Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kidnapping: Bumpy road to free and fair elections in Akwa Ibom Thursday, 21 October 2010 00:00 Aniefiok Udonquak

Kidnapping: Bumpy road to free and fair elections in Akwa Ibom Thursday, 21 October 2010 00:00 Aniefiok Udonquak

Few years ago, Akwa Ibom State used to pride itself as one of the most peaceful states in the Niger Delta region of the country.

At that time, the agitation for resource control and equitable distribution of the nation’s oil wealth was at its peak and had taken a toll on economic activities in the region.

During the period, when the country newly returned to democratic rule, militant activities and youth restiveness had become the order of the day and many states in the Niger Delta were grappling with one form of insecurity or the other.

Now that the amnesty programme of the Federal Government is in place and the ex-militants are undergoing rehabilitation, many of the states within the oil rich region are witnessing relative peace and things are beginning to look up.

However, with the 2011 polls around the corner, Akwa Ibom State, once seen as an investors’ destination, is witnessing its share of insecurity as kidnappings are being recorded almost on a weekly basis. Apart from being a cause of major concern, it is has become a threat to free and fair elections ahead of next year’s general elections.

Initially, it was thought that kidnappings were carried out by criminal elements bent on turning it into an enterprise, but recent high profile cases involving political aspirants have proved otherwise.

For instance, while the kidnapping of Lakshmi Tombush, an Indian who was in charge of Mobil Pegasus School in Eket last week in which two policemen lost their lives during the operation might not be seen as having any political undercurrent, that of the chairman of Onna Local Government, Owoidoho Ekpoatai was clearly politically motivated, according to observers.

Ekpoatai had indicated her interest to seek election into the State House of Assembly to represent Onna State constituency but she was kidnapped and held for one week soon after making her intention known. She was released after paying undisclosed amount of money to her abductors.

In a similar vein, Jack Udotai wife was kidnapped on way back from office at the Eastern Obolo Local Government secretariat, where she served as an accountant. Her husband, representing Eket State constituency in the State House of Assembly and chairman, House Committee on Judiciary and Human Rights, had indicated interest to seek re-election when his wife was abducted.

The woman was only released after money had changed hands between the family and the kidnappers. In her case, the vehicle that took the money to the kidnappers was burnt but the money was not affected.

But if attacks directed at politicians seeking elective positions at the lesser level could be swept under the carpet, the kidnapping of those close to governorship aspirants has left many tongues wagging on its implications for next year’s election.

Before the wife of Sam Ewang, former military administrator of Ogun and All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) governorship aspirant in Akwa Ibom State was kidnapped, another aspirant, Iniekong Udonwa, a businessman based in Singapore had a bitter experience in the hands of kidnappers and abductors in the state.

First, he escaped being killed and his mother, Philomena Udonwa was abducted and killed even after the demanded ransom had been paid. Her body was dumped along a bush track. Udonwa has since returned to his base in Singapore and might have abandoned his governorship ambition.

For Ewang, his problem started after he declared his intention to challenge Governor Godswill Akpabio in next year’s election. First, he was denied access to the rally ground at Ibom Hall in Uyo, the state capital and had to move it to a private school in the outskirts of the town. About a week after his declaration, his wife, Comfort was abducted while at work and at the time of filing this report, she has not been released.

According to Ewang, a retired air commodore, he had met with Akpabio on Wednesday, October 13 over his wife’s ordeal but that instead of addressing the real issue, the governor allegedly raised political issues.

He said the kidnappers had earlier demanded that his wife would not be released unless he paid N300 million as ransom and withdraw from the governorship race.

“It is instructive that my wife was kidnapped barely three days after I declared my intention to contest, in 2011, for the position of Governor of Akwa Ibom State under ANPP; not even the PDP,” Ewang said in a statement made available to the media.

According to Ewang, after the kidnappers received the ransom sent to them, they took his personal assistant and driver into custody, insisting that they won’t release his wife unless N100 million was paid in addition to the N25 million the kidnappers collected. They had reduced their demand to N25 million in the course of negotiation. His driver was however released to take the message to Ewang although the kidnappers burnt the car.

Ewang is now appealing to President Goodluck Jonathan; Inspector-General of Police , Hafiz Ringim and the governor , Akpabio to ensure the release of his wife.

The threat to freedom of association in the state reached its peak when former FCT minister of state, John James Akpan Udoedehe was prevented from holding his thanksgiving service at a public space in Uyo.

Udoedehe had earlier been accused of alleged involvement in the murder of a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Paul Inyang who was killed in a church in his hometown. Udoedehe was invited for questioning in Abuja but was later released.

He came home for the thanksgiving but could not have his way because he was presented by the police from doing so allegedly on the directive of the state government.

Udoedehe has since emerged as the foremost opposition leader in the state seeking to replace Akpabio after next year’s election.

He is promising to develop ‘agro-based industries to generate rightful domestic income, and a major foreign exchange earner.

Indeed, the political temperature in the state has been rising, many who have attempted to express their views and opinions on contemporary issues affecting the state have had one brush either with the state government or with kidnappers.

While political opponents have pointed accusing fingers at the state government as being the brain behind the spate of kidnappings and the high level of intolerance in the state, particularly in the run up to next year’s polls, the state government has repeatedly denied any involvement.

One analyst told BusinessDay that the governor as a leader of the people “cannot be blind to his role as that of not just a peacemaker, but a strong defender and advocate of the rights of every citizen under the law regardless of differing political persuasions/ affiliations.”

However, Akpabio, in his response, said, it makes no sense to accuse the government of kidnapping its citizens.

Kidnapping has become a major security challenge in the country and if the assurance given by Jonathan is anything to go by, it is likely that time is running out against kidnappers in the country.

Interestingly, Jonathan has repeatedly assured of fair, transparent and credible election in which every vote would count; it seems politicians in many states of the federation are bent on truncating that goal. The thinking in many quarters is that it is deliberately being carried out to intimidate aspirants out of the race.

Courtesy:Businessday Newspaper Online


Akwa Ibom State lies between latitude 4°32’ and 5°33’ North; and Longitudes 7°25’ and 8°25’ East. In terms of structural make up, Akwa Ibom is triangular in shape and covers a total land area of 6,900 sq. km, encompassing the Qua Iboe River Basin, the western part of the lower Cross River Basin and the Eastern part of the Imo River Basin. With an ocean front which spans a distance of 129 kilometers from Ikot Abasi in the west to Oron in the east, Akwa Ibom presents a picture of captivating coastal, mangrove forest and beautiful sandy beach resorts.

Akwa Ibom shares boundary on the North with Cross River and Imo States, on the south with the Atlantic Ocean. To the east with Cross River State and to the south-west with Rivers and Imo States. The location of Akwa Ibom just north of the Equator and within the humid tropics and its proximity to the sea makes the state generally humid. On the basis of its geographical location the climate of Akwa Ibom State can be described as a tropical rainy type which experiences abundant rainfall with very high temperature.

The physical relief of the State is basically flat. However, there are places in Itu and Ibiono Ibom Local Government Areas where the topography is undulating with some areas as high as 200 feet above sea level. The landscape of Akwa Ibom is mostly flat. This is because the underlying geology of the state is predominantly coastal plain sediments. The coastal nature of the state makes it the natural deposit of mosaic of marine, deltaic, estuarine, lagoonal and fluvio- lacustrine material.

The climate of the state allows for favourable cultivation and extraction of agricultural and forest products such as palm produce, rubber, cocoa, rice, cassava, yam, plantain, banana, maize, and timber. As with every Nigerian coastal area, the state experiences two main seasons, the wet and the dry seasons. The wet or rainy season lasts between eight to nine months starting from mid- march till the end of November. The dry season has a short duration of between the last week of November or early December and lasts till early march.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Finnish firm rescues Oku Iboku newsprint firm Wednesday, 20 October 2010 01:00 Aniefiok Udonquak

Indications are strong that a Finnish firm has concluded negotiations with the new owner of the privatised Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company of Nigeria (NNMC) in Oku Iboku, Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, for the commencement of production before the end of the year.

Investigations by BusinessDay showed that the new owner of the mill, Negris Limited, which paid $25.5 million to acquire the paper manufacturing company has already concluded the test-running of the mill with a view to getting it back on stream.

BusinessDay learnt from both the employees of the plant and the community leaders that with the coming on board of the Finnish firm, which name they declined to disclose, the mill was expected to commence production of newsprint “before the end of the year.”

Meanwhile, it was gathered that apart from the economic meltdown that mopped up credit lines for the manufacturing industries, the inability of the mill to commence production two years after it was privatised was also due to improper due diligence.

Further investigations also showed that the former technical partners have been dropped.

The employees said by not complying with proper due diligence, the owner underestimated the cost of reactivating the plant, adding that it was one of the reasons the mill remained idle for more than two years since its liquidation until the Finnish firm came on board.

“The negotiation is almost completed with a company in Finland and work is likely to commence by the end of the year,” an employee said.

According to investigations, what was being awaited is the arrival of the Finnish firm which will now serve as the new technical partner.

Another worker who spoke with BusinessDay on condition of anonymity “because I am not authorised to speak with the press,” said all the plants and the machinery have been put in a state of readiness, awaiting the directive on when the plant would be brought back to life.

More investigations revealed that the new company, which is now known as Oku Iboku Pulp and Paper (OKIPP) Company Limited, has acquired a 66 megawatts power plant located within the former NNMC facility and reconfigured it from a liquid-fuel fired plant to gas fired just as it also signed a gas sales purchase agreement with the Nigerian Gas Company for regular supply of gas to the plant.

“We have done much with the test-running of the mill, what we are waiting for is the directive for the plant to roar back to life”, the employee added.

The Paramount Ruler of Itu, Edet Inyang, while confirming to BusinessDay in an interview that the paper manufacturing company is set to start production, expressed delight over the move, saying it would boost the establishment of cluster factories within the area.

According to him, the idea behind the establishment of the mill in 1975 was to shift emphasis from dependence on crude oil as the major source of revenue, maintaining that if the newsprint manufacturing company had been in operation since then, “this part of the country would have achieved a measure of industrialisation.”

Recalling that it was meant to serve as a pilot industry that would attract other industries to the area, he said it was regrettable that the vision could not be realised.

The royal father, who confirmed the plans to reactivate the plant before the end of the year, said from the brief he has received from the new owner of the plant, it is not going to be a plant just for the manufacture of newsprint alone. Rather, “it is going to be a gigantic project involving several other production ventures. If there is no hindrance and if what they are planning goes on well, the company is coming back to life before the end of the year,” he declared.