Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Any hope for Ibom Science Park?

Any hope for Ibom Science Park?


The Akwa Ibom Science Park was one important element of a comprehensive strategy to elevate Akwa Ibom’s economy and society from the 1950’s to one that is, according to the State’s mission statement, “technologically driven by 2010.” That the second science park in all of Africa should be established in Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria was a testament to the vision of the then state’s executive governor, Obong Victor Attah.

Located along Afaha Oku on the way to Uyo capital city, the abandoned site of the Akwa Ibom Science and Technology Park had a computer training component and facilities for incubating new ideas, new industries; and software development. It was indeed built thoroughly with an up-to-date technology to raise the calibre of manpower for the immediate and long-term needs of the state economy.
Among other objectives, Governor Attah seeked to establish a technology university composed of four or five science and engineering schools. He explained thus, “I know how much money the oil companies are paying for seismic data from outside. So if I set up a University paying full salaries so that we have a research department that can handle all of those things, look at all that money that will stay inside the country!”

Due to the science park’s presence, Akwa Ibom was then selected to lead all of Africa in cellular telephone technology. The signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in late March 2006 established a joint venture among Akwa Ibom’s science park and two Chinese companies—one a subsidiary of an American company, Technoconcepts—to manufacture and market cellular telephones throughout Africa wherein each partner in the joint venture will own a one-third     share.

The telephones to be manufactured there was to be programmed to perform functions already present on cellular telephones used in Asia but not yet available in the U.S., such as bill payment and money transfers. More importantly, however, the telephones were to incorporate soonest, new technology being developed by Technoconcepts which will allow a cellular telephone to operate on any network in the world, and communicate with many other devices using digital radio frequencies.

The then government thus, launched into creating a state-of-the-art Information Technology Park in Akwa Ibom which enabled the state to be admitted as a member of the International Association of Science Parks owners. Through this connection, and with the aid of the existing IT programme, a group of students were chosen and sent abroad on government scholarships. In 2004, the graduates flew out to Canada for 18 months IT training sponsored by the state government. They were to come back with the knowledge and the know-how to pass on to other students and people in the state. By this, standards were being set for students to be exposed to the best facilities in this aspect of engineering. 

This promising venture to showcase Africa’s second science park, was expected to begin preliminary operations in 2006 and was scheduled to expand over a six-month period to include more sophisticated operations (as the plant comes on stream and workers are trained) before it proposed completion by end of 2007.

However, the return of the trainees incidentally coincided with the incoming of the Akpabio-led administration who did not think it fit to continue the project. According to Governor Godswill Akpabio, “two things are wrong with the project. The first one is the location; no matter the building you put there, such a building is threatened by erosion. It will cost you more to arrest this factor than the cost of the project itself. The second issue is that the project is prone to the probing of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) because the total cost of that project was N5.6 billion and the last administration paid N5.3 billion upfront. And the work done is not up to N400 million. If a project is N5.6 billion and the government paid N5.3billion upfront, you would expect the contractor to move the project to a reasonable level. With N5.6 billion project and N5.3 billion paid upfront, I don’t think I should touch that project. You will not advice me to touch that project unless the contractor can give account of how he utilised the N5.3 billion he collected from the Akwa Ibom state government, and why work done on ground is not up to N300 million.”

Thus, a project which would have greatly boosted ICT development in Akwa Ibom State, came crashing down and all that is now left of it are it ruins and debris. 

As though he knew what would later be the fate of the Park, Attah had once noted thus: “I see certain things around here, [that] if I don’t do them, nobody else will want to do them,” So I go and do these things. For instance, I have not built a stadium, because I know the next governor will build a stadium. But I can go and build a science park, because the next governor may not think like me and want to build a science park.”

However, chances are high that the incoming government would revamp the Ibom Science Park since technological development is one of its priorities. The Park could therefore be the right vehicle for the fulfilment of such goal. As Udom Emmanuel has said: “we will use ICTs to promote entrepreneurship among Akwa Ibom youths to help drive unemployment and engender wealth     creation.

We will avail every young Akwaibomite an opportunity to train as innovators, developers, artisans and/ or become self employed in the informal sector so that they can have the right combination of motivation, ideas and opportunities. Akwa Ibom youths will be more than able to establish productive and creative businesses; engaging in entrepreneurship shifts such that they will turn from being job seekers to job creators, and also from social dependence to self    sufficiency.

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