“Ibom Air will boost tourism and economic development of Akwa Ibom State” – Akan Okon

Mr. Akan Okon is the immediate past Commissioner, Ministry of Special Duties, Housing and Aviation Development, while still serving in the state cabinet, the Itu born technocrat cum politician bared his mind to THE CREEK MAGAZINE on the numerous successes the governor has recorded in his ministry.

The excerpt.

As a man that has been around the politics of Nigeria, would you say you are satisfied with the pace of Development in the Niger Delta Region which Akwa Ibom State is part of?

Akwa Ibom State happens to be in the Niger Delta region and Niger Delta is the blood stream of Nigeria because the revenue that is being shared every month comes from this region alone. It is very sad that notwithstanding we are contributing so much to the Nigerian federation; I don’t think that the level of development here is commiserating with our contributions.

Recently, there has been a discovery about Gold mining in some aspects of the country which is not brought into the federation account for sharing to different tiers of government in Nigeria but all oil revenue in Nigeria is sent to the federation account for sharing to different federating units.

It is sad that the indices of this sharing is tilting positively to the people who are not even experiencing the devastating effects of oil exploitation but I believe that as a zone based on what we have seen it is important we stick together and speak with one voice. When we do that, there’s a tendency to achieve what we want rather than speak in discordant tunes.

As a state, Akwa Ibom is the number one producer of oil and I want to say that the real impact and benefit had not been felt by our people. Take for instance, we have agencies involved in oil administration, we have the NNPC, we have the DPMC, DPR and others, yet, none of these agencies have even a kiosk in our state. It is very sad and something should be done about it.

The Governor of this state has done so much for Nigeria, in my view if there’s a problem in this state it may affect oil production and at the same time affect Nigeria. But the Governor has put in so much to ensure that this state remains peaceful, if we look at it, we have not been treated fairly.

Even the 13 percent derivation that is guaranteed by the constitution, we do not receive it, I am saying this authoritatively because I was once a Commissioner of Finance in this state. I had to question it once, because instead of 13 percent, what was given to us was 3 to 6.5 percent.
As a people we should speak with one voice to ensure that the right thing is done. We should unite and get what is rightfully ours. It is very sad because of the way our country is structured in the revenue distribution; the Federal Government takes more than 50 percent while the States and Local Government Areas share the balance. But the question is, who is the Federal Government? Who is closer to Nigerians? Is it State or Local, or Federal Government? That is why most of the federal roads are not fixed and you see the State Government fixing Federal roads, return of funds become an uphill task.

To me, the glamour for restructuring is well placed because anything that can impact positively in the life of Nigerians at the grassroots should be done. The Federal Government is in Abuja but you have the State and Local Government very closer to the people.

Recently your ministry brought the attention of the world to Akwa Ibom State with the introduction of Ibom Air, can you tell us more about this noble initiative from your ministry?

First of all, let me commend His Excellency the Governor of our state, Deacon Udom Emmanuel for ensuring that what is good for our state is done. Ibom Air is part of the Aviation Development Master Plan for our state. When it was conceptualized, the plan was, own an Airport, an MRO, a Cargo Terminal and an Airline. I believe that it takes a good leader to recognize a good plan that has been put in place and move to ensure that the plan becomes a reality.

His Excellency came in when we were experiencing recession, not minding that, he came to improve the Aviation Master Plan that was already in place.

Though the revenue that comes into our state has reduced over 70 Percent, he saw the need for us to have our own Airline, you find out that before now when we did not have an Airport we used to go to Calabar or Porthartcourt to fly to Abuja or Lagos and you can imagine the risk given the bad state of our roads, people were involved in accident and sometimes lose their lives.

But with our airport in place, we had about five airlines coming but in the past two years, there has been a significant drop in the number of Airlines coming here, not because we don’t have passengers but because they had challenges, the only one that was coming, Air Peace was not there to give the required services, our people had to resort to going back to what it used to be prior to having an Airport.
Also, due to having one or two flights, the schedule makes it difficult for those doing business here.
With Ibom Air, we are looking at a schedule were you can go for your 12 O’clock meeting in Abuja or Lagos today and return the same day. You can also come to Akwa Ibom and go back the same day. We believe that for every economy to grow, the various access open for people to come in and out must be in place. That is good road network, Air transportation or even by Sea those are the gateways people can come to a State. Once you have these infrastructure in place, it is going to boost the economic development of the state.

Most developed Economy have relied on the maritime transportation to boost their economy and down here, the Ibaka Deep Sea Port is becoming a campaign tool by successive Governments, can you brief us on the progress made in developing the Marine Sector?
Thank you very much, when His Excellency came in 2015, he set up an Implementation Committee headed by Mrs. Mfon Ekong Usoro, who is also the pioneer Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA and other competent people in the Maritime sector, I am happy to tell you that significant progress has been made that will soon lead to the realization of this project, international best practices have been followed.
What I have just summarized to you is very a rigorous process that took years to achieve and I thank the Governor for support he has given which has led to the numerous milestones recorded by the Committee.
I can tell you that the Ibom Sea Port is a reality and not a campaign tool as far as the present administration is concerned.
The Ibom Sea Port has a natural draught of 17 Meters. We were not only interested in building a Sea Port but we were interested in getting a preferred bidder, a company that is well known in the Maritime Sector that will be able to attract the required number of Cargos for our Sea Port. The 17 Meters Draught allows for big vessels to berth without any problem and because of this, the investor’s interest is very high and they are very happy to be the ones to manage such a port.
They have the required experience and they have about 21 Ports under their management in Africa, they are among the first 5 in Cargo business in Europe and they are partnering with a Chinese firm for the construction of the Port.
By the time the Ports comes alive, it will change the dynamics of our state. So I want to say kudos to Governor Udom Emmanuel for this achievement and for not sparing anything in ensuring that we get this project running. This project will provide a lot of job opportunities for our people especially the youths.

A visit to the Ibeno, Eastern Obolo and other creeks will reveal areas that are in lack or basic amenities and threatened by environmental hazards, what has the state government done to ensure that oil companies conform to international best practices?
Sometime last year the Federal Government instituted a committee saddled with responsibility of cleaning up oil producing communities that were affected by oil spillage over the years. But we are living witnesses that nothing has happened. But as a state Government under His Excellency Governor Udom Emmanuel we are doing a lot in ensuring that the lives of those at the Oil producing communities are protected by providing basics amenities like water , schools and other amenities.

What should we expect from the Governor in his second term?

In three years plus, the Governor has demonstrated that he has the right leadership qualities to lead our state. Why I am saying this is that the only thing that makes the difference is not the material wealth or human capital but the most important thing is having the right leader.
With the right leadership, it is easy to harness these components and develop the state. The Governor has provided the much needed leadership in the state that is why you can see the state making steady progress. He has exceeded the campaign promises he made in 2015, he anchored his campaigns on industrialization and today we are living witnesses that so many industries have sprung up in our state, starting from the Metering Solution Factory, flour Mill, Coconut Refinery, Plantation and several others.
Today, our youths in tertiary institutions do not have to go for Industrial attachment again in Lagos because these industries are here in our state.
When His Excellency declared for a second term, his manifesto was tagged the completion Agenda. It is the intention of His Excellency to complete the projects he started and also initiate new ones.
The Governor has touched all sectors of the State, starting from the Free Medical Services to Children and Pregnant Women, payment of WAEC fees to school Children, Free and Compulsory Education. In the Agricultural Sector youths are encouraged to go into farming and I am sure you all have a farm.
The DAKKDADA spirit has touched all parts of our state by reawakening the consciousness of our people that we were born great. He believes that Akwa Ibom state belongs to all and does not joke with development of the state. He strongly believes that opportunities should be given to all to excel. I am sure he will do more in his second term.

As a special man in the state, are there special things you have done that we are not aware?

Everything in Akwa Ibom is special, even the State itself is special there are a lot of things this government has done, you know some people forget a lot, I am sure that when it rains now people forget that at two lanes car owners and keke riders used to have free a River to wash their cars but that is not the case again today. Again, the Governor who is very God fearing believes that there is need to take our state back to God. I am very happy that every young person in this state now believes that the only way to go is the way of God. This is very special to me.
Like in the last election, there was a lot of tension from the opposition that heaven will come down and so on but at the end of the day the whole state went down and prayed and peace prevailed; this is very special and dear to me.

What is the State Government doing to bring IOC to the state considering the fact that most of them still stay in Lagos?

In my opening statement I mentioned that Akwa Ibom State is the number one oil producing state in Nigeria, it is very unfortunate that despite this our position none of these agencies own their offices even in form of a kiosk in the state.
It is very sad and most times they give excuses of lack of infrastructure and I thank the Governor for the foresight and in ensuring that we make available infrastructure that will give these agencies no reasons or even the IOC’s not to site their operations in the state anymore. This led to the idea of having the intelligent building to provide office accommodation for these IOCs. We embarked on the construction of a 21 storey building which is located at the Banking Layout. As I speak with you today, concrete work has been completed up to the 21st floor, very soon the Facade will commence. This is done to attract this major oil companies and the regulatory bodies like the DPR. We have the Airport and other infrastructure so I think they will not have reasons again not to come here.
Our people have asked questions like, why does government need to build for this people to come? I want to state clearly that a company like Mobil, the property they occupy in Lagos they do not own it because of the way they structure their balance sheet. They don’t own such structure in Nigeria. Given that they do not build, I believe if the infrastructure is provided they will take advantage of it and I know His Excellency have been meeting with them and I am very certain that by the time this building is completed, some of their activities if not all will move to the state and when they come, it is going to affect the state economy positively.

In terms of Aviation, this Governor has done so well, sometime ago when the Abuja Airport was shut down for maintenance work on the run way, flight operations were diverted to Kaduna Airport; it was not easy for the travelling public. This is why the Governor is doing everything to ensure that the second run way is completed at the Victor Attah international Airport so that if need be for maintenance work to be carried out on the main run way we won’t pass through what we experienced.

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