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Information and Strategy as Gov Emmanuel’s Forte 

Information and Strategy as Gov Emmanuel’s Forte 

Edidiong Udobia 

When Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State added “Strategy” to the State Information Ministry and renamed it as Ministry of Information and Strategy in August 2020, not many saw the development beyond a mere adjustment in the name. Perhaps, only a handful of citizens were fascinated with the renaming as majority of the people had seen how similar development in other Ministries failed to yield any significant results in the Ministries in terms of productivity. Apparently, Governor Emmanuel had an ace up his sleeve this time, and that rebranding was crowned with the appointment of Mr Ini Ememobong as Information Commissioner. 

Like other government parastatals, the Ministry of Information has evolved over the years name-wise, leadership and overall growth. However, the last two years plus has seen the Ministry assume a more critical, central and coordinating position in the administration rather than just being relegated to gatekeeping as it were. From conception through actualisation to implementation and enforcement, every government policy requires effective communication for a seamless processing. Whether it is at the level of the Exco deliberating on proposals for approval or the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies mulling over strategies for implementation, information is a key factor from start to finish. As with human relations where good communication strengthens bonds, effective information management in a government promotes harmonious working relationships within the system which in turn enhances overall productivity. This is how Udom Emmanuel’s idea of strategy makes the difference. 

Correct me if I’m wrong, Governor Udom Emmanuel had no known professional photographer officially attached to him all through his first term and some months into his second term until one of Akwa Ibom’s finest photographers, “Carrot” was brought in by the current Commissioner for Information. For over four years, the governor frequently suffered image-related crisis like government offices/appointees using inappropriate image of the governor on official documents, publications, or in public domain. The common excuse then was that the governor had no suitable pictures. Till today, some of the governor’s most used memes are pictures taken before the coming of Carrot. Take for instance, the very commonly used image of the governor in an unseemly posture while having a handshake with a Paramount Ruler in the State. For the sake of information (story), every shot is important, but strategy decides which shot is necessary. 

Until Mr Emmanuel’s clever move, the lack of strategy in information management within the government was almost setting the administration on a path of self-destruct. For instance, there were times that citizens would either have to wait till the morning of every last Saturday of the month to know if there would be a statewide sanitation in the first place and if there would be restriction of movement or not, or two government offices will issue two conflicting instructions on the exercise leaving the citizens in a limbo. This imbroglio was not an isolated case but very characteristic of the administration. Again recall that following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in April 2020, reported five confirmed cases in Akwa Ibom but the State Commissioner for Health hurriedly, without any proper consultation, went on a full scale denial. That singular act portrayed the administration as insensitive and dishonest and it came with a corresponding public backlash. With a deafening mistrust, the government and the people started off the fight against the pandemic on a wrong foot.

Within the last two years plus, the government has been more organised and better coordinated in its approach to information management and public communication. For example, the last teachers’ recruitment by the State Secondary Education Board and the selection of 500 indigent Akwa Ibom students for scholarship by the Ministry of Education were evidence of how much the administration has evolved in terms of information and strategy. The painstaking efforts put into keeping the public satisfied with information in both exercises was novel as far as the administration is concerned. The Ini Ememobong led Ministry of Information has brought so many innovative strategies into the business of keeping the government and the people on the same page – like regular real-time reports on major decisions at the State Executive Council meetings. As government businesses now operated with less secrecy, it leaves little or no room for speculations and misinformation which in turn has improved citizens’ interest in governance.

Recently, the state government through the Ministry of Information and Strategy, hosted the first-of-its-kind Inter-ministerial Briefing where various Ministries represented by their respective Commissioners, had interactive discussions with Akwa Ibom people on their progress and achievements. The briefing tagged “Tracking the Promise”, featured six Ministries that all gave good accounts of the administration within the last seven years. From the planning, organisation to the end, the 2-day event was graced with strategies targeted at bridging every gap between the government and the people. For instance, it was not possible to accuse the government of bias in the selection of participants for the briefing because the organisers drew participants from all sections of the state including labour unions, civil rights groups, professional bodies, religious and traditional institutions, the media community, etc.

Barely a week after the season one of the Inter-Ministerial Briefing was held, Akwa Ibom people are already looking forward for to the season two and more which implies that this was another well-thought and well-executed idea. For many independent observers, some of the main takeaways from this is that, firstly, people are now more interested in the governance of the state because there is more openess and transparency on the part of the government. Secondly, with better public communication strategies, people are now discussing, deliberately and debating on governance more from point of knowledge and less from ignorance and speculations. “His Excellency Udom Emmanuel has been having parley with journalists yearly because he is passionate about interfacing with the people. Commissioners have also been talking but today we came to hear from you”, Ini Ememobong said in his opening remarks at the Inter-Ministerial Briefing. “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 that will provide a two-way channel of communication between the government and the citizens”.

Dispute is an essential part of human relations and governance is not an exception. This is why despite all the laudable efforts of the Udom Emmanuel administration in strengthening the bond between the government and the people, the relationship relationship is still rough around the edges. But truth be told, the government through the Ministry of Information and Strategy and other parastatals, has explored all possible options to gain and retain the people’s trust, and so far the overwhelming majority of Akwa Ibom people has given the governor a vote of confidence. Good enough, the government is determined to keep building on the momentum till the end of the administration, and it is only expected of the people to hold up their own end of the bargain by being more liberal and fair in their perception and assessment. Achieving this will be a win-win for the state by May 29, 2023.

*Udobia wrote from Uyo

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