Peter Adobamen pays tribute to the immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom at 58

 Until his successful foray into public service, he was one of the defining figures in Nigeria’s financial services sector. The administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel (2015-2023) in Akwa Ibom State was one of a unique national legacy of achievements. Akwa Ibom State became the leading industrial state in Nigeria and one of the best governed. He managed, without so much as firing one pistol, to elevate his state to the giddy heights of world attention. If Governor Udom is not one of Nigeria history’s greatest innovative political leaders, he is surely one of the more fascinating ones since the return to Constitutional rule in 1999. As Governor, Udom Emmanuel was Presidential-like, with a can-do spirit like Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had before served as governor of New York; then becoming Vice President and then President. He was the youngest man to become president at 42 and he brought zest and vitality to the nation at the start of a new century. It is said that of Nigeria’s state governors since the return to constitutional rule in 1999, that Udom Emmanuel with few others have acted presidential in their role as governors in an era where thuggishness dominates State House. Udom Emmanuel dominated the governorship office with a presidential carriage.

Theodore Roosevelt visited the Panama Canal Zone (the first trip abroad by a U.S. President in office). He was a man of firsts; even the first American to win the Nobel Prize. Udom Emmanuel was similarly a first in many things including the first governor of a sub-national in Africa to launch a private airline. Governor Udom Emmanuel took up the fight for the actualization of the Ibom Industrial City and the Ibom Deep Seaport; game changers for the economic liberalization of Akwa Ibom State. He navigated the ship of his state through the economic recession that Nigeria fell into just as he became governor in 2015. He ensured constant payment of salaries with other huge government developmental obligations when according to BudgIT research, 33 out of 36 states were unable to meet their obligations to their workers. It was no easy time. Akwa Ibom State was not among those where workers committed suicide because salaries were owed them for 20 months while the governor married new wives and lived in luxury. On managing the recession he had said, “It has to do with attitude. In every situation, there is always an opportunity. Even in the period of recession, there are lots of opportunities. You must deliberately look at what are the game changers and then pursue those ones.’’ Governor Emmanuel demonstrated that a governor needs be a gentleman, free from outright thuggery and uncouth behavior. No account of Nigerian history since the return to constitutional rule will be complete without a chapter on Governor Udom Emmanuel.

He deviated from the norm of Nigerian state governors transferring themselves to the Senate after the completion of their tenure; Emmanuel declined to go to the Senate after he ran to become his party’s presidential candidate in 2023. This is spelled, integrity. In his words, “I don’t like violating the law – I can’t be running for President and at the same time, I go and collect forms for the Senate. I mean, that’s a total violation of the Electoral Act.”

He had given his backing to Pastor Umo Eno, the then Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources who after a rigorous election emerged victorious at the Governorship election. It is known that Emmanuel and his successor are in a very cordial relationship; a rarity under the present political dispensation in Nigeria.

Since handing over as Governor, Udom Emmanuel has lived a life devoid of interruption and disruption to the current administration. He is content being an ambassador of the state. At the opening ceremony of the Akwa Ibom Dialogue and unveiling of the A.R.I.S.E Agenda in July 2023, Pastor Umo Eno said, “I want to specially welcome again to this event, my political father, Deacon Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, who has come to show us support. A man that since leaving office has never brought any pressure on me for anything. Instead, I am the one running after him to ask for direction, to ask for advice quite unlike what I hear happen in other states. We thank you sir”. Udom Emmanuel still represents the state governor when called upon do so. On Friday, November 24, 2023, he was in Canada, alongside the CEO of Ibom Air, Mfon Udom, and the Chief Operating Officer, Mr. George Uriesi, to represent the Akwa Ibom State Government in receiving the first of 10 Airbus A220-300 aircraft ordered by his administration, from the aircraft manufacturer Airbus, at the 2021 Dubai Airshow. It was a remarkable feat which no other airline in Nigeria had achieved. Speaking during a Special Thanksgiving/Welcome Service, November 26, 2023, he said “ When we were at Mirabel in Canada to receive the first of the ten new Airbus Series of Ibom Air with the MD, Captain Mfon Udom, we almost shed tears because even the Airbus people turned around and said, in their generation of Air Bus management, that was the first time Nigeria’s Flag was flying in the Airbus Factory and that was not done by the federal government but a sub national.”

Udom Emmanuel has continued to advocate for impactful governance. Speaking at the 8th edition of the London Political Summit in October 2023, in the House of Commons, United Kingdom, he advocated for governance models which aligns with African values and social structures. Delivering the keynote lecture on the theme ‘How can the people, power, and politics sustain peace’, he advocated for an Afro-centric approach to democracy stating that the unique values, systems, and shared ideals of Africa would yield superior governance outcomes. Committed to impacting lives, Udom Emmanuel is passionate about inspiring the next generation of Nigerians to arise to the faith of greatness. He displayed this passion when he delivered the Convocation Lecture of the Mountain Top University at its 5th Convocation Ceremony, December 21, 2023. The lecture was titled, ‘Optimizing your potentials in a challenging future’. Concluding his speech, he charged the graduands to ‘rise to greatness, make your mark, conquer your world and become a blessing to humanity’

In acknowledgement of his great works as former Governor of Akwa Ibom, some of the great projects either commenced by, or completed during his administration were recently renamed after him. Dakkada Towers was renamed Udom Emmanuel Towers on May 26, 2024; and the recently completed 21.5km Airport Road, which was commissioned on May 27, 2024 by him, was renamed Udom Emmanuel Boulevard.

Emmanuel has continued on to be impactful, same with his wife. Lady Martha Udom Emmanuel had during her tenure as First Lady, took to heart a pet project, a cause against one of society’s greatest ills, rape. Through her Family Empowerment and Youth Reorientation Program (FEYREP), there was empowerment of women in the 31 Local Government Council Areas of the state. The catalogue of things done was impressive. She grew up seeing her parents’ philanthropic nature of training a good number of people, who are all successful today. As the daughter of an old-time university professor, she exhibits those refined feminine qualities that represent true home training. It is not uncommon to see women in high offices of the land lose it and exhibit those traits that decent and refined women find revolting. There are however, still a few women who continue to hold high the flag of real womanhood; unspoiled by the murky terrains of position and authority. Lady Martha Emmanuel after her role as first lady has continued on with her philanthropist projects especially in empowering widows through her private NGO.

Whenever a man of good faith, beyond his line of duty, continues a sacred trust to selflessly impact lives, history records that such men do become great national assets.

Happy birthday Your Excellency.

 Adobamen is author of ‘Udom Emmanuel: The Quintessential Leader- The Completed Agenda (2015-2023)’

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