…Multi-Million Naira Retired For Development of Seaport in Mbo
By Ekemini Simon
The location of the $4.6 billion Ibom Deep Sea Port (IDSP) project has been in serious contention.
A section of Oron people have alleged that the project was relocated from Ibaka bay in Mbo to Ibeno axis due to reported ethnic gang-up. Ibeno on the other side have insisted that their area is the most suitable for the project.
State Government Attempts Explanation
The Akwa Ibom State Government has said that the location of the deep Seaport was informed by viability and accessibility. According to the Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport, Akan Okon, during a media chat recently, different sites were considered prior to the final choice.
He notes that the final choice of location transverses Mbo and Ibeno Councils of the state.
Okon said: “The site was eventually chosen after studies based on viability and accessibility. The studies were done by experts based on outlined business case done during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan and this was before Udom Emmanuel became governor. So, there can’t be any sentiment to this.”
Noting that while the site was about 20 nautical miles from the Deep Sea Trade Route, the commissioner stated that the competitors could take up to 75 nautical miles to access the path.
He added that though the seaport covered about 2,500 hectares of land, much of the industrial city, covering over 14,000 hectares, and the headquarters of the port would be located around the Mbo axis of the complex.
Okon continued: “Just like you have in Lagos, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is in Lagos Island, while the port itself is in Apapa. So, the main structure of the port is in the seaside area, while the headquarters is in Mbo axis.”
Also, during her presentation at a meeting between Akwa Ibom State Government officials and the stakeholders of Oron nation over Ibom Deep Seaport and Ibom Industrial City on Saturday, April 17, 2021, the Chairperson of the Technical Committee on lbom Deep Seaport, Mrs Mfon Usoro, said her committee, following the inauguration in 2015, had received the Outline Business Case, OBS, on the project which was previously done and signed on October 15, 2014 at the time of Chief Godswill Akpabio’s administration.
According to Usoro, the location that was found in the approved OBS still remains the approved spot for the harbour, adding that “the government of Governor Udom Emmanuel has not changed it.”
She said her committee, through research, discovered that Akpabio’s administration had engaged Worley Parsons as well as MBTS of the Netherlands to do feasibility study and to come up with ideal location for the seaport project. The chairperson of the technical Committee said far from politics, the two companies, which are internationally acclaimed engineering and port consultants, did a professional job and could not have dabbled into Akwa Ibom politics.
According to her, five potential locations considered for the project include Oron (location 5), Tom Shot (Location 4), Okposo (Location 3), West Point (Location 2), and Seaside (Location 1).
Usoro said out or five potential locations considered by these foreign port consultants, it was Seaside (location 1), which is the present project site near Unyenghe, that was appointed as the most favourable location for the Seaport project.
On how the site was chosen ahead of others, Usoro said Oron, which was marked location 5, was dropped because of its position outside the Industrial City zone.
She explained that Seaside scored +7, West Point had-3; Okposo and Tom Shot scored-2 and-11 respectively. Usoro noted that the result came out with an October 2014 date, noting that the location for the seaport was since determined during Godswill Akpabio’s administration and not this present administration.
Consultant Hits nail on the Head
The Transaction Advisor/Consultants to the Ibom Deep Seaport and Free Trade Zone project, Felak Concepts Ltd has been explicit on the site of the Deep Seaport Project. The consultant notes that the project has been relocated from Mbo to Ibeno.
In a Statement published by The Nation newspaper on June 21, 2021, the consultant said that “the relocation of the $4.6 billion Ibom Deep Sea Port (IDSP) from Okposo to Ibeno is not political but based on professional and engineering decisions”.
Its spokesman, Ezekail Adamu noted that they wrote a letter dated October 3, 2015 to Akwa Ibom State government “on the need to convene an immediate town hall meeting involving the TAs, Surveyors, MPDSC members, the Governor, his executive council and all stakeholders within the state on the resolution of salient communal issues; such as the clarification and basis of the change of name from Ibaka to Ibom Deep Sea Port, change of location due to a new engineering alignment and other critical factors and analysis.”
This claim that the Ibom Deep Seaport project site has been relocated to Ibeno has been echoed by the people of Ibeno. In a statement signed by the traditional rulers of area, and published in June 2021, they have insisted that “Ibeno is the best for the seaport project”.
According to the people of Ibeno, the total project area required from them for location of the Deep Seaport spans across five villages in Ibeno viz: Okposo I, Okposo II, Okomita, Itioesek and Itak Idim Nne Ekpe.
Government Documents Contradict Claims
Although the State Government claims that the change of location from Ibaka, was carried out by the administration before Governor Emmanuel, government documents open loopholes in the claim.
A thorough analysis of the Akwa Ibom State Appropriation Act (Approved Budget) between 2015 and 2020 pinpoints the location of the project at Ibaka in Mbo Local Government Area.
In 2015, 2016 and 2017, in the Ministry of Investment, Commerce and Industry, under the heading “Oil and Gas Industrial Processing and Free Trade Zone (IPTZ) Project, Ibaka”, the State Government provided for “Construction of Deep Sea port facility” in the said area.
Still in 2016, in Ministry of Lands and Town Planning, under provisions for Payment of Compensation, the state government made budgetary provision of N2 billion for ” Akwa Ibom Industrial City (FTZ), Ibaka, Mbo”.
In 2019, Akwa Ibom State Government budgeted N1.5 billion for the “Development of Ibom Deep Seaport in Mbo LGA” under the Ministry of Special Duties. A check into the Accountant General Report and Audited Financial Statements for the year revealed that out of the N1.5 billion earmarked for the item, N185 million was retired.
In 2020 Approved Amended Revised Budget, under the office of Special Duties, there is “Development of Ibom Deep Sea Port captioned “Development of Ibom Deep Seaport in Ibaka- Mbo LGA”.
Meanwhile, checks into the Appropriation Act within these fiscal period did not record provisions either for the construction/development of the deep seaport in Ibeno LGA or payment of compensation for the project in Ibeno.
Akwa Ibom State Government keeps Mum over Revelations
Attempt to get comments from the Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport, Mr Akan Okon did not yield results. He did not respond to several calls put across to his known phone line. He also did not respond to text messages and WhatsApp messages on the issue.
The Mail Newspaper had specifically asked him through those messages why the development of IDSP in Ibaka and sometimes Mbo LGA had appeared in the Appropriation Act from 2015 till 2020 when the State Government had said that the location of Ibaka was changed by past administration.
He was further asked why there has been no mention of Ibeno LGA as a location for the project in the State budgets but only Mbo.
Mr Okon was further asked to respond to what the State Government specifically did at Mbo LGA with the N185 million reflected as expenditure in the 2019 Financial Statements of the State for the item ” Development of Ibom Deep Seaport in Mbo”.
When the Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport failed to respond, TheMail went further to contact the Commissioner for Information, Mr Ini Ememobong. He asked the message sent to the Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport be forwarded to him for onward transfer to Mr Okon who will be better placed with technical insight concerning the project. None of the Commissioners got back to TheMail Newspaper before press time.
IDSP Deficit in Transparency, Participation and Conflict Sensitivity- CSO
Policy Alert, a Civil Society Organisation working on fiscal and environmental justice said the problem of Ibom Deep Seaport project as it relates to location is as a result of deficit in transparency, participation and conflict sensitivity.
The Executive Director of Policy Alert, Mr Tijah Bolton-Akpan noted that if the Akwa Ibom State Government has been transparent about the project, carried host communities along and most importantly be sensitive to issues that could cause conflict, people would not be agitating about the location of the project at this point.
” This is clearly a transparency issue. It speaks to absence of transparency in the entire process. Exploratory discussions have happened between Government and technical partners. Business case have been developed among others. All these documents that were prepared right from the preceding administration had geo-ordinates of the location of this particular investment. It wasn’t an investment that was supposed to be located in the air. The particular location was in these documents.
“The question that should concern us is: how many Journalists or Akwa Ibom people are privy to some of these documents? If Government have been transparent from the initial stage in the operations or investments in IDSP, then at this point where we are almost seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we should not be discussing about location anymore.
“Location should have been a done deal. But as it is, it is possible to still be discussing around location because there has been no transparency ab initio. The fact that government has been budgeting on this project, year in, year out and actually sighting a location- Mbo whereas never has the budget mentioned Ibeno leaves more questions.”
Bolton-Akpan said he reasons that it is either there has been carelessness on the part of policy makers not to include all the communities that are involved in the project or there is something fishy about to happen whereby something is being brought in at the last minute to give a semblance of having been there from the beginning.
He added ” Whichever is the case, it still tells us that government has not come clean on the technical details of the IDSP. It is worrisome because this particular administration is hyped on industrialization. And that happens to be a landmark project for the administration.
” The fact that loose ends are being tired on the project is actually commendable but it will be a huge drawback on the effort of the administration if an opportunity like this is open for conflict. It is a recipe for disaster to happen if all the parts are not transparently carried along on the technical details of the project. What technical detail could be more than a geo-location of a project.
” It speaks to deficit of transparency. When you have transparency deficit, you are going to have trust deficit. When you have trust deficit, it is going to have an impact on peace. That’s when you are going to see conflict.”
The Executive Director of Policy Alert recommended that for there to be sustainability of the project, Government should try to address issues around the location of the project now that it is beginning to brew.
He advised that if there are documents that dates back to the start of the project to its advanced stage, it is certain that the communities mentioned as being host of the project among proofs of technical issues that may have necessitated change, it would be important to let all parties have access to those documents.
Bolton-Akpan added ” Those documents should be brought out. There should be meetings and stakeholders engagement on all sides. There is need for community participation. The talk down approach to project development should be a thing of the past.
” It is very worrisome that community members who have over the years, for about 15 years or more who have had the impression that they were part of something big have suddenly realized that they were part of nothing at all. That can really be disturbing. They could have also forgone a lot of opportunities that could have come to their communities on the basis of certain expectations they had from the Ibom Deep Seaport project. Over time, it is like they were dangling a carrot to them, but overtime, it was more like an illusion. It never existed. That may have cost them a lot of opportunities between that time and now.
“If there has been a change, there is nothing wrong for government to change its mind. There could be certain extant realities that advise government on a project to move from a community to another. That is fine. But you need to come back to the drawing board and to the table with the community. Give them the reasons and take that decision in a participatory manner. When you do it that way, you are preventing conflict and it is very important to be conflict sensitive in a project like this. The project has also been lacking in conflict sensitivity.”