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What Akwa Ibom taught me in 24 hours

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On a serene Tuesday morning, 21 May, my phone buzzed with a WhatsApp message that instantly warmed my heart. It was from the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Pastor Umo Eno a man I consider both a brother and a friend. His invitation to celebrate his first year in office thanksgiving service was an opportunity I eagerly embraced, driven by my affection for Akwa Ibom and my admiration for its ongoing transformation.

What I found intriguing was that beyond the exceptional landscape development and the governor’s commendable efforts, I deeply felt the warmth, love, and hospitable nature of the Akwa Ibom people.

By sheer coincidence, I had four similar invitations from other Governors. However, I am deeply committed in my pursuit to celebrate worthy excellence and leadership, especially in the current global political scene where crisis prevails. Despite unexpected developments, I was determined to keep my word.

I arrived in Uyo on Saturday evening and met with some members of the Port Harcourt Golf Club. We had an unforgettable evening filled with camaraderie and reflection, which highlighted the stark contrast between the current political climate in Port Harcourt and its past — a story for another day.

On Sunday, 26 May, I rode to church with the Minister of State for Petroleum (Gas), Rt. Hon. Ekperikpe. Our conversation about the political landscapes of Akwa Ibom and Rivers State was enlightening. He praised the current governor’s efforts in fostering unity and inclusiveness—my first lesson of the trip.

We arrived at the magnificent church built by former Governor Udom Emmanuel, who was also present. The service exemplified the governor’s commitment to inclusiveness, with political leaders from various backgrounds feeling genuinely welcome.

When Eno spoke, his humility, confidence, and honesty were palpable. He credited past leaders and humbly confessed his sense of unworthiness, attributing his position to divine choice. His approach to adversarial cooperation and collaboration with political leaders was my second lesson. The music by the choirs during the service was soul-stirring, transporting me to distant shores.

After the service, we headed to the governor’s lodge. I shared a table with Otuekong Don Etibet and Obong Umana Umana, prominent leaders  of the All Progressives Congress in the state. They spoke highly of the governor’s spirit of inclusiveness. In a brief conversation, the governor said: “My brother, I am so glad to have you here. My people need nothing but respect and sincerity. My role is to serve them. It is Akwa Ibom State, not Eno State”. His words resonated deeply with me.

Sadly, my exploration had to come to an end on the 27 May due to the magnitude of commitments. Although the governor’s response to my need to depart reflected his understanding, it was clear he wished for my presence at the project commissioning. As part of the activities marking his first year in office, he commissioned a new model primary health centre in Ikot Nkwo, Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area, and the Christ the King Model Primary School and Government School Ewet Offot. These projects are part of his strategy to modernize education and healthcare.

Eno also announced an ambitious plan to recruit 200 additional health workers, a move set to significantly bolster primary healthcare services. This initiative underscores his unwavering commitment to enhancing both healthcare and education. His vision extends beyond immediate improvements, aiming to replicate this successful model across all local government areas in Akwa Ibom State.

The most profound takeaway for me is witnessing a governor who not only articulates his priorities but also actively implements them. Governor Eno’s focus on education, healthcare, law and order, inclusiveness, infrastructure, and economic opportunities demonstrates a comprehensive approach to building a modern, thriving society. His actions speak volumes about his dedication to creating a better future for all.

The final lesson is leadership with the fear of God. Eno, a pastor, exemplifies integrity in a way many religious leaders do not. His respectful relationship with his predecessor and the Senate President demonstrates his ability to manage diverse and conflicting relationships. With such leadership, Akwa Ibom is poised for accelerated progress in the coming years.

Peterside, a former member of the House of Representatives, is also a former Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency

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