By Emmanuel Ndon
Before he left office in 2007, Obong Victor Attah bequeathed to Akwa Ibom State a blueprint that was intended to transform it to be at par with some of the industrialized nations of the world. Eight key projects defined his vision: urban renewal, investment in Econet, science park, Akwa Ibom University of Technology, and Ibom international airport. Others are Ibom 5-Star hotel and golf resort, a power plant, and Ibom deep seaport.
These are the key drivers of the economy anywhere in the world and, without any gainsaying, it jump-started the state’s economy. To be sure, before any state in Nigeria (except Lagos which also invested), Akwa Ibom had experienced the full benefit of GSM at its rollout.
He knew, particularly from the hostile political climate and dwindling financial fortunes, he would not be able to complete all of them, so he took out a few and called them “MY must do” projects, which were to be completed before his terminal date. For whatever reasons, Obong Attah needs to be forgiven for the failure to complete the ‘must-do projects, but the truth is that he laid a solid foundation that if followed through, would have placed Akwa Ibom on the world map.
One such project is the science park and, because it could not be fulfilled, so many people don’t really understand what it is all about and its benefits.
There is no science park in Nigeria, and you can imagine what would happen if Akwa Ibom science park took off 16 years after Attah’s tenure. This first in the series (Unveiling Bö Enö), will throw more light on what a science park is and its priority of place in the Umo Eno administration.
What is a science park?
A science park, also known as a research park, technology park, or innovation center, is a purpose-built cluster of office spaces, labs, workrooms, and meeting areas designed to support research and development in science and tech. Science parks are generally located close to academic institutions and attract a large number of tech companies. The main aim of a science park is to facilitate growth for businesses, entrepreneurs, start-ups, and communities in fields like IT (information technology), AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning, IoT(internet of things), biotech, virtual reality, robotics, and more.
The combination of academic institutions, high-tech companies, entrepreneurs, and start-ups in these spaces creates an environment rich in knowledge-sharing, collaboration, and innovation.
Benefits of a science park
A science park creates a base from which to: access state-of-the-art equipment and facilities; share knowledge; promote innovation on a commercial level; foster communication and collaboration between governments, universities, and private companies.
Science parks form part of the ‘knowledge economy’ infrastructure by creating an ecosystem of partners, industry professionals, and suppliers.
The IASP (international association of science parks) defines a science park as an organisation managed by specialised professionals, whose main aim is to increase the WEALTH OF ITS COMMUNITY by promoting the culture of innovation and the competitiveness of its associated businesses and knowledge-based institutions (Emphasis mine).
During its first launch on Friday, 11th May 2006 by President Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibom science park held so much promise for the future of the state, particularly in its bid to advance science and technology and related incubation centers.
The science park was envisioned to launch the state into the global ICT world and position it at par with the American Silicon Valley; Malaysian multimedia super corridor, the Chinese Shengua Shanghai axis, and the South African Innovation Hub.
The Udom Emmanuel administration also realized the importance of the science park as a catalyst for industrial growth and relaunched the project under a private partnership agreement with the Chinese Blue Sea Group in 2019.
Under the framework, Blue Sea Holdings were to invest €500 Million (Euros) to construct the park. The park components had also been expanded to include a vocational training center, university of technology, Five Star hotel among other high-end infrastructure which Obong Attah said, “is the kind of international cooperation to look forward to”.
An Umo Eno administration is already looking forward to reviving this partnership for which the state government has already invested so much. As an entrepreneur who started his business from the scratch, and grew it to an enviable standard, Pastor Umo Eno is not only interested in supporting the growth of businesses, but he also understands the value of start-ups, and how much a science park can aid and propel such a dream.
Science parks are synonymous with universities of science and technology. A very heartwarming point is that through the science park, the very university of technology Obong Attah had dreamt of but bastardized somewhere in its execution will soon come on stream. And, as I mentioned in another piece, I strongly believe that Attah’s romance and association with Udom Emmanuel and his choice of Umo Eno may not be unconnected with the realization of his dreams for Akwa Ibom State. And this will be the case for any statesman who loves his people and works for their own benefit.
His speech at the flag-off of Ibom Blue Sea science park spoke volumes. “I have come here because I feel really fulfilled. And I have come to thank Governor Udom Emmanuel not just because he has revived what I believe (or should I say what I know), is going to be a life-transforming project, but because in so doing, he has brought an end to that era of destructive politicking whereby we turn our backs on the projects of our predecessors”.
A science park is affiliated with a university (or a government and private research body) based on proximity, ownership, and/or governance “so that knowledge can be shared, innovation promoted, and research outcomes progressed to viable commercial products”. Science parks are also often perceived as contributing to national economic development, stimulating the formation of new high-technology firms, attracting foreign investment, and promoting exports. Under an Umo Eno administration, the science park will play a key role in attracting talent into our cities to create innovative new industries as a key part of the government’s strategy to grow our economy. An effective way for cities with universities to attract entrepreneurs in desirable science and tech industries is to provide affordable, high-quality space and the chance to work in close collaboration with both industry and academics to achieve success on a wider scale.
The importance of science parks to the local economy
Experts believe that a science park is an effective way to stimulate a culture of innovation and to grow associated, knowledge-based businesses. The infrastructure creates an ecosystem of industry specialists who feed into a ‘knowledge economy, which in turn attracts and supports world-class talent.
Procurepartnerships.co.uk has noted that science parks were initially intended to support economically depressed regions and cities of the UK through regeneration, contributing to economic growth by attracting new businesses and start-ups and increasing their productivity. This was a particularly appealing prospect to Local Authorities and Development Agencies, who saw the powerful regenerative possibilities of a science park via the companies they attract, the extended supply chain required, and the employment opportunities for local university graduates. This humble origin has a compelling effect in regenerating talent, assembling brains, as well as pooling resources together for growth and development.
A thriving science park also requires additional services and amenities to meet the needs of many businesses, employees, and students all in one place. The economic benefits extend to the local cafes, shops, gyms, childcare settings, and accommodation providers, improving employment opportunities in the local area. All these and more are waiting to happen.