By Adebiyi Phillips
Between the early hours of Wednesday 15, March and evening of Thursday 16, Akwa Ibom was among the top Twitter trends in Nigeria. Not that it’s a new thing for the state or was it totally strange considering that we are in an election season. Out of curiosity, I had to check out the reason for the social media buzz and to my biggest surprise, it was for one of the best reasons there is especially as the current administration will be exiting in few months to usher in a new administration. It turns out that the state government, as part of its efforts to engage with the people and communicate its achievements within the last seven years to them, is hosting an inter-ministerial briefing where all the ministries are expected to give account of themselves.
Novel, you can say. Recalled that while trying to woo the people for votes during his campaigns in 2015, Governor Udom Emmanuel had made promises to the people of the State. Few months to the end of the administration, Mr Udom Emmanuel is coming back to the people for assessment. Little wonder the inter-ministerial briefing is tagged “Tracking the Promise”. Since assuming office in May 2015, Governor Emmanuel has been very intentional about making Akwa Ibom feel the impact of his administration and he has done this by ensuring that they have a sense of belonging. In my candid opinion, there is absolutely no better way to start and finish a government than making promises to the people at the beginning and giving the people opportunity to access how the promises have been fulfilled at the end of the administration.
In a publication on Responsive and Accountable Public Governance, United Nations posited that responsive public governance requires responding efficiently and effectively to people’s real needs. “This entails a resolve to anchor policies, strategies, programmes, activities and resources, taking into account people’s expectations, with particular attention paid to local variations and ambitions”. One of the key highlights of the Udom Emmanuel administration has been his timely and profound responses to the needs and aspirations of Akwa Ibom people. Inbetween these seven years, Mr Emmanuel has made several stand-out efforts in responsive leadership. From what I have gathered, the inter-ministerial briefing was in response to the demand by Akwa Ibom people for an all encompassing and accommodating interface with the government. The sincerity of the administration can be clearly seen in the composition of participants which were drawn from media, the religious and traditional institutions, civil rights groups, labour and pressure groups, professional bodies, NGOs, etc. Elsewhere, such event in an election time would be used for PR stunts by restricting the audience to only loyalists of the government.
From my vantage point, the critical elements of a responsive leadership are inbred in the Udom Emmanuel’s administration. As a resident of Lagos State, I have witnessed first-hand multiple incidents that is deserving of the state governor or government agencies engaging the people in a dialogue. Alas, not even a consideration was made. One of Nigeria’s finest communication lecturer and currently Dean, Faculty of Media and Communication Studies, University of Uyo, Prof Peter Esu, in his teaser Governance, Transparency and Responsibility at the inter-ministerial briefing, rightly pointed out that the Udom Emmanuel’s administration should be commended for being responsive. The erudite lecturer was of the opinion that for a representative government which we are practising in this part of the world to thrive, there must be a common ground for the government and the governed to interface. I agree totally.
If the crux of a responsive government is to anchor its policies, strategies, programmes, activities and resources on the needs and aspirations of the people then it is imperative for the government to have a good knowledge of what the people need. The benefits of achieving this connection with the people are enormous. Firstly, it easier for the people to welcome and key into a government policy or programme when they feel connected with it. People don’t resist change, rather they resist what they don’t understand. When the purpose and goal of any plan is properly communicated to the people by the government, it easily wins support for the plan. From a neutral point of view, this has been the biggest advantage that Governor Udom Emmanuel has had over the years and even leveraging it the more despite edging closer to the end of his administration.
I listened to the numerous remarks and comments by the State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Ini Ememobong, whose Ministry, I understand, is the brain behind the briefing, and I was further convinced that Akwa Ibom was currently in its golden era. Repeatedly, the Information Commissioner expressed the government’s desire and willingness to maintain a robust relationship with the people. According to him, the government has been exploring different avenues to communicate her policies to the people and will continue to do so till the end of the administration. “This Inter-Ministerial Briefing is to enable us get feedbacks from you on behalf of the public”, he said. “This converge is put together to ensure that the governor, the government and the governed all belong to the same page. It is a platform for feedback. We have decided to do things differently and sit back to listen to the citizenry”.
The Q&A sessions with the different heads of Ministries during the inter-ministerial briefing evoked some feelings of nostalgia. I had the privilege of living in Akwa Ibom State for about a year between 2018 and 2019. It was one year of very fond memories and watching the Commissioners talk about some of the very notable landmarks of the State while responding to questions brought back some of the fond memories. I recalled that while in Akwa Ibom, I was a regular visitor to the magnificent Godswill Akpabio International Stadium and beyond the beauty and class that the stadium adds to state, I was particularly concerned with the state of roads around the facility. My thoughts were that it would be easier for the Stadium to drive development into the host communities and it environs if there are good access roads. It was therefore very soothing to hear the State Commissioner for Works, Prof Eno Ibanga confirm that the government is undertaking the construction of roads around the Stadium.
The season one of briefing held on Wednesday and Thursday had the following Commissioners; Dr. Offiong Offor, Ministry of Agriculture; Mr Aniefiok Nkom, Ministry of Labour & Manpower Planning; Prof. Augustine Umoh, Ministry of Health; Mr Emem Bob, Ministry of Economic Development; and Mr Bassey Okon, Ministry of Special Duties & Ibom Deep Seaport. In the Nigerian context, it was very unusual to see government officials of that caliber make time to interact and even be so visibly eager to open up to the people on government business. I drew two conclusions from that event. First, that Mr Udom Emmanuel has led an exemplary administration in terms of responsiveness, transparency and accountability. Secondly, the Udom Emmanuel’s administration will be leaving a big shoe for the next administration.
*Philips writes from Uyo