MY VOYAGE TO ST. GABRIEL COCONUT REFINERY AND PLANTATION


By Franklyn ISONG

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As a #watchdog of the society, I have taken upon myself to pay unexpected visit to some of the signature projects of the present administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel in the state. This is borne out of my desire to gather firsthand information of these projects and to report my findings to the people of Akwa Ibom state through this medium. This is one of such expeditions.

By way of laying a background for the benefit of my readers who may not have known, the St. Gabriel Coconut Refinery and St. Gabriel Coconut Plantation both are sited in Mkpat Enin local government area. It is one of the achievements of the present administration. On December 1, 2015, the state government signed a partnership agreement for the takeoff of the Coconut Refinery project with a South African firm, H.O. Oil Food Consulting Limited. As part of Udom’s industrialization drive and as a first-step for the birth of an oil processing plant in the State.

Governor Emmanuel had said while signing the agreement that the project would produce both palm kernel and coconut oil, adding that, it was in line with his administration’s policy of wealth creation, employment generation and sustainable development.

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The governor also told Akwa Ibom people that the project marks the beginning of utilization of abundant natural resources in the state, noting that the product would be exported into the international market to attract more revenue and boost the economy of the state.

The governor said further that 15,000 special breed coconut seedlings are to be air-freighted into the country within two weeks (from the date of the agreement) and that the technical team is expected to commence the management of the nursery and planting of the seedlings, which he said yield within three years.

My first observation: The project investors now bear St. Gabriel Coconut Refinery and St. Gabriel Coconut Plantation. What went wrong with the former investors (H.O. Oil Food Consulting Limited)? Since nothing has been said of the former.

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Again, the St. Gabriel Coconut Oil Refinery Project, we are told is a major industrial investment of the state government through its Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sufficiency. And comprises of a factory complex complete with administrative offices, production areas, technical spaces, industrial firefighting systems, water treatment plants, effluent treatment plants and residential quarters for technical and managerial staff and parking areas for tractors carrying raw materials.

The project is located in Ikot Akpan Okop village in Mkpat Enin LGA on 7.88 hectares, along Eket –Ikot Abasi highway. The total construction area is 15,000 m2. It was flagged off by Governor Emmanuel during a ground-breaking ceremony on May 24, 2017, and is expected to be commissioned this year (2018).

Second observation: The construction works at the Refinery site were 65% completion. When yours truly interacted with some of the workers (names withheld) on site, they expressed delight to the governor for the project.

Third observation: The site construction is handled by VKS Nigeria Construction Limited and about 170 workers are said to be engaged for the site construction works.

When yours truly spoke with some members of the host community, on condition of anonymity, they thanked Governor Emmanuel for bringing the Refinery project to their community, while calling on the state government to pay compensation for their land; sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with them (host community); and carry out the necessary Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) on the project.

The St. Gabriel Coconut Plantation is an annexure to the Refinery. It is to serve as a source of raw materials to the Refinery. We were told that 2million yielding hybrid coconut trees were planted on an 11,000 hectares of land in a swampland spanning Mkpat Enin and Eastern Obolo LGA in Akwa Ibom State. Members of the host communities are delighted for the Plantation but are asking for adequate compensation from the state government. Some of the coconut trees have remained stunted several months after they were planted.

I applaud the state governor, Udom Emmanuel, for this project because, it has added to his industrialization drive. And, at least, for a start, jobs have been created for our unemployed youth and the economic activities of the areas where these two projects are sited have made significant improvement since coming on board of these projects.

It is my practice to hold government accountable to the society for her (government’s) failures, and to commend the government in the area(s) she (government) has done well. And so, this is one of such commendations devoid of any political coloration. It should rather be seen as my way of rendering service to the society and by extension, contributing to deepening our democracy and developing Akwa Ibom state.

This is my assessment’s report on the St. Gabriel Coconut Refinery and St. Gabriel Coconut Plantation in Mkpat Enin. 
I endorse these projects and they should be supported by all and sundry.

• Franklyn Isong is a public affairs commentator and conscience of the society