September 23, 2021

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Village Heads To Udom: We’ve Cursed Your Coconut Factory. It’ll Remain Dead Unless…

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Four years after the establishment of the St. Gabriel coconut refinery in Akwa Ibom, the coconut seedlings are still at the nursery stage. Unemployment still threatening the social fabrics of the state and the state government is currently contemplating relocation of the multi-billion naira project to another site after billions of naira have been sunk into the project. PAULINUS NTA writes from Uyo.
The St. Gabriel coconut refinery was established shortly after the inauguration of the first tenure of Udom Emmanuel as governor of the state in 2015. The project, which was located adjacent the Akwa Ibom State University, Ikot Akpaden, Mkpat Enin, was heralded as one of the most veritable weapons to confront the chronic scourge of unemployment, which had bedevilled the 32 years old state.
To execute the project, a massive land was acquired, a landmass that stretched across Mkpat Enin, Eastern Obolo and Ikot Abasi Local Government Areas. As is the case with most white elephant state projects, foreign expatriates were engaged and even the coconut seedlings were imported from at astronomical cost and a handful of casual workers, mainly supporters of political stakeholders from the three local governments and others across the state, were casually engaged.
Since then, the only obvious work that seems to be going on in the coconut refinery is bush clearing and planting of the coconut seedlings, save for the construction of the administrative office and the supposed factory, where the raw materials were supposed to be processed to finished products.
For more than four years, the coconut seedlings have not grown beyond the nursery stage and many have died. The casual workers complain of poor and epileptic remuneration from the state government. The ownership of the coconut refinery, till this moment, remains a mystery, while the host community complain object absence of local content in the workforce, especially at the managerial cadre.
Repeated efforts to speak with the management of the coconut factory was unsuccessful as public relations officer could not be reached to speak with our reporter, but a top official of the Direct Foreign Investment, who gave his name as Mr. Anthony Ekanem said the state government is working on modality for a possible relocation as the coconut seedling, which is the only raw materials for the many finished products, envisaged to be chunned out by the refinery, cannot grow on the land.
The state commissioner of Agriculture, who also oversees the Ministry of Women Affairs and social welfare, Dr. Glory Edet could also not be reached as she did not respond to several phone calls from our reporter, but a deputy director in the ministry of Agriculture confided in our reporter that proper soil test was not done and that the project was poorly conceived and politically executed. “For four years now, the coconut seedlings are still stunted and yellowish, indicating lack of nutrients in the soil. There was no proper soil test before embarking on the project,” he said.
However, when this reporter visited Odoro Ikot, host community to the refinery, the village head of Ikot Inyang Okop could not speak due to poor health, but mandated a community leader, Chief Macaulay Akpan to speak to our reporter.
According to him, the state government did not compensate the land owners before taking their only farm land. “We don’t have any state or federal government’s presence here; no electricity, no roads, nothing. The only thing we had was the farm land which the state government snatched from us. If the state government wants the project to work, they should come here and meet with the traditional rulers, not politicians”.
Akpan recalled when the state government representatives in 2017, invited those he described as “hungry youth presidents” to a popular hotel in Uyo and gave them two million naira, which they shared one hundred thousand per village.
He lambasted political office holders from the area, describing them as “moral lepers and political vultures.” He said they deceived the governor that all was well, while the entire project was sitting on a keg of gun powder.
Speaking further, he said the only way to revive the mutli-billion naira project, was for the state government to come to Mkpat Enin and sit with the affected village heads and paramount ruler and give them the traditional items for compensation, else, the refinery will remain a wasted and abandoned project.
On further investigation a women leader, Obongawan Ndarake Ebong suspected that traditional rulers, out of anger, might have invoked some fetish injunctions on the land, causing the coconut seedlings to die. “They take our only farmland and our youths are not gainfully employed. It is very annoying.”

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