capital City of Uyo has grown from what was once a dusty and rural Local Government Council headquarters, to a thriving cosmopolitan city, where Nigerians from all walks of life daily converge for their conferences and seminars and have declared it “Nigeria’s Best Kept Secret.” Our hinterlands have been opened up through interlocking road network, complete with regular electricity to enhance their quality of life and expand the free flow of goods and services.
The colours of Akwa Ibom State today adorn and illuminate the Nigerian skies with Ibom Air. Our healthcare delivery is one of the best in the nation and the infant mortality rate has reduced tremendously. Our children are being educated through specially targeted curriculum that puts accent on entrepreneurial skills development, so they may grow to be employers of labour as opposed to being employees.
The identity of the Akwa Ibom person vis-a-vis his or her place in the larger Nigerian Enterprise has been deeply distilled and our people are no longer content to be on the sideline of the Nigerian Boardroom or the hewers of woods and the drawers of water. Today, our people are as aspirational in all facets of the human endeavours as anyone else across the nation and indeed the world. Our youths have decided to arise or dakkada to the faith of their greatness and are utilizing the works of their hands to earn decent living for themselves. I believe, given where we are today from where we were 34 years ago, our forefathers will certainly be proud of our strides, and we all should equally feel that way too.
Let me use this opportunity to thank former President, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) GCFR for this great gift and of course, our past leaders for the service they had individually rendered to the State, and thus help sharpen our focus on development and growth.
Fellow Akwa Ibomites, as successful in moving our State forward as we may have been in the last 34 years, as glittering as the chapters of development may have been chronicled, as blessed as we as a people may have been, there is still a nagging problem that tucks at the heart of who we are: The gulf of disunity that appears to be widening and this has compelled me to ask this pertinent and fundamental question: Are we as united and cohesive as our forefathers had envisioned? Do we envelope or knit ourselves in the garment of unity and brotherhood? Are we conscious of our unique identity, the defining elements of our common heritage? Or are we, ready as the late American Civil Rights advocate, Martin Luther King once commanded the Negroes (as they were then called) to “learn to live together as brothers or perish together” in hate, animus and anger?
Why do we appear to be propelled by the destructive impulses or the negating spirit to pull one another down? Why have we raised to a disturbing level, the sad and shocking tendencies to de-market our State, and present our Symbols of Authority in unsanatized manner?
Our founding fathers were united in love, shaped by the ennobling ideals of unity, and propelled by the endless possibilities each felt and believed we were capable of appropriating in unison. Little wonder the Ibibio State College was located in the heart of Annang land. Little wonder they forged a strong sense of brotherhood and unity which saw our sons and daughters being sent to schools in foreign lands through community taxing schemes and the selection process of the students to be sent abroad were not predicated on geography, but the force and content of such a student’s gifts and character.
Today as the proud heirs and heiresses of that noble heritage, can we proudly say we have lived out those enchanting ideals? Have we banished or relegated to the scrap heap of history the denigrating and debilitating urge to smear our leaders, hold them up for contempt and opprobrium through vile blackmail, all because of political differences or the push to be seen as a non-conformist?
As we celebrate our 34th Anniversary, I want to urge us all to once again wrap ourselves up in a garment of unity. It was an unknown writer who drove home this point when he said “when spiders unite, they can tie down a lion.” We can achieve a lot when we are united. I recognise the fact that people will share and entertain different political interests, I recognize the fact that politics sometimes can lead decent people to veer off the path of nobility, but such should not motivate us to seek to destroy the best in us, just to satisfy our political paymasters.
Let me repeat this line I have often used: My fellow Akwaibomites, politics will come and politics will go, but the Akwa Ibom spirit and blood that flows in us all will endure and flourish. Political foes you see today may be political allies tomorrow. May our Only God continue to strengthen the bonds of our unity and draw us closer to one another in truth and in spirit, Amen.
Fellow Akwaibomites, for over six out of the 34 years since our creation, you had blessed me with the mandate to superintend over the affairs of this great and peaceful State and for this I remain eternally indebted.
In those six plus years, together and with your prayers, we have achieved a lot for our people, even as the economic horizon continues to show signs of turbulence and the forecast a little hazy and dire. I do not intend to use this speech to over emphasize what you and I have achieved together, but it bears repeating that in almost all the areas we had emphasised as our governing agenda, industrialization, infrastructural consolidation, education and human capital development, food sufficiency and agro allied concerns, health care delivery for our people, ease of doing business through land, sea and air, power, aviation development, youth reorientation and empowerment, rural development, in short all aspects that uplift the human dignity, we have done very well, given the lean resources available to us.
Infrastructure is the critical driver of development and in this; we have done a lot for our people. It is only those who may be out to create mischief that would not recognize that we have expanded our infrastructure in this State, especially in our capital city of Uyo and indeed all over the State. The Ring Road three is currently on-going and would hopefully be commissioned before the end of the year.
I am sure any Akwa person of good will, will appreciate the ease of travelling from the airport through the city centre; from Oron road to Nwaniba or from the same Oron road to Nnung Udoe. A trip that used to take over thirty minutes can now be made in less than five minutes. With this also, comes the appreciation of property rates along the communities affected. This helps create wealth and provide the free flow of goods and services. The 25 kilometre dualized Uyo Ikot-Ekpene road is scheduled for commissioning on October 5th. The Uyo-Etinan road, is also on-going. The Ikot Oku Ikono Flyover, the longest in our parts was commissioned last July and today, has made traveling in and around Uyo a pleasurable experience.
All the three Senatorial Districts and ten Federal Constituencies, have been deeply impacted by the economically viable roads we have constructed. Yesterday, in Obot Akara, I had commissioned the 6.4km Nto Edino-Ekwerazu Road, which links obot Akara with Ekwerazu in Abia State, thus alleviating the pains the people of those communities had gone through for decades.
In Uyo Metropolis, we have commissioned numerous internal roads, including those in Shelter Afrique Estate that were commissioned a few days ago. In Ikot Ekpene, Eket and other major towns in the State, internal roads are being constructed, and all these are there for any discerning mind to see. We will continue to construct these roads knowing that we are building enduring infrastructure that our children will someday look back and say thank God, we once had an Administration who saw beyond the ordinary. We will not be distracted by the antics of naysayers or internet rabble rousers.
It also bears repeating that before we came in, Nsikak Eduok Avenue was a severely flooded area, in short it used to look like a small river whenever it rained. Today, certain individuals who traffic and peddle falsehood on the Internet appear to have forgotten how that road used to be, and the huge resources we put underground in channelling the flood away from that area. Similar task is currently being executed on Ibrahim Babangida Way.
Our passionate dedication to upgrading our infrastructure and thus make it easier for us to execute our industrialization agenda has seen us invest heavily in the power sector through the upgrading of existing substations and building new ones across the State, and it is a known fact that most parts of this State currently enjoy stable electricity. We remain focussed in our efforts to provide power for all, by 2021, all things being equal.
Because we have made this State peaceful and have provided infrastructure such as good roads, power, and the ease of traveling either by road or by air, we have been able to attract Foreign Direct Investments leading to the establishment of such economically viable and employment-generating industries such as the Syringes manufacturing company which is the largest in Africa and as widely reported last week, is in the process of exporting syringes to other countries. This is a huge leap for us as a State that was once described as a purely civil service State.
Our flour mill is humming and the quality of flour produced there is adjudged to be the best in the country. The Metering Solutions Company is helping consumers accurately read and manage their electricity consumption. Our rice mill in Ini Local Government Area is providing rice that is consumed here by our people at affordable price. The Plywood manufacturing company is meeting the needs of our furniture industry.
Our coconut oil refinery is almost at the point of completion and as the world opens up post-Covid 19 and our technical partners begin to travel freely, we will soon unveil this gigantic industry to the world as a testament to creative use of coconut to create wealth. Last week, at Ekeya, in Okobo Local Government area, we commenced the planting of coconut which would ultimately provide the raw materials for our virgin coconut oil refinery. The planting of the coconut in Ekeya, and other Local Government Areas will complement those we have already planted in Eastern Obolo.
The ground-breaking ceremony of the OCP 1.4 billion petrochemical and ammonia plant in Ikot Abasi is expected to be performed soon. Similar one was earlier this year, performed in Eastern Obolo.
We would not have been able to attract all these industries, if we did not create the enabling environment for investors to come and invest and we should be all proud of our efforts and celebrate our ascendance as a fast industrializing State. We remain grateful for approval given to us to commence work on our Ibom Deep Seaport and I urge the stakeholders in the communities the project is sited to rise above primordial attachments and see the potentials for economic growth this project will engender.
My dear Akwaibomites, the Akwa Ibom colours today are fluttering and illuminating the Nigerian aviation space with our Ibom Air. Earlier this year, we increased our fleet from 5 aircrafts to 7 with the addition of two brand new Airbus A-220-300 series, the first of such in the West Africa. Today, Ibom Air has become the reference point in Nigerian aviation industry because of the professionalism and service they are rendering to the Nation. We should all be very proud of these gigantic achievements, a feat I am sure our forebears will be happy in their graves.
Recently, a rich collection of veteran journalists from the Northern part of the Nation came to see things for themselves, and I was moved when one of the journalists, described what they saw especially at our on-going International Terminal at the Victor Attah Airport as phenomenal and never before seen in our Nation. Fellow Akwaibomites, 34 years after our founding, we have a lot to be proud of as a people and as a State.
Tomorrow, by the grace of God, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, (GCON) will help commission our 21 Storey Dakkada Tower, the most intelligent and smart building in the Nation, as our former President, Olusegun Obasanjo (GCFR) once described it. We have constructed this edifice as a mark of our growth as a leading oil and gas producer in the Nation, and are hopeful that the International Oil Companies (IOCs) will take advantage of the building and move their operations to our State. The Vice President also, will help flag- off our Dakkada Luxury Estate which again signposts our resolve to provide great estate for the numerous investors and other visitors who are daily moving into our State to invest and live peacefully.
Fellow Akwa Ibomites, in the course of my two successful campaigns as Governor, I had promised to establish, remodel or renovate secondary health facilities (General Hospitals) across the ten Federal Constituencies. To the glory of God, this has been achieved. The massive General Hospital in Ikot Ekpene which visiting journalists recently described as a world class medical facility will be commissioned on October 26th, 2021. We had previously commissioned those in Etinan, Eket, Awa, Iquita, Oron, Ikono, Ituk Mbang, and Ikot Okoro.
Our proactive approach to healthcare delivery had seen us establish and equip the ICU at the Ibom Specialist Hospital, which became a saving grace when the Covid-19 first hit our shores and later the construction of the 300-Bed Infectious Disease Control Centre in Ituk Mbang, complete with a gas plant which is one of the largest in the nation. Today, because we invested in this life saving facility, we are able to manage our Covid-19 patients resulting in low death rates.
We remain focussed on our task of moulding and shaping our children with the right education that emphasizes entrepreneurial skills and are committed to recruiting teachers who can help drive this policy. You may have read recently that the list of the successful candidates, all one thousand of them, were recently published and they will soon be assigned to various schools. We will continue to make the environment where our children study to be as conducive as possible through the provision of amenities, science laboratories and other tools that will make them as competitive as their counterparts elsewhere. Entrepreneurial skills development is a key aspect we are emphasizing in our curriculum. We want to produce future graduates who will be employers of labour as opposed to looking up to government for employment. This is the way of the future; it has worked in a number of countries, especially India, where today, most of the leading technology giants are headed by Indian- born Chief Executive Officers and we believe down the road, it will work for our children too.
Our commitment to providing staple food at affordable price remains an abiding article of faith and as I always say, any society that fails to provide food for its people has failed a key element of the Social Contract. It is heart-warming that our people have embraced agriculture and are producing even vegetables that were previously thought not to be suitable for our soil.
Let me specifically use this opportunity to thank our youths for keeping the peace and buying into our dakkada philosophy. I am usually thrilled when I read on the social media platforms such entrepreneurial drives by our youths who have gone into providing services that were hitherto either intentionally ignored or which many thought had no immediate economic redeeming value. I am often excited when I read of our youths producing special “ekwong” delicacies, special ”ekpang-nkukwos”, specially packaged coconut water, or those producing agricultural produce such as vegetables, tomatoes etc. We will do all we can with the resources available to support in any small or large measures the growth and expansion of some of these innovative drives by our youths. I am hereby directing my Honourable Commissioner for Finance to liaise with some of these youths with the view to seeing areas of immediate assistance we may be able to offer.
I want to use this opportunity to challenge other youths to continue to look inwards and see what they can legitimately do, to lift themselves and live productive lives. Akwa Ibom youths are very skilled in technology and I urge them to band themselves together, and come up with ways they can seize the vast opportunities provided by the Internet to provide services that will help expand their growth and development. The Honourable Commissioner for Science and Technology is hereby directed to drive this approach.
Let me use this opportunity to thank my dear wife, Her Excellency, Dr. Mrs. Martha Udom Emmanuel for the great and inspiring works she has done with Family Empowerment & Youth Re-Orientation Path Initiative (FEYReP) her signature pet project. Last week, I inaugurated the Committee Against Gender-Based Violence in our State, headed by my dear wife. We had earlier upgraded the Gender Based Violence (GBV) unit in the Ministry of Justice to a full Department with corresponding powers to investigate and recommend for prosecution those who indulge in gender-based crimes such as rape and other forms of spousal battering.
I want to commend FEYReP for the extraordinary work they have done in bringing this issue to the fore, the rights and dignity of the Girl child and if I may add, the Boy child. FEYReP has also done a lot in providing homes for widows, the severely economically disadvantaged, the market women, medical outreaches, sensitizing and awareness campaigns on easily preventable health issues and a whole lot of social services they have provided. As you celebrate your Sixth Anniversary, I want to say congratulations! As I always say: A job well done means more work to be done!
We thank most deeply and profoundly our security agencies and their leaders for the collaborations and cooperation we have enjoyed in the past six years. Together, we have worked to make our State one of the most peaceful in the Nation, attracting visitors in thousands and giving us the now nationally acceptable and known moniker as Nigeria’s “Best Kept Secret,” because once a visitor visits, he or she wants to come back, live here and invest. We know we can always count on your support and continuous cooperation.
Let me again congratulate our dear and popular football team, Akwa United for winning the 2020, Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL.) Even though your Continental campaign has sadly come to an end, we nonetheless stand united in our support and we wish you better luck next year.
Finally, my dear Akwaibomites, you will agree with me that in spite of what others may intentionally refuse to see or acknowledge, we have done exceedingly well, given the resources available to move our State forward in all indices of development. The question is: Should we allow these great foundations of growth, most of which are flourishing already and others soon to bear fruits in the hands of those who may not see beyond what we see today?
I put it to you my dear Akwaibomites that we need to protect these gains by ensuring that the man, whom God will choose as my successor, would be able to continue from these layers of growth and further expand our developmental strides and growth.
As the politics of 2023 beckons, we must be conscious of the moving forward as contained in our State Anthem “forward ever backward never”. This State will never go back on peace and security, this State will never go backward on securing the future for our children, and turning our youths into productive citizens; this State will never go backward in recognizing the fact that Jesus Christ is the centre of our governance, this State will never go backward in rewriting and changing the narratives of our development from being a purely civil service State it was 34 years ago to a fast industrializing one it has become in the past six years. This State will never lack food to feed her people at an affordable price, this State will never go backward in ensuring that we provide healthcare facilities for our people, the young, and the elderly. This State will continue to go forward; we the proud heirs and heiresses of our forefather’s hopes and dreams will still ensure that our unity, our development and our onward movement remain non-negotiable articles of faith.
Let me end this speech by quoting from the very inspiring words of a former Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, which would be expected of the one whom God will choose as my successor “The mandate that I seek is about continuity and sustainability against disruption and stagnation; about moving forward versus regressing. We have to safeguard what we have already achieved. We cannot put to risk what we have; we cannot gamble away our future.”
Fellow Akwaibomites, the future of Akwa Ibom State, which our forefathers prayed for and got is assured and in God’s own hands. It is safe, it is secure, and it is assured. We cannot gamble it away neither can we put it to risk. This is our collective charge, this is our collective expectation. In unity and in faith, this will come to pass. God bless Akwa Ibom State, God bless our wonderful people, God bless Nigeria! Akwa Ibom edakkeda, ami mme dakkada nda. Happy 34th Anniversary to us!
(BEING THE TEXT OF HIS BROADCAST SPEECH ON THE OCASSION OF THE 34TH ANNIVERSARY OF OUR STATE’S CREATION)
• Emmanuel is the Governor of Akwa Ibom State.