Mr. Akan Okon is the Commissioner for Housing and Special duties in Akwa Ibom State. In this interview with TONY ANICHEBE, he speaks on issues surrounding the ongoing mega projects in the state
One of the Government Housing Estate projects in Uruan Council Area has become a subject of concern to residents over poor facilities there, what is government doing about it?
Work is ongoing in the area right now. That project was conceptualized in partnership with the Federal Government to help the masses. It is a mass housing units. The Idu Uruan Houses were meant to be sold and funds realized used to provide some facilities as we already have a water board there. But you will agree with me that the down turn in the economy which has affected both government and individuals’ accounts for slow pace of development there. However, government is interested in getting all necessary amenities in the estate to enable residents and those who wish to move in have a better environment to stay.
These Housing Estate Projects which the former administration started was for the major cities of Uyo, Ikot Ekpene and Eket? Why is that of Eket yet to start?
Yes like I said earlier, the whole problem boils down to the dire times we find ourselves you no longer have the kind of resources we had years back. Otherwise, Eket would have had its own Housing Estate. The site was cleared and definitely work will begin as soon as resources are available. It is the intention of the present administration to improve on housing delivery to her citizens to enhance their general welfare. You are also aware that we are having increased rural-urban migration and more houses will be needed for effective accommodation.
The five star Ibom Tropicana Hotel conceived by the last administration is yet to see the light of day after so much had been spent. What is the problem?
Funds have been the bane of its realization. Recently government took the decision to partner with the private sector to get the hotel completed but you know when it comes to private sector involvement, there is a lot of due diligence and processes that must be tidied up. A lot of people have shown interest and we are processing it and it will soon be made public when we will sign the MoU with the interested investors. There is hope that the project will soon come on stream.
Ibom International Airport was designed with facilities for maintenance of aircrafts, but many years after establishing it that aspect is yet to be realized why?
There is hope. That is one area which will encourage traffic and by extension employment opportunities around the airport. Yes the airport project was conceived with MRO facility but was derailed when funding became a problem. There has been a technical evaluation of what have been done so far by an interested investor who wants to bring funds to complete the project. So it will soon be completed. Again I will tell you that work is on-going on the second runway of the airport. Funding issues nearly marred it too but the governor is very passionate about having the second runway done immediately, he will not want the Abuja Airport experience here where flights are diverted to Kaduna because of closure of one run way. He wants a situation there will always be an alternative runway in case of maintenance of one. It is noteworthy to say to say that the way the present runway was designed and built, it has capacity to carry even the biggest of the airbus planes; it is 3.6 kilometers and its 6-meters wide. Work is ongoing and they are completing the layer of macadam which makes it very durable with the availability of funds it will be ready in four months time.
The state governor is building a massive worship chapel through your ministry which the opposition here has dismissed as wasting of public funds. What is your take on this?
The International Worship Centre is a laudable project. First I wish to remind you that when the airport project was conceived by the former administration, it was highly criticised by those who said we have Calabar Airport is just nearby but they are the ones patronizing the airport more today. No good project comes without a fair share of criticism. Of course opposition will have to their work of opposing and we will continue to do what we believe is good because opposition will never stop. I must thank God who is not like man. Many men have built mansions; some with over 100 rooms even when they sleep in just one but what we are talking about is a place of worship for the Most High God.
This is one project which we have brought to the public domain with account numbers for individuals firms and co-operate organisations to make generous contributions towards its realization. So when people criticise and ask the economic value of the project, I reply them by asking them to tell me economy and God which one should come first. We are all Christians here and the Bible says that we should seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all other things shall be added to us.
I want to urge Akwa Ibom to come out and build for God by sowing a seed in that project. Journalists should write positive stories about our desire to give God an abode in the state as their own seed to the project and get their own blessings. Everything we do and achieve in life is by the grace of God. Critics should also know that both the brain and mouth used in criticising the worship centre project was given to them by God. The governor has affirmed that the project must be realized. Our state was named after God and we don’t even a state worship center for God.
Mind you a place meant for worship is not a place for parties and other mundane things. When we want to worship God as a people we all gather at Ibom Hall, Again we people want to hold social events and other frivolous things, they still go to the same Ibom Hall. So for me it is even late to have a place of worship for God here but it is better late than never. As an individual, I feel highly elated and honored to be the one supervising the building of a worship centre for God because I believe totally in God and know the blessings that comes with such projects.
Akwa Ibom State Government is also constructing a massive Governor’s Lodge in Lagos which has received its own fair share of criticism from the opposition here. What is the situation now?
You said massive, have you been there? (laughter). The job is ongoing according to plan and specifications. The State House of Assembly Committee on Finance and Appropriation recently visited the project and was very impressed. They commended the governor for that initiative because Akwa Ibom State deserved a better Governor’s Lodge in Lagos at the commercial nerve centre of the country. We are equally happy that the funds so far released for that project have been judiciously used.
One of the projects which generated some controversy recently was the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel started by the former administration and allegedly abandoned by the Emmanuel’s government. What is your take on this?
Incidentally the state governor had made some financial commitments with the new managers of the project which is the Mariot Group formerly managed by Starwood which has been acquired by Mariot Group, they are presently doing their hand over formalities or house-keeping. The governor has paid the outstanding in terms of finance and we believe that once the handover formalities are concluded, they will bring in all that are required for the formal take off of the facility and the place will be open to the public. If you visit the place now, you will appreciate the level of job done.
2019 elections are around the corner and the opposition APC is rearing to make in roads into the Hill Top mansion; How do you see their chances?
The opposition people you are talking about exist only on the pages of the newspapers here. Unfortunately, Nigerians are wiser now because the government you have today at the Federal level came into power through propaganda. And that is responsible for our predicament today. I don’t know who you voted for but I am sure if the Federal Government we have today presents itself again you will not vote for it. Our eyes are open and we have learned the hard way. Apart from that, the Governor Emmanuel’s administration has touched every facet of our public life.
This state is one of the very few states that have been able to meet up their obligation to both civil and public servants. We have over 2,000 kilometers of roads with several bridges done already. Free education at primary and secondary school levels; free medical care for children and aged including pregnant women, payment of WAEC and NECO fees for our children and several interventions programmes in many sectors. These are some many achievements on ground for all to see and that is why we have this amount of endorsements for second term trailing the governor.
Are you satisfied with the way the present administration has driven the industrialization policy?
Yes, very satisfactory. At every forum, I made it clear to people that it is not the place of government to build industries but rather to provide enabling environment with infrastructures to attract investors. Since the return of democracy it is on record that the present administration had attracted the influx of investors more than any before it. From syringe factory, meter producing factory, flour mills, pencil, toothpick among many others.
The state is second only to Lagos according to the National Bureau of Statistics to attract foreign direct investment and the governor is eager to do more. The good news is that he is upgrading every infrastructure in the state needed to ensure the success of industrialization power inclusive.
What is the fate of Ibom Deep Sea Port which is expected to have multiplier effect or job creation if completed?
Yes, the Deep Sea Port has received a major boost as the governor has brought his wealth of experience in the private sector to drive the project. He has already set up a committee headed by a woman with wealth of experience in the maritime sector, Mrs. Mfon Usoro, former D.G of NIMASA. The committee has pushed the project to a critical level. The Ministerial Project Committee met recently in Abuja and approved procedure for procurement and has publicised interest for port builders to bid. Over 100 companies all over the world have shown interest and will be followed by evaluation committee that will come up with the firm that will build and operate the port.