INTERVIEW: NNPC, ExxonMobil, Others Should Move Some Of Their Operations To Akwa-Ibom – Gov. Udom
Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, speaks with THE WHISTLER on big steps taken by the state government to make the oil-rich state an investor destination while also commending the NNPC Group Managing Director, Mele Kyari, for ‘doing exceedingly well’.
Your Excellency, Akwa Ibom State is one of the biggest oil producing states in the country, how will you assess the impact of oil exploration and production on the economy and environment of your state?
You made the right observation. Yes, it is true our state is one of the biggest oil producing states in the country; I believe we account for about 25 percent of the total oil output in the nation. The question as you rightly asked, is ‘what has been the impact of oil exploration and production on the economy and environment of our state.’ I am afraid; the impact of oil exploration has been negatively felt in our oil producing communities. We are a society steeped in aquatic lifestyle comprising mainly of fishing and other agricultural pursuits. Unfortunately, our environment has been despoiled and degraded, our fishing communities have seen the mainstay of their economic pursuits affected adversely and the sum total is the wholesale disruption of their means of livelihood.
Part of the restiveness on the part of our youths can be traced to this problem: the systemic neglect and the frustration it engenders. Thank God that through the activities of the governors of the Niger Delta region and those of the region’s stakeholders, we have been able to arrest and contain the spate of restiveness by our youths. We are optimistic that the agreement entered between the Federal Government and the PANDEF will be carried out to the letter so the peace we currently enjoy will become lasting and more durable.
The Federal Government has a lot of intervention projects and policies for the oil bearing states like Akwa Ibom. There is the 13% derivation and the Niger Delta Development commission (NDDC). Are you satisfied with these interventions or do you think the nation needs to do more?
As the leading producer of oil in the nation, I am afraid we have been given the short end of the stick; there has been no corresponding developmental or intervention schemes by the Federal Government. I am choosing my words here advisedly, and I want to repeat the word “corresponding developmental schemes that are not coloured by political intrigues”. We have been on this issue since 2015. It may interest or even shock you to know that in spite of our status as a leading oil producing state, we do not have any industry presence in our state. We don’t even have an oil depot, and agencies such as Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) which should ordinarily be located in our state, the major IOCs, such as Exxon Mobil whose main operations is located here in our State, have near zero presence here. It may also interest you to know that it was because of our determined efforts to attract these oil firms and associated agencies to our state that my administration began the construction of perhaps the most elegant and magnificent 21 storey intelligent building in our state. It is a piece of architectural masterpiece that is comparable to any such anywhere in the world.
The building is almost ready for occupation and we are hopeful that the NNPC, Exxon Mobil and other IOCs will finally move some of their operations to our state. We have always said that Akwa Ibom State is Nigeria’s best kept secret. We have highly trained and hospitable workforce, peaceful and serene environment, good food, fantastic weather condition and a quality of life that is second to none. We are ready to do business with the oil companies and we are optimistic that soon the NNPC, the DPR, NAPIMS and other agencies will be operating from here. We also expect the NDDC to be more developmental and interventionist focussed rather than playing politics with the region’s development. The NDDC is not supposed to be run as a conduit for dispensing political largesse. It should be alive to the very objective that led to its creation as an interventionist agency.
How is the state’s relationship with oil producing firms, NNPC and the regulators? Are there things you think they need to do in the state that they have not done?
As I have already stated in my previous response, we are desirous of deepening our relationship with oil producing firms, the regulators and the NNPC. There is no reason why a leading oil producing state should be totally ignored or relegated to the background in terms of the location of critical oil producing or regulatory agencies such as the DPR in Akwa Ibom State. So I am optimistic that soon, the dynamics will change and this unfortunate development will be addressed.
What are the efforts being made by your government to collaborate with the private sector to establish industries that will create employment for the people?
I am sure you may be very conversant with the central plank of our governance philosophy — the Five Point Agenda that shaped our first term developmental strategy. The lynchpin of the Five Point Agenda was and still remains under our Completion Agenda, the need to rapidly industrialize our State and create employment and wealth opportunities for our people.
Through the robust engagements of our Technical Committee on Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, which was one of the first set of technical committees I had set up upon my inauguration in 2015, we have been able to attract at the last count about 18 industries to the state. We have been able to lift our state from being a purely civil service oriented economy to one where the exciting and fulfilling element of an ownership or entrepreneurial spirit has been unfurled. We launched in September 2015, the dakkada philosophy which in the main challenges our youths to arise and claim the faith of their greatness. From agriculture, to creative pursuits – our youths are using the works of their hands to make a decent living for themselves.
We have attracted such varied industries as the Kings flour mill–fully digitalized –the first of its kind in our part of the world; the largest syringe manufacturing company in Africa, the metering solutions company, the plywood manufacturing firm, fertilizer blending plants, several rice and cassava producing mills, world class road network spread across the three senatorial districts, coconut refinery whose work is at an advanced stage of completion. Today, to ease the flow of traffic to our state and help bring foreign investors, Ibom Air which we conceptualized and executed by my administration has become the reference point in aviation development in the nation. We are very proud of what we have been able to use the lean resources available to us, to achieve for our people in the last five years through the signature plank of our governance–industrialization.
Under your administration, there has not been any incident of violence against oil firms or installations by youths; how have you been able to achieve this?
Thank you for your kind observation that under my administration, we have reduced drastically the once flaming incidence of vandalism of oil installations, kidnappings, and other criminal tendencies in our state. We were able to achieve this, by engaging the youths in other productive activities and by also invoking the dakkada philosophy which has seen our youths disavow criminal activities for works of their hands. The industries we have also established have provided job opportunities and of course, agriculture and other creative pursuits. We have been able to restore peace to the region through collaborative efforts with other leaders and stakeholders and as I said earlier, we hope the Federal Government will keep their part of the agreement reached with the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) so our region will continue to enjoy the relative peace we currently are experiencing.
There is a regular complaint in the Niger Delta that riverine communities don’t have filling stations. If that is the case in your state, what will you like the NNPC and oil marketers to do about it?
It is not just that the riverine areas in our region do not have filling stations. As I said before, there is no presence of oil industry in my state, given our pre-eminent position as the leading oil producer in the country. This is the unfortunate and shocking fact. We do not even have a depot. The NNPC I believe will address this gaping hole- we remain optimistic.
There is a plan to build a power plant in your state by the NNPC/Mobil Joint Venture which has remained at the preliminary stage for years. What will you like the JV partners to do about this?
We have done our best to ensure that the project, the NNPC/Joint Venture power plant takes off. One of the first major road constructions my administration undertook was the Eket-Ibeno road that was practically impassable. We felt it was unconscionable to have the major road that leads to our oil production fields to be in such a deplorable state. Today, that road has been completed and dualized. We have provided the land and intend to have industrial cluster around the area so allocated. We are hopeful that the Joint Venture partners will expedite action soon and get the project started.
Do you have issues of environmental degradation due to oil exploration in your state and if you do, how is the problem being addressed?
Of course, we have huge environmental degradation issues arising from oil exploration and production in our state. I had talked about this earlier. Our ways of life have been severely affected by the activities of oil exploration companies. Our aquatic lifestyle; surrounding areas where oil is explored have all been affected. The cleaning- up exercise has not been carried out in our state and the problem persists.
The new management of the NNPC has scored many firsts barely a year after they assumed office. The Group Managing Director has recently audited accounts of the corporation for the first time. What is your impression of Kyari and his team?
The GMD – Mr. Melo Kolo Kyari has done exceedingly well. One of the critical ingredients of modern leadership is the ability to shake things a little, without fundamentally altering some core or foundational structure of a given corporation. Such may come in the form of changing the culture and models of job execution. I daresay, the GMD has in the last 12 months since he was appointed, done just that. He has stared established norms in the face and has been able to persuasively and boldly engender changes without rocking the foundation or the structure of the corporation. I am very proud of his managerial skills and we can only wish him more steady and focused years as he pilots the affairs of the Corporation to greater heights.
In the area of infrastructure, what has your administration been able to achieve in the past five years?
Well, I had exhaustively answered a key element of this question initially, but it bears repeating that infrastructural renaissance and consolidation was and still remains a key matrix of our governance philosophy. If as is the case, that our vision of development is anchored on industrialization, it goes without saying that there must be corresponding infrastructural amenities to help drive the vision.
I have always stated that to industrialize our state and bring in developments across sectors, we must invest heavily in land, sea and air projects. So far, we have constructed over 1,700 kilometres of durable and economically viable roads across the three senatorial districts of the state. Time will not permit me to name these roads one by one, but the Uyo-Etinan Road is a modern road that can compete with any of such anywhere in the world – the Uyo-Ikot Ekpene Road that I inherited with a greater percentage of the work undone is almost completed, the Eket-Ibeno Road has been completed, the Nto Edino-Azumini Road that criss-crosses Obot Akara in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district that was for decades cut off and school children were drowning daily on their way to school, has been completed, the Odoro-Ikpe road that links our State to Arochukwu in Abia State, has been completed and commissioned – so many of such critically important roads have been completed, not to talk of the internal roads in Oron, in Eket and Uyo respectively.
Ibom Air has become a national sensation and last month, we added a new aircraft bringing the fleet to four almost brand new aircraft. We hope to add another aircraft by the end of this month. We are working hard on our Ibom Deep Seaport project and we are hopeful that soon, the project will come on stream. So we are building durable infrastructures for an industrialized State we are working hard to create.