By: Emmanuel Obe
Low-hanging fruits are everywhere but they are not being harvested or harnessed. It doesn’t seem to be for a lack of people to try their luck. Akwa Ibom has a good population of active minds and hands.
It is mango season and everywhere you turn in Akwa Ibom State you find the fruits hanging low from the trees. In the cities, in the villages and even in the bush, the mango trees are bending low, heavy with their fruits like pregnant women deep into their due season; the most pitiable being the German mango trees. You could hear the cracks as they groan under the yoke of their fruits each time they are swayed by the wind.
But what’s surprising about it is that unlike in other places, the boys are not running wild hauling missiles at the trees and making a mess of the neighbourhood with litters of mango leaves and broken unripe mangoes.
The people even pamper the trees. In a number of places where the tree branches laden with a heavy load of nearly ripening mangoes are threatening to touch the ground, the locals stake them up with sticks. The mangoes must not touch the ground lest they abort.
Similarly, it’s the season of the native pear that the Igbo call ubé. My own people call it mbèè (couldn’t find the luxury of time to ask what the Annang call it). For now, the native pears are still pink awaiting a few more weeks when they will mature and turn navy blue and black. That’s when they ripen. But they, all the same, give a special pigmentation to the forests with their pink colours against a background of deep green treetops.
The bloom season of the fruits is a striking corollary of the state of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria’s biggest producer of crude oil. Low-hanging fruits are everywhere but they are not being harvested or harnessed. It doesn’t seem to be for a lack of people to try their luck. Akwa Ibom has a good population of active minds and hands. They are all over neighbouring states and indeed Nigeria working in factories, homes, and offices running businesses and services. But back home, they are more relaxed, and very hospitable, if you like.
With a great network of roads put in place in the last 15 years, moving around the state is a delight. People can practically live in one part of the state and work in other parts without losing much time because of the free traffic and good roads.
The government has built an airport not far from Uyo the state capital and has set up an airliner, Ibom Air to bring people to the state from far away cities like Lagos and Abuja, even though there seems to be more people flying out of the state now than they are flying in.
Akwa Ibom State Transport Corporation has a huge terminal in Uyo, from here people can board buses to any part of Nigeria. It is about the biggest investment in road mass transit by any state government. One bus leaves the terminal almost every three minutes. There is a ferry service at Oron, which recently has become the fastest and safest means of connecting Calabar and Cross River State. This has cut down hours wasted on the bad Uyo-Itu-Calabar road, which could take many hours to cross.
In geography, culture and in demography, Akwa Ibom is blessed. The people come from small traditional communities where kinships are stronger than kingships. There are hardly huge traditional kingdoms that rule over vast territories so the number of kings in the state runs into hundreds, each ruled by what they call paramount rulers. The strength of each kingdom is largely determined by the influence of its king, whose personal clout may extend beyond the state. What strong kingship cannot give them, Akwa Ibom people get in kinship bonding. The expression, “eyen eka mi,” (my brother or my sister) gives them a passport to identify with and enjoy filial relationships with any Akwa Ibomite they meet anywhere in the world.
Before the state was created in 1987 by the government of General Ibrahim Babangida, the people of Akwa Ibom were comfortable with being known as the Calabar people. But the nationalistic bug bit them soon after that demarcation and being proudly identified as Akwa Ibomite became a thing of pride. Calabar was indeed the capital of the old Cross River of which the Akwa Ibom area was a part. With the creation of the new state, many Akwa Ibomites crossed the Cross River and other parts of the country to Uyo, the new capital to start the journey of building a new state, which they called the Land of Promise.
There are principally three major cultural groupings, the biggest of them being the Ibibio, who occupy the central and northeastern parts of the state. The second largest is the Annang which are found along the Western flank, bothering the Imo River. The third group are united more by their location along the southern parts of the Atlantic coast. They are the Oron, Eket, Ikot Abasi and Obolo (between them are several dialectical groups) coalition, whose lands and seas produce the crude oil and gas that make the state the largest producer of crude oil.
The news that Bua Group is building a 200,000 barrels per day refinery is cheering. Many more investments in maritime and oil and gas need to come along the coast.
The people also need to be reoriented and reflect on creating wealth out of the natural wealth abundant in the state. Otherwise, the low-hanging fruits you find everywhere from Imo River to Qua Iboe River to Cross River then to the coasts of Oron, Ibeno and Ikot Abasi will perpetually remain unharvested season in and season out.
Emmanuel Obe, a ‘street journalist’, transited through Ikono, Ikot Ekpene, Uyo and Oron recently