Mr. Ephraim Inyang-Eyen, Akwa Ibom state commissioner for works in this interview with Tony Okoh shed more lights on some agitating issues surrounding the activities of the state Government among others.
Information has it that billions of Naira spent by the last administration on federal roads in the state has been refunded, how much came in?
Let me take it from this angle, if we are currently doing 40 road projects in Akwa Ibom State and Federal Government has refunded one kobo to us, we would be doing 80 new roads. Federal Government is owing Akwa Ibom State about 140 billion Naira from genuine approvals and when we met over the matter they agreed after verifications to pay the first tranche of 70 billion naira pending the completion of other ongoing jobs, but as we speak now not a dime have been refunded. We are still hopeful as the state Government keep getting assurances from Abuja that the money will be paid. The Governor was able to do so much because of prudent management of resources, for instance before now so much funds have been wasted through payment of compensations but presently we have eliminated the middle men and compensations money goes directly to the beneficiaries.
Again through prudent management, funds earmarked for compensations of properties are now reviewed to the barest acceptable level leaving more funds for the actual road constructions. The secret of the ongoing massive road construction is the prudent and transparent management of funds at our disposal. The Governor is so keen on doing more for the people that rumour of abandoned projects been peddled by critics is unfounded. we are doing massive 45 internal roads in Uyo alone. some are at stone base level, while others are completed.
Inyang Eyen, Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for works
Talking of abandoned projects, the two major roads always on peoples’ mind are the Uyo – Ikot Ekpene road and Enwang – Etebi road started by the immediate past administration, what is their fate?.
It was not just that two we, we inherited Eket – Ibeno road leading to ExxonMobil QIT which we have finished and nobody is talking about it anymore. It was a 20km of dualized road. The only snag there was that the ExxonMobil said they contributed 8 billion on the road construction which I debunked. The 8 billion naira was the palliatives meant to be paid to the core communities of Ibeno, Esit Eket, Onna and Eket communities for oil spills from their platform. Eket – Etinan road was also inherited at almost zero points but if you take a ride through it, you will enjoy yourself. Now to your question, Etebi – Enwang was not abandoned but not funded for a season. There was a contractor and technical partner involved in the project making it difficult to know who to hold responsible but we have resolved the issues, now we have one line of communication. God helping us that road will be commissioned soon without the bridge because the bridge which is 1.1km will take more time to be completed, however, Work is ongoing at the road project site now. It gets me amazed when people say that Uyo – Ikot Ekpene road has been abandoned when Emmanuel’s administration came on board, the job was still ongoing, the problem was that the contractors could not bring down buildings on the right of way because monies early earmarked for compensation have been exhausted. We were not in a hurry to jump into the issue because compensation is a delicate thing. We have to take time to verify who was paid and who was not paid. However, we have started paying compensation along the road again and work has since resume even as we are talking payment of compensation is ongoing there. If people have said that the work was not going at maximum speed, I would have agreed but that it was abandoned was absolutely false.
You talked about eliminating middlemen in the payment of compensation, why did you do that and how are you handling the outcome of that decision?
When the Governor sent me to this ministry, he made it clear that everything surrounding compensation must be made open and transparent and every loophole sealed. Before now, the valuer was the one who pays and we stopped that. Again, the issues of compensation was transferred from Ministry of Lands to Ministry of Works so that once we pay we take the right of way. So we got valuers which we call consultants and ask them to go and value and send the report to us, then we in the Ministry will go for verification filming and documentation. We take time to see if what they did is in the tandem with best practices because if you value a bungalow for 20 million and one story building for 15 million, we will question your professional integrity. Then we will send the valuers report to a new consultant, the payment consultant who will go round and ensure that all the recorded codes on properties are genuine before payments are made directly to property owners under video and still camera coverage. The beneficiary and about five people will sign to authenticate the process. The five people include the beneficiary, his witness, consultant contractors etc.
Using this more transparent process, we eliminated middlemen who strived to truncate what we are doing but failed not even their petitions and blackmails could stop us. The process have made those advised to take us to court to see no justifiable reason to do so. What this new system had succeeded in doing is to ensure that if one person is entitled to 1 naira for his property he gets his money directly without a third party and that too save more money for the Government. It is not business as usual here.
As the administration began payments of compensation along the new dualized Uyo – Etinan and Etinan – Ndonuyo roads for structures, we observed sudden Emergence of over 200 shrines, graveyards, and tombstones along the said roads, where compensations paid too for them?
In fact, even most buildings we saw along Etinan – Ndonuyo and Uyo – Etinan roads emerged too overnight because the buildings were without foundations, some are mere block work without doors and windows and many without roofs. What we did was to demolish all. Along Awa – Ukat – Asom in Mkpat Enin Local Government Area, we have over 1000 tombstones and shrines along there and we were asked to pay one million each, we wiped all of them out without paying a dime. We don’t pay compensation for such things.
People who buried their dead along the right of way, more than 20 years ago asked us to pay for the tombstones, we don’t pay for such things. We only pay for genuine buildings. The entire land within the state belongs to Government. If for instance you bought a land for 100 million naira and have a structure of 4 million naira on it, when Government needs the land for overriding public interest, we pay for the cost of the structure, the land reverts to Government. The money belongs to Akwa Ibom people and must be prudently managed and accounted for. For all we are doing, we do to justify our conscience because God is watching and people are watching too.
Talking about the impact made on the lives of the citizens by the Government through your ministry, can we know them?
Well in Uyo, the state capital, about 45 roads are ongoing we are doing massive road networks in the city in such a way that you don’t need to come to the major roads to get to your destination. We are also remodeling Oro nation, over 8 roads have been done in the first instance called emergency intervention. When the Governor commissioned the first set of roads, he ordered for a second intervention with an additional 8 roads and massive erosion, intervention in the area. We hope to commission the second phase during the third anniversary of the Governor’s administration.
Again, we are intervening in a major ravine in Oron which is threatening major households within the vicinity. Go to Eket city today and see from Atabong road up to the post office, you will see the remodeling beauty of the city. The phase two will go up to marina area of the Eket. The problem here is that the job is not as fast as I wanted because there when people received their compensations to vacate their buildings, they still foot-drag slowing the pace of work. They make us look like bad people who came to take away their properties. Today eight major roads are under construction in Eket and we have added additional 8 roads, making it 16 roads going on in Eket. People will ask what of Ikot Ekpene, we all know that the area benefitted immensely from the immediate past administration. So what we are trying to do is raise the status of other Senatorial Headquarters too, like Eket, Oron, and Uyo. So rather than concentrating on Ikot Ekpene, we move into other areas under the district like Ini, Ikono, Obot Akara, Oruk Anam council areas etc, to give those communities a sense of belonging too.
Do you think that Governor Emmanuel has done enough to deserve a second term?
Yes! Akwa Ibom people will massively vote Governor Udom Emmanuel for many reasons, Emmanuel has tried to reach out to communities yearning for development over the years. For example, Ini Local Government Area has not had a road since 1999 but the Government has not just given them a good road, but one that links the state through Obotme to Arochukwu in Abia State over 14.7km with a bridge. Today you can drive from Akwa Ibom to Arochukwu in Abia State very comfortably courtesy of Governor Emmanuel. Now go to Obot Akara Local Government Area which was neglected, Emmanuel has taken dividends of democracy to them too. When the former Deputy Governor Engr Ekpeyong appealed to the Governor that their roads are impassable with children unable to go to schools again, he responded with a 6.41km of roads with 2 bridges linking the area to Enwere Azu in Abia State. You can now access our neighboring states through there.
Inyang eyen making a point during the interview
The truth is that many communities crying for neglect before now are smiling with good road networks. Mkpat Enin Local Government Area has also benefitted immensely. Akwa Ibom people will vote Governor Emmanuel because development have spread to every nook and cranny of the state. People get projects because they truly need them and not out of political consideration. In Oruk Anam council area, four new roads are ongoing. In Akwa State University Obio Akpa campus, the 5.1km road is under construction and the entire community has been linked up. People want good road network and they have been given that by the Governor. Economics 101 states that for you to have industries, you need good road network for accessibility to the source of road materials and to evacuate goods. we have dualized roads from Airport road to Okopedi in Okobo council area, from there we got CCECC firm to break through a thick forest to do another 15km road to Uya- Oro, the terminal port of the East-West road. From Uyo, we are talking a dualized road from Ikot Oku Ikono to Etinan, to the right there is a dualized road that is going to Ndonuyo to East-West road, and to the left, through Etinan Institute there is another dualized road that empties you to remodeled Eket town. We are about to award Abak – Ekparakwa – Eket road. These will give people many options into the state without any hassles. If you are a voter and a Governor in two and half years achieved all these in one sector, then you will agree with me that the Governor has genuine vision for the state. My Governor should be the best Governor in road infrastructure in Nigeria.
How about the durability of the roads?
100%! I will say, we know that a Federal government agency has been doing road below our expected standards and I confronted them and advised them to raise the standards. Therefore, I will not do what I have earlier protested against. The roads we do will last between 20 – 25 years minimum. They are done very well. The major reasons roads don’t last in these tropical rain forest belt is because of lack of side drainages.
Under Governor Emmanuel, even the roads in rural areas have drains on both sides of the roads. After every rainfall, there should be a process of the rainwater going through the drain channels to outfall drains for water to discharge.
We are doing quality jobs and that is why we can confront any agency doing jobs below expectation here.
One good thing today is that when Emmanuel goes for campaign in every community to scout for votes, he will have projects to show the people in each community. He is a promise keeper.
I hope you people are aware that the ring road two is under construction and will help access from Udo Udoma to Abak road to further ease traffic and that work will soon commence on ring road three which will take people off Airport road straight to Nwaniba and Le Meridien Hotel, you wouldn’t need to come into the main city anymore. There is every hope that ring road four will also come on stream soon.
And you are doing most of these roads with local contractors…?
Yes! I am proud to say it because I have come to realize that materials like red earth, stone base, asphalt and equipment used for road constructions are the same. Anybody can bring in a white skin man if he so desires. I came and saw that indigenous contractors were discriminated against and the Governor said we should use them and prove a point. He started with smaller jobs and many jobs given to them were done very well. All they want is, give them the job, the resources and a free hand to work. For the indigenous contractors in Akwa Ibom, they have performed very well because the Governor gave them the enabling environment to do their job.
The truth is that all the machines used in construction are globally standardized equipment, while other materials used are sourced from our communities here. In fact, between 95-98% of the entire workforce of the so-called foreign multi-national firms are our people. Go to the big construction firms, white men are the project manager and the rest of the people on the project are our people. So this idea of discriminating against the indigenous contractors does not go well with me. About 12 of the roads we recently commissioned were all done by the indigenous contractors. One good thing about them is that they are committed to the state project. Sometimes they do raise money on their own when we don’t have funds immediately, to commence work on some of these projects. It is on record that notwithstanding all the foreign construction firms who have benefited from here, none has done corporate social responsibility projects for the people. But one of the indigenous contractors, Hensek Engineering Services headed by Engr. Uwem Okoko, who did the 4.6km Nung Ukim road, chose over 200 youths after working in their community for empowerment with various sums of money. He gave the community a Town Hall, borehole projects, and generators. Today, the community is more like a city than a rural area. The first CRS done by a construction firm here is done by indigenous contractor. Thus I will personally want to patronize them, to discourage capital flight and have them re-invest their profits into our communities to help Government develop the state.
You said good roads attracts industrialization and you have done that across the state, but the Governor’s country home is the major beneficiary of most of the new industries coming to the state why?
First and foremost, I want to tell you that Onna council area where the Governor hails from so far have the least of the newly constructed roads across the state.
The bulk of the new roads closest to onna council area which criss- cross the Governor’s community is in the neighboring Mkpat Enin Local Government Area. You see one of the things we need to understand in life sometimes is that if a person is violent, he may not be confronted, but will be avoided.
There is this mistake in our communities that when they see strangers, they will start to make unnecessary demands. If an investor comes around and find good road networks in different local government areas, what he considers next is conducive environment, where he can do his business without interference, secondly, do they have elders and stakeholders who can talk and the youths listen?. Onna is one community that has given investors free hand to do their businesses without hassles and have shown great hospitality and understanding to them. Governor Emmanuel has no hand in their choice of where to cite their investment. If automobile plant cited at Itu council area is up and working, is it in Onna or the ceramics industries which is almost at the stage of revival starts, is it in his hometown? How about the Peacock paints factory abandoned for years which the Governor reactivated, which is in Etinan. The Governor should be encouraged to go look for more investors. The truth remains that a private investor will always look for where his investment is secured. Anyone with the fear of youth uprising without elders to curtail their actions will unlikely go to that community.
I urge other communities to put their acts together and benefit from these private investors.
Let me tell you something, the Governor knowing very well that someday the crude oil we depend on may dry up and leave us stranded, took time and find a global market for coconut with willing investment partners. He went to a disputed empty land between Ikot Abasi – Eastern Obolo and Mkpat Enin council areas which laid follow for decades to set up a coconut plantation and refinery which will be a better alternative to our dependency on oil, but the communities have given so much trouble to the investors. Nobody will want to lose his staff to violence because of investment, it is very unfortunate. If a community is unwilling to receive development in peace, the alternative is to take it elsewhere. The Governor is a complete Akwa Ibom man. He is an Ibibio man married to an Annang woman, so he can never discriminate against his in-laws. The same applies to me too. Uyo is the state capital, and he will not abandon it to go and develop his own hometown in Onna. We should deemphasize on things that divide us and speak more on things that unite us as one people because there is power in spoken language. One good thing is that we have one common language which we speak and understand, there is every reason to unite and develop the state. Anybody working in the contrary will fail.