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Tuesday, 05 December 2023 07:15

[OPINION] The Lure Of Akwa Ibom - Sheddy Ozoene

For several reasons, Akwa Ibom State has emerged as the destination of choice for tourism in Nigeria. The capital city of Uyo is the preferred venue for conferences and retreats by corporate organizations, social clubs, government and non-governmental organizations, just as individuals visiting for business and leisure.

It was exciting when the Nigerian Guild of Editors also chose that city for the 2023 edition of the All Nigerian Editors Conference. It was for many of us, one more opportunity to explore the state and the attractions of its burstling capital.

Nigerian Senators had just concluded their retreat in the city and we arrived midway into the conference by the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations. It was also the week Nigeria’s national footbal team, the Super Eagles played Lesotho for the African Cup qualifiers and players, officials and fans milled around the city and its hospitality outfits. At the Ibom Icon Hotel where we stayed, we had to leave a day early because other organizations had the place fully booked ahead of time. That was a glimpse into the flurry of activities in the state capital within a few days.

Much has been said about the serenity of the state and the level of its infrastructural development. While several factors come into play as the reason the state has witnessed such amazing transformation within a relatively short period, it is easy to conclude that the consistent pattern it has maintained – in politics and in governance – is the major aspect.

Gov Umo Eno

From Victor Attah, the architect who literally redesigned the state as governor between 1999 and 2007, to Godswill Akpabio who carried out the state’s uncommon transformation from 2007 to 2015, and Udom Emmanuel who unleashed the state as an emerging industrial hub from 2015 to 2023, Akwa Ibom State has not deviated from the same trajectory of visionary development in 24 years. While it’s leaders have had their fair share of individual differences and political disagreements, they have refused to be distracted from the real issues of the state’s development.

As far as that vision goes, the present Governor, Pastor Umo Eno is a chip off the same old block. His ARISE Agenda is new but it is an equally ambitious governance blueprint that puts accent on Agricultural Revolution, Rural Development, Infrastructural Maintenance, Security Management and Educational Advancement. In our encounters during the Guild conference that lasted 5 days, one could feel his deep passion to build on the success of his predecessors, or possibly surpass it.

A good salesman, Umoh will proudly fill up every meeting with enticing tales about Akwa Ibom, from the mundane to the esoteric. In one case, he started with gastronomy and regaled us on how their culinary prowess has elevated edikang-ikong, vegetable soup, affang, fisherman soup etc, to high art. The next minute he moved to elevated matters of the economy and civil aviation and how Ibom Air is growing at a phenomenal rate as the nation’s leading airline. It would soon take delivery of new jets to service the newly-introduced regional routes in West Africa as well as Central and South African routes.

Many things make Akwa Ibom attractive for individuals and businesses. It boasts one of the best road networks of any sub-national in the country; it has a thriving commercial airline, enviable secondary healthcare facilities and the government has created a full- fledged Ministry of Internal Security and Waterways to further enhance safety in the state that already enjoys relative all-round security. Importantly, the people are not only hospitable, the government policies are business-friendly. These count as major drivers of its multi-faceted growth.

Visitors don’t just savour Akwa Ibom state’s famous cuisine, they enjoy its rich culture and inviting hospitality that is on display everywhere. It has some of the best resorts and leisure centres and the much publicised ‘happy hour’ has also become another selling point. Just like the elaborate Christmas celebrations in December during which all 31 LGAs take a day to showcase its unique culture and dance.

Though the state’s tourism industry is booming, the present administration is still investing heavily in this sector, which is why it remains a key part of the ARISE Agenda. Beyond tourism, it is equally focused on driving development in many other areas. The Godswill Akpabio football stadium in Uyo is such a magnificent edifice that can compete with any other across the world. It hosts the spectacular Christmas carol and is the national team handlers’ preferred turf for their continental engagements.

For a state whose economy, until 1999, was based mainly around the production of crude oil, the steady movement towards tourism and cultural development is spectacular. Uyo and the nearby Ikot Ekpene have grown as twin cities famous for their landmark hospitality industries. While Uyo has the massive Ibom Icon Hotel, Ikot Ekpene hosts the magnificent Four Point by Sheraton. Other areas are developing their own unique attractions and cultural landmarks. When one adds the series of industrial concerns springing up in many other areas of the state, it will be easy to project into the beauty the future holds.

In the past decade, the state has also become an emerging industrial hub as investors take advantage of its abundant natural endowments and business-friendly policies. The Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Company, in operation since September 2017, presently produces 400 million units of syringes annually with the capacity to hit the one billion landmark for national need and for export.

The Electricity Metering Solutions Services Limited has production capacity for six million meters annually, for supplies to Nigeria’s electricity distribution companies while the state has succeeded in obtaining federal government approval for the proposed Liberty Oil and Gas Free Zone, with a refinery to process and export virgin coconut oil and other economic products like palm kernel oil.

There are a dozen other major investments in the agricultural sector that are transforming the state’s landscape.

The prospects for Akwa Ibom are indeed high and stand as a case study for other states in Nigeria. The state’s success story didn’t just happen overnight; it is a testament to what good planning and consistency in government policy can do.

  • First published in Sunday Telegraph
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