….I am not playing politics with development
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
He was approaching the zenith in his professional career when the bug for public service caught him. Those in the know say it was not an easy decision. It took blackmails, solicitations and all manner of appeals from the then governor of his state, Godswill Akpabio for Mr. Udom Emmanuel to leave his safe position as executive director at Zenith Bank in 2013 to go home to enter the public service in his native Akwa Ibom State.
Five years on, and with significant transitions, body movements and the political reconfiguration of the state, Mr. Emmanuel is now the lead in a quiet revolution going on in the state.
Given the fanfare that went with the relative performance of his predecessor, the quietness that has gone with the even more significant impacts of the Emmanuel administration in the state was an issue when the governor sat down with a group of newsmen after a tour of some parts of the state last weekend.
“Excellence does not happen by accident or mistake, you must deliberately have a strategy to achieve it,” Mr. Emmanuel said.
That deliberate strategy, he said, underscored the great feat the state has achieved in many sectors including sports, education and in the attraction of Foreign Direct Investments.
“In three years, we have won the FA cup two times. This is something we have never won since independence, but as a state, within my three years in power, we have won it two times.”
So, what was the deliberate strategy adopted to achieve the excellence in sports?
“This is the only state in the country that runs youths sports festival every year, where we are discovering talents.”
Besides the sporting festivals, one of the measures taken by the Emmanuel administration to harness talents is the construction of sporting facilities in some selected public spaces, notably public schools.
“Add five more years; you will see what we will produce for Nigeria. What is the population of Jamaica? Jamaica is half the population of Akwa Ibom State. Look at how many gold medals they won at the Olympics. Nigeria went to the Olympics two years ago and we managed only a bronze by the football team. Somebody somewhere, somehow, one day, must rise to the point of greatness. We must live what we preach.”
While the state is presently reaping national laurels in sports with its FA Cup feats, that success has yet to reverberate internationally unlike in education where the state is now winning laurels abroad.
Two students from one of the government owned secondary schools took third position in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize Competition in Sweden last September. The success came after the students took first position in the national competition in Abuja.
How was that achieved, the governor was asked?
“Biblically, they say what you sow, is what you reap. We started firstly by reviewing the quality of teachers we put in schools. We also have what we call education monitors.
“We equip them with resources and they go round to check. We operate free and compulsory education at the basic level.
“Even as a governor, when I go on community visits, I enter the classrooms, I observe what has been taught that was written on the board and we come back to do a review.”
However, by far the more memorable achievement in changing the narrative of the state as a civil servant state.
The state has now become the most attractive point for Foreign Direct Investments, FDIs given the spate of industrializations going on in the state.
The goal is to establish factories in as many local government areas of the state as possible towards enhancing employment and the enterprise capacity of its people.
The government’s channel for this is AKEES, the Akwa Ibom Employment and Enterprise Scheme.
Among the products rolled out under the scheme are pencils, crayons, toothpicks, fibre doors, plastic products, and hydro form blocks which could be used to build a house without the use of cement.
Whereas the government has attracted many factories and projects, the coconut factory is, however, an exception which the government is facilitating on its own.
Speaking on the potentials of the coconut factory, he said:
“With the coconut refinery, we want to make a statement. If tomorrow, the state government says ‘look we do not have a hand in this thing again,’ we will sell that investment at a profit.”
Easily recoiling into his days as a banker, he puts forward the sensitivity analysis of the coconut refinery that he said could realize a profit of $220 million a year.
“When I am talking about numbers, I am talking with all the sensitivity analysis you have ever been taught on earth. Tell me how many governments in Africa that can boast of that kind of profit not to talk of jobs that would be created because as of today, we have employed 1,200 on the various processes involved.
“We are not doing typical white elephant projects, we are doing projects that by tomorrow, even if we want to privatise , their Initial public offering (IPO) will realise initial investment and even give us room for expansion. Today, virgin coconut oil in the international market is $6 per litre . “If you remember your mathematics very well, 221 litres make one barrel.”
Asked on what kind of support he is drawing from the Niger Delta Development Commission, he said:
“I am one of those who believe that anyone who holds an executive position in any development oriented agency, not only the NDDC, shouldn’t seek for political appointment.
“It is extremely contradictory; it is only in Nigeria that you will find such a thing. Secondly, I am not talking propaganda; we are the largest contributor to the NDDC fund. NDDC runs projects in nine states and all International Oil Companies (IOCs) contribute two per cent of their budget to the commission, but drive round Akwa Ibom State and show me one road that is up to 2 kilometres that was built by the NDDC.”
“You’ve seen the roads we are doing, which are of high quality. But most of these federal agencies will go and put bitumen on top of clay or top soil. As they are leaving, those things are gone.”
“The essence of NDDC and Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) was to bridge this gap, but how come that has not been so even with all the money they have collected? These are question people should answer because if we speak, some will say that we are playing politics. I am not playing politics with development. I am talking about things you can see. We are talking about capacity here; you cannot give what you do not have.”
The governor was challenged on his readiness for the forthcoming elections given the determination of the opposition.
“Those calling for war; it is either they have wars in their homes or within themselves. But we that have peace, we preach it. I just want Nigerians to ask those preaching war where their children are. Whose children do they want to engage in the war, when they have hidden their children somewhere?
“I normally ask people that if the intention is to serve, why do you have to kill the people you want to serve? We all campaign, present our manifesto and call for votes so that we can serve our people, but if you sincerely want to serve your people, why do you have to kill them? This means that they have other motives in which serving is not included.”
One topical issue by the time was the matter of unpaid gratuities to retired civil servants. The governor was asked how he had dealt with the issue.
“Immediately we came into office, our government paid 10 years gratuity arrears. After that, there were many issues on pensions.”
“What I had expected was that a sinking fund should have been set up for those who were due for pension and gratuity within that period rather than returning that money back to the government, still leaving some unpaid. That also created a huge gap, but I was able to bridge that gap. As of today, I do not owe even one hour pension for state government workers as I have paid pension up to September this year.”
The interview did not end without a reference to the first civilian governor of the state at the advent of the Fourth Republic, Obong Victor Attah who is 80 this year. The question came against the background of the acrimony between Attah and his successor, Akpabio.
Responding, Governor Emmanuel said:
“Obong Attah is the leader of the largest ethnic group in the state – the Ibibio. Also being an elder statesman, everybody here accords him that respect. He is somebody I respect a lot. In terms of age, I don’t even measure.
“So, I give him hundred per cent honour that is due to him not just because he is a former governor, but even his age alone will attract that. He loves the state and every policy he made while in office shows love for the state.”