By Pius Teke
Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel kicked off his second term with a promise to take development beyond urban centres to the rural areas where the bulk of the population resides.
And for the first time in the history of the state, rural development is getting to riverine communities that have often been neglected in the scheme of things.
This is worthy of commendation when considered from the point of view of the fact that riverine communities have never been made to feel they are a part of the state, especially communities that are accessible only by canoe or boat. The sad irony is that these communities are usually considered to be part of the state during campaigns for elections, but forgotten after elections are won and lost.
Politicians seeking elective offices, including those from the mainland parts of the state who may not be very conversant with water transportation, would not mind risking their lives to travel by boats to campaign in communities they would ordinarily feel they have no business visiting at other times. They would promise the hapless communities roads and bridges to link them with the rest of the state if voted into office.
The gullible and largely illiterate people they are, and desperate to be connected to the rest of humanity, the communities would vote the lying politicians into office believing that salvation had come at last. And that would be the end of hope and belief, and the beginning of yet another cycle of despair, regret and gnashing of teeth. The thoroughly abused and serially deceived people would not see their supposed messiahs again until elections are due.
If Governor Emmanuel has decided to break the jinx and look in the direction of these historically neglected communities, then he deserves attention. And I dare say, he deserves not just attention, but commendation and support.
His administration has so far built more than 1, 000 kilometers of roads to open up the state, linking virtually every part by road. Now, with a programme he has christened Completion Agenda, he has made development of riverine communities an integral part of the plan to make all parts of the state feel the presence of his government and also have a sense of belonging in the state. This is part of a larger plan to engender unity among the people of the state and bring them on the same page with him in his plan of building the Akwa Ibom of tomorrow.
The plan of the current administration for rural and riverine areas is to see that by the time it winds down in 2023, the living standard of the people of those communities would have been significantly improved in terms of infrastructural and socio-economic development to be at par with other developed parts of the state. There is a solemn commitment to give attention to developing those areas through construction of more rural roads, provision of electricity and building of health centres, as well as establishment of cottage industries by using the small and medium enterprises agenda of the administration as the driver. This would not only help in boosting the economy of the state, but would also generate employment for rural dwellers.
The government plans, throughout the next four years, to carry out routine maintenance of 400 dilapidated rural roads measuring about 120 kilometers during the dry season every year. It will also pursue the water supply component of the AK-RDMP in order to attain the goal of Good Water for All by 2023.
The rural and riverine development component of the Completion Agenda is an ambitious programme that is bound to change the narrative on the development of people that had hitherto been condemned to play the role of hewers of firewood and fetchers of water for urban dwellers through supplying the food that comes to the latter.
For instance, the government has promised to set up power stations to handle planning and management of rural electrification projects; invest in small distribution and power generation facilities, which would give local sources of power supply increased priority, attention and support by it. This would ensure connection of rural communities to the national power grid.
The grand plan for the long-forgotten riverine communities is to make them contribute effectively to the economic transformation of the state in a manner that would be beneficial not just to them, but also to the entire state. This would involve developing a strong aquaculture for the state using the natural resources of those communities. With a coastline of about 129 kilometers that is complemented by rivers, tributaries, mangrove, swamps, creeks and flood plains, Akwa Ibom has an ecosystem that is very rich in aquatic animals and fishes, with continental shelf, creeks and swamps that are home to crustaceans and shrimps.
An assessment of what is currently on ground in terms of achievement of the lofty objectives of the rural and riverine development programme of the administration shows that significant steps have so far been taken in meeting its goals in all areas. The programme is work in progress.
It may not be farfetched to suggest that in the not too distant future, rural and riverine areas in Akwa Ibom would hold attraction in residential options for those currently residing in urban centres who may prefer to go to work from their villages. What’s more, the areas would be virtually on the same level with urban centres in the areas of infrastructural and socio-economic development. It would be the easiest way to escape the increasing cost of living in urban centres.
Teke, an engineer, lives in Port Harcourt.