Home Opinion Features Udom Emmanuel: Akwa Ibom’s promise keeper

Udom Emmanuel: Akwa Ibom’s promise keeper

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The drum bells rang loud and clear in Uyo recently, producing distinctive and resonant sound as Akwa Ibom State marked its 35th anniversary. Listen carefully; the sound waves from the clanging bells still travel across the length and breadth of the country – and even beyond. On 23rd September 1987, General Ibrahim Babangida’s administration created Akwa Ibom state from the old Cross River State.

Akwa Ibomites were told the 35th anniversary celebration would last for one month. Not bad for a unique milestone. Governor Udom Emmanuel, ably supported by his wife, Martha, did not leave anything to chance before and during the celebrations because, soon, he would look back with nostalgia – after leaving office – and reflect on his achievements.

At the invitation of my colleague and brother, the Governor’s Chief Press Secretary Ekerete Udoh, I booked my Ibom Air ticket to Uyo to be part of the unfolding fiesta where Akwa Ibomites were counting their blessings and naming them one by one.

After flying for about 55 minutes from Lagos, I landed in Uyo, the state capital, bordered on the eastern side by Cross River State and to the west by Rivers and Abia States. On the southern side, the state, covering a land area of 7,081 square kilometres, is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. The coastline is blessed with pristine beaches that stretch 129 kilometres from Oron to Ikot Abasi.

But there is a great contrast between the beautiful beaches on the one hand, and the construction sites that you will find in the major towns and cities of the state on the other. All it takes is visionary leadership that brings about transformational change. That is what Governor Emmanuel has done as a passionate and diligent workaholic, working for his people since 2015 when he assumed office. You only need to visit Akwa Ibom to see things for yourself at a time of dwindling resources.

The theme of the 35th anniversary was Moving Forward. As far as I am concerned, the theme was appropriate, especially in the context of “doing more” by the incoming administrations to make the lives of Akwa Ibomites better.

The theme could have been Making Life Better and it would have served the same purpose. From a communications standpoint, Moving Forward is “making progress”, “growing together’, “constant improvements”, “creating wealth and prosperity for Akwa Ibomites”, or “inspiring hope for even greater accomplishments in the future”.

Governor Emmanuel has received tonnes of congratulatory messages because of his nuanced leadership journey. Here is a dutiful governor who set challenging goals and he has nearly delivered on all of them. With less than eight months to the end of his tenure, the people see their governor as a “miracle worker” who is always in a hurry to break new grounds and leave behind an enduring legacy of impact.

Every event listed on the anniversary schedule was carefully managed with an impressive list of dignitaries and substantial media coverage. Under the governor’s guidance, visiting dignitaries commissioned several projects in the state.

The planning committee, from what I witnessed in Uyo, deserves praise for their attention to details and they should take a bow. Akwa Ibom people are usually noted for their extraordinary culinary skills and traditional hospitality which was on full display throughout the anniversary weekend. My appetite did not let me down as I sampled fisherman soup, afang, edika-ikong and native rice with smoked fish. You better believe it when I say I’m still savouring those delicacies.

On Friday 23rd September, the Godswill Akpabio Stadium – also known as the Nest of Champions – was packed full with invited guests and Akwa Ibom people who were decked in the anniversary costume. They filled the stands to be part of the colourful and vibrant history-making occasion – no one wanted to be left out.

Although it rained cats and dogs on that day, the people were happy because they interpreted the rainfall to mean divine blessings from above, indicating the deep spiritual connection between Akwa Ibom and the heavens. What initially appeared as light showers turned into torrential rain.

It was not surprising that most of the dignitaries were stalwarts of the People’s Democratic Party, which was clearly a demonstration of solidarity with redoubtable Emmanuel, and the government and good people of the state.

The state banquet held the following day at Ibom Icon Hotel and Golf Resort in continuation of activities marking the 35th anniversary. Governor Emmanuel used the occasion to honour 14 Akwa Ibomites who distinguished themselves in different fields including entrepreneurship, public service, journalism and ICT, with the Ibom Productivity Order of Merit Awards.

Dignitaries at this dinner included former President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Dame Patience (Mama Peace); Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State; Governor Duoye Diri of Bayelsa State; former governor of Gombe State, Dr Ibrahim Dakwambo; and former governor of Benue State, Senator Gabriel Suswan.

On Sunday, 25th September, a special interdenominational service held at Ibom Hall Grounds on IBB Way, Uyo to thank God and mark Nigeria’s 62th independence anniversary. The mellifluous voices of the choir filled the arena and inspired more heavenly blessings. It was evident that Abasi – meaning God in the local dialect – was clearly on the throne.

The founder and senior pastor of Koinonia (Eternity Network International), Apostle Joshua Selma preached during the service. He took his text from Hebrews 12:2 where the congregation was reminded that our Lord Jesus Christ is the “author and finisher of our faith”.

It was at this thanksgiving service that former President Jonathan gave his famous advice that went viral. He urged Nigerian youths not to vote for “killers” in the 2023 general elections. Jonathan and his wife, Dame Patience were the special guests of honour at the service.

“If you kill to become a leader,” Jonathan admonished his attentive audience, “you will continue to kill to remain a leader and the people will continue to suffer”.

As a man of deep faith, Emmanuel prays all the time. He cites Bible verses to drive home his key messages each time he speaks. To all intents and purposes, his record-breaking achievements can also be linked directly to the “spirit of greatness” in him.

Perhaps one can argue that nothing less was expected from the Governor, especially when we recall that he rose through the ranks to attain the enviable position of Executive Director of Zenith Bank. Governor Emmanuel is a technocrat who veered into politics and decided to deliver the dividends of democracy – on his own accord – through purposeful governance. He knew it was the right thing to do.

The Governor flagged off the planting of 300,000 coconut seedlings at Mkpu, Itu Mbonuso in Ini local government area as part of the activities to mark the 35th anniversary. The event was held simultaneously in all the 31 local government areas of the state, although the target is to plant two million seedlings before the end of this year. The objective is to boost production of raw materials for the state owned coconut oil factory.

Governor Emmanuel has a long list of signature and legacy projects in diverse sectors such as health, education, agriculture, tourism and sports. He also focused on urban renewal and industrialisation as a strategic goal to create sustainable economic hubs for employment opportunities.

Popularly described as a “seven-star” governor, Emmanuel established Ibom Air, making him the first governor in Nigeria to achieve that feat. The airline began commercial operations on 7th June 2019.

Although the airline is owned by the state government, it is run as a business by an experienced management team, in line with international best practice. The governor discourages any form of government interference and we can only hope that the tradition will be sustained in the years to come.

Akwa Ibom has been positioned strategically as a business and tourist destination. This has increased passenger traffic for Ibom Air. Apart from the enchanting 18-hole golf course in Uyo, other attractive tourist sites include Ibeno Beach in Eket; Lord Lugard’s Residence in Ikot Abasi, Itu Hills and the Biodiversity Preservation Centre in Uyo.

Another first for Emmanuel was the inauguration of 10-lane, 9.5 kilometre road. It was named jointly after late Air Commodore Idongesit Ikanga (first indigenous military governor of Akwa Ibom State from 1990 – 1992) and Dr Clement Isong (first governor of the old Cross River State 1979 – 1984).

The project was complimented with a 5.4 kilometre underground drainage channel and three roundabouts, but only two have rainbow water fountains.

Education remains the bedrock of any society to grow and develop, and it is one of the top priorities of the Emmanuel administration. Apart from building new primary and secondary schools, His Excellency also ensured that dilapidated buildings were renovated to provide a conducive learning environment.

Training and re-training of teachers – including recruitment  – were aimed at improving the quality of education. Akwa Ibom teachers have a robust welfare package of competitive salaries and allowances – comparable to the emoluments you can find anywhere in Nigeria.

Between 2019 and 2021, available data indicates that there was an improvement in the performance of candidates in the West African Secondary School Certificate Examination. The students passed with five credits or more, including Mathematics and English Language. In 2019, 58.65 percent of eligible students passed but it increased to 68.05 percent in 2021 and 78.90 percent in 2021 – signifying a yearly improvement during Covid-19 pandemic that restricted movement and learning.

There’s also the tuition intervention programme for indigent students in tertiary institutions, while another fund reportedly running into billions of naira was set aside for the development of infrastructure.

Some of the completed and ongoing projects in the Emmanuel years include Kings Flour Mill, Jubilee Syringe manufacturing company, Eket Township Stadium, the 21-storey Dakkada Smart Building; International Worship Centre, vehicle assembly plant, Ibom deep sea port, Ituk Mbang Isolation Centre, the 29-kilometre dualised Etinan-Ndon Eyo Road, the General Hospital in Ikot Abasi and the nine-kilometre Secretariat Road linking Uliong-Edikor Uduetta Road.

Overall, GGovernor Emmanuel will be remembered as a leader and achiever – in spite of his critics. It is gratifying to note that he used local contractors for road construction and several other projects.

As a promise keeper, Emmanuel’s footprints on the Land of Promise will be a constant reminder of his audacious vision, purposeful leadership and exemplary performance.

Braimah is a public relations strategist and publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://ntm.ng)

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