Viewpoint - June 27, 2021

Has Udom Emmanuel walked his talk in six years?

By Sam Akpe

It was an unforgettable statement—unexpected. It came from a youth leader who spoke on the day Senator Godswill Akpabio, a former governor of the state, crossed from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC). I watched the event on television; bemused. I can’t even recall the name of the youth leader. In fact, I had little interest in what he was invited to say until he dropped the bombshell.

The young man did not completely speak to the gallery. At a certain point, he chose to speak from his heart. If the expectation of those who invited him was that he would continuously talk down on the sitting governor, Udom Emmanuel, they were slightly disappointed. Huge applause succeeded every derisive comment he made about the governor. Then suddenly, silence descended on the crowd; followed by muffled laughter.

The youth leader, cheered on by the almost uncontrollable crowd of APC supporters, changed the narrative when he addressed Akpabio (these are not his exact words): You did well by bringing Udom Emmanuel to succeed you. But that was also a mistake because the man does not give money to people the way you used to do. He is an accountant, very tight-fisted. That is why we are broke since you left. He keeps saying the money is for development of the state. But you used to give us money freely.

Those unguarded words, though loaded with multiple embarrassing and equally encouraging interpretations, do not constitute our focus today. I am concerned about what Udom has done with the money he is said to have refused to share to the youth and political jobbers. Has he invested them as promised? What are the dividends of such development? I am aware that Akwa Ibom is one of the biggest beneficiaries of federal revenue since 2007.

A few days ago, the governor celebrated his six years in office. He used the occasion to make a state-wide broadcast. One highly cerebral senior friend, who attended the event, urged me repeatedly to read the governor’s speech. He described the speech as bold, loaded and quite inspiring. I love good speeches—especially those rendered extempore. But I’m usually not quite interested in anniversary speeches. They could be boring. The only excuse I could give him was that I did not have a copy of the speech. Before I could blink twice, he sent it to me. I planned to give it a glance, but I ended up studying it with. interest.

Six years ago, Udom took an oath to serve the people of his state. He raised expectations and gained their support when he promised to industrialise the state. Politically, he was seen as an outsider—an unknown face in the politics of the state. There was nothing new about that. His predecessor, Akpabio, initially belonged to that group. Udom had never contested election before—except, perhaps in the banking sector; where he enjoyed a commanding presence.

After taking the oath of office, the first major act he performed was to go on his knees and make supplications to God for the sanctification of the land. It was the right thing to do. Prior to his inauguration, the state was soaked in blood brought upon it by cultists and political thugs. Udom asked God to show His mercies to the state; heal the land, restore hope to the people, hurry the pace of industrialisation, and change the narratives of development.

In essence, Udom handed over the state to God. As a deacon in his local church, he knew that if his dreams must come to pass, God must be made to play a significant role. He prayed for God to deepen the cords of unity and love in the state; “keep the Akwa Ibom spirit alive and make it soar to greater heights.” As he prayed, I suppose he also must have realised that faith without work is dead. So, what was his work plan?

Perhaps, Udom did not anticipate the near economic doom and crippling political challenges that awaited Nigeria when he assumed office and said the prayer. So far, we have battled two major recessions—by our standards—an almost unprecedented dip in oil prices that has affected the national revenue; and, wait for this: a crippling global pandemic of unthinkable proportions; called Covid-19.

It is normal to shy away from passing judgement on the performance of any governor in Nigeria. After all, there are still two more years to watch. But what he has done or not done so far will determine how he would end. No matter what is on ground, the people still expect more because unemployment rate is still high while the level of economic activities is low, as against the peoples’ expectation. Poverty still walks tall with a huge influence on the lifestyle of the people. Yes, none of this is limited to Akwa Ibom. So what!

A top politician who is eyeing Udom’s job in 2023 told me that Udom has laid a solid foundation for the industrialisation of the state; he has kept his promise. He believes that what has happened so far might look like a drop in the ocean, but it is a seed, which if well nurtured, would grow into an iroko. His position is that from cottage industries, the state is now focused on playing in the big league of industrialisation. A petroleum refinery is gradually emerging from the dust of doubt and unbelief. A seaport—a concept that started as an empty dream—is becoming a reality. Ibom Air has received a rousing acceptance across the country.

There is a sturdy structure—or what Udom describes as one of the intelligent buildings—in the state. I’m still battling to understand the economic benefits of the 21-storey masterpiece christened: “Dakkada Tower” But the governor believes that it stands as a testament to the state’s increasing profile as a fast industrializing entity. It is a beautiful edifice; no doubt. But can it be profitably managed in a country with unreliable electricity supply—even to power the elevators?

So far, the governor says his administration has attracted over 20 industries with enduring economic benefits alongside other legacy projects to the state. Hear him: “We attracted all these industries at a time foreign direct investments have been difficult to attract, which means we are doing the right things here. We have imbued in our youths the spirit of entrepreneurship and the need to positively dream and dare, necessitated by our Dakkada philosophy.”

What baffles me most times is what exactly the governor’s media handlers, especially those in the State Ministry of Information are doing. It is my belief that even before the governor makes such public pronouncement, well articulated detail information on these orchestrated projects and other achievements should have been prepared and kept for public consumption. Moments of anniversaries are not only about production of documentaries, the state information managers need to go a step further. Media tours of these projects should form part of the celebration package.

Recently, what would have been Udom’s most appreciated achievement: security in the state; was rubbished especially with the daylight rape and gruesome murder of Iniubong Umoren—a pretty, promising young woman who went in search of a job. Though that might be regarded as an isolated case, the impact is staggering. In addition, some police stations were burnt and some policemen killed by the legendary “unknown gunmen.” Truly, until these sad incidents, the state, in the words of the governor, had comparatively “become the fountain of peace and sustainable development.”

One aspect of Udom Emmanuel’s speech that I want to focus on after analysing his industrial achievements or failures, is who will succeed him in 2023. At present, the list of possible aspirants is intimidating. At the last glance, the PDP alone has on the list: a serving senator; a serving member of the House of Representatives; a former senator with huge political capital, tested technocrat with scary credentials, a sitting commissioner who is also a pastor; among others. One thing that is not in doubt is that it is the turn of Uyo senatorial district to produce the next governor.

On his accomplishments in the last six years, Udom would be judged principally based on his promises—especially regarding industrialisation of the state. Has he walked the talk and fulfilled expectations? I will be back with the final say.

Akpe, a journalist and Communications Consultant, is based in Abuja.

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