By Aniedi Uko
Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, has always been one that can correctly be described as a true son of the state and patriot. His interest in matters that affect the state goes back long before he began the journey that would end with him steering the ship of the state as its governor; long before he was appointed secretary to the state government in 2013.
For many years, Udom, as he is fondly called (not Emmanuel, his surname), was a frontline member of Akwa Ibom Professionals, a Lagos-based group of indigenes who see themselves as Diaspora citizens of the state, though resident in Nigeria, who have made their marks in different professions and have been silently contributing to the development of the state as a group and as individuals.
Prior to his coming into public office, Udom occupied the plum office of executive director in one of Nigeria’s high flying banks, Zenith Bank – a position that should have made a thankless job in public office an unattractive one, especially for someone not given to the politics and intrigues that are associated with political office at that level of government. While at the bank, he used his position to advance the interests of the state in any legitimate way he considered feasible and within his ability to do.
When he was called to serve the state in an official capacity, he knew the risks involved in leaving the comfort zone of the corporate world that had been his terrain for over two decades for the unknown and highly unpredictable public sector. But he was undeterred. He had been making little contributions, even if inconsequential, from relative obscurity. If it was the will of God that he should leave the known for the unknown in the interest of the state, who was he to refuse? Perhaps it was a Divine test and preparation for a higher calling that lay ahead.
Udom’s appointment to the third highest political office in the executive arm of government in the state was therefore an opportunity for him to further his contributions to the development of the state from inside. For the brief period he held the office of secretary to the state government, he acquitted himself quite creditably, such that the question on the lips of most people in the state was – what next for Udom? The question itself was answered by the people of the state who felt he had more to offer the state beyond the office he was occupying at that time.
And when, by an act of Providence, he entered the history books as the fourth elected governor of the state in 2015, Udom braced up for the onerous task of carrying the hopes and aspirations of the over six million people of the state on his shoulders. The quiet, unassuming and relatively unknown banker from the sleepy village of Awa, in Onna Local Government Area of the state had found favour in the sight of God who considered him a worthy instrument of change in a state that was in dire need of inspirational leadership.
More than three years down the road, it is hardly possible to say that he has disappointed. Indeed, the popular view in the state is that he has executed, quite creditably, the Divine Mandate on which he hinged his campaign for election, even with about six months to go in his first term.
In words and action, Udom has used his position as governor to promote the interests of the state and its people at the slightest opportunity. The areas in which he has been able to do this are quite legion, ranging from education to industrialization, sports, culture and tourism, including religion with which the people of the state are passionately associated, perhaps in line with the name of the state that translates into Almighty God. Above all, he has been able to raise the status of the average Akwa Ibomite above what had been stereotyped for decades. He has spared no effort in doing all these.
The governor has, in the last three and half years, championed the political and economic emancipation of the people of the state, such that today, the Akwa Ibom man and woman can rub shoulders with other Nigerians in every area of endeavor as equals.
Shortly after the commencement of the present political dispensation in the country, border skirmishes between Nigeria and Cameroun reared their ugly heads, prompting President Muhammadu Buhari to visit the central African country to explore ways of sustaining the cordial relationship that had existed between the two countries for more than a century. Udom was a member of the federal government delegation to that country.
It was an occasion that afforded the then newly elected governor the opportunity to participate in high level discussions on issues that border on the welfare and security of the people of Akwa Ibom and, indeed, Nigerians living in border communities between the two countries. Discussions at that level were highly essential, considering the decades-old interaction between the people of the state and Camerounians in trade and commerce, and the need to preserve that relationship. That national assignment marked Udom out as a governor that would not toy with the security, welfare and the very existence of the people of the state.
Udom has changed the narrative of the politician as a brash, no nonsense and sometimes rude public official who takes delight in using his office to trample on the rights and privileges of others, simply on account of holding public office, especially one as high as a state chief executive. He has demonstrated, in every way possible, that one can be a political leader and still uphold the basic tenets of democracy that include respect for the rule of law and the rights of others.
His quiet mien may be a sharp contradiction of the perception by some people of what politicians are known to be, but it has been the secret of his string of successes since he took the plunge into the murky waters of Nigerian politics in 2014.