Barely a month in office, Gov. Udom Emmanuel inaugurated an 11-man committee, with Mr. Gabriel Ukpeh, a Partner and Risk Quality Leader for Africa at Price Water House Cooper, as Chairman and Mr Offong Ambah, Dr Elijah Akpan, Mr Ini Urua, Mr Akan Udofia, Mr Andrew Jason, Mr Udeme Ufot and Mrs Offiong Ejindu, Mr Larry Esin and Victor Bob as members. They were saddled with the responsibility of using their contacts to attract direct investment to the state. While seeking the office of governor, Mr. Emmanuel had promised to diversify the economy of the state through investment in sustainable industries. Two years later, the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics named Akwa Ibom State second, after Lagos State as the state that attracted the largest direct foreign investment to Nigeria in 2017.
At the beginning of the Udom Emmanuels administration, the nation was faced with life-threatening unfavourable economic climate. With vast experiences in investment banking, the governor knew that it was time to think out of the box. The ready tool to stay afloat, create the needed jobs and expand the economy was the involvement of the private sector in Public Private Partnership arrangement.
Speaking at the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22) in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2016, Gov. Emmanuel had solicited the involvement of investors in the economy of the state. He highlighted his then states five-point agenda, adding, “our targets are job creation, poverty alleviation, economic and political inclusion, wealth creation, infrastructural consolidation and expansion”.
Since then, there had been an avalanche of investments into the state. The Yiwu International Mall Investment Limited, a Chinese firm in constructing 62,000 square metres, having about 3000 shops within a 2-storey complex. This investment has an initial $25m capital flow into the state. The Turkish company, VSK Group has since commenced a syringe manufacturing company at Onna. The Jubilee syringe manufacturing outfit has an initial capital of $30m. Other high-end industries that have set up manufacturing concerns in the state include the Plywood Industry at Onna, the Okat Four Mill, the Itu Motor Assembly plant, among others.
The idea of a shopping mall was hatched in 2008 during the Akpabio administration and reawakened in 2015, when Median Infrastructural Development Company, led by its Chief Executive Officer, Engr. Olumide Akinsanya heeded Governor Emmanuels call for investors to come and take advantage of the existing investor-friendly environment to invest in the state. Speaking on this, Engr. Akinsanya, recollected that we came to the state in 2015 to build a mall. The governor, however, told us that the government would rather prefer us partnering with them to further develop an existing, but yet to be completed mall in the state. That was how we came into the Tropicana mall.
The Median Infrastructural Development Company nursed the idea of bringing in Shoprite, a South African Mall chain that has several operation areas in Nigeria. The drastic fall in the value of Naira made this proposal unattractive for the South Africans, thus the companys shift to sourcing for a local anchor operator for the Ibom Tropicana Mall.
Remodeling, redesigning and in some instances, fresh construction work commenced in 2015. Major work was done to create a separate shop space for the anchor operator, while renovation work was on to plug leaking roofs, refurbishing the elevators, and installation of new electric lines, as well as other structural defects noticed in the mall complex.
On Thursday October 8, 2020, another critical step was taken towards the actualization of this dream of a world-class mall in Akwa Ibom State. That day, Median Infrastructure Company Development Ltd, held an interactive forum with tenants and other stakeholders of the project, preparatory to its inauguration for Mall business.
The Managing Director of the company, Engr. Olumide Akinsanya, in his remarks told the tenants that the Mall was ready to commence business as projected on December 1, 2020. He urged those who had made payments to collect their keys and get their shops ready for opening. He traced the history of his companys involvement in the Mall to 2015, when work commenced on the remodeling, redesigning and standardization of the Ibom Tropicana Mall. He noted that tenants already had value for their money with the per square meter cost of the Ibom Tropicana Mall.
This is the cheapest mall in Nigeria in terms of per square metre, Mr Akinsanya reiterated to the tenants, adding that In Tropicana Mall, tenants are charged N5,400 per square metre, as against N9,800 per square metre in Owerri. In Uyo, the food court is N6,500, while a similar food court is N18,000 in other malls.
We are happy that His Excellency Mr. Udom Emmanuel had to bring his investment savviness to bear on the project by providing the enabling environment that has led to Ibom Tropicana Mall being the only mall in Nigeria indexed in Naira. The rest are all indexed in dollar. That is why our rent is easily the most pocket friendly in Nigeria, Mr. Akinsanya, noted.
Originally, Ibom Tropicana Mall had less than 5,000sq lettable area but with the remodeling, it is now about 9,800sq and 56 rentable shop, with 80 per cent of the shops already rented out, ready to commence business by December 1, 2020, as it was then slated.
There is enormous excitement in the air as the people of the state anticipate a major lift in the economic life of the state following the commencement of business by the mall. The Ibom Tropicana anchor operator, is Port Harcourt based chain, Market Square, with 13 Shops spread all over the nation. The Uyo mall will bring their chain to 14.
The marketing manager of Market Square, the anchor operators, Mr. Emmanuel Patrick, told this reporter at the tenants forum that his company was ready to open its doors for business in December. Even though this date was not feasible, the people of the state were given a foretaste of the pudding when thousands thronged the mall to celebrate Christmas. It was such a sight, seeing excited members of the public taking out time to enjoy the trappings of a modern Mall facility in Uyo.
“I am excited to announce our preparedness to commence business in Uyo. It is a major achievement for us as a chain. This is our first mall experience; all the other shops we run in other states are standalone shops. So, you can see what this place hold for us, Mr. Patrick said.
He further stated, We are coming to add economic value to this state. We are going to create employment opportunities and open value chain opportunities for vendors for the supply of groceries, poultry, agricultural produce etc.”
Speaking also on the economic prospects of the mall, Mr Akinsanya said, “the mall will provide jobs for at least 600 people when it is opened for business. It will definitely be more than that number when you look at the multiplier effect. The people must key into this project as there is so much value addition coming with the mall.”
The government of Akwa Ibom State is already planning big for the mall. The chairman of the Akwa Ibom State committee on foreign direct investment, Mr. Gabriel Ukpe says that the state is ready for Tropicana Mall to commence business. To him, employment of the youths of the state remain one of the cardinal reasons why the state governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel is committed to industrialization and push for investment capital into the state.
“To be sure that our people are employed in the mall, we are going to publicly advertise for jobs in the mall. This will form a pool of qualified persons of Akwa Ibom State origin, who will be shortlisted purely based on their qualification and competence for the jobs businesses in the mall would require. That way, we are sure that our people are not left out in job opportunities at the mall, Mr. Ukpe told the prospective tenants.
On the fears expressed by operators on multiple taxes and levies, Mr. Ukpe assured them of favourable operating environment, adding that government will only take the required taxes and protect the operators from any illegal and unwarranted levies.
At its conception in 2008, the Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Center was touted as one of the queens of projects of the Godswill Akpabio era. Conceived to sit on 82 hectares of land, the center comprised of 6-screen Cineplex, a shopping mall said to have 59 shops, a convention center that could 5000, a 14-floor five star hotel with 250 executive rooms and a theme park, complete with both dry and wet rides, covering 3 hectares of land. It was an ambitious project said to have been modeled after the South African Sun City. Contract for the center was awarded in September 2008 to Silverbird Galleria for N33b, by the Godswill Akpabio. However, before that government left office, over N120b had been expended on the project, before it was, at the twilight of that government’s departure, commissioned on May 22, 2015, while failing to deliver on the promises expected by the people.
As the Mall officially comes alive today, this signposts another remarkable success story in the Udom Emmanuel administration towards making Akwa Ibom State an economically viable state and a model for the country. Congratulations Akwa Ibom State. Congratulations Gov. Udom Emmanuel. Congratulations to Engr Akinsanya and the Median Infrastructural Development Company.