The history of Akwa Ibom industrial growth might not altogether sound like one classical episode of a paranormal investment. Although the scenario might provide all the trappings of an epic exercise in economic misadventure, but the truth remains that at inception, all the industries which are today on the death-row, were to all intents and purposes, conceived with all the goodwill to last them a lifetime.
Initially, when Akwa Ibom earned for itself a new geo-political identity as a state, about ten highly promising and functional companies were already on the ground. And these were- the champion Breweries Limited, Plasto-Crown limited both in Uyo; Sunshine Batteries Limited; International Biscuits limited both in the present Essien Udim Local Government Area; Quality ceramics Limited and the present AKRUBEL, Akwa Rubber Estates Limited as well as Nigeria Newsprint Manufacturing Company (NNMC) both located in Itu. Others are Qua Steel Limited, Eket; Pails Industries, Abak; Peacock Paints, Etinan and the Asbestosis Company limited, Oron.
A retrospective appraisal of the feasibility study of these industries is highly revealing Apart from the fact that their locations were secondarily targeted at satisfying a cross geo-ethic appeal, they equally fulfilled the basic requisites of being located within the limits of raw materials and primary market sourcing. It was therefore not surprising that as the immediate gains of statehood and our fledging legacy from the erstwhile cross River State, efforts were quickly taken to not only strengthens these outfits but equally also to consolidate their gains while also broadening our economic base.
Against this backdrop, companies such as Akwa feeds Limited, Akwa Rice Industries Limited and Akwa Storage Limited were incorporated in November, 1989 with an authorized share capital of #10 million to give fillip to the states assertive industrialization drive. However, as a mean of providing added impetus to the economy of the young state, feasibility studies were already in the works for additional industries such as the Akwa Palms Limited, a World Bank assisted oil palm- oriented industry; and the proposed Cement Manufacturing firm which was eventually given a thumbs down by the feasibility study, owing to inadequate availability of raw materials at the present Ini Local Government Area, the proposed site of the project.
Apart from this, the pioneer administration had by now evolved a highly convivial economic climate as a means of generating and attracting investments to the new state. In this regard, the industrial policy which seems to have been sustained over the years by all administrations was the provision of industrial estates, water, electricity and access roads as part of the carrots dangled before industrialists. And by 1988, the government had also introduced the investments information service as well as guaranteeing loans to investors with bankable projects. Furthermore, in order to shore-up the toddling industrial sector, the government established the Akwa Ibom industrial Development Finance Company to offer assistance to interested investors in the area of packaging feasibility studies and the procurement of loans from the National Economic Reconciliation Fund NERFUND.
But in view of government optimism on these industries, coupled with the desire to lift the state out of its inherited civil service status, the State Ministry of Commerce and Industry further commissioned twenty-one feasibility studies for the establishment of small and medium scale industrial undertakings and one for a large industrial set up. Although it is not clear how many of such feasibility studies were patronized, all these efforts point unwaveringly to the fact that the government has been playing the industrial catalyst role on a solo basis.
However, by August 1990, the administration of the then Col. Godwin Abbe which was smarting from the efforts of sourcing additional #17 million reactivation loan for the ailing 10 industries, came to the ineluctable conclusion that such industrial bail outs were like saving money in a leaking pocket. And with this inexorable feeling, Abbe read out the riot act. He announced that no more industries would be established in the state, in the life of his administration. The embargo, he explained, was necessitated by the fact that in spite of all reactivation efforts, the industries were still comatose.
Perhaps, this must have provided the structural steel which informed the more realistic industrial philosophy of the erstwhile wing Commander Idongesit Nkanga Administration which in September 1990, embargoed the provision of subvention to industries in the state. This was a clear departure from the economics of philanthropy which was the hallmark of previous industrial policies. And coming shortly on the heels of this policy was the endorsement of the privatization option as an industrial policy.
The contemporaneous efforts by various administrations are straightening out the industrial sector, finally culminated in the core-investor initiative programme. The central philosophy of this initiative was to attract highly reputable allied firms to take over the various companies and run them on commercial basis and to make returns to the government. Incidentally, this arrangement, with all the advantages to both parties, has not precisely actualized the prospects of government dream.
In view of this apparent failure and the urgent need to restore Akwa Ibom position on Nigeria’s industrial map, the present administration led by Governor Udom Emmanuel is fully determined to change the industrial façade of the state. To this extent, it is therefore not surprising that soon after taking over the reins of power in the state, Governor Udom Emmanuel signaled his intention to revisit the core investor agreements.
In furtherance of this new initiative, the state government has braced itself up for the onerous responsibility of proving to cynics that the initial feasibility studies which midwifed the various industries were not mere paper – tigers.
For now, the reality on the ground points to the fact that the present administration is fully determined to break the decade – old jinx in the industrial sector. And this renewed zeal, is targeted at packaging Akwa Ibom industrially and putting it on a pedestal of strength to enable us participate actively in the proposed export processing zone at Calabar.
From all indications, the prospects are high, the stakes are high, and it is only a matter of time before Akwa Ibom the industrial sleeping giant, roars back to live to claim its rightful position in the comity of industrialized economics. It might not yet be Uhuru but beyond this silver lining lies a well-beaten path to true industrial glory. The enabling environment is there. Let credible investors take advantage of it now invest in the reactivation of the ailing industries or set up something new. The reward is predictably high. So – Akwa Ibomites – Arise.