The private sector is leading in the industrialisation scheme in Akwa Ibom State and this is yielding positive results. Akwa Ibom has not been known for its industrial prowess but this is gradually changing.
When Governor Udom Emmanuel was campaigning to be elected, he made industrialisation one of his promises, saying that if elected, he would ensure that industrialisation of the state would be pursued vigorously.
The need for industries can be seen from the high level of youth unemployment in the state which has been described as a time bomb.
According the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Akwa Ibom ranks the highest in the south-south geopolitical zone of the country as the state with the highest level of youth unemployment.
Though this has been disputed and contested by the state government, the magnitude of unemployment could further be seen in the recent announcement seeking the recruitment of teachers into secondary schools by the state government and the response received.
According Ekaette Ebong Okon, chairperson, state secondary education board, over 47,000 applicants applied for the 1,000 vacant positions declared by the state government.
So, whether the statistics by NBS was reliable or not, there is no denying the fact that there is high level of unemployment in Akwa Ibom.
So, in implementing the industrialisation programme, which many believe would help in addressing the challenge of unemployment, the state government has gone into partnership with the private sector; a model which has seen the establishment of many factories in the state.
Indeed, the private sector without doubt appears to be the key driving force in changing the industrial landscape of the state.
It has in conjunction with the state government brought both small scale, medium and large scale manufacturing factories to the state.
From the toothpick and pencil factories to the plywood, syringe and flour mill factories, the private sector has been and the forefront in the turnaround of the emerging industrial sector of Akwa Ibom State.
For instance, the syringe manufacturing company inaugurated about four years ago by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, believed to be the largest in Africa, has since commenced production and there are demands for its products beyond Nigeria.
Quite significant is the private sector approach adopted by the governor in bringing about the industrial development of the state and in facilitating the transformation of the industrial landscape.
The latest most poignant role of the private sector in driving the industrialisation scheme in Akwa Ibom State is in the recently inaugurated and remodeled Tropicana shopping mall in Uyo, the state capital.
The Tropicana Entertainment Centre as initially planned was to be a huge cinema complex where films would be screened to be watched by movie goers. It was the brainchild of Silverbird and its founder, Ben Bruce, who was also the project’s consultant and contractor. After many reviews of the contract, the project was partially completed by the time the previous administration left office in 2015.
The entertainment centre itself was greeted with controversy because of its location and the huge amount of money that was the estimated cost of the project. It was believed that an entertainment centre did not need to be located within the banking district. The sad part was that it was almost becoming a failed project until it was remodeled to accommodate a shopping mall, an initiative championed by the state government in partnership with the private sector. Part of the project included a high rise hotel has yet to be completed.
So the completion of the entertainment centre and its remodeling to serve as a modern shopping mall in partnership with the private has been a big boost to the industrialisation of the state.
With a well equipped airport wholly built by the state government, an airline which is considered as one of the best and with an approval from the Federal Government for a seaport to be built, Akwa Ibom in no distant future would emerge as an economic hub in the Niger Delta region, according to observers.
“When there is an airport and a seaport, the pace of industrialisation would be faster,’’ an expert said.
The strategic partnership with the private sector in building the industrial sector according to analysts has achieved profound results and is yielding dividends in various ways.
For instance, this partnership has given birth to a number of functional factories which many maintain are likely to continue in operations long after the tenure of the present administration has ended.
The airport itself has continued to attract positive comments and commendations from industry leaders and experts across the country.
Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika who was in Uyo recently for a conference noted the attention being paid to safety measures by the airline and the airport, its performance and discipline.
“I was onboard Ibom Air to Uyo this morning; I was very impressed with the COVID-19 protocols established by both the Airline and the Airport,” the Minister said.
In addition to the airport, there is an ongoing development of a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul facility at the airport which will be private sector-driven.
Speaking while inaugurating the shopping mall from the remodeled Tropicana Ibom Entertainment Centre, Governor Udom Emmanuel acknowledged the strategic partnership with the private sector.
“Give me a space and I will give you a market space. Give me a carcass and I will give you Four Points by Sheraton Hotel. I will not allow investments belonging to Akwa Ibom people go down the drain. We will transform it to become value-adding to the society,” he said.
He mentioned challenges surrounding project execution to include connection to power supply from the national grid and absence of feasibility studies for some of the projects.
The governor described the Tropicana Mall as the new face of business in Akwa Ibom, stating that the Mall is not different from what is obtainable in Europe and elsewhere and expressed optimism that the project will help develop local economy, create jobs and wealth.
Emmanuel also gave the assurances of his administration’s commitment to complete all projects initiated in the state for the benefits of Akwa Ibom people.
“I want to believe if not for the setback of COVID-19 in 2020, by now our Four Point by Sheraton Hotel in Ikot Ekpene would have been up and running. If you check, it is about 99percent completed.
“The only thing remaining is for the management team to move in. We are reworking the agreement on that hotel and we will put everything in place to address all the challenges.
“We are doing everything to make sure investments that belong to all Akwa Ibom people are not allowed to waste,” the governor said.
He further disclosed that his government was currently in talks with investors on completing the proposed Ibom Tropicana Hotel.
“Our vision, mission and dream is to make sure that before we leave office in 2023 we would have turned that uncompleted building into a hotel to complement what we are doing in Ikot Ekpene, because we are making Akwa Ibom State a tourist destination”.
Analysts believe that turning to the private sector in “strategic partnership” in building the industrial base of the state is the right step to guarantee sustainable economic growth and development.
They point to the factories that were built solely by the state government in the 1980s which have all gone moribund, saying that the “business of government is to create an enabling environment for the private to grow and not to be directly involved in running industries.”
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