Gov Emmanuel Wants Permanent Solution To The Flood Problem At IBB Avenue

…The  New Science Park Will Be An Incubator For Our Youths And Inventors Who Have shown Capacity In Development




As a medic, his approach to issues is simply clinical. Dr. Iniobong Ene Essien, Honourable Commissioner for Science and Technology, Akwa Ibom State is a very diligent person and gives his best to issues.

This trait, coupled with his humble disposition has seen him forge ahead with counts of successes wherever service demand takes him to. Perhaps, this accounted for his appointment as a physician to a state governor for eight years and subsequently as a member of the Akwa Ibom State Executive Council since 2015. As the then Commissioner for Environment and Natural Resources, he catapulted the performance index of the ministry in line with the visions of his principal, Governor Udom Emmanuel.

As a man always on a mission to deliver an assigned task, Dr. Essien is set to deliver on the governor’s dream in the science and technology ministry with the unveiling of Ibom Blue Sea Science and Industrial Park, the new face and bigger version of the earlier envisioned but abandoned Ibom Science Park conceived by a former regime. This and other issues dominated Crystal Express exclusive interview with him on Monday, November 18, 2019. Excerpts:

Let us meet you sir

I must start with commending the quality of your publication and the content. I thank you people for coming into the media space in Akwa Ibom State and your spread to other states of the south-south geo-political zone in the service of our people. My name is Dr. Iniobong Ene Essien, a medical doctor by profession. I have worked in the Nigerian Security, Printing and Minting Plc for 22 years before I returned into other public service.

I served the immediate past governor of the state as senior special assistant on medicals and personal physician to the governor, His Excellency, Senator Godswill Akpabio. Arising from that service Governor Udom Emmanuel also found me fit to serve in his cabinet first as Commissioner of Environment and Mineral Resources in the first four years and now as commissioner in the Ministry of Science and Technology. I am married with four children. They are graduates also doing well in their own various fields of endeavours.

My dear wife, a great pillar of support, is the proprietress of a private school. I want to express special gratitude to Governor Emmanuel for finding me fit to serve in his second term.

You had an eventful service at the Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources but not without challenges like flood, landslide and erosion which still persist till date. What modest efforts did you make there?

Let me start with flood issues. Through the governor’s support we got enrolled into the Nigeria Environment and Water Shed Management known as NewMap and we have several gains from that project which are still unfolding. One of them is the major gully erosion site; a gully that was so frightening which if the World Bank and NewMap had not intervened, the whole of Nwaniba by now would have been gone because the erosion was massive. The emergency intervention was put in place through the support of the governor who released the counterpart funding to embark on an action plan which included resettlement of people who were at the verge of the erosion site and some whose houses were already caving into the gully erosion.

Some of them were not only resettled with money to get new houses, they were equally given money to start new business or continue in the business they were doing. That is the whole essence of the World Bank resettlement action plan which they refuse to call compensations known in the common parlance. The World Bank terms are resettlement action plan. That means both your livelihood and the immediate environment under threat would be repackaged in such a way that you lose nothing. If you go to the neighborhood today, the beneficiaries will tell you wonderful stories of their experiences. The ravine at St. Luke Hospital, Anua is one in which the World Bank has also given approval for the final intervention. We have even procured the contractor and in the next few weeks the entire package will be made public and the contractor mobilized to site. The other topical issue is the flooding at the IBB Avenue in Uyo. The IBB flood control site is a sore point which the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel is so concerned about. I remember the governor during my time in the Ministry of Environment always asking me about the site. Happily, we took concrete steps. First the design control project which is about 7km drain will span from Uyo through Ibesikpo Asutan to Nsit Ubium local government areas with both the underground and open drainage and a discharge point where you will have a better redesigned outfall to avoid causing disaster there. The essence is to ensure that we don’t solve a problem in one part of the state and then create a problem for people in the other parts of the state. That is being put in place and my successor in office is following up. Very recently, the procurement process for contractors that will embark on the actual construction is almost concluded. I was there at the bid opening ceremony where several big companies bidded for the job. I want Akwa Ibom people to understand that we are not looking for a quick solution to the IBB Avenue flood problem but a final solution that will have a number of catchment areas also eased of flood challenges. This covers the IBB Avenue and its environs and the catchment areas from Esuene Street to Ukana Offot Street to Atan Offot Village to Atiku Abubakar Avenue and most importantly the Idongesit Nkanga State Secretariat.

These are areas once the drainage structures are put in place, they will be deflooded. The governor has done so much already in deflooding so many areas and our people seems to have short memories; forgeting problems once solutions comes. It is on record that the ‘river’ once standing on two lanes by Methodist Church is no longer there through the governor’s intervention. The same issue with Uruan Street by Oron Road which was fixed during the Victor Attah’s administration. It was same experience at Itam Junction and the last administration used the pipe jacking system to take away the flood. I am recalling these because of subsequent challenges and once they are addressed people forget immediately. It will be a joke if anyone thinks that there is a one-way solution to the flood problem in Akwa Ibom State. However, it is being tackled gradually with the zeal the governor has shown in addressing the problems.

The gully at Udo Inwang Street, Nwanaiba is threatening the entire neighbourhood including the palace of the village head of the area. What is government doing about it?

Before I left the ministry, the governor had given me approval for involvement and what we are waiting for is the signing of the contract for intervention in the place. That same place I have done some designs and submitted to the Ecological Fund office. I have also brought the former Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr. Okechukwu Enelema, when he came in to represent the President on some flood control project in Eket. He came, captured it and promised to take the report to Abuja. I also brought the then Minister of Environment, Mrs. Amina Mohammed here when she came for some oversight function in the state. The world is aware of the problem at that site and what we are waiting for now is the solution and I believe it is around the corner with the approval of the Governor for contract to be awarded for intervention. There is succor on the way for the people because it is a major threat. There are so many erosion sites in the state and one of the things we did while I was at the ministry was to capture and document all of them and there are over a thousand of such erosion sites across the 31 local government areas of the state.

We actually captured the location and mapped them longitude/latitude so that any interested member of the public can actually goggle and see them. There is a book we published and it is called: A Thousand Erosion Sites in Akwa Ibom State. The solution will cost a lot and therefore we are seeking support from all quarters through the Federal Government Ecological Fund, NewMap and others to even come and do remedial measures to avoid a disaster. We have noticed that some of these problems are caused by indiscriminate dumping of refuse. Some people believe that wherever you see a ravine, that is the best place for waste disposal. Secondly, people are also building where they shouldn’t build. You are aware that we have some natural ravines in the state which have existed for so long without problem only to have gully erosion arising from there. The answer is the human components that have intervened in those places. Some have taken away the natural protective covering of the soil, some have cut down trees that would have acted as a break from water runoffs and thereby creating gully erosion. Thirdly, which is important, is the improper termination of drainages across the state. The problem along Calabar-Itu Road by Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation (AKBC) is a fallout of improper termination of drainages by the contractor. The best way to terminate drainage is to take it to the bed where the discharge is located. Our soil is very soft and once water soaks it, it breaks off and no matter the level of concrete you have, if there is no support base, after a while, they will give away. Luckily the state government is already intervening on the Calabar-Itu Road project.

You managed waste disposal before the coming of the board. Are you worried that the vision of the government on the issues of waste management is yet to be achieved?

We did the best we could during my stay at the Ministry of Environment and if I am to score myself on the realization of things I set out to achieve, I will give myself 60 per cent which means we have a lot to still achieve, one of which is the ultimate issue of waste management which is recycling of waste. Recycling is the ultimate thing with a number of value chains. One, it generates a lot of revenue; secondly, you won’t need to chase people to properly dispose their waste, because knowing they will make money with their waste, they will be the one chasing you to benefit from their waste. Thirdly, is the issue of equipment to manage waste properly. At some point, we ran short of vehicles, receptacles, dumpsters among others. The arrangement of recycling must still be pursued. I am happy to disclose that before my exit from there we signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a company PSI solutions to do recycling and the process is still on which I believe the agency should pursue and take to a conclusive end. Once that is achieved, that means that 90 per cent of what we set as target in that sector has been realized. Waste management is a dynamic thing in the sense that the industrialisation agenda of the governor is attracting investors, tourists and indigenes into the state and that translate into increased waste generation. If you observed, the Airport Road never had illegal dumps; but if you visit there today, you will see a number of satellite dumps on both sides making the management more difficult. It is also a function of the development taking place in that axis. It is the movement of people to a state or destination that is evolving. Even the Ibom Air is also having its own part in the issue of waste generation because of the number of people trooping to the state and the value chain is endless. It is also impacting on the waste management prompting the idea of new strategies to cope with the waste.

During the time I managed the environmental sanitation, I took it to a level where the residents looked forward to the last Saturday of the month. Some sat back on the day with families and cleaned their immediate environment. Even on the days we don’t restricts movements, people still stayed at home to keep their environment clean. We did the best we could and I believe that those that have taken over will be able to achieve more for the development of the state. It is a collective responsibility in which all hands will be on deck to chart a course in which the issue will be to the benefit of the state.

Today you are in charge of Science and Technology Ministry. How has it been so far?

In the Science and Technology Ministry, it has been so far, so good. I wish to thank the governor for the opportunity given me to serve in this ministry. Arising from the last budget, you could see that information communication technology (ICT), a component of Science and Technology, will be the tool to drive industrialization in terms of job creation and job generation. Once we harness the human resources component properly within the state, we should be able to drive industrialization the Governor is bringing to the state. Don’t forget that ICT is the language the industrialization understands. I believe that the Governor’s interest here informs my being sent to this ministry to ensure that his vision for science and technology is achieved.

So far we are encouraging our youths into ICT, web development, web design and we are training youths in these areas. In the one we did last, 200 people were involved. I am happy to say that about 25 of them got employment instantly. Another 25 is in the training. We have others too who have already gotten employment outside the state. The good thing about it is the exposure it gives to our youths and the needed confidence to stand on their own globally. We also have programmes in which we set up computer laboratories in schools and we have about 10 schools across the three senatorial districts of the state.

Again, I must also report that in one of the schools, an albino came top in the CBT exams. This is the first time students in their final year have a feel of what computer was and practiced on them before going for exams. It will surprise you that some of our brilliant students do not know just how to “submit” after writing their computer based exams. Some have answered all the questions but can’t just submit which earned them failure. We need to do a lot in that direction to increase the awareness of our students. Even some teachers have not operated satisfactorily and the governor has given us approval to take care of the issue. We will give more schools computer systems.

Information is rife that the Ibom Science Park project will soon be flagged off. Give us more insight?

I am happy to tell you that plans are under way with a reputable foreign firm, a Chinese company, to develop the science park. We have gone quite far in the arrangements. They have made a proposal of what the science park will look like and soonest the project will kick start. We are looking at December 19, 2019 for the ground breaking ceremony. About 176 hectares of land have been acquired. The component of what will be done and the concept of the science park include developing even the existing structure at the science park which we will use as part of skill acquisition centre. There will be primary, secondary schools and a university; all technology based located in the centre. The complex of that nature will also become an incubator for a number of our youths, and inventors who have shown capacity in various fields of development and who require support to advance their ideas. Suh persons which enjoy the technical advice of experts to expand their knowledge under the close watch of researchers who will look into what they propose and see how it would be fine-tuned and properly actualized. The new science park will also be a place where a number of applications will be designed to help us solve problems.

The science park will be named Ibom Blue Sea Science and Industrial Park. Our partners in this gigantic project, is Blue Sea International Holding Group Company Limited of China. The company is investing substantially in the project.

The component of the Ibom Blue Sea Science and Industrial Park will further include a hotel and settlement for workers. It will have a hydropower plant to supplement whatever comes from public power supply. There will also be an export free zone. Goods that are manufactured there will be duty free to encourage more manufacturers to come. Once this is done, a number of big companies will come in. But we need to take the development to a certain level before any of those companies will come from the date of commencement of work. They are proposing 12 months to complete the first phase. The Governor has given his full backing and support towards the realisation of the project. The science park will create employment and generate revenue and put Akwa Ibom at the centre stage of ICT and technology development.

Please throw more light on the issue of funding.

Blue Sea is largely funding the project. They will be underwriting 1.5 billion Euros for the project. The state will provide basic infrastructure and the enabling environment. In addition to electricity, water and land, the funding of the construction will be done by Blue Sea. The project is massive and will take between three to four years before completion.

You mention an establishment of a university there or will it be by affiliation?

Whatever goes on there will have linkage with universities that we have within the catchment areas and beyond. There will be affiliation to universities in China and the local universities will have direct link with what goes on there. It is also an avenue to harness the human potentials that we have towards achieving some set goals.

How would the project impact on the lives of the people?

There will be a chain reaction in every aspect of the economy providing both direct and indirect jobs in many areas. The revenue generation to the state will be massive, the job generation will come in various levels. The ICT level will involve young engineers who will be part of the construction.

Where will Akwa Ibom be in the next few years for embracing science and technology?

With the arrival of this project, I can see Akwa Ibom in the forefront of technology advancement in the country; I can see Akwa Ibom become a major hub in the West African region. I can see Akwa Ibom attract a number of industries both in the ICT and other areas. Once we achieve power stability as being addressed by the Governor, every other thing will fall in place.

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