By Umoh-Obong Kingsley
While Nigeria is still making plans to start the production of pencil in the country by 2018 as disclosed by the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, Akwa Ibom State government has taken the lead in the industry through the Akwa Ibom Entrepreneur and Enterprise Scheme (AKEES).
Initially, nobody thought it was going to work, that it was politics. The majority of youths in Akwa Ibom are gainfully employed through the pencil and toothpick factory where they will equally develop their skills. Within a very short time, barely six months, the Toothpick and Pencil Factory has not only been completed but now producing.
The industry is of a great benefit to the state economy in the sense that it has created employment for the citizens of the state; it generates revenue to the government through tax payment and will also bring more money not only to the government but also to the people who have been engaged in the industry. It will also attract downstream businesses to the state. The bamboos that used to be thrown away, people are now supplying and making money out of it.
Even unused papers that we used to be burnt out, are now being utilised and put into economic use. More people are leaving the labour market and are gainfully employed. At the end, it will also drive people’s interest from other states to the Akwa Ibom thereby boosting the population of the state.
So far, the factory has direct staff strength of 67. Those who indirectly benefit from the factory are the bamboo suppliers, newspapers suppliers, gums distributor and diesel suppliers. About 15,000kg toothpick and 20,000 pencils are produced within 8 hours of production. This will turn the area into an industrial hub. While we are waiting for the big ones, this industry can generate some economic activities and employ a lot of people.
If Governor Emmanuel was playing politics with governance, we would have seen what we are seeing today. There are three lines each for toothpick and pencils . Politically, it would have been so nice to put one line of pencil in each of the senatorial districts which will give us three industries, and another three lines of toothpick making it six. Each of the machines needs 100kva to be powered, which costs about N5.9 million to acquire a standby one (11.8). If it were to go round the three senatorial districts, the cost would have been too high. But as a financial management expert, the governor decided to merge the two factories (toothpick and pencil ).
The industry would have been commissioned in November last year but it had to undergo production test-running before commissioning. During the production test period, a good market structure was set for toothpick and pencils. It would not have profited citizens of the state if Governor Emmanuel had commissioned the factory and it folds up two months later, throwing the workers back to the streets.
In order to ensure the sustainability of the industry, screening was conducted for the employment of a general manager where 1,017 persons applied for the same position. Series of interview were conducted until the last five who were interviewed by the Governor himself and person, Mr Bassey Friday Moses, emerged the General Manager of the industry.
Speaking with some of the workers at the factory, they expressed appreciation to Governor Udom Emmanuel for his industrialisation drive in the state. One of them, Victoria Eno Tom, narrated how she got to know about the industrial. She said the pencil and toothpick business can never fail because of the high rate of demand.
Other workers, Sunday Ime Edet, an indigene of Ikot Ekpeya Ikono in Uyo Local Government, and Mfon Anietie Tom, thanked Governor Emmanuel for creating employment in the state. “We have benefitted a lot from the government through the AKEES Toothpick and Pencil Factory. I’m happy to be one of the beneficiaries of this government.
“Governor Emmanuel has taken us out of the streets and created jobs opportunities for us and we are get paid, cater for our families and plan for our future. We pray God give him the courage for more empowerment.”
The toothpick and pencil factory has many sections and equipment ranging from bamboo cutting machine as well as machines slicing machines to difference pieces; dressing machine, cutting machine, sharpening machine and treatment section where the toothpicks are boiled and treated against germs before using in the mouth.
The Honourable Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, Pastor Praise Okon, said he was very impressed at the level work at the factory. “It is so eye-opening to see this kind of thing happening in Akwa Ibom State. We give kudos to the government of Mr Udom Emmanuel for his great vision of industrialisation and carrying out the vision with action.