THE FUTURE OF OUR YOUTH

A KEYNOTE ADDRESS PRESENTED BY Onofiok Akpan Luke, THE MEMBER REPRESENTING ETINAN/NSIT IBOM/ NSIT UBIUM FEDERAL CONSTITUENCY IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF NIGERIA, AT THE 32ND ANNUAL CONVENTION OF AKWA IBOM STATE ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA, USA INC. (AKISAN) HOUSTON, TEXAS

Distinguished participants

INTRODUCTION
I consider it a rare honour and privilege to deliver this keynote address at this very important forum. It is both an exciting experience and one that humbles me greatly. Let me first congratulate AKISAN for sustaining this commendable yearly tradition of flying the Akwa Ibom flag and identity even in a foreign land. Worthy of note also is the great effort put together by the present leadership of this prestigious association which has culminated in our gathering today.

Let me use this medium to specifically express our appreciation to AKISAN for the support given to us during the last election. We pledge to use the mandate to serve Akwa Ibom State, our heritage, diligently.

The theme of this year’s convention “The Role of Healthcare, Education & Technology in Building a Better Community” is apt given that our families are daily threatened in Nigeria due to limited access to quality healthcare and basic necessities of life.

It is equally very profound for a time where the social media has brought about unhealthy competitions, promoting a new dimension of bullying behaviours, which has led to the recent surge in cases of depression and suicide in an environment that such subjects do not occupy the front-burner of daily conversations. In a time we are faced with educational challenges, it is indeed impressive that we are holding this conversation at this convention.

When we shall have critically considered all these areas of concern, it will then behove on us to make collaborative effort towards tackling these issues in order to bring about a positive change.

Having given a preview of some of the challenges facing us, I will speak specifically as requested by the organizers on the topic “THE FUTURE OF OUR YOUTH.” This topic is indeed very dear to me because the youth is my primary constituency; the one I call “GENERATION NEXT.” The importance of our youth being the future is starkly captured by Eric Shikobela, a South African preacher, thus “A nation that fails to invest in the future of its youth is a doomed nation. The youth is a significant symbol of strength and persistence.”

Let me state from the onset that the topic of discourse is an inexhaustible subject. Ordinarily, it spans from parenting, education, career, leadership, technology and beyond. However, for the sake of this discourse, we shall attempt to discuss this topic from four perspectives, to wit, agriculture, technology, entertainment, and leadership.

By way of giving a progress report, let me inform you that the youth of our dear state had come together to sponsor a Bill for the establishment of the Akwa Ibom Youth Development Fund. It is a Bill for a law to implement a sustainable youth policy framework. The bill crafts a legally established, independent and recognized institution saddled solely with the important responsibility of administering the programs of the fund.

The youth program framework will empower youths who will stimulate economic growth, create more job opportunities, employ others and pay taxes to government thereby making significant contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the state. It will drastically reduce youth restiveness and anti-social activities like armed robbery, kidnapping, and other vices.

Under my watch as the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, the 6th Assembly saw the value and importance of the Bill to the Akwa Ibom youth and passed it into law. It is my belief that the future of our youth will be better positioned with the implementation of the programmes as envisioned by the Bill.

AGRICULTURE
Ladies and gentlemen, today, the global demand for chocolate is reportedly overwhelming the production rate of cocoa (as raw material for chocolate). The government of Akwa Ibom State has facilitated the cultivation of about 30,000 hectares of improved cocoa across the state. And at the last count, about 8,375 farmers across 24 local government areas are cultivating cocoa in the state.

Available statistics have shown that the consumption of rice has outweighed that of every other common food in any locality. Hence, rice has become a global product with its demand increasing by the day. Through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, Akwa Ibom State is leveraging on the swampy terrain of Ekoi/Mbat in Ini Local Government Area to cultivate 10, 000 hectares of rice plantation.
With the above effort and more, the youth have not found agriculture really appealing due to some reasons as I would love to think. One of such reasons would be the fact that farming is still done the manual way with no access to modern equipment available or maybe the craze for suit-wearing jobs.

Godspower Tom a 30 year old farmer, feels that with access to modern farming equipment, fertilizer, hybrid species and land, he can boost his crop production, employ others and increase sales. Tractors are not even easily accessible. Fertilizers and other farm supplements are at an all-time high cost.

In a hyper-connected world, our food also brings us together more than it used to. Food production has morphed over time from a local agrarian system to a global corporate, one replete with imports, exports, and shipments big enough to cross oceans and continents every day.

Daniel Stone, a writer on environmental science, agriculture and botany is of the opinion that about 16% of the world’s population depends on food produced elsewhere. By 2050, that number will jump to 50%. With the exhaustion of farmland and the ways that climate will impact arable land half of the world’s population could rely on food imports. This is sobering. But it does not account for a few variables that could make the situation easier.

By innovating growing techniques, either with better seeds, more effective pesticides, or more efficient ways to irrigate without losing as much water, farmers can increase their yields. They can even grow in places that have traditionally been environmentally off limits to agriculture.

The farmer-herders crisis may impose a permanent shortage in animal production such as beef supply from the North. There will be need for innovative measures in establishing ranches and other facilities to cater for livestock business opportunities in Akwa Ibom State.

The Akwa Ibom State Government is building the future for our youth in agriculture. Given its drive to diversify the economy, the state government led by Mr. Udom Emmanuel has taken a step to secure the future of the state through agriculture revolution. The government is working on creating food security. The government provides to farmers fertilizers and improved planting seedlings like corn, cassava stems, etc. About 600, 000 bags of fertilizers have been procured for farmers and 1, 000 bags of special cocoa fertilizers were imported from Ghana for optimal yield.

The government has created 11, 000 hectares of coconut plantation with about two million stands of coconut already planted. It is believed that the plantation will feed raw materials to the coconut refinery, and at a full capacity, the refinery would process 300, 000 coconuts per day. This investment will provide huge foreign exchange to the state as coconut oil is a highly priced product in the international market.

The state has also achieved 2,100 hectares of cassava plantation in 15 Local Government Areas under the FADAMA programme, and also constructed 33 cassava micro processing mills. Furthermore, 48, 000 rice farmers have so far been registered under the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Anchor Borrowers scheme.

The state government is also into production of cocoa. 500, 000 improved cocoa seedlings were raised for distribution to farmers at highly subsidised rates across the 28 cocoa producing Local Government Areas in the state. The state has established Special Cocoa Maintenance Scheme (SCMS) for training of farmers and youths on pruning/shade management, under brushing, and tree care by fumigation.

In poultry business, the Akwa Prime Hatchery located at Mbiaya, Uruan, has produced and distributed about 160, 000 birds to contract farmers across the state. The Hatchery has a capacity of producing 10, 000 day-old-chicks per week. To boost mechanised farming, the government has established a Tractor Hiring Enterprise Centre with the aim of making such farm equipment available and affordable to farmers.

Agriculture is our area of comparative advantage so we need to leverage on that by getting our youth actively involved.

TECHNOLOGY
Technology has played a big role in developing the agricultural industry. Today, it is possible to grow crops in a desert by use of agricultural biotechnology. With this technology, plants have been engineered to survive in drought conditions. Through genetic engineering, scientists have managed to introduce traits into existing genes with a goal of making crops resistant to droughts and pests. This means that we do not have any excuse not to plant. We apply technology in almost everything we do in our daily lives; we use technology at work, we use technology for communication, transportation, learning, manufacturing, securing data, scaling businesses and so much more.

Technology is dynamic; it keeps on improving because our needs and demands keep on changing. We have moved from the industrial age (industrial revolution) to an information age. During the industrial age, companies with large sums of capital had the potential of employing expensive technological tools to gain the competitive advantage; small businesses had less potential because they could not afford expensive manufacturing or processing technology tools.

Our youth, with the little available resources, are doing their best in this sector. We must acknowledge the effort made by Hanson Johnson the founder of the first state-based technological hub, Start Innovation Hub, who has facilitated the training and certification of thousands of Akwa Ibom people in different areas of technology ranging from data processing, web development to graphics design.

The Onuk’s of The Roothub; Francis & Tony have also raised an army of youths in coding, robotics, 3D printing, etc. From their tracking, they have trained at least 11,000 Akwa Ibom people in collaboration with Google and Microsoft with a sizable number getting placement in some of their partner organizations.

Sadly, the high cost of internet access, lack of infrastructure, epileptic though slowly improving power supply and access to modern equipment to improve the teaching-learning experience are some of the challenges the Onuk’s will live to tell.

We also acknowledge the consistency of Uduak Inwang of Cavil Consult, a Young Akwa Ibomite who formerly was a Roadside Mobile Phone repairer at the prestigious Ibom Plaza, went into Blogging and Social Media Marketing and recently moved to the US to start a family. He uses the Digital space to earn a living offering out-of-the-box digital media and marketing solutions for businesses, government establishments and offices, not-for-profit organizations, and individuals. Uduak of Cavil Consult has trained various Akwa Ibomites on Social Media Marketing and worked in Nigeria since 2015 delivering a broad array of social media services to many beneficiaries and partners in Akwa Ibom and beyond.

It is in recognition of these efforts by our youth that I will be pursuing at the Federal parliament the need for government and private sector capital support for technology start-ups.

ENTERTAINMENT
Few days ago, Beyonce, an American-born music icon, announced the release of her new album, THE GIFT which featured not less than five Afro-pop singers from Nigeria. This is great news for Nigeria’s entertainment and afro-pop in particular. Howbeit, how many of the listed collaborations had names from Akwa Ibom State? Your guess is as good as mine, NONE.

Our own Ikpa Udo is using rap music to promote the Ibibio dialect. Mc Galaxy is equally blazing the trail in music to the best of his ability. Ekemini Cultural Group is making waves and they become a delight to the public.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the industry, their effort may not be enough to shatter the ceiling, limiting them because they do not have already existing big names in the industry pushing them. We need to come together and see how we help them grow because they are promoters of our rich heritage.

LEADERSHIP
Hersey and Blanchard defined leadership as the process of influencing the activities of an individual or a group in efforts toward goal achievement in a given situation. We cannot talk about the future of our youth without talking about leadership. It is leadership that prepares the youth to get ready to embrace, take over and manage their future. We need not just prepare the youth for the future, but we must prepare the future for our youth. This, in total sum, connotes leadership.

As a member of the House of Assembly, I established the first stipendary legislative internship programme in Nigeria known as The Onofiok Luke Legislative Internship Programme (TOLLIP). Upon becoming the Speaker of the 6th Assembly, I ensured the establishment of the Akwa Ibom Legislative Internship Programme (AKILIP) in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. The programme was institutionalised and made part and parcel of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.

My aim was simple: to prepare the youth for the future and get them ready for future responsibilities. The programme trains the youth on legislative processes and practices, leadership values and democratic tenets. The essence is to convey the youth with adequate moral character and strength for leadership.

These programmes were instituted conscious of the critical role mentorship plays in leadership. The importance of mentorship in leadership cannot be overemphasized. Mentorship creates positive impact in youth’s lives. Youth with mentors perform in leadership better than those that are without mentors. We need to continuously mentor the youth to assume leadership positions.

It is gratifying to note that the political space in Akwa Ibom State is opening up for the youth, and the youth who are saddled with public responsibilities have discharged them creditably well. Our youth are excelling in their different spheres of life and have become models for upcoming generation. Emediong Uduak Uko, a 19-year old Akwa Ibom daughter recently made history as the youngest artist in the world and first African artist to be adopted into the largest museum in the Near East region of Europe – the Cyprus Modern Art Museum with her tribute piece, ‘Lagbaja: The Masked One’; Mr Ikpe Ibanga won 2013 D-Waste Award (an official Award of the University of Leeds for MSc students with outstanding performance in solid waste related dissertations) for the best research project dissertation on “Air Quality Monitoring for Bioaerosols: A Review of the Occupational Health Risks in a Waste Materials Recovery Facility (MRF)”; Ini Ememobong a lawyer and advocate of humanity in politics, is engaging in community-based development by providing water supply to local communities, empowering the youth to be self-sufficient and building infrastructures for his communities, Use Ndon.

THE WAY FORWARD
For a state presently clamouring for the relocation of Exxon Mobil to its operational base, Akwa Ibom, the ideal future would be one with sufficient manpower to take up top management roles when the relocation finally happens. By this, it means that more of capacity building is needed for the youth.

Akwa Ibom State Government led by His Excellency, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, is on course to industrialise the state. With the setting up of syringe factory, flour mill industry, metering factory, coconut refinery, Ibom Air, etc., our youth have to be ready to take charge. The planned establishment of Ibom Deep Seaport will open up diverse opportunities for our youth.

Successive Government must adopt the practice of following the blueprint planned out for the future of our state, regardless of whoever is at the helms of affairs at a given time. Over the past years, we have been blessed with leaders in our dear state who have made conscious effort in building a sustainable economy to move our state forward. The industrialization agenda of the present administration must be sustained to create wealth for the future of our youth. The syringe factory, the flour mill, metering factory and coconut plantation/refinery are all testimonies of Governor Udom’s preparation of the future for our youth; to create wealth, provide jobs and create a virile economy for the development of the state.

It is worthy to note that the industrialisation drive of Governor Udom would not have been possible without the foundations that were led by past administrations including Obong Victor Attah and Godswill Obot Akpabio. For instance, Ibom Air would not have been possible without the conceptualisation and building by the state airport by Obong Attah and the consolidation by Chief Godswill Akpabio. The success of the industrialisation drive so far is an achievement steeped in collaboration and consolidation. So to move our state forward, we have to work together with a collaborative mind-set. We stand to achieve more when working together.

On my own part, I am working with the Governor to ensure that the Ibom Deep Seaport becomes a reality by pushing for the federal government to give all necessary approvals and licences. Also, with some of my colleagues, we are pushing for a railway system that runs through Akwa Ibom State. This will ensure ease in movement of people, good and services. I am proposing the removal of items like railway, aviation, seaports, etc., from the Exclusive Legislative List so that states can be at liberty to establish and run railway system, seaports, etc.

The question now is whether we have the necessary manpower and capacity to handle and manage the available opportunities created by industrialisation. How many Akwa Ibom pilots do we have or aero-engineers? How many Akwa Ibom sons and daughters are trained in aviation law that can handle matters that may arise from this area? The Ibom Deep Seaport comes with a lot of opportunities. How ready are our youth to invest in the sector? How many professionals do we have in maritime sector to handle a myriad of matters that will arise there? If we are not prepared to take charge, outsiders will come and take over the opportunities. I know government is trying in this direction to train the youth, but we need to do more.

With the numerous untapped resources scattered across, Akwa Ibom has what it takes to become the biggest economy in Nigeria. I hereby seek the support of AKISAN in partnering and supporting the youths of Akwa Ibom in areas of entrepreneurship especially in areas of tech starts up, artificial intelligence and the growing creative industries.
The future of our youth in the competitive technological age will need technology ideas and human resources to be harnessed in an incubator and accelerator tech cluster like the Ibom Science and Technology Park.

I am anticipating a future of youth in Akwa Ibom State where politicians and owners of big enterprises will consider it fashionable to invest in indigenous start-ups like what Sifon Psimfoni Oscar is doing. It would be one where a modified apprenticeship system currently practised by our Igbo brothers can be implemented to foster shared prosperity.
Truth is, if we all have what to eat and are leading comfortable lives, issues of restiveness or insecurity as a whole would be completely buried. It would be one where collaboration would substitute competition for greater productivity.

This is possible only if the youths will refuse the sweetness and ease that comes with sitting on the fence and rise up to create wealth through the deposits that God has made for our use.

Thank you.

Source: Godson Obot

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