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Akwa Ibom: Victor Attah for president.

AKWA IBOM: SETTING THE PACE FOR DEVELOPMENT

Akwa Ibom's governor, Obong Victor Attah, is respected by his colleagues throughout Nigeria not just because he is the oldest and most experienced of the governors of the Niger Delta states and the South-South geo-political zone, but also because his performance in office has shown that he is a visionary with the capacity to turn dreams into reality. Carlton Barrett went to Uyo, the state capital, to see what he is doing.

Under Governor Victor Attah's stewardship, Akwa Ibom State has seen unprecedented development, more than any other of Nigeria's 36 states. But the governor is modest enough to admit that the state had recorded tremendous progress before his time, even though he saw the need to set new parameters for more growth when he came into office.

To this end, he ensured that resources were made available to improve the roads in the state and to establish a good communications network--this being the foundation on which growth in other sectors depended.

The state is blessed with enough arable land. Attah's government, therefore, ventured into agriculture not only to boost the internal revenue situation, but also to provide employment and overcome food shortages in the state. The multiplier effect on jobs and allied ventures is high when compared to the oil industry. It is one of the priorities of Attah's government to shift the focus of the state's economy away from dependence on oil revenues.

The state government, therefore, established the Integrated Farmers Scheme (IFS) under the Ministry of Agriculture to provide a micro credit system intended to create jobs for young people, thereby reducing their dependence on the government. The IFS was also to help increase and sustain food supply, and provide raw materials for small-scale industries.

Under the programme, credit and employment in the agricultural sector was provided for a pioneer batch of 184 participants in 2000. Each person received a loan of N200,000. The loan was increased to N300,000 per participant in 2001. A total of N108.5m was approved for the recruitment, training and settlement of the second batch of 310 participants. The scheme has since grown from strength to strength and has benefited thousands of youths.

In another significant measure, the state government has taken bold steps to tap the potential of cassava through its "Cassava Competitiveness Initiative". As a result, some bakeries in the state are now using 10% of cassava flour in the contents of their bread.

In 2004, more than 500 hectares of cassava was planted under the Akwa Ibom Agricultural Development Programme. The government contributed N76.2m to fight the cassava mosaic disease in collaboration with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture. The New Nigeria Foundation and United Nations Fund for Agriculture are also collaborating with the state government in its cassava initiative programme.

The government has established a cassava processing plant at Nung Udoe in the Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area. Community Cassava Technology Centres have also been established in the three senatorial districts of the state.

Two years ago, the state government started a Community Plantation Development Scheme for the development of oil palm, rubber and cocoa plantations. The government has since spent substantial sums on the scheme. More than 4,000 hectares of oil palm, 140 hectares of rubber and 88 hectares of cocoa have been cultivated in the 31 local government areas of the state.

The government is also building an airport, an Independent Power Plant, a science park and a five-star hotel with a golf course and marina. The pace of the development of Uyo, the state capital, has been strident. The completion of Ibom Plaza, one of the most beautiful and functional urban spaces in Nigeria, has attracted visitors from far and wide. It is now acknowledged that the road network built over the last six years is second to none among Nigeria's state capitals.

The standard of living in rural areas of the state has also improved considerably. Apart from expanding the rural road network, which has enhanced the evacuation and distribution of both agricultural and commercial products, the state government has also doubled the capacity of water supply in rural communities through the development of new boreholes and the renovation of older facilities.

The investment in the welfare of rural communities has been enormous and effective. This has been based on a solid foundation of enhanced fiscal credibility which has increased the resources available for the provision of such services.

Governor Attah's personal commitment to improving the standard of living of rural communities reflects a lifelong interest in service to the greatest majority of the people. His architectural achievements have always been based on the development of functional living and working spaces, and he has brought that same commitment to bear on the management of the state's affairs.

Such projects as the Ibom International Airport located at Ndon Ebom/Okobo, the five-star hotel at Nwaniba, the Independent Power Plant at Ikot Abasi and the Science Park as well as the Stock Exchange at Uyo will bring many benefits to the people.

An important factor of the state government's development strategy has been its relationship with the most important foreign investor in the state, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited. Very early in Attah's tenure, he entered into a dialogue with the company (which later turned acrimonious when he asked them to move their head office from Lagos to Akwa Ibom where their major operations were).

"For Mobil Oil of Nigeria to stay at a distance makes us feel exploited and neglected, and this is unacceptable," Attah said. His forthright stance on this issue was supported wholeheartedly by the communities in which Mobil takes its oil.

Eventually, the governor instituted a panel of local people to discuss ways and means of enhancing the relationship between the oil company and the people of the state. This has led to a number of far-reaching changes and partnership initiatives between the government and Mobil Oil, especially in the areas of housing, rural service delivery and employment of locals. The state government has also had substantial impact in the industrial sector where it has initiated measures aimed at making the state an active stakeholder in the petroleum industry. A state-owned company, Universal Energy Resource Limited was formed in 2001. The Federal Government has awarded the company a marginal oilfield capable of yielding a maximum of 10,000 barrels per day for development. The field will supply oil to a state-owned refinery.

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The government has also embarked on the privatisation of state-owned enterprises through the Akwa Ibom Industrial and Investment Promotion Council. These companies include Champion Breweries, Quality Ceramics, Plasto Crown, Akwa Palm Industries, International Biscuits, Qua Steel Products Limited and Akwa Feeds Limited.

The companies have almost all been taken over gradually by private investors who have been carefully screened to ensure that they will invest their profits in the state and provide secure employment for the local people. The government did not stop there, it put in place a skills acquisition programme to train manpower for the oil and other industries. As a result, the government has changed the face of the economy from one dependent on official allocations to an industry-based one, by changing the attitude of the people, building new infrastructure, and improving existing capacity.

When the state was created in September 1987, it had an estimated population of one-and-a-half-million people. Today the population has more than doubled. As a result, the state government has had to work hard to improve all facets of life. The founding fathers of the state believed in science and technology as instruments of rapid growth and development and exhibited a preference for establishing technically oriented institutions. Governor Attah has continued this fine tradition by establishing more technologically sophisticated institutions. One of these is the Akwa Ibom University of Science and Technology. A site has also been chosen for the State Technology Triangle which links the oil towns of Eket and Ibeno to the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria in Ikot Abasi with the apex being the State's Information Technology Park in Uyo.

In conformity with national programmes, the state government has not only implemented the Federal Government's Universal Basic Education Scheme but has also been paying examination fees for senior secondary school candidates and indigenes studying specialised programmes in higher institutions.

"We have succeeded in raising our profile in the country and internationally," says Governor Attah. "I am happy with what we have been able to do, and this was precisely our set agenda. I have said that I would not leave Akwa Ibom in the condition that I found it. We have made changes and will still make changes that will affect the lives of the people for the better."

He continued: "I said from the start that I will make Akwa Ibom a showpiece in Nigeria and I have done so. Today people recognise Akwa Ibom and I am satisfied that I have done what I promised. We have invested much in human capital, including sending our young people abroad to train in all fields. Nigeria can do the same. Other nations have spent much in this area and this has helped their economies to perform. Nigerians have made their mark in other countries, and we have to give them the same opportunities at home. It is not the lack of capacity but the lack of encouragement that needs to be developed."

VICTOR ATTAH FOR PRESIDENT

The governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, has formally launched his campaign for the Nigerian presidency. General, presidential and gubernatorial elections are to be held in the first quarter of 2007. We publish here excerpts from the campaign speech delivered by Governor Attah before a large crowd of his supporters in late August.

"It is with a deep sense of responsibility and commitment to the unity, peace and development of our fatherland that I address you today on the occasion of the open declaration and formal launch of my presidential campaign on the platform of our great party, the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP). Please join me to thank God for sparing our lives and for the sustenance of democracy in spite of the vicissitude of politics which sporadically threatened its nurturing.

It is noteworthy that this is the first time in our history that we have had a democratic government for about eight years without interruption and violent termination. For all Nigerians, this must be a moment of sober reflection, thoughtful planning and renewed determination to strengthen democratic structures and values, and to entrench an enduring democratic tradition.

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It is a moment in which we must reflect on the leadership question at various levels commonly diagnosed as the major cause of the Nigerian malaise. All through the ages, democracy has consistently scored the highest mark as the best possible way to organise governance, particularly in societies like ours marked by deep social divisions.

As a state governor for the past seven-and-a-half-years, and consequently, an active participant at a high level in the sustenance of the nation's democratic march, I have had the privilege to put into practice my beliefs and convictions about democracy.

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Along with physical development on the ground, I have succeeded in demonstrating my commitment to the noble principles of justice, equity and fairness. My faith in the federal structure of Nigeria; my attitude of reconciliation, accommodation and pragmatism yet principled political style, my irrevocable commitment to national unity--these qualities have given the good people of Akwa Ibom State an inclusive government on the one hand, and on the other, peaceful coexistence and public confidence in the polity. This pursuit has greatly brought about total support for my administration. This feat can be achieved for the entire country.

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The challenge of national unity and democratic consolidation aside, there are the inevitable pains of economic reforms that some find difficult to understand or to accept. This does not in anyway suggest that the reforms are unnecessary. No, it is obvious that there can be no true development at the rate of our aspiration without such sacrifice as we are passing through.

Rather, the pains which our people bear constitute a challenge for the incoming administration to soothe and ensure the success of the ongoing reforms. I need hardly identify the urgent need to reposition the government at various levels for improved service delivery in the twin areas of public utilities and social needs such as education, health, energy, food, water and transportation to meet the growing demand and complexity of our society.

A deep reflection on these problems forcefully dictates the "renewal" concept of my campaign. My campaign platform is, therefore, going to be predicated on the PDP's manifesto and my personal pursuit of a renewal of our hope, aspiration and political will as premised in the following policy sectors:

Economy

The rich resource base in Nigeria will be effectively galvanised in all areas. To this end, the economic base of the nation will be further diversified, will be made people-centred, private sector and technology driven with the government creating a conducive environment for creative combination of the appropriate synergy between concrete governmental intervention in specific areas of socio-economic service and the competitive spirit of entrepreneurship in various areas of our economy. There will be a consolidation and intensification of small scale business expansion in order to guarantee a progressively sustainable economy that will not only provide gainful employment but will bring about a two-digit annual growth in the economy.

Employment generation

National policy on employment generation will be formulated particularly in the agro-based sector and the environment. Skills acquisition for efficient entrepreneurship and self-reliance will be vigorously promoted. The aim will be a shift of focus from public to private sector employment and indeed self-employment with the resultant reduction and possible eradication of unemployment.

Agriculture

Input support for organised, large scale and mechanised farming, including food preservation and processing, will be provided. This will be by way of government intervention in financing of both small and large scale farming; provision of necessary inputs such as fertiliser and agro-chemicals, and the domestication of our basic agricultural implements.

The aim will be the attainment of self-sufficiency in certain staples while expanding our export potentials in others. The agricultural sector will be made sufficiently attractive to our teaming population of unemployed youths and Nigeria will not be left behind in the development of viable biomass ethanol and bio-diesel programmes. Our agriculture development will be backed by strong sectoral research.

Power supply

There will be continued development of decentralised power generation systems using diverse energy sources such as gas, coal, water, solar, wind, etc. Private entrepreneurial involvement will be encouraged and facilitated. The aim will be to achieve substantial annual increases in the volume of power generation till sufficiency is attained. Efficient transmission and distribution systems will be put in place.

Corruption, accountability, transparency

Institutional arrangements meant to tackle the menace of corruption will be strengthened to ensure the intensification and sustenance of the current policy on eradication of corruption in private and public life. Due process mechanisms to ensure that all government business goes by the rules will also be strengthened.

Policies aimed at enhancing the welfare of workers through the provision of household property credits will be pursued. Civil Society will be empowered to be much more proactive in advocacy projects on various socio-economic and political government policies. The aim is to make accountability and transparency the new way of life of our people.

Education

Substantial increase in the funding of education will be pursued to ensure that dedicated and highly trained teaching professionals at all levels are attracted and retained. Laboratories, libraries and research centres will be equipped. No child of school age will be denied education on grounds of the lack of funds.

Efficient supervisory mechanism will be put in place to ensure that quality education returns to our schools. Special attention will be given to tertiary education particularly in the areas of infrastructure, quality output, and relevance to our national development goals and manpower needs.

Health

The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) will be extended and consolidated, to cover all Nigerians irrespective of whether they are employed or out of work. General and Teaching Hospitals will be further equipped with modern facilities in order to stem the tide of brain drain and offshore medicare.

The level of application of alternative medicine will be raised. The war against HIV/Aids will be fought vigorously. Free medical services to the aged, pregnant women and children under the age of five will be provided. The aim is health for all, including the eradication of preventable childhood diseases.

Security

The internal security of any nation is a function of the economic and political health of that nation. While, as our Armed Forces will, at all times, be fully prepared to ward off external aggression, political leadership at various levels will be positioned and resources mobilised to pursue the material well-being of every Nigerian as a panacea for a secure and stable Nigerian state. The aim is to reduce violent crime to an absolute minimum and thus guarantee safety of life and property and, at the same time, restore the sanctity and our respect for human life.

Transportation

An unrelenting pursuit of the recently packaged multi-mode transportation policy for Nigeria will be undertaken and fast-tracked. This entails the construction of a modem standard gauge railway system, closely integrated into a well-maintained spinal network of roads, complemented by an efficient water transportation system. The aviation industry will be overhauled to provide maximum safety and efficiency. The private sector will be encouraged to participate in the growth and expansion of our transportation system.

Rural development

Nigeria is largely a rural country with over 65% of its population living in rural areas. The quality of life is very poor among this large population owing to extremely inadequate infrastructure, lack of employment opportunities and social amenities. Poor health care is compounded by lack of access to potable water. Educational facilities, road networks, energy supply and communication facilities in the rural areas will be improved. A comprehensive national policy on rural development will be formulated to improve the overall quality of life in the rural areas.

Housing

Mortgage institutions will be reformed to enable them to offer sufficient credit for home ownership. The substitution of imported building materials with locally sourced ones will be encouraged through increased and improved local production. Functional housing programmes for the lower segment of the population will be pursued. The aim is affordable housing for all, certainly for the greater majority.

National orientation

Encouragement will be given to the promotion of, and respect for, our cherished core values including our customs, traditions, culture, and mores and artifacts by a combination of diverse social engineering. We will work towards the elimination of harmful traditions in our society.

The empirical evidence of science and renewed faith in God will be used as a bastion against primitive superstitions. A sense of nationhood and a common brotherhood will be inculcated in our people.

Culture

Tourism will be developed through the repackaging of our cultural assets such as our national artifacts, crafts, museum, folklore, traditional festivals, songs and dances. Our natural endowments will also be exploited.

Information and communication technology

Existing information and data services outfits will be upgraded into modem high-tech service providers. To this end, a comprehensive review of national information policy will be undertaken to ensure that Nigeria is not left behind in the ongoing global information revolution. I have already started a prototype of what I have in mind in Akwa Ibom. This programme will be undertaken nationally.

Women and children

We shall implement the affirmative action of the Beijing Conference with a view to ensuring that women are given adequate representation in public service. I have always been gender-sensitive and will continue to be so disposed. In addition, pregnant women and children under the age of five years will be provided free medical services.

Youth development

Young men and women between the ages of 12 and 30 currently constitute over 60% of the Nigerian population. They are supposed to be a "passing phase" of our population gradually moving away from youth to adult category. Owing to a number of factors such as unemployment, breakdown of family values, lack of role models, poor national orientation, lack of adequate vocational facilities to cater for the needs of dropouts from schools, being a youth (even at the age of 40) is increasingly becoming a vocation itself. Youth development is, therefore, tied to employment generation.

I believe that the economic growth rate envisaged, combined with massive physical development, will go a long way to solve the problems of unemployment among youths. In addition, small and medium scale entrepreneurship among youths will be encouraged through access to banks and inputs.

Sport

Sport will be accorded its rightful place as a catalyst for national unity. To this end, game villages in the zones will be built to provide sports and academic training facilities for talented young men and women.

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Conclusion

There is no gainsaying the fact that 2007 presents us with yet another opportunity to re-establish faith in ourselves and in our ability to make democracy and Nigeria work. The necessity for this is imperative and urgent given the crisis of confidence and the increasing misconception of the social contract between the leadership and the led. Together, we can, and must, work to redeem the collective image of our potentially great country. Together, we can build the Nigeria of our dream.

Our President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has done a tremendous job of transforming this country and lifting it to a high level in the comity of nations. We may not all have agreed with everything he has done or perhaps the way in which he has done some of them. But that is always the fate of a pioneer and, as the saying goes, the crime is not in making mistakes but in taking no action. Chief Obasanjo has certainly taken several actions in an effort to give us a better country. It is now for us to build on the foundation that he has laid.

It is in the purposeful march to that greatness, through democratic consolidation and effective economic reforms that I, with a deep sense of responsibility, formally declare today that I am seeking your mandate to become the President of Nigeria come 29 May 2007. Please join me. God bless you."

OBASANJO SEES THE FUTURE IN AKWA IBOM

When President Olusegun Obasanjo left Akwa Ibom State after a hectic three-day visit in August, he had a lot to reflect on. The pace of development that he saw and the vision of Governor Obong Victor Attah must have impressed him exceedingly. Ben Asante reports.

After President Olusegun Obasanjo toured the city of Uyo and saw the impressive new streets and avenues, he must have appreciated the remarkable transformation that Governor Obong Victor Attah and his state government have wrought on the physical infrastructure of the state capital. Obasanjo is a civil engineer and road builder himself, and thus fully appreciated the magnitude of the strides that the new Uyo represents.

This set the tone for the visit during which he was treated to a display of strategically distributed projects around the state. Each of these projects proved to be a carefully planned component in a comprehensive programme of development for the future.

The maturity and responsibility that Governor Attah has displayed in establishing his priorities were vindicated by the projects and programmes that Obasanjo came to commission. One of the main events was the ground-breaking ceremony for the Ibom Science Park.

Being developed by a South African firm, it will be, according to Governor Attah, "the only state-owned science park in all of Africa [which will] catalyse the acquisition, assimilation, and adaptation of advances in science and technology for the purpose of generating employment and wealth; of propelling development as well as projecting and promoting technological capability and capacity."

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Throughout Obasanjo's visit, Governor Attah and his cabinet were at pains to enlighten him on the foundation of their vision. For example, the governor reminded the president that on his last visit to the state, he had commissioned one of the special science centres built to serve secondary schools.

At that time the president was so impressed with the initiative that he encouraged the governor to build more of such centres. On this visit, Attah was proud to inform the president that he had gone much further by building seven "model science secondary schools" since his last visit.

Attah told the president that the state government was determined to transform the civil service-based economy of the state into a dynamic commercially viable entity with industrial growth as its motivating force.

One area where the president's visit must have aroused his deepest emotions was in the agricultural sector. It is well known that Obasanjo is an advocate of the restoration of agriculture as the mainstay of the national economy. The Akwa Ibom government has taken this to heart, and under Victor Attah's personal direction, an extraordinary increase in cassava and rice production has been recorded in the state.

The president was able to determine from interactions with farmers and others that the Akwa Ibom agricultural initiative was a sustainable revolution that could be used as a model for the rest of Nigeria. This project, when integrated with the Federal Government's Life Enhancement Programme, an initiative that has encouraged cooperative action to overcome endemic poverty, can create the foundation for sustainable growth at the grassroots of the nation.

However, the most impressive initiatives that Obasanjo witnessed during his visit were in the areas of infrastructural growth. He was a guest on the construction site of Akwa Ibom's Independent Power Plant which is supposed to form the foundation of an enhanced energy supply system in the state.

He was also shown the beginnings of the development of an airport and aviation hangar which, when completed, will be one of the most advanced in West Africa. This project is part of an international partnership agreement which points the way forward for such initiatives in the future.

The president referred to an earlier visit to the Victor Attah Digital Opportunities Centre which now forms the central element of one of the nation's most effective ICT intervention programmes.

Attah told Obasanjo that the goal of his administration was to attain the highest level of development for the state, and to promote a greater sense of self-esteem by having a prominent voice in the shaping of the nation as well as expanding the range of choices for the people in all spheres.

After three days of intense activity, Obasanjo must have seen a glimpse of the future of a state and country influenced by his legacy.
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Title Annotation:Obong Victor Attah
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:Nov 1, 2006
Words:4487
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