Akwa Ibom State governor, Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, in this interview with LEO SOBECHI, says his vision for the state is to achieve domestic food sufficiency and increased welfare of the people and assumes that the people are ready to move forward.
How prepared are you and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to meet the determined challenge of All Progressives Congress (APC) in next year’s elections?
The level of confidence here has no probability in it. We are talking about the biggest party in Africa, the largest party that has units everywhere. There’s nowhere you enter in Nigeria and mention PDP and people will be lost. We have structures in all the units in the entire country and local government areas. The PDP is a party that has brought development to Nigeria. I’m not building a probability; I believe it’s PDP or no other party and unfortunately I don’t mention any other political party because I don’t know of any other outside PDP.
But some challengers have vowed to go all out to the extent of equating the 2019 election to a war. What is your take on that?
You can only return fire-for-fire if you have the fire. What we have is peace. We say peace begat peace; that’s what we preach. Our own is to preach peace. Their own is to preach war. I want Nigerians to ask those preaching war where their children are. Who are these children you want to plunge into war, when you have gone to hide your own somewhere?
We are aware they have even gone to sow fake army and police uniforms and try to bring in all kinds of ammunition through different routes. We believe all their plans will be frustrated. In the real sense, they are actually preparing, but whether they will succeed or not depends on God.
If your intention is to serve, why do you need to kill the same people you want to serve? If you sincerely want to serve your people, why do you want to kill them? It means they have other motives than service. Some of them are coming back to loot and that’s why there is no development in Africa.
You can touch peace with your hand when you land at the airport in Uyo. What we can ensure is to make sure the state is as peaceful. The people in Akwa Ibom know what they want. Our people are so enlightened, well educated, and politically savvy, too. They know someone who has the capacity, one who is sincere, not a camouflage. They can differentiate between the two. I believe the people will speak when the time comes. Those times of deception are gone. They won’t buy into that again. This is the time for us to redefine and restructure. Our people are ready to move forward. They don’t want to be caged any longer.
Seeing some of the industries facilitated by your administration, the question that comes to mind is why there are no deliberate steps to showcase the products at trade fairs and other platforms and market them to the outside world?
I’m not good at selling myself; someone gave me a hint the other day on President Donald Trump’s opinion that nobody can sell you better than yourself. I’m not doing that.
Some of these things depend on the orientation. You can start a business or start training from a business that it’s not allowed to advertise and you say you will be good in advertising, you are wasting your time.
So I think you can’t be good in everything and, secondly too, I feel so ashamed of where we are as a country and I’m not mincing words. Since I became a governor, apart from things like a substation, which I know that no state, there’s no substation anywhere in this country, even the one I did in Uyo here, to improve it.
I mean how can you go and be commissioning, with people who would have listened to you are different investors, forum, seeing you commissioning electricity and borehole! They will say, ‘so this guy who was lecturing us in New York didn’t even have water to drink,’ and you never can tell when you will speak again after leaving this office. There are certain things that can make you lose respect so easily.
I have never one day gone to commission a primary school building and I have done about 346 schools. I have never one day stepped in to commission a primary school. You know, if someone has an accident it’s the reception that determines whether that person dies or not. They first of all do the suction that determines 50 per cent whether the person lives or not.
Go to the teaching hospital to check whether they have it or not. At the teaching hospital, as they are driving you to that area, they are even looking for a stretcher to carry you. There are so many things we have done. Most of those hospitals you see they are all digital; you don’t carry a piece of paper.
As you are entering, everything is there. If you have a problem in America, they will call us and we can easily press the button and then life is saved. I mean, you can’t be good in everything. I can concentrate if you want me to concentrate. I can read in a stadium when the match is on and if I have examination the following day, I will pass.
That’s how God created me even if the noise level here is high. Some of the things that are so consistent don’t happen by accident. Some of these things, we don’t take glory for it. We give all the glory to God.
Unfortunately, politics in Nigeria is a little bit tough because in the first year when you come in as the governor you are in tribunal, appeal court, Supreme Court. Once you finish you begin to work. As those things you imported are trying to arrive, you are already campaigning for another term. Effectively, you are so distracted you don’t just focus as a governor. If you are not careful, you can’t put anything in place. With everything we are doing, we will get there, but people don’t know where we are going.
Those greenhouses you see is to make sure I cultivate in our people the mindset that you can do this. Why buy 10 SUVs when two of those SUVs can give us 10 of those greenhouses. That’s all I’m telling people.
There are a lot of things that we haven’t delivered that will be delivered and I’m making serious moves to actually get there. Why did I promote flour mill? Everybody eats either biscuit or bread, but you know people here go and deposit money either in Lagos or somewhere and you can imagine how long it takes to transfer flour from there down here.
When it finally arrives, it is either we find ways to cut corners and give people substandard bread to eat or worse. Those days when we were in school, if you are hungry they will say ‘go and buy bread’. If you don’t have money they will say, ‘go and drink garri,’ but today garri is out of reach too for the common man.
So, we started garri processing factories in Akwa Ibom. They fry like 100 bags each day. What’s our population? If every day 10 of them can produce 100 bags, that’s 1000 bags every day. The people can’t consume 1000 bags of garri every day. That’s not the only thing they eat. They eat bread, banana and other foodstuffs. Once you have done that consistently for one month, the market is saturated.
We were able to bring down the price of garri from N200 for two cups to 12 cups for N200. I made sure that we were producing everyday but right now, typical Africa, we don’t have adequate feed from the farm growers so even those ones that we planted are being stolen. It’s my policy not to go after those who steal cassava.
You can steal the cassava, but leave the stem because that stem will be difficult for me to get. It’s an improved stem that I brought for them. We are in haste. We are trying to touch every aspect from infrastructure to agriculture to industry.
We are talking about electricity, but we didn’t think of metres. That’s why you saw us developing a metering factory to bridge the gap. You see the quality of roads here; I’m not mincing words; check the kilometre of roads we have done compared with what Federal Government has done. It is not for me to sell what we are doing but for you to see with your eyes.
The worst recession in Nigeria happened in 2016/2017. Even with that, we could achieve this. Inflation rate moved from 186 to 516 and at the same time, you are expected to perform. We did perform. What we are trying to let people see is that we can be positive.
The Ministry of Trade, Investment and Industry is planning a trade fair to exhibit these things, but for a trade fair to be attractive you can’t just go and show three or five products. We still have a whole lot more to introduce to the market.
Now, we are producing for the local market. What brought China to where they are today was the domestic market. We call our own Made-in-Aba. Those ones abroad we call them made in Taiwan. The made in Taiwan people were consistent; their local market absorbed it; the companies grew from one shop to factories to mega factories now it’s multi-national.
In our own case, the same group of things we used to call made in Taiwan we are going back to them. What we are doing now is to make sure the domestic market is actually absorbing them as much as they can. Let’s first of all make sure the quality is of standard and then we saturate the local market. It creates a challenge. These are the things that we are at now. First of all, satisfy the local market and that will actually give you room to expand.
You started working on certain projects, particularly the Ikot Ekpene Road, allegedly abandoned by you even when the previous administration indicated they are completed. Was it out of fear, complicity or modesty?
There are certain things you are noted for and everybody has their core value. If you are a leader and you are not noted for certain core values, then you are not worth the position that you occupy.
There are certain statements I will make and the whole world will clap and there are statements I will make and the whole world will be disappointed. Like the road you are talking about, I have done about 23 kilometers since I became the governor. You must determine within yourselves if you came to serve the people. If yes, then the interest of the people should be paramount.
We make good out of every bad situation we found on ground. On paper that road was recorded as finished and commissioned. Talking about the Ibom Specialist Hospital, it was handled by a cardiologist.
Professional hospital administrators normally run that kind of hospital. A cardiologist is a cardiologist and doesn’t know how to run hospital. You can’t run that kind of hospital as if you are running a primary health centre. We have signed a management agreement with Clinotec of Canada. The expatriates have arrived, but there are still a whole lot of challenges.
Even though the hospital was commissioned, there is a whole lot to be done and you can see it for yourself so that it doesn’t seem as if I’m playing politics. I don’t know what you call fear. Fear of what? The question is to determine at each point in time what you want.
Now, I’m building secondary health care system. The tertiary health care system is beyond my control. I’m building world-class secondary health care system. This is a little bit systematic in the way you handle it. We came here with a blueprint. The state is well organised. Things are structured. You can’t just do things by mere response or human intuition. It’s a planned and well-laid out system that we are running here.
You have done a number of projects. Were you overwhelmed by the enormity of the projects or were they beyond your expectations?
In terms of quality I will say (yes); in terms of speed I will say (no). Why because some of us came into governance with a blueprint. If you check from my campaign, you will see we had a blueprint, but when we started, nobody knew that 2016 and 2017 would witness one of the worst recessions ever. So in terms of speed we are not there.
Secondly, there are typical African problems that we are having, but we made provisions for them; some of them are a little bit frustrating. For example, we were thinking that by now our deep seaport would have gone far even though our consultants still believe that it’s one of the fastest ever in this part of the world.
When we came in, I said, ‘to lay a proper foundation for economic development, we needed to look at the three gateways-land, water, sea-land we are looking at all three at the same time and we are targeting the whole three. So, we got a little bit, you know, as usual, the normal bureaucratic bottlenecks here and there.
So, in terms of speed, I don’t think I’m up to speed with what I have in mind and secondly, too, for the whole world to note, Lagos is on autopilot in terms of foreign direct investments because that’s where the money market and capital market are. So, even if you don’t lift a finger, there must be some direct investment because of the money and capital markets.
But outside Lagos, we are number one in terms of foreign direct investments. It shows that even in the mist of bad press about Nigeria outside it takes you almost ten times the effort to sell Nigeria today than what it used to be in time past.
We have had a lot of challenges about security and, bad stories. So to convince someone to bring one dollar to Nigeria today takes you about ten times the effort and secondly money is one of the worst cowards you can ever think of. It doesn’t go where it doesn’t feel safe. So, for you to let money know that one-dollar is safe here, your power of persuasion must be at an excellent skill set; but all in all, we don’t want to take anything for ourselves. We give God all the glory.
On of road construction, you talked about the recession. Can you give us a picture of what you go through in sourcing funds for these projects?
Let me appreciate your choice of words; I’m glad you didn’t say cash. You know, I keep letting people know that there’s a difference between money and cash. You can develop a lot with money but you might not have cash. My essence of being here at this time was so I could create money to develop my state. If you don’t source for cash you won’t have money, but we have been able to create money to develop the state.
With several projects littered everywhere, are you confident of completing them between now and February?
The problem with Nigeria and Africa is that we are too short-termed in our thought process and that’s what is affecting our investment decision. That’s why in Nigeria today if you go to any city every inch is a kiosk helping the Asian market to grow their small and medium scale enterprises.
We are so much in haste. Ninety per cent of what we are doing is not short-term because we can never do them in short-term. That’s why Nigeria has not developed small and medium scale enterprises. We are not doing what will finish in February.
We are doing something that people will see the value. Irrespective of what God decides tomorrow those things should go on. The factories and industries are all driven by investors; a whole lot of them apart from the coconut refinery.
Government doesn’t even have one per cent share in it. It’s only in the coconut refinery, where we want to make a statement in the whole of Africa. If tomorrow government says ‘look we don’t want to have a hand in this thing again’ we will sell that investment at a profit. You need only one million nuts every day to make a profit of at least $220 million a year in that refinery.
How many state governments in Africa can boast of that kind of profit? You can actually see how we are developing. There’s a plantation. We are targeting to plant two million seedlings. We are saying let the worst happen; there’s no way out of the two million seedlings that we won’t come back with at least one point something million.
We have done our computation; we are not doing a typical white elephant project. We are doing projects that we can privatise and realise the initial investment from the IPO, which will give us room for expansion.
Virgin coconut oil in the international market is USD $6 per litre. Multiply that and know how much it is in a barrel. Even if one million nuts survive out of the two million that we are planting, we will still operate at maximum capacity. Coconut can grow for 99 years. You don’t need fertiliser. It doesn’t drop in terms of yield.
We are trying to make a statement to the whole world that at least we are a people who can see tomorrow. We see beyond what others see.
With all these industries you are building, where would you say Akwa Ibom has a competitive edge?
We don’t arrive at a score if you don’t finish the examination. We are not so quick at scoring what we have done and what we have achieved. Let’s use a classroom example; after the lecture, there is an examination and there is always a score. In life you are not good until someone says you are good.
You be the examiner and then tell us if we are good or not. No student teaches himself, sets exam for himself, marks and scores himself. But if you speak, we will be accepted worldwide.
What you are seeing on ground is actually aimed at that. The biggest employer will still be agriculture. We are doing a whole lot. We are setting up factories where they will go and work. So agriculture, agro-allied will still be the biggest. That’s why you see us setting up a rice farm here. We have at least 26,000 hectares of cocoa plantation. We are bringing one of the best cocoa processing plants you can ever think of.
What differentiates the cocoa you get from Nigeria from the cocoa you get from any other place is the flavour, and it is because of the processes through which we dry cocoa in Nigeria. That’s why even with all the cocoa we have in this country, we didn’t make anything out of it because we didn’t invest in the processing of that cocoa to make it to international standards.
The international market will not accept anything less; so, we cannot get appropriate pricing for the cocoa we produce in Nigeria. One of the best flavours you can get in terms of cocoa is from Akwa Ibom because of our vegetation. The local way people dry cocoa is to spread it on the road. We are giving you modern processing that will give you the flavour so that the cocoa can be sold anywhere in the world.
What specific initiative has your administration taken towards lifting the standard of education?
Biblically, they say what you sow is what you reap and that’s quite true. We started first of all by reviewing the quality of teachers we put in schools. Everybody knows if you are a teacher and you can’t teach my child in private school, then you can’t teach another person’s child in a public school simply because that person can’t afford the school fees in a private school.
So I have been training teachers. We also have education monitors. These people go round to check if the children and the opportunity and facilities. Most of them love the village setting; that’s why you created the village. Everybody must not leave the village. So, you take the education to where they are rather than drawing them out to go somewhere else.
The schools people tend to neglect are schools without quality teachers. I spend time even as the governor; when I visit communities, I go into the classrooms. There’s no how you enter a community classroom that you won’t see where the teacher wrote what they taught on the board.
A sharp child can even correct some of those English grammars on the board. We reviewed about 5000 teachers who were in the pipeline to be emptied into the system. I picked the English language that they are going to teach in Class One and said these are the exams for them. Do you know so many of them failed?
I was able to sift out 3000 out of the 5000. Those local schools have good teachers. Nigerians are ingenious. This is the only country that even when your phone is completely cracked, the next day they can give you a new cover that looks brand new. Nigerians are geniuses; we can recreate out of the very minimal scrap that we have.
Your administration appears to have given a lot of attention to youth development. Is there a particular reason for this?
You might not understand because of the stage that we are now. In Eket, we are building a sport facility that will require the least maintenance. You know, there are two different things. You can put up asset that requires least maintenance or you can put up an asset that the maintenance cost, under a medium term, can be as much as the cost of construction.
What we are building in Eket has very minimal maintenance cost. Number two, what’s your vision? We already have two years down the line since we launched it; so, we have five years more to go.
Our target is that out of every 11 players you find on the field in the national team, at least five must come from Akwa Ibom. That is for soccer. We hope to produce the next batch of Serena Williams and so on from here. In order to do that you must provide the facilities. We have talents. We have to raise more. Within three years of my being here, we have won the FA cup two times. Excellence doesn’t happen by accident.
You must have a deliberate strategy to achieve that. I’m trying to catch them young. This is the only state that runs youth sports festival yearly, where we are discovering talents. We are going somewhere. That’s why we give ourselves seven years; we have done two, add five more years and you will see how we will produce sportsmen and women for Nigeria.
On issues of gratuity and pension, how far have you done? You probably inherited enmity of the people that brought you into government. I will like to know the relationship you have with Obong Victor Attah?
Obong Victor Attah is one of the leaders of the largest ethnic groups here- we call ourselves the Ibibios and also being an elder statesman, everybody here accords him that respect. He’s somebody I respect a whole lot.
Victor Attah is an elder; no two ways or politics about that at all. He has that respect from all of us and he’s also somebody that loves the state. He planned this state and laid a good foundation.
When people talk about gratuity, unfortunately, anybody you see on the street is an Akwa Ibom pensioner first; whether it is local government or state government. Even the elitist group refuses to understand this. It’s you the governor who knows that this allocation is for the state and this is for local government.
But when it comes to that, everyone expects you as the state governor to do something. Immediately we came into office, for local government gratuity, I paid 10 years arrears. We even have the letter they wrote to me appreciating that.
After that, there were a whole lot of issues. I’m still trying to clear old pensions of local governments. It’s not my responsibility. We don’t want to cause that disharmony. Under state government, we have cleared the gratuity we inherited in arrears and brought it up to December 2015.