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7 Years After, N8 Billion A’Ibom Coconut Factory Yet To Start Operation

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7 Years After, N8 Billion A’Ibom Coconut Factory Yet To Start Operation

Information reaching Ibom Focus says that 7 Years After, N8 Billion A’Ibom Coconut Factory Yet To Start Operation

Indigenes of Ikot Akpan Okop, the host community where St. Gabriel’s Coconut Refinery is located in Mkpat Enin Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, have expressed disappointment at the siting of the factory in their domain without its requisite benefits.

The refinery, which has so far gulped N8.48 billion out of the N36.7 billion budgeted for it in the past seven years, is yet to yield dividends for the community and the state at large.

A breakdown of the N36.7bn allocated for the factory in the state budget for the last seven years shows that in 2022, N1.96bn has been earmarked for the project, N6.18bn in 2012, N7bn in 2020, N5bn in 2019, N10bn in 2018, N2.33bn in 2017, and N5bn in 2016.

However, the breakdown of the actual sum of N8.48bn spent so far in the building of the factory and office complex, as well as the three coconut plantation located in Mkpat Enin, Ikot Abasi and Eastern Obolo local government areas in the last few years include N3.18bn, N3.30bn and N1.64bn spent in 2019, 2018 and 2016 respectively.

Reacting to the amount so far expanded on the refinery and coconut plantation, Tijah Bolton-Akpan, Executive Director, Policy Alert, a non-governmental grassroots people empowerment foundation, said the financial records for the three years were the only ones for which there are implementation reports on the project.

Akpan argued that the inability of the factory to start production owing to the absence of raw materials as a result of poor feasibility studies on the viability of the coconut plantation after so much has been expanded on the plantation, shows that proper planning was lacking.

He explained said despite the recurring provision for the coconut plantation and refinery project in the state in the budget for the last seven years, only an empty factory is available to show for all the money spent.

A'Ibom Coconut Factory
A’Ibom Coconut Factory

“The plantation is performing very poorly; the celebrated imported coconuts are stunted. Throughout the seven years’ budget, for instance, I have not seen any provision for feasibility studies on the project. It is mostly infrastructure. So, it is no surprise that the coconuts in the plantation are stunted.

“Sufficient thought was not invested in the project. Were there proper scientific and business feasibility studies before embarking on the project? I don’t think so. Same goes for the refinery; even with the facilities in place, production cannot happen without adequate raw material. The initial understanding was that the catchment plantation would feed the plant. But that hasn’t happened, seven years down the line.

“The idea of mobilizing citizens to plant coconut across the state was to me, an afterthought. Go back to those public places where coconut was planted during the last Coconut Day. Many of the trees have died off because it was not properly planned. And those are all losses to the state.

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“The apparent failure of the project underscores the need for government to conduct the right studies and engage the people at the planning stage before embarking on such projects.

“We are also concerned that there was no Free Prior and Informed Consent or FPIC from the displaced community members in the three local government areas before the project kicked off. The adverse social and environmental impact of the project is also part of its cost, and no one seems to be counting that,” he stated.

Findings from a visit to the refinery showed that outside the presence of soldiers manning the gate of the refinery, and few cleaning and upkeep staff, the place was beret of any activity.

Inside sources told our correspondent that the refinery has been completed and awaiting government’s decision on when production would begin, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled the kick- off of the refinery. The source said no current employment was ongoing as the process would be handled by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, the state government has said about five million special breeds of coconut seedlings have so far been planted in the state to serve as raw materials for the refinery, with the claims that they have high yielding value, and the potentials to replace crude oil.

Speaking on September 18, 2021 during the inauguration of the day as the annual state coconut day, Governor Udom Emmanuel said the coconut planting exercise was replicated in all the local government areas in the state.

Emmanuel stated that the planting of coconuts in schools was being targeted in the grand coconut scheme to ensure that the refinery was fully supplied with coconut fruits, and invited the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria to collaborate with the state in the coconut investment.

He said, “Coconut has 365 uses which means that every single day that God created has a use for coconut. The coconut refinery has been completed. What is next is a test run and knowledge transfer.

“Coconut is of high value and can serve as an alternative to crude oil. This is a great investment for CBN and the Federal government. We are embarking on a campaign to cut down trees without economic values in schools, to replace them with coconut.

“Each student in public schools will be given a coconut seedling to plant.

In one day, one million secondary school students would have planted one million coconut seedlings.

“This will create competition among the youngsters. These are high-breed seedlings we’ve been able to acquire across the world. The refinery is going to be a master economic breakthrough.”

Meanwhile, the coconut refinery, when completed, has been estimated to create 1,300 direct jobs and employ more than 3,000 people indirectly. It has the capacity of processing 300,000 coconuts per shift which will produce 66 tons in a day from the three shifts, while employing 300 people to work in a shift. The by-products from the factory like oil can also be repackaged and sold.

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However, the possibility of the refinery starting off, generating and creating employment as well as realizing all the lofty dreams of government as outlined is clearly in doubt especially as the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel has less than 15 months to the expiration of his tenure.

Speaking on the possibility of the refinery commencing operations, Executive Director of Policy Alert said, “I doubt that will happen in the few months left, especially given the dearth of raw materials.

“The next administration might take it up from where this one has stopped if they consider that a priority, but I think it’s a shame that public funds have been dumped into a project like this without giving deep thought to its viability and sustainability.”

The project is however stirring controversies in the community where the project is cited. The indigenes, like every Akwa Ibom citizen, have wondered when the refinery will kick-start production that will result in the employment of people, especially as the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel, the originator of the project is winding down in May 2023.

Presently, the Village Head, Chief Obot Thompson, is on suspension for insisting that the State Government ought to have signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the community before proceeding with the project; a stance that has made the village operate without a leader for about five years now, and deprived Chief Thompson of the salary government pays traditional rulers in the state.

Narrating the incidences surrounding his suspension, Chief Thompson said his insistence on getting the government to give his people their dues in terms of compensation and employment turned him against the government.

He revealed that though the compensation was finally paid to the affected land owners, he was still under suspension despite withdrawing the case in the Court of Appeal in Calabar, Cross River State, against government, challenging his suspension, as directed by the state government.

“When the then Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Uduak Udo Inyang, came here saying the government sent him to acquire the land for the project, I told him that it was not his responsibility to acquire land but that of the Commissioner of Lands who is the rightful person if the government wants to acquire the land.

“Maize, cassava and pumpkin among others were the crops planted on the land and some of the owners of the crops are widows who had lost their husbands, and some orphans; so, government must pay compensation so they can support themselves. But the Commissioner didn’t accept but instead sent bulldozers to begin to destroy the crops,” he said.

A’Ibom Coconut Factory

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