Ibom Deep Seaport: A world class financial expert and an insurance authority, Chief Monday Ekong is one man whose name is boldly written in the Nigerian and Akwa Ibom investment sector. Born into Abak LGA of present day Akwa Ibom State, Monday Ekong who studied Insurance and Banking, started his practice in 1962 with Bank of the North in Lagos. He etched into Institute of Bankers for about four years. In 1966, he commenced his Insurance studies and qualified as an Associate of Chartered Insurance Institute.
In 1971, he started working with Manila Insurance Company where he became the first Superintendent. By 1977, Ekong resigned from Manila Insurance, setting up the Broken Fence Feral Technicals. The first Broker of Old Cross River State, Ekong who managed the risks of several government setups, had to raise a finance company known as the Mund and Myke Finance Limited.
His wide range of experience saw him becoming one of the 10th persons who ran finances across Nigeria. His experience in pensions management afforded him the opportunity to finance a lot of government projects. He could pick up a condemned and abandoned machine, used technical experts to recover them before selling them out. With his finance company and expertise, he developed a lot of long term projects across Nigeria. In Akwa Ibom State for instance, his signature projects include: Ibom Five Star Hotels and Golf Resort, Victor Attah International Airport, Ibaka Gulf Coast City and the completion of the Shelter Afrique Luxury Estate, Uyo. He could also recall the Northern Foresure in Lagos.
The third son of Obong Ime Ekong Umanah, Member of the British Empire (MBE) and then Paramount Ruler of Abak since 1942, Obong Monday Ekong who was born in 1940 has traversed continental bricks, eking out life. In this interview with the Editorial Crew of Real News led by the Editor in-Chief, Uduakabasi Ikpat, together with Joseph Atainyang and Ofonime Honesty, Chief Monday Ekong makes scaring revelations surrounding the Ibaka Deep Seaport being pursued by Akwa Ibom State government as Ibom Deep Seaport Port. Note that this interview was conducted in March 2020. The piece is a height of controversy with many pointed fingers towards ‘errand boys’ in the corridors of power. The bombshell is being published for the first time.
As one of the initiators of the seaport, could you please tell the general public your perspective of the project?
I am not one of the initiators. I am the initiator of the Ibaka project. When I brought about seven people from Uta, United States, we met with government of Akwa Ibom State. The present Senator of Akwa Ibom South, Dr. Akon Eyakenyi was then commissioner for culture and tourism. Our main mission was how to develop the five star hotel. The white men offered to finance the five star hotel, the airport and bring linkages to the port at completion. They expressed greater concern to develop something more substantial in the state. So we had to go round the state. The then Information Commissioner, Chris Abasi Eyo was always around with us. We went to the beach in Oron, but we couldn’t find the desired serenity. They took us to where the “Baby” was and we saw the “Baby”. That was Ibaka.
We were impressed at what we saw. I saw a certain vessel moving round. We were told it was going to Calabar. We studied the environment and got familiar with the depth of the river. That was how we thought of a Seaport. Even though we wanted building the seaport at Ikot Abasi, we realised the depth could only carry a river port. Of course, that was what happened across Nigeria, except the Lagos Port. Onne is a river port. Calabar is a river port. I then wrote to the government, through the Commissioner for Culture, Commerce and Tourism, so that I can build a seaport and a city for the seaport. A seaport must have a sitting city. It is not just enough to build a seaport and go away. I was fortunate to convince the commissioner and she pushed my proposal to the governor.
That’s why you should understand that the seaport is my own concept. So, the Five Star Hotel, the Shelter Afrique that was abandoned, the airport and others, were problems of the Akwa Ibom State government. But I turned them to solution.
We saw a sample of your recent letter to Governor Udom Emmanuel on the seaport development, could you tell us the content of the letter?
The content is that, we are telling Governor Udom Emmanuel that there was a visionary behind the seaport project. Whether they call it Ibom Seaport or Ibeno Seaport, we the initiators call it Gulf Coast City, Ibaka. I will explain to you why we gave it that nomenclature. As a diplomat, I can tell you that government has little or nothing to make that seaport a reality. That’s why I want to see Governor Udom Emmanuel to let him know that there is a visionary. It is only the man with the dream that has the spare parts. You can claim ownership of the project as government, but you can’t take the spare parts. The governor is a politician, a banker and I respect him for that. As a banker, he should know that nothing can happen without vision. Udom Emmanuel is a man of God, a Deacon and he hasn’t hidden it. He knows that when God gives vision, the person runs with the vision, knowing how to implement it. So, all the people running around him are not part of the vision. They’re not part of the dream. The governor has been around for about five year (now six). He has set up this and that. But they can’t achieve anything because they’re not part of the vision.
The Nigerian government, led by the Ministry of Transportation and other agencies, gave the assurances that the seaport will soon commence. Are you still doubting them?
The federal government will continue to give approvals. I know that President Jonathan had given approval that the project should commence. Approval is one thing, the actual implementation is another. The federal government is not the only investor of that seaport. It has just 20 percent equity. The state government equally has 20 percent equity, after giving the land. The private investor has 60 percent to contribute. Question is, who is this private investor? I am hearing of a Chinese firm. The governor knows that the Chinese has a way of injecting their funds into any country. They are not coming here for social business for the people to enjoy. No! They’re coming to do business and take away their money with profit. The Chinese is only interested in securing the construction contract. They want to take away the earnings that government will bring.
To fast track the actualization of the Seaport, in straight terms, what do you think must be done?
I just told you that government needs to talk to us. Whenever government listens to us, the project will start off. You see, as the investor handling the project, we did not want to involve Akwa Ibom government beyond the land they donated, especially if they had to pay compensation to the communities. We were yet to even involve the federal government to attract its 20 percent equity because of the port. We had over $15 billion handy to invest in the construction of the Gulf Coast City, Ibaka. We came as an end user consortium, because we came with the project and we were ready to finance it so we could make profit in due course. What should be important to government would be how much tax we pay to government: both state and federal and how many people we employ. We were not going to earn from Nigeria or the people of Nigeria. We were going to earn from the Gulf of Guinea. The project, Gulf Coast City does not belong to Akwa Ibom State or Nigeria. It belongs to the Gulf of Guinea. Have you heard them talk of the Gulf of Guinea?
What is the relationship now between your group of investors and the Akwa Ibom State government?
Apart from Obong Victor Attah, subsequent administrations have not talked with us. One could say that we should have gone to Court. The White people asked me to go to Court and I did. We were targeting AkIPOC because we used to deal directly with them. But when the new government came on board, they moved the file from AKIPOC to government house. What they did was deny knowledge of anything we raised in Court. They claimed not to know anything. Their lawyers kept saying they didn’t know us.
Which investor actually conceived the project and does the investor still exist?
The investor is Pension Managers Nigeria Limited. It still exists.
It is certain that Pension Managers Failed to prove its case in Court. Isn’t it?
Well, you know what it means for one to fight with government in a government Court. They just call civil servants that were not there to testify against you. What will you do? This really angered the end user consortium. There is one of us that worked with the satellite. He committed suicide. Betini, my son who was an information technology personnel also died of heart attack. Then Dr Ben, an architect who put the whole design together, died in May 2017. Others are still there. These were the people who passed on because of the frustration that government caused on the project. They hijacked the project and switched the concept. The job we did caused a lot of money. Obong Victor Attah knew it because we gave him the estimate. We spent a total of $13.7 million in the whole thing. Attah had handed over this to the new government when he left. But they refused to see it. But the good news is that, we still have evidence of all these. When Udom Emmanuel came to set up the seaport implementation committee, I wrote to the committee but they refused to handle it. They said their terms of reference did not include me.
I actually believed them because the committee chairperson, Mfon Usoro is married to my son. Paul Usoro is my son because I also helped to raise him. He still sends me money. So, there’s no way his wife would have told me a lie. Even Aniekan Ukpanah told me the same thing. Now question is, how did that happen? It is because the very people who frustrated the idea during Akpabio’s tenure are still hanging around Udom Emmanuel. They stopped the committee from involving us because they know that we are those to tell the truth about the project. As you can see (pushes forward a huge document), this is the Bible of Ibaka. Even Dr Akon Eyakenyi who is now a Senator knows the truth. As a member of that committee, she only works with government directives. She knows exactly how the project was conceived and what modalities we put on ground to actualize it. But what can she do when government is not listening to the voice of reason?
You’re exactly 80 years in 2020. Having visualized this project 20 years back during Victor Attah’s era, do you still have the muscle to run this race and get the project done?
Yeah, because I run with the vision. It keeps me alive and strong. When I go to Lagos, I see my achievements there, they make me strong. When I go to Five Star Hotel, I become firm. When I move to Shelter Afrique, I see people that are living there, it inspires me to do more. I go to the airport, I see it flying Ibom Air and other airlines, it keeps me alive. I don’t grow old. These are projects that will keep me alive forever. My mind is active at all times. I know what to do and I have the contacts to turn things around for the benefit of Akwa Ibom people, Nigerians, and indeed the Gulf of Guinea.
The relocation of Ibaka Seaport to Ibeno is a grave concern for many reasons. One of them is, can the seaport still be complete with specifications as originally designed for Ibaka?
When we approached government and the land was given, it was enough for Ibaka. But the then commissioner came to say that he had discussed with the governor and that they wanted an extension so the seaport could get to Ibeno. So, government offered us 13,000 hectares of land in all. That cannot be only for Ibaka.
It will dovetail into Ibeno. Even Esit Ekid would have been involved. But you know what, this project is all about tourism. When Ibeno saw what Akpabio’s government was now doing with the project, they invited us to come and build the port in their area. We told them that can’t be possible because of the swampy nature of their environment. They insisted that with their 4,000 hectares of land, we could float an island out of water. So we told them they should not worry because we knew what we were doing. Truth is, the whole drama of moving the seaport to Ibeno is more of politics than reality. By the time we finally succeed, you will see that people will be using monorail to access the airport from the Gulf Coast City.
Are you saying the actual harbour of the Port will be in Ibaka?
Of course, it will be in Ibaka. What you hear is all politics. I don’t know why that should happen because Ibaka son is the Secretary to Government and he knew me from the on set. He was involved in the Science Park Project, while I was handling Ibaka Gulf Coast City. Even though there are pipelines, these tourists know how to handle pipelines. We don’t have more pipelines than there are between Britain and Sweden. We don’t have more pipelines here than what you have in the United States. They know how to protect the pipelines. All these things are politics. I even heard they’re taking the Industrial City to Ikot Abasi. Our people are not interested in politics. They’re coming to run their own business, earn their own money, employ our citizens, and so on. If the people come in and tell the governor the truth, and the governor loves the state as he should, then he should give them benefits of the doubt.
Do you think this present government has the will power to execute the Ibaka Seaport Project?
They can’t. I’m saying that definitely. They will continue to be assuring people. They’re not just there yet.
Overtime, certain amounts of money have always been budgeted by the state government for the project. What’s your take on this?
You see, it is not just about budgeting money for something, it is really about drawing down money. They have been drawing down money for a long time on that project. Even before Attah left, I know that $10 million just passed like that into certain pockets. I came to know it when Akpabio had resumed. I saw the people that took the money. I don’t want to mention names. But you will ask me how much I’ve got from government. Of course, it wasn’t a government project. We came with the package. We didn’t need any kobo from government. Out of the $10 million, the first person took two, the other person took one, the next person took one, and the last person took six. Let me mention here, that Engr Etido Inyang knows what I’m talking about.
You said the Consortium budgeted $15 billion for the project. Supposed government comes back to its senses,asking you to carry-on with the project as originally designed, do you still have the financial strength to push through?
You know they made us commit $13 million into the project. What we want first is to settle that issue. We should be paid that money before anything else happens. It is either they pay us the money or the project does not come to limelight. My people have even reduced the money to $10 million. That’s what is in the petition. If they don’t pay us that money, they can’t commence the project. You know why, the people that have money up to $1 billion in this world are few. And you should know they have a club. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) knows them. The World Bank knows them. These people don’t have interest in their money again. When they put their money in the bank, they’re only given one percent yearly interest. The same bank will give other people five percent yearly interest. So, they can only earn interest in their money if they put it into projects. The projects must be in the third world countries, the extremely poverty striken areas. So, that’s where I belong. I am not their member because I don’t have that kind of money.
But I know them. I knew them through this Gulf of Guinea project. When you hear that banks have zillions, such monies are owned by this category of people.
Banks are always scouting for such projects for these people. In this case, they have their money and are ready at anytime for profitable business. Seaport is only an annexation of what we’re coming to do. They’re coming to build a Gulf Coast City in Ibaka. They want to live there and provide service for the Gulf of Guinea down to Angola. I won’t tell you that business because you may tell my competitors. The person that is coming to install the satellite, after the other person had died, is from Akwa Ibom. So, my people cannot allow some persons to mess up their well thought out plans for the Gulf of Guinea. Recently, they have packaged a case to be filed at the International Court. They are encouraged by what has happened to the federal government. Personally, I do not want that to happen. That is why I went to top citizens of this state to report to them, so that when it happens, they won’t blame me. But I assure you that the Gulf Coast City will begin at Ibaka immediately when the state government put the $10 million in ex crude account.
What’s the estimated cost of building the port as captured in the Gulf Coast City, Ibaka?
I’ve said we reserved $15 billion for the Gulf Coast City, Ibaka. The Port is only a section of the whole project. The Port in our design is estimated at $3.3 billion. What Akwa Ibom government is designing is about $2 billion. Can the government of this state conveniently bring out 20 percent of $2 billion? That’s $400 million. If the federal government is giving out $400 million, they do so by guarantee because they are the owners of cruse oil. They can always get guarantee.
If this project is put to use, how will it benefit Akwa Ibom people?
To inject $15 billion into an environment is not a child’s play. It will benefit the people greatly. The Gulf Coast City is going to be security imperative. You cannot step into it without notification and clearance. The people investing here are conversant with terrorism as a global phenomenon. The periphery satellite, Ibeno, Urue Offong Oruko, Uyo and adjourning places will have a drastic transformation. By way of infrastructure, we will build the city with advanced technology so that something like mosquito will be unheard of. Over 200 thousand direct and indirect jobs will be readily available. Farming will improve because we will import soil samples from other places to be able to grow what we cannot grow with Akwa Ibom soil. Things that we have not seen before will be available here. If you see how the seaport is designed, you will realise that it has a harbour house, two shop malls, factories and very many others. You will be surprised that all these are on water. The government has this document. Can you imagine the stress of engaging engineers, architects and other experts in doing all these and the government will through it away?
So they’re not even using this prototype in their relocated seaport?
Sadly enough, I’m seeing something very small. I only see a finger to the sea in their drawings. I just laugh. In our design, we have a Tom short island. When a ship comes, the bridged island will kick up and the ship will pass. Is that not tourism? We know what we will get from the Gulf of Guinea. We only needed a place to perch. That’s why we’re in Ibaka. The fact is that I was blocked from having an interface with Governor Udom Emmanuel. They know that if the governor listens to me, nothing will stop him from buying into the idea.