By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
This penultimate Mondayat the beginning of the week when bankers sit down to map out strategies for strengthening positions and playing the money market, Mr. Udom Emmanuel was in a totally different world. Just over two years ago, Emmanuel, left his top position as an executive director in one of the country’s leading banks, Zenith Bank to meddle into the murky waters of politics with his appointment as the Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State government. His lift to the zenith of the state’s politics was rapid thereafter as within months he became governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP for the 2015 election.
When this correspondent met him just before the governorship primaries, the singsong in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom capital was Udom is Right, Is Bright and Fair…. But on this Monday having settled down as governor, the countenance and carriage of Mr. Emmanuel were visibly different from what one saw at our first meeting almost 18 months ago. He was more political, more engaging and even more chatty!
The interactive session with Governor Emmanuel and selected journalists in the comfort of one of Lagos leading hotels was an opportunity for the new helmsman to pass on to the public the pace and pattern he has carved out in the administration of Akwa Ibom State in the last eleven months.
The sign that Emmanuel has gone far from the cut throat world of banking where questions are answered in figures and codes was seen when some seemingly troublesome questions were asked that day. Asked to respond to the public perception that his predecessor, the larger than life incumbent Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio left a very big shoe for him, he went on a rather amusing narrative about shoe sizes.
“Government is a continuum. If someone gets into power in Year 2007, the shoe size is 2007. If I get into power in 2015, the shoe size is 2015. So, which one is bigger? I do not know how a 2007 shoe would be bigger than a shoe of 2015. The 2015 shoe size is actually bigger!”
“Akwa Ibom is a little bit different because of the way we are structured and that is why we are going the way we are going. We have structured it in phases, and that is what you would be seeing in the next few years if the Lord tarries. When my predecessor came, there was total decay in infrastructure. So, what we needed to do was to try and arrest that and by doing that, it was like somebody laying a foundation. If you have to build a skyscraper, you do not put a quack that would come and do a bungalow.”
“We needed to lay a foundation of reliable infrastructure. That is what we are building on, and you do not wait until you complete all the infrastructure before you now start to build on the economy. So, it is not a question of shoe size. I think we are going somewhere as Akwa Ibom.”
That Mr. Emmanuel has a vision of where he is going was reflected in the way he drew memories of the past glories of the state, especially in industry and sports. Whereas Akpabio left a memorable legacy in infrastructure which some now couch as the hardware of development, Emmanuel said he is not just building upon the infrastructure but also bringing an innovative software applications to the state’s development.
“Then you talk about soft infrastructure that you can’t see, you can’t find. Take for example right now, I set up a target that Akwa – Ibom in the next seven years, if you have 11 players on the football field, I must produce four to five of the first eleven,” he said in reference to the administration’s plans for sports development.
“That is not something I can come and start openly discussing with anybody. I am saying that in every athletic event in this country, I must have an Akwa- Ibomite there. That is why you today, have a JSS student, and he is running for Nigeria in 200 meters. We picked her from the village and trained her in our stadium.
“So today what we are doing is that in 10 Federal Constituencies, you see some football pitches that can compete with that anywhere in the world. What is the difference between Serena Williams and a girl from my village? It is her exposure to facilities.
“In those days we used to hear of Ekarika, Friday Ekpo, Etim Esin, so we don’t have to lose sight of those things. So we are rolling these things back, most of these things, you won’t see them to read. So in the next seven years, we are coming with something that you can say we want to catch them young.
“By September, we would start the Talent Hunt, at least, one of the centres is ready. The other ones would be ready before September. So in 10 Federal Constituencies, we would start that and nothing is stopping me. “Even today, even the little we are doing, look at where we picked Akwa United from, from nowhere, they won the FA Cup. Even you could see that even mentally, a mental alertness can change the situation of things.”
It was not out of place to ask Governor Emmanuel his attitude towards the opposition in the state. Again and again, Emmanuel who is now taking a front place position in the politics of the PDP having recently led the committee that zoned offices for the next executive was wont to affirm Akwa Ibom as a one-party state.
In his words, he has won over many of his former critics from the opposition.
“Over and over again, I made that point that we have only one project in Akwa Ibom, and we should all join hands to come and work for Akwa Ibom. As at today if you come to my government, there are a whole lot of people, they were those that were carrying brooms. So immediately they left the broom, I embraced them because they are Akwa Ibom people.”
At the beginning of his governorship, Mr. Emmanuel was faced with the controversy arising from the alleged invasion of the Government House by operatives of the Department of State Services, DSS during which they made discoveries of bales of dollars that were largely circulated on social media. What happened, the governor was asked?
“One thing I have to state clearly here is that the bale of money you saw on the internet had been on Google since 2011 or so, they just put the picture there, it didn’t come from Government House, I was there.
“Two, I want to also commend the president because immediately those guys came, I picked up a phone and called Mr. President, and he answered and he called the NSA immediately. So they didn’t see a dime not to talk even of the money whose picture you saw outside there that they refer to.”