It is no more news that Akwa Ibom is the first and only state in Nigeria to own an airline business, beating the Federal Government to its plan of reviving the nation’s official air carrier, Nigeria Air.
Ibom Air was created to drive economic activities into the State, one of such is through the industrialization of Nigeria’s #1 oil revenue generator.
This brought about mixed feelings from various quarters about this feat by the Udom Emmanuel-led administration. One of such issues raised is the viability and sustainability of the business, plus the direct economic impact to the common citizens of the State. Many pundits say that the setting up of an airline company is so much of a risky venture to embark on with taxpayers’ money, adding that it is never a profitable business, even in developed climes.
According to the governor at the inaugural flight ceremony of Ibom Air at the Victor Attah International Airport, the airline is established to “aid the rapid industrialization of Akwa Ibom, based on the three gateways: Land, Sea and Air…while creating job opportunities as well.”
Let’s face the facts; Ibom Air alone cannot create all the jobs directly and indirectly for the teeming number of unemployed youths, which according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Akwa Ibom State was ranked the highest in unemployment rate of 37.7 per cent (1,357,754) in the third quarter of 2018.
Although there has been some recorded reduction in the unemployment and underemployment rates, more can be achieved in this aspect while helping the State-owned airline stay in business through the tourism and creative sector.
First, we need to understand that Ibom Air’s business is basically to transport people in and out of the State and that means a steady influx of people into Akwa Ibom is required. This can only be achieved through a deliberate and strategic approach.
Here we outline some non-oil dependent resources that can aid Akwa Ibom State to achieve this and make it even more bankable.
Carefully Curated Indigenous Events
The effect of carefully curated events for Akwa Ibom State should not be underrated and cannot be overemphasised. Two clear examples standout and precisely in 2017 when a one-time Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Rt.Hon. Victor Antai had put together a team, made of young people to organise Orange September and Ukapisua amongst other events.
These were head spinners, not just in the State, but also drew the attention from all over Nigeria and the diaspora to Akwa Ibom. Another known effect was the traffic (media) diverted from the annual Calabar Carnival hosted by the sister Cross River State during the yuletide season.
Airlines and hotels were fully booked by visitors, while the creative and other sectors were greatly engaged, creating a boom in economic activities while creating fun for the people.
Hence, it’s worthy of note that it is important and necessary to document and create the State’s official event calendar, just like it is done by for the country by the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation – NTDC. It must be backed by legislation and the events should not be organised only when the State hits a major mileage i.e 30th, 40th anniversaries.
This will aid brands within and outside the State and visitors to capture the various events in their annual plans and budgets.
Revamped Tourist Sites
Akwa Ibom State is blessed with enormous tourist sites; from historical to natural locations/sites of which many within and outside Nigeria yearn to see. In recent years, lots of sites lying fallow have been discovered and brought to public notice, leaving many in amazement. These, when utilized maximally, will surely drive traffic to the State.
One thing to also note is, there must be a deliberate effort to publicise these tourist sites via the airline’s promotional materials which will give potential visitors reasons to come experience the locations while Ibom Air offers gains by transporting them.
More so, this will create a ripple effect by directly impacting the economies of these local tourist communities which will in turn experience a boom. Businesses including motels, food vendors, hair salons, transporters, craftsmen, agriculture etc will begin to thrive. Also, jobs will be created for the teeming youth population, hence, bringing a decline in rural to urban migration.
To make these localities enjoyable, basic amenities including; electricity, water, functional health facilities, good access roads around and leading to the host communities should be provided by the government.
Maximise the Good Road Networks
The State has been blessed with infrastructure in terms of quality roads and these have been visibly seen since the governments of Obong Victor Attah, Chief Godswill Akpabio and now Mr Udom Emmanuel. This singular infrastructure is a major requirement for hosting various annual outdoor Sports competitions and it includes an ‘Ibom Half/Full Marathon Race or City Cycling Race’ to be hosted in the State capital which boasts of amazing road networks.
Here is an example of the route: Race begins from Oron Road (towards the airport) ➡ Nwaniba ➡ Brooks Street ➡ Uyo Village Road ➡ Calabar/Itu Road ➡ Idoro Road ➡ Stadium (final destination).
This will bring the world coming to Akwa Ibom. One can only help but imagine the influx of people; athlete teams, event officials, media, sponsors, sports enthusiasts that will consequently pour into the State. Hence, Ibom Air will be the official carrier.
All these can only be sustainable if backed by legislation in other to stall efforts by future governments from pursuing their different agenda which could upturn the arrangements made by previous governments. We must be deliberate and not bias about this if we must make it succeed. Again, the government and stakeholders should be truthful to themselves, the Akwa Ibom tourism sector is in a state of emergency.