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Interview

We Will Construct A Trailer Park To Decongest Traffic Along Our Highways - Barr Onuk

Barr Etetim Onuk is one of the few council chairmen who made it back for a second term; a rare privilege enjoyed by very few of his colleagues. In the interview with ETEBONGAKPAN and VICTOR ESSANG, the Itu council boss gives an insight into the bumpy road to his second term. His regrets and achievements in the first term, his projections for the second term especially the proposed trailer park which he says is very dear to him. Excerpts:

Congratulations on your second term victory, so far how far? 
 The road to heaven is not a smooth road. It is full of bumps and hiccups and it is not straight. Nothing comes easy, if you want to achieve a goal you must dig deep for it. So it wasn't a surprise that the road to my second term was that bumpy and full of thorns, but we thank God that the end has justified the means and it has ended in peace.

 Were you surprised that after all the noise you eventually emerged as the sole chairmanship candidate in your area both at the primary and the general election?
I wasn't surprise that I emerged as the sole candidate (unopposed) in the sense that I know that whatsoever God has destined for anyone must surely come to pass. I had absolute faith in God and without sounding immodest; by the grace of God, our modest achievements in the past three years also helped us. His Excellency's favourable disposition towards our achievement two helped us and the party two. So it was the combination of so many factors. One was the mercy and the grace of God upon my life two, the benevolence of His Excellency and the party; three, the goodwill and the support I derive from across the entire wards of Itu Local Government Area. 

 There is this accusation that you muzzled out the commissioner for economic development who incidentally comes from the area in the chairmanship tussle, are you such a political maverick that you can pull such a stunt? 
To muzzle out is a very wrong word to use, we are not into competition with the honourable commissioner.

 But he had his own candidate? 
I don't think he had any candidate. It doesn't matter who had a candidate. Everybody had their own candidates but I was God's candidate. We all belong to the same party. In a contest like that you must have different aspirants and candidates. The joy is that at the end of the day we have only one person that emerged. So there was no muzzling of the honourable commissioner. Like I said, the commissioner was not contesting for the post of a chairman, neither was I contesting for the post of a commissioner. In a contest there must be varied interest, aspirants and candidates and at the end of the day whoever God favours has to emerge and in this case, God favoured me.

 In essence are you saying that the commissioner supported your aspiration for second term?
 I wouldn't know whether he did but I know that I consulted him like I consulted other major stakeholders and as a human being I believe that he supported me. You know voting is always secret ballot, you don't know who voted for you but what matters most is the outcome of the election. The result showed that the majority of the people voted for me and that caused my emergence.

 What is your plan for Itu people in this second term?
 I believe that before anything happens God has the reason and so as a person, I believe that one of the reasons that helped me to come back for my second term is to enable me complete some of the laudable projects that I initiated in my first term. Moreover those that I envisaged but because of lack of funds we couldn't do. One of such is the payment of bursary to Itu students in various institutions of higher learning. This is one project that has been very dear to my heart but because of funds we couldn't do it. I believe God in my second term we will take it as one of my cardinal projects to ensure that the indigent ones are encouraged to complete their studies. The next thing has to do with the economy and investment openings we intended to do in Itu. Don't forget that we had come up with this planning committee for Itu Economic, Tourism and Investment Summit. That summit was to midwife what I refer to as the industrial revolution in Itu. Like you know, there are lots of investment opportunities, tourism potentials in Itu that are yet to be harnessed. We needed that summit to showcase some of these investments, tourism and economic opportunities to bring in investors to see how they can take advantage of them and bring Itu into the world economic and industrial map. The next thing has to do with the agricultural revolution that is taking place almost everywhere in Akwa Ibom State. Itu cannot be left out. Don't forget that there is a major diversification from oil. Every government now is interested in agriculture. Itu has vast lands everywhere, so we feel we should also associate with that drive so that the issue of food will be a big plus to us as a government. We have so many expanses of lands that are begging for use. If you are going to Calabar between the head bridge and the area we call Workshop, up to main Itu town, or Obot Itu you will find out that there is that parcel of land that has been abandoned for years that is good for rice farm and plantation. In the health sector I believe His Excellency will approve my earlier appeal to him for the establishment of a general hospital in Itu Local Government. Don't forget that apart from the moribund Mary Slessor General Hospital, whose location and facilities are becoming a death trap for even the patients, Itu, does not have any functional general hospital. Itu occupies a very strategic location as far as Akwa Ibom State is concerned. Itu is a border local government area and you find out that from Calabar down to Uyo there is no hospital and in case of any accident on the road that needs immediate medical attention, there is no hospital to rush such a victim to. This underscores the importance and urgency for us to have a general hospital. We have provided land at Mbak for that purpose, so it is just left for His Excellency to oblige us that privilege and it will go a long way at least for the good of Itu people and a big plus for us as a government.

 In your first term you complained of lack of funds, do you think your second term will be any different? 
The issue of lack of funds is not peculiar to Itu local Government Council. The states and federal governments are crying for lack of funds to execute projects, and the same thing applies to us too. But I am a man of faith, I believe in a better tomorrow, so we believe that the economic situation of this country will improve which will also bring about improvement in the allocations to both the states and local governments. Don't also forget that Nigeria is passing through the second phase of recession, so we believe that as soon as possible we will come out of the recession and begin to embrace a better economy that will translate to an improved funding for the local government. Once funds come, we will apply it to life touching projects.

 How do you hope to actualise the plan to achieve industrial revolution in Itu?
 Tourism opportunities and related projects are capital intensive and definitely as a local government council it will be almost impossible for us to go solo, so as much as possible we will have to partner the investors. We will create enabling environment in terms of provision of land and liaison with the state government on other task incentives. So direct investment on those tourism potentials will be by what I refer to as public private partnership, PPP. As a local government we need investors to come in and take advantage of the available tourism potentials that are in Itu Local Government. 

Has anybody indicated interest so far? 
So many people have shown interest and we believe that more people will come, that is why we are very passionate about this Itu Economic Tourism and investment summit. I believe after that summit we will have even more people coming.

 When will it take place? 
We have set up a planning committee and they have not yet given us the details. The committee is working and we believe that in not much a distant time they will submit the report to us and we will look at it and, see when and how soon it will come up.

 A greater chunk of your local government area has merged into the state capital and this comes with its attendant problem of insecurity, how do you hope to control this especially around the cattle markets in Itam?
 Security has always been a collective and collaborative issue. Akwa Ibom is gradually sliding into a global village and as such what affects any part of the state affects the other. As a local government, we don't live in isolation; whether we are part of Uyo Capital City Development Authority, UCCDA or not, if there is any problem that bothers on security within Uyo or Itu, we are concerned because we are mindful of the fact that security challenges can spread within a twinkling or an eye. If it happens in Uyo, we have to be conscious and mindful of the fact that it could spread to Itu. Like what happened sometimes ago; the problem started at the Abattoir and before we knew it, it has spread to Uyo. Security challenges do not have any boundaries. As a local government, we also leveraging on the security apparatus that His Excellency has provided for the state especially the urban areas.

 As the chairman of Itu local government area, can you conveniently point out one unique thing you did which has given you satisfaction in the last three years? 
One thing that I will always be proud of is that we inherited a council secretariat that was more or less an abandoned property. There was no presence of human life there except reptiles and other wild animals but today that same secretariat is a delight of sort to everybody. Beehive of activities are now going on there and life has returned fully to the local government headquarters which means that there is a government in place. That is my number one source of fulfillment. When you go to the health sector, we have been able to reactivate so many moribund health centres. It has got to a point that our people decided to resort to traditional health attendance but now most of the health centres are working optimally. 

How many health centres do you have? 
We have about 14 health centres in Itu and so far two; the one at West Itam and the council secretariat are working optimally providing almost 24 hours services. We categorize our health centres into three; the two that I have mentioned are the one that we place under category A, which means that we have doctors that are there on daily basis. We engage NYSC doctors and we also engaged doctors on ad-hoc basis. Don't also forget that our immediate past supervisor for health was a medical doctor and he brought a lot of innovations to that sector. We also have category B that the doctor visit those health centres once a week and trust our people once they know that doctors is coming on a particular day, you will see an upsurge of people. We also have the third category, which are manned only by the nurses. We were able to bring back life to our health centres and I am happy people have also responded positively because you know we wouldn't have made much sense of after putting so much and at the end of the day the patronage is not there. Another thing to also look at as one of our major score card is the fact that we were consistent in road grading across the 10 wards to 11 wards in Itu Local Government Area. We made it a policy that every end of the year likes the dry season that is coming, we will commence and execute road grading projects. We might not have done much in that regard, but at least we made sure that one road in each of the ten wards was graded. It is a policy that will continue.

 Do you consider opening up new roads in areas that don't have access?
 I wouldn't promise that but if there is absolute need we can also consider that. Let us for now restrict ourselves to the existing ones. 

How do you intend to boost agriculture to achieve food sufficiency policy?
 Because of our concern and interest in the agriculture sector, we have to engage the All Famers Association Nigeria, Itu branch, supporting them to mobilize their members and come out with request and plans on how we can take advantage of that sector. I am also happy to report that we have enjoyed tremendous support from them. Not too long ago we flagged off the 5,000 cocoa seedling programme which the commissioner for Agric came. We want to see whether as a local government we can also have our own cocoa plantation We are talking with some investors to come and invest in the areas of rice plantation and processing. The state government has given us a marching order that we should provide a 100 hectres of land for agricultural purposes, so these are the areas that we feel that all things being equal, we will take full advantage. 

In three years there might have been something that you wished you could have done better which you couldn't do?
 The first thing I would have done in my first term which I couldn't do was the establishment of a trailer park. If you go round the length and breadth of Itu Local Government from Uyo down to Ekim Junction to the bridge head you will find out that trucks are being packed indiscriminately posing very serious danger to other road users and motorist. It has been my earnest desire that we should have a trailer park; not only for the purpose of generating revenue but to bring sanity to our road and thereby improve safety for road users and other motorist. Like I said, that is one of the things I would have done during my first term but God has given me this opportunity in my second term which I believe that by the grace of God we are going to do that. 

Where will it be located? 
The state government has given us a site somewhere opposite Basumoh Gas. We are in a process of doing the necessary documentation. I believe God that the project might form part of our first 100 days in office achievement.

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