Akwa Ibom State has embarked on the establishment of a motor vehicle assembly plant in Itu, one of its major cities, for the assembling of luxury cars, ambulances and fire trucks in the state. The state governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, said the project was a component of the state’s industrialization policy which started with the administration of immediate past governor, Godswill Akpabio.
Under Akpabio, Akwa Ibom launched a 4-year Industrialization Road Map (2011-2015) with a policy thrust of harnessing “the natural resources and endowments in Akwa Ibom State, including its teeming and vibrant population, which provides both the labour pool and the local market for products consumption.”
In order to give effect to the Road Map, enabling institutional environment conducive to growth and investment was put in place through strategic Public- Private Partnership (PPP) initiative. This included a proposal for the existence of a vibrant financial services sector, and insistence on Rule of Law, which ensures that contracts can be enforced, and guarantee political stability, security and social order.
The state also laid emphasis on safe and secure business environment; and took practical steps that led to the restructuring of Akwa Ibom Investment and Industrial Promotion Council (AKIIPOC), which gave birth to the Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation. The Corporation is a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) established to facilitate creation of an economy that is viable, self-reliant and sustainable.
It was on this platform that the new administration plans to establish the vehicle assembly plant which is the first in the geo-political zone; and this move is commendable for various reasons.
First, it is in line with the National Industrial Revolution Plan, NIRP, launched by former President Goodluck Jonathan in February 2014 .The NIRP was aimed to ”fast-track industrialization, accelerate inclusive economic growth, job creation, transform Nigeria’s business environment and stop the drain on our foreign reserves caused by importing what we can produce locally.”
Well implemented, it will fast-track the development of the steel sector which has been on the drawing board for many years. The sector includes the production of primary and secondary aluminum products, cold rolled coils, wire rods and enamelware.
It also encompasses steel pipes, galvanized iron, nail wire and others. Though, the project involves mainly the assembly of Completely Knocked Down (CKD) parts, it will no doubt involve the supply of other inputs that fall under small-enterprise category such as electrical materials, consumables, and other locally-sourced raw materials.
It will therefore add fillip to the development of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) which is the engine room of every economy. We therefore expect that the establishment of the assembly plant would lead to increased empowerment of the people of Akwa Ibom in particular and Nigeria in general.
We urge the state government to work in conjunction with the Ministry of Trade and Investment to ensure appropriate policy framework that would make the project a reality, and elevated to the platform of sustainable economic agent to contribute to the country’s industrial development. There is also need to invest massively in skill acquisition for Nigerians who would be required to work in the assembly plant.
A well-articulated plan of technological transfer should be put in place to ensure that the expatriates involved in running the plant engage Nigerians who would understudy them and eventually take over from them. We advise strongly that the Ikot Abasi independent power plant constructed by Akpabio administration to generate at least 685 megawatts of power to the national power system is completed soon. The plant, in its first phase, is generating about 85 megawatts of power.
Akwa Ibom should learn from similar projects across the country which failed to deliver the dividend of high expectation on them. It is on record that previous vehicle assembly plants conceived and established by the federal government are today mere case studies of brilliant initiatives that died before attaining the height of economic relevance.
Government-conceived projects in Nigeria hardly succeed because of political interference. Gov. Emmanuel should drive project on a strict business platform that would ensure the objectives are realized in the shortest possible time. We also advise the state governor to liaise with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other relevant agencies to ensure that qualified and suitable Nigerians whose businesses are related to the project, are involved. They should be given the opportunity of benefiting from various government intervention funds to enable them to render relevant services to the plant. The state government should also work out a partnership arrangement with the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria, ALSCON, which has experienced prolonged hiccup in its operations, to offer services to the assembly plant in a manner that would ensure mutual economic benefits to both parties. For the project to succeed it must be detached from the intra-ethnic squabble that characterize socio-political activities in the state. The success of the project is the wish of all Nigerians.