Astute industrialist, pastor and governorship candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in Akwa Ibom State, Umo Eno, shares with Louis Achi, his five-pillar vision of transforming ‘The Land of Promise’ through upscaling his predecessors’ remarkable contributions. Excerpts
You’re a prominent shepherd of Christ. Today, you’re seeking to govern men. Is there a fundamental conflict between these two roles?
There is no conflict. Before God brings you to a larger audience; before He puts you on the stage, he would have tried you like gold, refined you in the furnace before he showcases you. In pastoral work, God would call you and give you a simple assignment to pastor people. I have been pastoring for 23 years.
I have been in business for the last 25 years. So I pastor side by side with my business. Pastoral work is a calling. God calls you and you’re living the life of a child of God. First you’re called a child of God. Then God commits a few things to you and the Bible says he that’s faithful in little shall be faithful in much.
David said he fought the bears and lions in the forest. While confronting Goliath, he said that God that was with me when nobody was watching will help me to defeat this Goliath, who is defying the army of the God of Israel. The truth is that God trains you behind and then brings you to the fore. God told David, I made you a shepherd of flocks in the bush before I made you to come and be a shepherd of my people Israel. So for me I think it’s still the same calling.
A pastor should have the fear of God. A pastor should have compassion. A pastor should be Christ-like. A pastor is a shepherd of God’s people. So, from shepherding maybe a few flocks, God is bringing you to shepherd his people in Akwa Ibom State.
So there really is no conflict. It’s a higher responsibility in God’s vineyard. After all, Akwa Ibom is God’s own state. And Akwa Ibom has God’s own people. So rather than remaining the pastor of a few, you’re now a pastor of over seven million people. You are expected to lead with compassion. You are expected to be focused. You are expected to lead with the fear of God.
At the heart of the human development story is quality governance. Can you share what your conception of governance is?
Governance generally provides security and welfare to the people governed. In that, you have to look at a number of ways which I have enunciated in the five pillars of my vision for Akwa Ibom State – the ARISE Agenda. ARISE comprises – Agricultural Revolution, Rural Development, Infrastructural Maintenance/Advancement, Security Management and Educational Advancement. All of those aspirations have fifteen focal goals, which touch on health, tourism, human development and others. Through these, you will begin to actualise them with specific timelines. So the whole totality of governance in this case is to ensure that people that live within that territory or space called a state have that realisation that those services are provided for their welfare; for their security, be it health, education, economic advancement, tourism.
All of those work together to give the people a sense of belonging, good wellbeing and a sense of security so that they can thrive and their own purpose can be achieved in the overall interest of the people of the state. That to my mind is good governance. You are a servant leader basically.
Let’s take a closer look at the fourth pillar of your ARISE agenda, which is security management. You don’t have an army, control the security agencies or have state police. How would you deal with insecurity against this background?
So far, Akwa Ibom has remained one of the most peaceful states in the country. It takes a lot of sacrifice to get to that; it takes a lot of compromise; it takes a lot of negotiations and discussions. So you continue in that path and you seek peace. You also encourage people that live within your borders to seek peace. The Bible says you pray for the peace of Jerusalem and those that dwell inside it.
This is because it is in the peace of Jerusalem that the dwellers will have peace. So, everybody living with your state must come to understand that peace is something we must deliberately seek after. The other day somebody asked me how are you going to deal with the herdsmen? These herdsmen are controlled by people. These herdsmen have settlements around. So you talk to their leadership; you call their leadership.
If there is a problem in the state today, nobody will be able to operate, including the herdsmen. So why don’t you sit with them; dialogue with them; provide for them. Let them see the need to be able to have a better place to pasture their animals. The truth about life is that no matter how much we fight, we sit at the table and discuss. So my attitude is why don’t we sit and discuss instead of fighting. If we are going to end up discussing after destroying and killing, why don’t we discuss and sort out our differences.
To have peace is not just about security. You have insecurity because you are fighting kidnapping and other disruptive criminalities. Those are direct confrontations that you can deal with the security agencies. Even if you don’t control them as such that is their primary assignments and why they are deployed to states in the first instance. We will also leverage technology, planning and dialogue to stem evolving insecurity.
In seeking a major executive political office, the common understanding is that the seeker is offering an alternative or better vision of governance. In this case, the man you’re seeking to supplant, Governor Udom Emmanuel, is one you have called “a political father and mentor”. Are you then offering a superior governance vision, so to speak?
We’re providing a vision to build on what he has done. It’s a vision of continuity. We have the ARISE agenda. He campaigned on infrastructure and industrial development which he has done. The ARISE agenda seeks to connect the dots. I keep using the words – connecting the dots. Infrastructure is everywhere. We need to put them together to begin to have economic benefits. For instance, we have the Ibom Air. It flies into Akwa Ibom State and brings in people.
When people fly into our state, what are they coming to do? We need to develop our tourism sector. So we need to ensure that when we scale up tourism people can come in and we can earn income. So that is connecting those dots. At the airport, we have the new terminal building. We have an MRO. So aircraft come in and can be maintained in the facility and we earn foreign exchange.
We are planning to add a cargo terminal so that as Ibom Air increases its fleet and begins to do regional flights we can begin to move cargo – export agricultural products or whatever we are able to produce here. That is connecting those dots. In effect, you are building on what your predecessor has done. So your vision is to scale up what he has done.
Five key areas are identifiable in your life story and these include public administration, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, faith and finally politics. Would you say these areas fundamentally address human development?
Completely. It’s only in this country that people wake and find themselves in politics. You can only have outcomes without processes that way. It’s not done that way and this explains our quandary. These people have no exposure whatsoever in the private sector. They don’t see the other side of life.
You know in other climes, people come to the government to render service from the private sector. They can say this is what I am coming with to be able to render service. But in Nigeria, this is hardly obtainable. If you are coming from corporate Nigeria, you are a stranger. A man who does not understand how the public service operates cannot run public service because he is not going to think about coming wastages.
He is not going to think about honesty. There is no room in the private sector for dishonesty. Everything is moderation and circumspection. In those days we worked in the bank, you can’t afford to be flamboyant even in your dressing. They know how much you earn. You can’t afford to give somebody a bounced check. We were taught moderation and circumspection in the things you do. So you bring all of that into public service. People know there are things you will never do.
Which philosopher influenced your thoughts most?
Why are you called “the Golden Boy”? Is it because of your colour?
I credit that to my wife. She made that popular. When we started out, you know all jabs are thrown at you and hate speeches. One of the hate speeches was that I am an Albino. So on one of my birthdays, my wife was asked to make a remark in church and so she said that though people say you are an Albino, you remain my golden boy! That gave a new definition. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, people evade issues and talk about non-issues.
What is your message to the people of Akwa Ibom and Nigeria at large?
To Akwa Ibomites, I humbly offer myself by the grace of God to be a servant-leader and that’s why I am running this race for the office of governorship of Akwa Ibom. We have put out our agenda and I appeal to them to look at it, read it and let’s talk about it. I can engage and I am engaging the Akwa Ibom people that we will have a government of inclusion. We will do what we said we will do because I am not given to so many words.
I have built an organisation in the last 25 years and I have succeeded by God’s grace. I am a focussed person and I can say that if they vote for me, they are voting for job creation and empowerment of our young people through small, medium enterprises. They are voting for continuity in governance, transparency in government and honesty. I am appealing to the Akwa Ibom people to please vote for the People Democratic Party and voting for me Umo Eno. And to Nigerians, please vote for Atiku Abubakar.