Home » For Akpabio and Akwa Ibom’s economy
Africa Business Central Africa Cryptocurrency Culture Defence Economy Featured Global News National Security News Politics

For Akpabio and Akwa Ibom’s economy

The uncommon journey of Nigeria’s most ‘uncommon’ politician, Senator Godswill Akpabio, arrived at a not-so-common location on June 13, 2023. That was the day Akpabio was elected as the 15th president of the senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Though his responsibilities as Nigeria’s third highest political office holder are national, it comes at a time when Africa’s most populous country is in dire need of industrial development, in order to cope with its burgeoning youth population. As Akwa Ibom state is strategically positioned for industrial development, an attempt will be made to show the critical role of the uncommon Akpabio in this socioeconomic plan for the state.

Conventional motivation theory suggests that Akpabio should be a good fit for the challenging role of industrial development in Akwa Ibom state and Nigeria. Originally a lawyer with work experience in the telecommunications industry, he has some family background in politics, as his uncle, Dr I. U. Akpabio, was the minister of education/internal affairs for old Eastern Nigeria, while his cousin, Justice Nsima Akpabio, was a second republic senator. Godswill Akpabio was appointed as commissioner in Akwa Ibom state by the then governor, Obong Victor Attah, between 2002 to 2006. He was subsequently elected as governor of Akwa Ibom state in 2007, as well as senator in 2015, after completing two terms as governor. His uncommon streak also manifested in 2015, when contrary to senate conventions that prioritises legislative experience, he was elected as a principal officer. He afterwards became minister for Niger Delta Affairs between 2019 and 2022.

With his expansive background, conventional knowledge of how motivation works, therefore, suggests the readiness of 60-year-old Akpabio for the task of heavy lifting associated with industrial development, in a competitive world. By his admission, he had acquired significant personal economic comfort while working in the private sector. With Abraham Marlow’s Hierarchy of Needs motivation theory as a guide, Akpabio has met his physiological needs, attained safety and security, received love and belonging, has high self-esteem, and is self-actualised, or mostly self-actualised. As Akpabio has fully attained the first four motivation stages, with some room left at the fifth and highest motivation stage, plus his personal experience of the ephemeral nature of political power, he should now be motivated more by posterity, than pecuniary gains. The remaining elements of the self-actualisation stage are creativity or innovation, and attaining one’s full potential. And that is where the industrial sector of Akwa Ibom comes in.

Located in the delta region of Nigeria with 129 kilometres off the Atlantic coastline, which is the longest in Nigeria and West Africa, Akwa Ibom is one of the highest crude oil and gas producing states in Nigeria. It is also among the highest oil palm-producing states in the country and Udom Emmanuel, the immediate past governor of the state did an impressive job in establishing manufacturing companies in the state. A few critical success factors are however required for industrial development to thrive in the state and they include the construction of the Ibom Deep Sea Port and the resuscitation of the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON).

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that over 80% of global trade is maritime-based, thereby making the maritime sector the backbone and major success factor for international trade and the global economy. Any envisaged sustainable industrial and economic development, therefore, requires a functional seaport. As maritime activities are controlled by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), the Ibom Port project has received FGN approval. Technical, social, environmental and feasibility studies have all been done. While the outline business case (OBC) for the port project has been approved by the FGN, the project is currently at the stage of full business case (FBC) and procurement. Akpabio is therefore expected to utilise his uncommon ability and current political leverage to ensure the FBC and procurement of the Ibom Deep Sea Port project is completed, and the port fully functional, by 2026.

This is a feasible timeline for someone with uncommon capacity like Akpabio as the completion of the port project, which is located within the 14,400-hectare Ibom Industrial City, is essential for the industrial development of the state. The port is strategically located to serve the West and Central African Region, JDZ Sao Tome, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Angola, Gabon, Congo, Congo DRC, and Chad, among other markets. The Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, located in the state, can ramp up training for Akwa Ibom youths to harness the value chain and jobs in the maritime sector. The port also has an additional captive market in the commercial and industrial city of Aba, the developing Enyimba Economic City, Onitsha, which accounts for over 50% of maritime trade in Nigeria, among others, which makes it a very viable project. Completing the Ibom Port will, by extension, lead to the activation of the Ibom Industrial City for large-scale industrial activities in the state.

Aluminum is an essential material for industrial development. It is an important resource in the maritime economy and infrastructure development envisaged for Akwa Ibom and Nigeria, such as building materials, shipbuilding, railways, and ports infrastructure among others. That ALSCON is located in Ikot Abasi in the state is therefore a strategic investment advantage which should be harnessed. ALSCON, which was incorporated in 1989 with the federal government owning 70%, has unfortunately not been operational for years due in large part to the dispute arising from the privatisation of the company. The Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) commenced the privatisation process for ALSCON in 2002 and the process was to have been completed by 2004. A legal dispute however arose in 2004 between the American firm BFI Group and UC RUSAL, a Russian company over which firm duly bought the controlling shares of the government. The legal process and ownership dispute involving both firms and the BPE has been ongoing since 2004 and is yet to be resolved amicably.

ALSCON was designed to produce 193,000 tons of aluminium annually. It began operations in October 1997, and a few months later, reached a production level of 40,000 tons of aluminium. At the current market rate, the company can potentially earn $483 million in revenue annually. Akpabio, with a combination of his legal experience, government and political expertise, plus uncommon negotiation skills should be able to permanently resolve the issues between BFI Group, UC RUSAL and BPE in a manner that allows ALSCON to become fully operational by 2024. Akpabio’s ability to resolve the issue will help Nigeria conserve the foreign exchange and jobs lost from the import of aluminium and its articles which stood at US$339.74 million in 2021.

Some may question why just two items — the Ibom Deep Sea Port and ALSCON — are highlighted for someone of uncommon ability. Besides the maritime and aluminium sectors being critical success factors for industrial development in the state, studies on reform and economic management, especially in developing countries, recommend that reform managers prioritise a few key areas, and give them maximum attention. Trying to do so many things within a tenure leads to not much being properly done. And the completion of the Ibom Deep Sea Port and the resuscitation of ALSCON are the key performance indicators (KPI) by which his legacy will be assessed. As someone with private sector background, Akpabio knows about the necessity of meeting KPIs.

As Akpabio is at the self-actualisation stage of motivation in life, higher goals and posterity should therefore be the aspiration at this stage of his life, not rancour. Irrespective of how the relationship with his recommended successor, Udom Emmanuel, panned out, he should be proud of how Akwa Ibom has developed, especially with the establishment of manufacturing companies, infrastructure and a well-run Ibom Air in the last eight years. These are all essential parts of the envisaged larger industrial development. Rancour beclouds the required focus on bigger goals. The visits of current Governor Umo Eno, who is of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to Akpabio, show that the working relationship and cordiality required to achieve these tasks in the state are present.

Since charity begins at home, Akpabio is firstly a senator from Akwa Ibom before senate president. Some may argue that his responsibility as senate president is lawmaking, rather than core economic management. Accomplishing the development of the Ibom Deep Sea Port and resuscitating ALSCON can therefore be uncommon for a lawmaker. Akpabio however has the uncommon capacity to meet these uncommon targets.

One slight but complementing deviation. Akpabio should ‘adopt’ any of the universities in Akwa Ibom, preferably a privately-owned one. His adopted university should be supported with faculty, facilities and resources to excel in information and communications technology (ICT). ICT constitutes 16.2% of Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP), and many of the biggest companies in the world are ICT firms. There are Akwa Ibom sons and daughters already excelling in this field. Education is very complementary to this industrial vision because, beyond the necessity of skills development, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and other modern technologies are playing key roles in port operations, aluminium manufacturing and industrial activities.

As Ibom Deep Sea Port is designed to be among the best, an assessment of ports on ‘The Container Port Performance Index’ published by the World Bank shows that the best ports in the world are also those that use modern technologies. A private university may have the agility to provide faster ICT training in these technologies that complement the industrial plan for Akwa Ibom, as well as for manufacturing concerns already established by the Udom Emmanuel administration. That way, the planned industrial development is inclusive, with youths of the state playing merited and active roles. This should proactively prevent the alienation that is witnessed in the petroleum sector which leads to agitations and social restiveness, which can reduce the investment attractiveness of the state.

Attaining industrial development has never been a tea party. It requires high levels of planning, dedication and political skills. Akwa Ibom state and Nigeria, by extension, require the uncommon skills and political leverage of Godswill Akpabio to ensure that the Ibom Deep Sea Port located within the Ibom Industrial City is constructed, and ALSCON begins production of aluminium products — both within three years. Both projects are critical success factors for industrial development in the state. For Akpabio therefore, who is at the self-actualisation motivation stage in life, the time has started ticking. Will the uncommon senate president rise to the uncommon economic challenge?

Source: The Cable