In 2010, a young, wealthy Nigerian businessman, Charles Udonwa, left his flouring ship-building business in Singapore, and relocated to Akwa Ibom State, with a desire to contest for the governorship of the state.
Mr Udonwa in May that year was attacked by gunmen in his home in that oil-rich, South-south state.
He escaped into a nearby bush with gunshot wounds.
The gunmen, not willing to give up, grabbed his aged mother and used her as a bargain for Mr Udonwa to come out from hiding. He refused. His assailants then shot the old woman dead.
The attack appeared to have been politically motivated.
Besides Mr Udonwa’s, there were several other unresolved attacks, kidnappings, and high-profile killings in the state at the time.
Few days after the terrifying incident, Mr Udonwa flew out of Nigeria, assisted by trusted business associates. And for more than three years, he was afraid to visit Akwa Ibom.
The businessman is back again. But not many people are aware of this.
When PREMIUM TIMES met him in January this year in Uyo, he said his company, Norfin Offshore Ltd, was constructing a ship-building yard in Oruk-Anam Local Government Area of the state.
The company is investing an initial capital of $5million in the project, Mr Udonwa said.
The firm is planning to build supply-vessels for oil platforms, tugboats, batches, ocean fishing boats, and ferries for both Nigerian and foreign markets.
“There is nobody doing ship-building in Nigeria and in entire West Africa for now,” Mr Udonwa said. “We have a local content law which says if you build a ship in Nigeria you have the first right of refusal to put the ship in the country’s oil and gas industry.
“If you build a ship, like LNG vessel, 5,000 metric tons, for instance, in Singapore, it could cost up to $5million because of labour cost, but you can do it here in Nigeria with $3million.”
Nofin Offshore, according to him, is into contracts and already supplying ships for movement of crews and supports services to some oil companies in Nigeria.
He said the Akwa Ibom state government helped his company to negotiate the purchase of land at cheap rate from local communities.
“The administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel is doing what we really wanted – they are creating the enabling environment for business,”Mr Udonwa said.
“It worries us that after several years of oil exploitation in Akwa Ibom, we don’t have even a single depot or jetty anywhere in the state, all the logistics services for ExxonMobil are done from Onne, Rivers state, or from Lagos.”
Norfin Offshore’s is just one of the inflows of foreign direct investments in Akwa Ibom so far, since Udom Emmanuel, a former executive director with Zenith Bank, became governor of the state in 2015.
Akwa Ibom now home to syringe, meter, and fertilizer factory and….
The 31-year-old state of over 5 million people is now home to a syringe manufacturing factory, said to be the largest in Africa, a meter manufacturing company, described by the Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as an “exceedingly important project”, and a fertilizer blending plant.
Altogether, there are more than 10 large and small scale industries, located in various parts of the state, which have either started production or are still under construction.
Never in the history of Akwa Ibom has one administration been able to attract so many industries within so short a time.
The Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Company Ltd is located in Onna Local Government Area, a few kilometres from Ibeno where ExxonMobil’s Qua Iboe Terminal is.
It is owned by a Turkish firm, VKS Group, which reportedly invested $30 million as initial capital.
The factory sources its raw materials, polypropylene, from Indorama Eleme Petrochemical in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Another investment by the VKS Group in the state is a 500-tons per day capacity flour mill, still in Onna, which is near completion and is scheduled to start production in May.
The machines were running and workers busy at their duty posts when a PREMIUM TIMES reporter visited the syringe factory in December.
At a 100 per cent capacity, the factory could produce up to a million syringes daily, ranging from 2 millimetres, 5 millimetres, and 10 millimetres, Managing Director Zubeyir Gulabi, a Turkish national, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Right now, we are producing around 750, 000 per day since we are not working 24 hours because of lack of personnel,” Mr Gulabi said, adding that the factory should start operating at full capacity later this year.
Mr Gulabi explained what he meant by “lack of personnel”.
“We have to train the people first before getting them to work in the factory,” he said. “You know Akwa Ibom isn’t an industrial state.
“We had to move around to search for people that are fit for the job. The people (we picked) never worked in any industry before.
“We started with eight workers, and then we brought engineers from Turkey, Italy, South Korea, and Australia to help train them.”
Mr Gulabi said 125 people, including five expatriates, currently work at the factory. He said more than 70 per cent of the staff are from Akwa Ibom, while 10 per cent came from outside the state.
Esther Gregory, a 30-year-old graduate of accounting, heads the packaging department.
Ms Gregory told PREMIUM TIMES she was “fine and proud” to work in the factory which she said was their own “ExxonMobil”.
At the Metering Solutions Manufacturing Services Ltd (MSMSL) in Onna, Tolulope Ogunkolade, the company’s general manager, guided the PREMIUM TIMES reporter around the factory where about 150 line workers (95 per cent of them from Akwa Ibom) were busy, assembling and testing several units of digital meters, and then passing them on through a conveyor belt.
Twenty of the factory workers just returned from a two-week training in China, sponsored by the company.
“This is an exceedingly important project,” the Vice President of Nigeria Mr Osinbajo said of the MSMSL’s factory when he inaugurated it on September 23, 2017, to mark the 30th anniversary of Akwa Ibom State. “I am sure that everybody accepts that perhaps the major obstacle to full economic development in Nigeria is power.”
Mr Osinbajo said the meters produced at the company were smart meters – all that it takes for a consumer to have power at home is for him to buy a scratch card and simply key in a code!
“The whole idea is to sell power easily just the same way you can buy credit for your cell phone,” Mr Osinbajo said. “That is the objective of this type of meter in particular.”
The vice president said meter manufacturing companies, such as MSMSL, aided by new federal government policy on metering, would help create wealth and employment in Nigeria because power distribution companies do not necessarily have to be distributors of meters.
“What the MSMSL is doing here is an opportunity for people who want to become metering agents,” he said.
MSMSL, which is partnering a Chinese firm, produces an average of 1,000 meters daily, sourcing 60 per cent of its raw materials locally, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
Apart from some off-grid customers who are running pilot scheme on power generation and distribution in Lagos, the factory, for now, supplies meters mainly to the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC).
The PHEDC is said to distribute power to some 14 million people (the number could be underestimated, anyway) in the four states of Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River, and Akwa Ibom. According to the MSMSL officials, the company has supplied over 200,000 meters to PHEDC in the past year.
However, despite the efforts of MSML and other meter manufacturers, the shortfall of meters in Nigeria hit 5.3 million as of 2018, according to the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA).
This means many more meters are needed to close the gap. And more money is to be made, too – by the factory in Akwa Ibom and other meter manufacturers in the country.
Our next stop is a fertilizer blending factory in Abak, about 20 kilometres from Uyo, the state capital. It began business in December 2018.
The factory, owned by a U.S-based company, Greenwell Technologies, currently employs 70 workers, all of them from Akwa Ibom.
“At the minimum, we can blend in excess of 2,400 bags every 24 hours using one blender,” Greenwell Technologies’ chief operating officer, Johnny Udo, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“We have two blenders and both blenders can be activated depending on products demand.
“We blend for various customers, including (our) participation in the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI).
“Under the PFI programme, we can only blend NPK 20-10-10, whereas, we are blending 20-10-10, 15-15-15, 12-12-17 +2MgO and specialize blending for other customers in all the 36 states and Abuja.”
The factory sources its raw materials like potash, urea, and sulphate from outside Akwa Ibom, but Mr Udo is hopeful that in the future he would source raw materials from within the state.
But in the meantime, he said, the people of the state could take advantage of the factory by going into production of sacks.
“Just got bags worth N5.2 million from Lagos,” Mr Udo told this reporter while pointing at a pile of sacks at one corner of the factory. “Those bags will be gone in the next two weeks.”
The Chinese too are investing.
A Chinese company, Yiwu International, is building a $25 million international market in Eket, the southern part of Akwa Ibom.
Miao Jing bao, the executive director of Yiwu, told PREMIUM TIMES that the market, which is 60 per cent completed, is 100 per cent Chinese investment.
Mr Jing bao, speaking through an interpreter, said about 5,000 casual workers are employed in the construction work.
When completed, each of the 2,800 shops in the market would be sold for between N3million to N4million, Mr Jing bao said.
He said his company is planning to build a similar market in other parts of the state, as well as a methanol plant and tyre manufacturing plant in Uyo.
A coconut refinery is under construction at Mkpat Enin and is scheduled for completion in April this year.
The refinery, together with its 11,000-hectare coconut plantation, is funded by the state government which is currently shopping for investors for it.
There are palm oil processing mills, palm kernel processing plants, integrated farms, a starch manufacturing facility, a rice mill, and other agro-related factories, several of them wholly owned by private firms, while others are partnerships between the state government and private firms.
One company, Quail Petroleum, has just bought 200 hectares of land for N500million in Uruan Local Government Area and has begun preliminary works on the construction of a refinery and a gas processing plant in the area.
$4.2billion Ibom Deep Seaport Project a game changer.
The Akwa Ibom government is pushing ahead with the $4.2billion Ibom Deep Seaport Project (IDSP) which may be a game changer for the country’s economy when completed.
A French-Chinese consortium, Bollore Africa Logistics-Power China International Group Limited, has been picked as the preferred bidder for the port which is to be constructed on a 14,400-hectare site, as a part of a proposed industrial city. The land for the project was donated by the Akwa Ibom government.
The port is scheduled to commence operation in 2021, according to Mfon Usoro, the head of the technical committee on the Ibom Deep Seaport.
“The IDSP project is intended to become a major national and regional economic gateway that will provide additional container handling capacity for the country,” Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), a federal agency overseeing the project, said on its website.
“In addition to containers, the IDSP is expected to handle petroleum products (export and import), crude oil and natural gas (export), vehicles (import) and bulk trade in natural resources (import and export).
“It is planned to be the deepest port in the West African sub-region,” ICRC added.
In 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) ranked Akwa Ibom second among the nation’s most investment-friendly states. Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, was ranked first.
Akwa Ibom, according to the NBS, attracted $18.361million foreign direct investments (FDI) within the first quarter of 2017.
Factors aiding investments in the state.
The high inflow of investments in the state is believed to have been propelled partly by the foundational infrastructure such as good road network, an airport, an independent power plant, and a five-star hotel built by previous administrations, and partly through the ingenuity and focus of the current governor, Mr Emmanuel.
Mr Emmanuel appeared to have set his eyes from the onset on attracting industries to the state. As he began his tenure in 2015, he set up an ad-hoc committee on foreign direct investments and insulated it from politics and civil service bureaucracy.
The state’s FDI committee chairman, Gabriel Ukpeh, a former PricewaterhouseCoopers employee, told PREMIUM TIMES in Uyo he was willing to work with anybody, including members of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, provided it helps attract industries.
“The state belongs to all of us. Politics will come and go, but the state will remain,” Mr Ukpeh said.
He explained how his committee works.
“An investor comes, says I want to invest in a particular area, we say okay, bring evidence of your financial capability, bring evidence of your technical capability. We look at those. Where do you need the land and what size of land do you need? We bring in the Ministry of Land, we identify the land, and we make sure the land is there.
“We then have to do MoU. We have a lawyer here (in FDI office) who is seconded from the Ministry of Justice. So, they develop the MoU, sent it to the Ministry of Justice for vetting, and then it goes to the governor who authorises the attorney general and the relevant commissioners to sign.
“Investors don’t need to go through the bureaucracy associated with the civil service.”
Mr Ukpeh said the government has so far signed over 200 MoUs with prospective investors, but that the administration does not celebrate MoUs until the government sees “some physical things”.
Reactivation of ailing industries is also on the administration’s plate – one example is the Peacock Paint Factory in Etinan.
Also, the government has found a core investor for a ceramic factory in Itu which had been shut down for several decades.
The investor, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, is working on replacing the old and outdated machinery in the factory, after settling disputes with the host communities.
Taking cognisance of lack of funds as a major impediment to setting up industries, especially among the locals, Governor Emmanuel’s administration set up a mini-industrial estate in Itu where budding industrialists, mostly young people, are using the machinery in the factories to produce goods.
The industrial estate is managed by the Akwa Ibom Enterprise & Employment Scheme (AKEES). It has six cottage industries, including toothpick, pencil, and plastics factories inside it.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the estate in January this year they had in their showroom, fire-proof fibreglass doors, fire-proof corrugated roofing sheets, hydraform bricks, plastic buckets and plastic spoons, forks, and knives, as well as toothpicks and pencils, as some of the products manufactured in the factories.
The government is also using AKEES as a vehicle to get the people involved in its ambitious dream of turning the state into one big green land, of cucumber, watermelon, garbage, lettuce, pepper, radish, and tomato.
Today, several young people in the state, who have taken to farming, have become self-employed and raking in huge profits.
About 2,800 tons of tomatoes are consumed monthly, for instance, in the state, Ufot Ebong, Governor Emmanuel’s aide who oversees the running of AKEES, told PREMIUM TIMES.
This, according to Mr Ebong, translates to N1.3billion monthly! Just for tomato consumption!
The bulk of the tomatoes, Mr Ebong said, are hauled into the state from the northern part of Nigeria, while some are smuggled in from Cameroun.
“After realising this capital flight, if we can grow this thing here and even feed our local market for some time, the money won’t be leaving this state again, it helps in the GDP and then eventually we could become a net exporter of tomato,” Mr Ebong said, while praising the governor for “the agricultural revolution in the state”.
In order to encourage local production of tomatoes, the federal government says it would ban the importation of tomato paste before the end of 2019.
Many people ignorant of the administration’s effort.
Many people in Akwa Ibom seem to be unaware of the administration’s industrialisation efforts.
“To be honest with you, apart from you telling me you’ve visited the syringe factory and other factories, I wouldn’t have believed these things exist. I thought it was the usual lies from people in government,” Patrick Bassey, a pastor and a businessman from the state, who claimed to be a supporter of Governor Emmanuel, said while interacting with the PREMIUM TIMES reporter.
Uwemedimo Udo, a university teacher, told PREMIUM TIMES he had to visit the syringe and the meter manufacturing factories last year just so he could clear personal doubt about their existence.
Franklyn Isong, the publisher of a local paper, Radar, recently took to Facebook to “enlighten” the public about the existence of the coconut refinery after he visited it in November last year.
“Before then, I had people told me the industries did not exist. Even this year, there are people who are still asking ‘where are the industries?’
“You know government in Nigeria is used to saying things and then you get to find out that those things don’t exist. I had the impression that maybe those things were propaganda,” said Mr Udo, who claimed he was neither a supporter of the governor’s party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nor the opposition APC.
Mr Udo said the administration’s media team needed to sensitise the people the more about the new industries in the state.
“I would say the governor has done well to attract the investments, but the question is are these investments state-owned? Does the state government have an equity share in these investments? If yes, what is the percentage of the government shareholding?” Mr Isong said.
Charles Udoh, the Commissioner for Information in the state, told PREMIUM TIMES that the government has done “everything that anybody needs to do” to create awareness about the existence of the industries.
“Just like in every aspect of life, you will find people who, out of laziness, do not even make an effort to find out the true position of things.
“But since you’ve brought this to our notice, we will need to find out where the gaps are, and we need to pluck the gaps,” Mr Udoh said.
The failed plan by the government to attract an automobile plant, as well as build a ranch with 2,000 cows imported from Mexico, have become a bullet opposition politicians are using to shoot at the administration’s claim to industrialisation.
The FDI committee chairman, Mr Ukpeh, told PREMIUM TIMES the Israelis investors who wanted to build the automobile plant came into the state and actually started work, but left the state and the country when “the exchange rate went crazy”.
“Apart from the increase in the exchange rate between naira and dollars, the companies working in Nigeria couldn’t find dollars in the country. These companies were rich in naira, but couldn’t find dollars to buy. So the Israelis investors were afraid if they bring in their investment here, they may not be able to repatriate their money. So, they left,” Mr Ukpeh said.
The proposal to import cows from Mexico was also affected by the exchange rate, he said.
Akwa Ibom People paying dearly for doubt.
Here is an example of how Akwa Ibom people are paying a costly price for their doubt on the existence of the industries in the state.
Bede Anyanwu is an Uyo-based pharmacist who has been using the Akwa Ibom syringe for several months now in his pharmacy in Uyo, the state capital.
The man who supplies him pharmaceutical products, including the syringes, is from Abia state but lives in Lagos.
The supplier travels from Lagos to Akwa Ibom, a distance of about 673.9 kilometres, to purchase the syringes in bulk and then supply them to Mr Anyanwu’s and other pharmacies in Akwa Ibom before taking the rest to Lagos.
He is making brisk business, while Akwa Ibom people, ironically, are complaining of lack of jobs and business opportunities in the state.
“The money is in business, not in politics,” said the CEO of Norfin Offshore, Mr Udonwa. “This is what Akwa Ibom people need to understand.”