By Akanimo Sampson
Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State is advocating for the unbundling of the oil and gas sector of Nigeria in a bid to widen job opportunities, and rapid growth of the country’s economy.
He is also demanding for a petroleum depot to assist his administration re-jig the state economy and open up job opportunities for the army of unemployed youths.
Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reveal that Akwa Ibom has an unemployment rate of 1.14 million people. The state’s underemployed population is about 551,000 people while the unemployment and underemployment rates combined are 66.9%.
Though the Udom administration has angrily rejected the NBS report which listed the state as the second state with the highest unemployment rate in the country, the reality on the ground is that unemployment is a major challenge in the state.
Information and Strategy Commissioner, Ini Ememobong, in a statement said the report calls for serious scrutiny, because it is unbelievable, claiming, ‘’the reality on ground in our state is in contradistinction to the Bureau’s report.’’
However, Akwa Ibom, according to Governor Udom, is sitting on 25% of Nigeria’s oil and gas reserve and therefore deserves the establishment of petroleum related institutions, facilities and establishments.
Adding, he said, ‘’Akwa Ibom is strategically positioned in the Gulf of Guinea, and as such airlines should have no reason going to other West African countries to refuel or service their aircrafts if the Federal Government partners with the state for its rich natural potentials to be effectively utilised.’’
The governor was speaking when the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, and members of the board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), called on him at Government House, Uyo.
Insiders say the visit was a precursor of a strategic retreat by the management of the country’s petroleum industry, holding in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom capital.
Governor Udom described the choice of Uyo as significant, explaining that with the developments at the Victor Attah International Airport, the 21 storey smart building, excellent security, good network of roads and other infrastructure, the state has been repositioned for a strategic role as a logistics centre of the oil and gas sector.
‘’The new terminal building we are currently constructing, has the most latest technology and intelligence facilities and when completed, will rank the best seen anywhere in West Africa’’, the governor says.
Underlying the need for partnership for modular refineries, he said, ‘’modular refineries or petrochemicals should be totally liberated from whatever could be the bottlenecks to create more job opportunities and stimulate a whole lot of economic activities.’’
He then appealed to his visitors to look into the vast untapped opportunities in the oil and gas sector with a view to unbundling it for job and wealth creation.
Earlier, Sylva intimated the governor that they chose Akwa Ibom for their retreat because of the peaceful, scenic environments and rich cultural heritage of the people.
Sylva, who described Akwa Ibom as his second home, being an in-law of the state, commended the governor and his people for the peace and developments so far recorded, explained that Abuja was committed to revamping the refineries in country and assured that work on the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt refinery will commence very soon.
‘’The team and I went to River State to look at the Port Harcourt refineries, we have promised this country that we will rehabilitate at least one of these refineries within the shortest possible time.
“We visited the Port Harcourt refinery because the programme rehabilitation is about to begin and we hope that work on Port Harcourt refinery will start first quarter next year”, the minister said.
Though the minister did not make any commitment on the governor’s demands, he, however, announced at a gala night that government will build a petroleum depot and an oil and gas facility in the state.
The event was organised by the state government in honour of the visitors who were in the state for a major oil and gas sector retreat.
The minister, who praised Governor Udom for his efforts at maintaining peace and security in Akwa Ibom announced that Abuja has approved the immediate establishment of an oil and gas logistics facility in the state, pointing out that their visit was a response to the governor’s efforts in maintaining peace and security/
‘’We want to send a message to the rest of the states, that there is something to be gained in maintaining peace. Few concerns were raised on the choice of Akwa Ibom for our retreat, but politics was not part of the consideration.
‘’I have the full support of NNPC to announce to you that we are very interested to partner with you to build a base here. It will be the first here. As we go back, work will start in ernest. Mr President has already helped by signing a free trade zone status for that area.
‘’We are happy that we came here. We had very fruitful deliberations and we were very satisfied. We went all the way to Ibaka, a very interesting and painstaking journey. Some people in my team were excited because it was a rare experience using the boats’’, Sylva says.
He also announced approval for a partnership deal for the establishment of a petroleum depot by NNPC, and accordingly urged Governor Udom to set up a team to work with NNPC in drawing up modalities for the collaboration.
On the 21 Storey Smart Building being executed by the governor, he said NNPC was already considering taking some aspects of the corporation for accommodation in the building, maintaining that President Muhammadu Buhari does not play politics with development, hence his initiatives in Akwa Ibom, despite being a PDP state.
While thanking the governor for his support to his family during his father in law’s funeral events held in March this year at Eket, the minister added, ‘’we request that you cooperate with the President so that the weight of governance on him would be lighter.’’
Udom had expresed appreciation for the planned NNPC oil and gas logistics centre for the state, proposing that the groundbreaking be done in September to mark the state’s 33rd anniversary.
While commending the delegation for the stress in going all the way to assess the site at Ibaka, the governor also disclosed that President Buhari approved a 50,000 hectare oil and gas free trade zone in Akwa Ibom and urged the minister to partner with the state for the 540 megawatts Qua Iboe Power Plant project.
He demanded for the relocation of multinational oil giants, ExxonMobil to its host state, and pointed out that his administration has done a lot including building a 21 storey intelligence building named Dakkada Towers, and housing estates which could effectively serve the company and its workers.
“I want the minister to make just a statement, and ExxonMobil will be here. They are not safer where they are than in Akwa Ibom. Akwa Ibom is peaceful. We are ready to support their relocation. Mobil is a very difficult corporate citizen but the Minister can give them the directive to come here.
“They process over 15billion barrel from our shores and that alone should propel them. They don’t have such excellent production anywhere else in the world’’, Udom said, and also expressed his readiness to provide support ranging from land and electricity, for an NNPC depot in the state.
While faulting the NBS statistics of unemployment for the state, the governor announced that a car assembling and manufacturing plant and other projects gearing up in the state will generate more massive employment opportunities for the state.
Meanwhile, the visitors expressed appreciation to the governor and the peoples of the state for the warm reception accorded them on their arrival in the state.