In this interview, the Honourable Commissioner for Transport and Petroleum Resources, Hon. Orman Esin, bares his mind on the free tax days, health insurance scheme for the tricycle operators, and issues bothering the Ministry of Transport and Petroleum Resources. Excerpt:
In other climes across the nation, we have heard of tricycle operators having issues either with the commuters or the society even becoming overbearing for the people, but in Akwa Ibom State, it is a different story. What could be responsible?
The first thing I would like to say is that, in Akwa Ibom State, the strategy of engaging the tricycle operators is totally different. That strategy is robust consultation and ensuring that we work very closely with the union. You know, in a thing like this, we have people at the grassroots level, and what matters most is giving them that sense of belonging by carrying them along. What we do in the transport sector is ensuring that we are very robust in engaging our people, consulting properly and ensuring that we carry them along.
The Governor just opened up an insurance scheme and free tax days for tricycle operators, how will these be of benefit to the average tricycle operator in the state?
His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel, is committed to the welfare of transport operators in the State and of course, the insurance scheme and tax free days for weekends and holidays are ways of giving back to the people. These people have been working and buying tickets which implies that they are actually complying with government policies, and the governor thought of showing them that he has their concerns. That is why the Governor came up with the insurance scheme for the tricycle operators. The essence is that, you know nobody can avoid accident; this will help take care of the hospital bills. So His Excellency intends to help and support them during times of crises to get their medical bills sorted out.
The ticket free days is just a way of asking them what they want the government to do to make them happy, and the people came up with the idea of abolishing weekends and holidays taxes, which before now, they used to pay from Monday to Saturdays including public holidays.
How would you describe the excitement you saw during the solidarity visit to the Government House by the tricycle operators?
I would say that it was just a natural gesture from the people. The truth is, when the people you serve are happy with you, excitement comes naturally. You can’t buy it. You could see the excitement on the faces of the transporters. They were very happy and excited for what the Governor is doing and will continue to do for them. They even had to tell him that they were going to return him to office by voting him for second term. These are the things that good governance brings to the people. Even the Bible says that when the righteous rules, the people rejoice. What you saw was just a heart of gratitude to the Governor.
Does it mean that you had a meeting where everybody agreed that the insurance scheme would be something they would need from government?
Yes like I said, there was a very robust interview with leaders where we engaged and asked them what they needed and what their plans were. They were able to draw the table, and the government saw the need for the insurance scheme. It is basically a way of reaching out to the people, in a very strategic way, to ensure dialogue, consultation and interfacing with the people, and that is what we are doing.
what would you say the Governor has been able to achieve in the transport sector in the past two years?
I want to congratulate Governor Udom Emmanuel for the enhanced infrastructure in the transport sector. Akwa Ibom is one of the few states in Nigeria where you can come in and freely go round. Without the good road networks, you can’t move from one end to another. I’m proud to be an Akwa Ibomite and proud to call myself one of those who enjoy the facilities in the state under the present administration.
If you are looking at the aviation, you are looking at the 2nd Runway that has been put in place which can carry massive airplanes. These are steps His Excellency, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, is taking to ensure that Akwa Ibom people enjoy moving from one point to another without having itches.
What are we looking forward to achieving in the Waterways?
About 25 – 30 years ago, we had ferries shuttling Oron – Cross River and Calabar precisely. What we are looking at now is how to connect to shuttle Le Meridien to Tinapa, and then move ahead to have a normal ferry system that would run via Oron and Calabar. In the process, the Jetty in Oron has been opened up, and investors are coming in. Plans are in progress and strategy is in place.
Governor Emmanuel knows what they people want and has gone for it. It is not just about doing what will impart on the people. He is so strategic that, for everything is does, he makes sure that it will impart on the people not just in a short term, but also in a long term.
Talking about strategy, would you say the Governor has been able to achieve good stretch of buses and taxis to be able to meet up with the transportation need of the people?
What Governor Emmanuel is looking at is the future of the transport sector. Today we have tricycles (Keke), remember sometime ago we used motorcycles. Now, we are trying to see how to move from tricycle to something that is more beneficial, effective and functional to the people. The future is what we are actually looking at and that is where His Excellency is focusing at.
We are building an interface with FBI investment which will come up with a traffic scheme to provide for our people with good buses. It will be ready in a couple of months. I want to say basically that the strategy that Governor Emmanuel deploys to work is looking at what is the future. And I think any responsible and vision-led government or leadership should be looking at a longer term approach and not just an immediate term approach.
Talking about taxation, some states believe that monies from tax levies from the transport sector are the necessary avenues to make up for internally generated revenue (IGR), how will the introduction of free tax impact on the IGR of the state?
You can’t talk about revenue generation without considering compliance. One of the things that enhances revenue generation is compliance. When you have 15-20 per cent people complying, you will have 15-20 per cent revenue generated. So if the bar of compliance is raised, off course, the bar of revenue generation will also raise.
The question is, what strategy can we deploy to ensure that we generate revenue? One of the incentive strategies is giving back to the people. If the people find out that there is something that goes for them, it is easy for them to go ahead and say they are down with government policies. Now that Governor Emmanuel has given them tax-free days, it would be foolish for someone to reduce compliance in revenue generation.
We noticed that even MOU registration, before now, it used to be very scanty, but when we give them an insight about what the Governor is planning to do, it will raise the bar of compliance and we will have hundreds of people coming out for the registration. Compliance is earnest – people want to compliance because they see what the government is giving back to them. Compliance has to do with incentive, and increase in revenue generation has everything to do with compliance. For compliance to be achieved, you need to give incentive, which will in turn bring about a stabilised system.
The Transport Ministry has been merged with the Ministry Petroleum Resources. Can You give an exposition on the developments in the Petroleum Sector?
The petroleum sector is actually wide and I would say that it needs a very strategic approach to ensuring that we generate revenue.What we are doing is that we are looking holistically to know why Akwa Ibom State had not been benefiting in terms of revenue generation. The answer is that people have taken advantage of the fact that Akwa Ibom people are peace-loving people.
We are calling the IOCs and the international oil companies to the knowledge that Akwa Ibom is the largest oil producing state in Nigeria. And if we say Nigeria is the largest oil producing country in Africa, it actually means that Akwa Ibom is the largest oil producing state in Africa, and we have not been able to see physical presence of that fact. Currently, Akwa Ibom produces about 70 per cent of oil in the country. So in that aspect we are engaging the IOCs and we need them to come in and have their offices here in the state where they benefit from majorly. There are so many things we will benefit from in terms of revenue generation – more people will be employed, there will be some level of contracts where our quota will come to our people, taxes will be paid, Pay As You Earn (PAYE) will increase. These are what we are looking at, and like I said, it is very strategic. So we have to engage them and then bring all this on the table.
One of the things that have been an issue is the issue of exclusive legislative which is federal government’s jurisdiction over the operation of oil companies. But then, even within that perspective, there is still what we call local content. The local content is where the state is interested. We don’t have any problem in how the federal government is benefiting from. We are the local/owners and we have to also benefit from the oil companies. As far as local content is concerned, Akwa Ibom State should benefit a lot from the operations of those oil companies.
The issue of short supply products...
Let me open up a little on why we are having short of supply. We are having logistic issues. We lift most of these products from Calabar, and moving the products from Calabar to Akwa Ibom has its own expenses and procedures which also affects the prices. One of the things we can do is to ensure the dredging of Ikot Abasi which will allow for bigger vessels to buy at the terminals. Dredging Ikot Abasi means opening Akwa Ibom State to a logistic hub in terms of the marine just as what we have in Onne.
Like I said, Governor Emmanuel is very strategic. He knows what will bring value to Akwa Ibom State, and he is going for it.
His Excellency, Mr Udom Emmanuel Governor of Akwa Ibom State