Essienubong Ukang is an education and development consultant. In this interview with PAULINUS NTA, he bares his mind on the Akwa Ibom State Industrialization agenda vis-a vis the alarming state of unemployment in Akwa Ibom.
Your state government said it has established over 17 industries in the last five years, yet the rate of unemployment is frightening. Are you not bothered?
The state government is working very well. It is difficult to make an adequate assessment of the performance of a government until after its tenure. It is only after its tenure that we can actually assess its achievements, especially those ones that impacted positively on the society. A lot of factors influence public opinions about the government. One, the tribal factor, that is if the kinsmen of the man in charge rally round him. If they do not rally around him, people will say the government is not doing well, but if they do, the people will commend him. Other factors involve his orientation and perhaps religions make-up. Governor Udom Emmanuel has tried in the areas of road construction. In terms of the stretch, he has scored significant marks in the face of the present economic reality.
But unemployment is still very high in spite of the 17 industries.
I said earlier that Udom Emmanuel has done well in that direction, but the question is whether the direction he is going is where we should go. Yes, maybe he has the vision to reduce unemployment in the State, but has he used the right tool?
What are the right tools?
In the broad sense, people see the establishment of industries as a bold solution to unemployment, but there’s need for research to know the type of industries that should be sited in the State. I love the Public Private partnership initiative of the State Government, but it appears that he economic planners or the policy makers did not sit down to think of the real thing that the bothering the State. If you take an independent survey, you will agree with me that close to 80 per cent of the population of those who are able and willing to work, are jobless. When I say 80 per cent, it includes the petty traders, politicians and a lot of others.
If you are asked to advise the state government on what to do to reduce unemployment, what would you say?
These industries are okay, but they will not alleviate unemployment. To address the crisis of unemployment in Akwa Ibom, the state government should look at those things God has given us in abundance. And what God has given us in abundance is agriculture. The state government should engage thinkers and researchers, not politicians. They should research and come up with the kind of agricultural products or commodities that our vegetation and society will welcome.
The state government should introduce urbanization policy or scheme. By this state policy, every city or community in the state should be given designated areas where people should inhabit and then the parts that are not inhabited, except their farm-lands, should be used for farming. This is necessary because we do not have enough land mass, therefore, there’s need for maximum use of the land in our possession. For instance, Cross River has 20,000 square kilometer, while Akwa Ibom has 7,000 square kilometers.
The fact that we have indiscriminately spread across the state with indiscriminate buildings and structures has also necessitated. If we are left alone, we can hardly feed our selves because we don’t have enough land that can accommodate large scale, commercial farming.
Apart from Agriculture, what else do you think God has blessed the state with?
There are two things God has given us in abundance: they are the regular palm and the raffia palm. History has it that Malaysia came to Nigeria and picked some nuts of palm fruits, they brought their people to be trained in our mills and engage in sincere, full scale palm production. And in 1997, Malaysia’s revenue from palm production rose to 79 billion US dollars, while Nigeria made a paltry four US billion that same year. Our land is endowed with palm trees. Research should be carried out on palm production and the industry should be catapulted into the world market.
From my research, there’s no fruit in the world that yields more alcohol than the raffia palm. With proper research and development, it could lead to industrial distilleries that can shoot Akwa Ibom as the highest wine makers in the world. With this expert oriented approach to agriculture and with the commodities favoured by our rich soil, the license to build our seaport, which the Federal Government is still denying us, on grounds that we are not export oriented, will be given to us.
Apart from a few craft work from raffia, Akwa Ibom does not have any peculiar trade that we are known for. We should be known for our rich palm production. We should stop relying on crude oil, which will naturally dry off some day. Let it be known that it is a curse for a people to either fail or ignore the natural resources God has endorsed them with. This is the problem of Niger Delta. We have all the wealth of the world, yet we are fighting and starving because we ignore agriculture which is our rich natural endowment. This is the direction where my state government should think. They should engage thinkers to fashion out ways of exploiting and exploring our natural endowments and develop those natural industries, than importing industries that both of the soil and the people do not welcome. This is why unemployment will remain the same, even if they establish 50 industries in Akwa Ibom State.
Apart from engaging those you call the thinkers in research, what other measures do you think your state government should adopt to ensure the success of this proposal?
I think a research and development commission should also be established and be saddled with the responsibility of working on the kind of industries that will survive in the state, in view of the sociology of the people, the vegetation, the geographical location, the economy and other factors. The governor should not just bring industries, but industrial economists should be engaged. The project should be de politicized entirely. With the Dakkada initiative and the Akwa Ibom entrepreneurial and employment scheme, AKEES, we should practically rise up from subsistent agriculture to large scale, mechanized farming.
Governor Emmanuel should also constitute a think tank of league of trustees, made up of former Governors, Deputy Governors former Speakers, former Chief Judges etc, as a visionary or pressure group that should help set out short and long-term development plans for the State. If the State Government wants the industrialization project to yield positive impacts and clear job, they should engage technocrats to carryout thorough research on the types of industries the State needs, else the desire for job creation through industrialization will remain a mirage.
Another major endowment we are blessed with is water. The people of our coastal area are involved in fishing and other aquatic occupations. It follows therefore that if the state government obtains the license for the seaport, our fishermen will drop their local boats and use vessels; they will change from hooks and nets to trawlers and we will be acquainted with the business of export and import; we will be acquainted with clearing and forwarding and we will be equipped to maximize and expand the size of our local industries for export action. This is the industries we need!