The controversy surrounding Ibom Deep Seaportas an abandoned project has continued to dominate discussions within and outside Akwa Ibom because of people expectation and nonchalant attitude of government toward the project.
The general saying that government is a continuum is no more holding water going by the wanton abandonment of projects by successive administrations. Despite their positive impact on the lives of the people, most of the projects initiated by previous administrations have been jettisoned by their successors. Some governors have metamorphosed in to demi-gods and have become so powerful that they would terminate contracts of projects which their predecessors have paid upfront to the point that not even their legislatures could dare call them to order, over abandoned projects.
The former Governor Akwa Ibom, Obong Victor Attah, who had his own share of abandoned projects, once admitted:
“People feel if they come and complete these projects (initiated by previous administrations), the person who started (them) would be the one to get the credit. Please, let us get it that government is a continuum. The fact that somebody started something and you come and complete it does not mean that nobody would recognize the role you played. So, completing the seaport, the science park, and re-establishing the University of Technology is a continuation of government.”
Transition Law on Abandoned Projects:
It is against this background that the Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi has been canvassing the enactment of a transition law to prevent succeeding governments from abandoning projects initiated by past administrations. The governor said the law was needed to check wanton abandonment of projects simply because they were not initiated by the incumbent.
Fayemi in a statement stated that most of the projects he initiated during his first term which impacted positively on the lives of the people were jettisoned by his successor. He said the law will serve as a guide for any government and stipulate lines of demarcation between what constitutes infractions by way of abandonment of projects and actions that would be of benefit to the people.
Akwa Ibom needs such legal framework more than any other state, going by number of lofty projects that have been jettisoned by successive administrations since the advent of democracy. A peep into some of these projects explains why the present administration considers revisiting some of them a priority. A case in point is the Ibom Deep Seaport. The fact that Obong Attah mentioned it alongside the Science Park is a clear indication that it bears a signage of an abandoned project.
Governors of Abandoned Projects:
Sometime during the administration of Obong Attah’s successor, Godswill Akpabio, the Akwa Ibom State Government performed the ‘ground-breaking’ of Ibom Deep Seaport project at Ibaka, Mbo Local Government Area. At the occasion, the governor stated that he was not an architect- governor who abandons projects on arrival but a lawyer who completes the projects he initiates.
Who did Akpabio refer to as the ‘architect-governor who abandons projects on arrival’? Akpabio’s predecessor, Obong Victor Attah, is an architect of no means repute, one behind Uyo Master Plan. Among the most contentious projects Obong Attah did not complete before the expiration of his 8-year-tenure, which Akpabio vowed never to touch, was the Science Park.
In one of his exaggerated speeches, Akpabio said that he purposely left the Science Park uncompleted so that the people, particularly the generations unborn, would come to know what an abandoned project looks like. There are indications that Akpabio had more than the Science Park project in mind. Akpabio’s reference to abandoned projects at the occasion indicated that he had Ibom Deep Seaport in mind.
The idea to float a seaport in Akwa Ibom was not Akpabio’s. It was first muted by the administration of Obong Attah. Akpabio’s analogy insinuates that Attah abandoned the project at the proposal stage. But Obong Attah insisted that Senator Akpabio is the king of abandoned projects.
“Go and ask Godswill Akpabio why he left so many abandoned projects, including the Tropicana that I even wrote about, together with the Underground Drainage Hijacking System he talked much about. The only thing that was hijacked was our monies,” Attah observed in an interview recently while answering question on why so many abandoned projects litter in the state.
Ibom Deep Seaport:
Although, one Oron man claimed that he sold the idea of establishing a seaport to Attah, that does not explain why the project is sited in Oro land. The location is strategic. The Ibom Deep Seaport is strategically located in Mbo, Oro Nation, a leading oil and gas producing area in the state.
It has 2,565 hectares of green-field port area, integrated within the Ibom Industrial City (IIC) – a Free Trade Zone replete with fiscal incentives. It is designed to berth New Panamax Class vessels with channel depth of 18.24m, turning basin and berth depth of 16.72m; and quay length of about 7.5 km upon completion. Its natural deep seaport, that does not require dredging, makes it ideal location for the project.
It is easy to understand why Akpabio once jokingly insinuated that if he had even a river at his backyard in his home town he would have relocated the project. Although Chief Akpabio made the statement to proof that the project was in Mbo out of necessity, and not because of political reason, the recent revelation proves that the statement was a scam. Unfortunately, Akpabio ‘abandoned the project at the proposal stage’.
Those who had access to the site of the project could testify that it has always been a ghost of itself, a beehive of dangerous reptiles and amphibians rather than marine activities. A recent disclosure by Governor Udom-led administration was an eye-opener.
In April 2019, the state government took the administration of former Governor Godswill Akpabio to the cleaners over its lackluster approach to the development of the Deep Seaport, saying Akpabio only acquired land and never carried out any substantial development of the multi-billion dollars project. The then Commissioner for Lands and Town Planning, Mr. Ime Ekpo, who made the disclosure during an online media chat, stated that the project only received proper attention when Governor Udom Emmanuel mounted the saddle of governance.
“Apart from acquiring land, no other thing was done on the project. It is under the present administration that consultants were appointed to prepare the master plans and before such plans are prepared in an area of 14,500 hectares, one needs the topography survey which was never done.
“As we speak, the Tin Can Island and Apapa Ports are totally congested. It takes an average of 42 days for a trailer to go in and come out. This slows down the entire economy. Ours is the most preferred at the moment because it doesn’t require much dredging,” Mr. Ekpo noted.
Why Akpabio played politics with such a lofty project remains a misery to some who had even started investing in the area with a view to tapping from the incentives of the project. So the much-talked about Ibom Deap Seaport, like Use Ikot Amama Road, was a fluke; a bait Akpabio dangled before Oro people and other indigenes of the state to cajole them into giving him a second term mandate. No wonder he tinkered with name and location of the project apparently to give it a wider appeal. It was pure politics, a dirty political game for that matter, using a lofty project to score cheap political point and then abandoned it.
Udom’s Ray of Hope:
But key questions remain: Can we trust Governor Udom Emmanuel with his moves? What evidence do we have on ground that the governor will live up to his second term Completion Agenda, especially in connection with this project? According to the state government’s calendar, Ibom Deep Seaport is expected to commence operations in 2021. Six months into 2021, is this still feasible?
Undeniably, this is the first in 20 years a government, at the state and federal levels, is attaching importance to the $2.5 billion Ibom Deep Seaport project. Governor Emmanuel has given the project more than ‘proper attention’. He started to convince many that a Deep Seaport is realistic in Akwa Ibom.
No sooner had Udom begun his first term administration than the Federal Executive Council approved the procurement of the IDSP PPP in May 2015. In January 2018, Requests for Quotation (RFQ) the total of eight (8) RFQ applications were received when the RFQ closed in March 2018, out of which three (3) applicants were shortlisted as Bidders to proceed to the Request for Proposal (RFP) stage.
The RFP was issued in April 2018 and closed in September 2018, with a Pre-Bid Conference held in June 2018 during the RFP period. Opening of the competing bids received was conducted in September 2018 in accordance with due process in the presence of the bidders, the ICRC and invited press.
Thereafter, rigorous evaluation of the bids was conducted in line with international best practices which culminated in the selection of Bolloré–PowerChina Consortium as the Preferred Bidder and China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd. as the Reserved Bidder.
Speaking on the development, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, insisted that: “The Akwa Ibom State Government is unwavering in its determination and will work in tandem with the FMOT and NPA to realize the IDSP.”
Collaborating this, the DG of ICRC, Engr. Chidi Izuwah said: “The IDSP is one of the PPP projects that we are very proud of. The seaport will form part of an integrated industrial city to help foster economic development of the country as transportation is key to national development.”
The next stage of the project was negotiation with the Preferred Bidder with a view to working out the investment and concession details, conducted in compliance with all extant rules stipulated by the IDSP Ministerial Project Development and Steering Committee (MPDSC).
Good to know that government has gone beyond the stage. For instance, in June 2019, the state government announced that all plans are in place to commence the building of the project, adding that it now waits the federal government to approve the project and building will kick-start immediately.
The then Commissioner for Special Duties and Aviation Development, Akan Okon, who announced this said: “Governor Udom Emmanuel on assumption of office in 2015, knowing what could happen if such project is left under the bureaucracy of government, put in place a technical committee for actualisation of Ibom Deep Seaport.
“The technical committee has worked so hard and as at today, we have gotten a preferred bidder which is one of the leading companies in the maritime and cargo industry by name, Bollore. The committee’s full report had been made and submitted for actualisation of the seaport and we are only awaiting the approval of Mr President. Once that is done, I assure you, construction will begin immediately.”
That Akan Okon himself has been reappointed to man the restructured Ministry of Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport tends to show that the governor means business.
The question before Mr. Akan Okon remains: How realistic is the project?
“If it were within the control and scope of the state government, I would have given you a definite timeline. However, Ibom Deep Sea Port is a project that has the interest of the Nigerian Ports Authority, the approval and all that need to be done by the Federal Ministry of Transport. Realistically, there are 22 steps involved in getting the approval and, as we speak, we have gotten to 20 with only two steps left.
“We have the preferred investor and one of the biggest port managing companies in the world. We are confident and that is why this government has created the Ministry of Economic Development and Ibom Deep Sea Port,” the commissioner posited in an interview early this year.
One issue that has been the bane of the actualisation of the port project is the seaport politics in Nigeria. But Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport boss was optimistic that the current development in the industry favours the development of Ibom Deep Seaport, making it a national issue.
“As we speak, there is no deep-sea port in Nigeria that has gone as far as Ibom Deep Sea Port and no deep-sea port in Nigeria can start before Ibom Deep Sea Port. None of them has gone to ten points. And we are at the 20th level and you know how long it took us to get there. It took us four years. They have also studied the scenario.
“Businesspersons in South-West and South-East know that it is a nightmare going to Apapa, going to Tin Can Island. So, Ibom Deep Sea Port along the coast of West Africa, Central Africa is going to be the only deep-sea port with dual channels which means that you can process two ships at the same time. Lagos has single channel.
“All other ports have single channels. Beyond that, they are also taking cognizance of the problem of Apapa and that is why we are having Ikot Abasi jetty, designed to take care of smaller ships, because it is within the same proximity. That is why we are making that area an industrial city. We have studied the management of ports in Nigeria and let me tell you, if it was not politics, this would have become a reality a long time ago,” he maintained.
Against this background, Governor Udom Emmanuel has been appealing to and impressing on the federal government to support the construction of the deep seaport in the state.
Speaking in Abuja at the launch of the biography of the late Clement Isong, the second indigenous governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Emmanuel said ”all the state need is just the approval of the federal government as it has investors who are ready to invest”. The governor said the Ibom Deep Seaport Project (IDSP) will contribute immensely to the economy of the state and the nation.
According to the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), a federal agency overseeing the project, the IDSP project is intended to become a major national and regional economic gateway that will provide additional container handling capacity for the country.
There was excitement in the air recently when information started filtering in that the federal government is set to move to the next level of the procurement process of the Ibom Deep Water Port (IDWP) through Public-Private Partnership (PPP). On the heels of an announcement, ICRC presents FBCC Certificate to the Minister of Transport Minister, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, spurring Governor Udom Emmanuel to applaud President Mohammadu Buhari’s determination to fast track the actualisation of the Deep Seaport.
Speaking through the Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport, Mr. Akan Okon, the governor said ” the government and people of Akwa Ibom state are very happy with this development and we must appreciate President Mohammadu Buhari for his visionary leadership and thank the Minister of Transportation and other relevant regulatory agencies who diligently and tirelessly with our state government and contributed to the success so far recorded.”
“This certification is clear evidence that the federal government appreciates the extensive benefits Ibom Deep Seaport will attract to the country in terms of expansive business and employment opportunities”.
Governor Emmanuel once accredited the rise in criminal activities in the society to the growing number of frustrated unemployed graduates in the nation, maintaining that the project could provide employment to a minimum of 5000 youth at the construction stage.
“We want to see how we can also be the hub of logistics, of services, where people can connect to the economy of the south region from Akwa Ibom State. The major gateway to industrialise any place on planet earth is what God has created naturally, water, road. Except we fix them, you are not creating access,” he said.
That is why what most people want to see, as government awaits the federal government’s approval for the construction of the project, is a good road network linking the project area. To this end, the state government should double its effort and focus in the dualisation of 14.5 km Uyo/Airport Junction – Okopedi Okobo Road, awarded to Aquatix Construction Limited and the 10.5km Okopedi – Oron Road by East – West Road (phase 11). The construction of 55.1km Ibaka Super Highway with three spurs under the Alternative Project Funding Approach should be reactivated.
As Akwa Ibom people eagerly await the realization of Ibom Deep Seaport project come 2021, Governor Udom Emmanuel should be applauded for not only adopting the project as his signature project but also for taking it to such unprecedented level. So far the people are convinced that the governor will keep his promise to make the project a reality. Time will tell.