* Salvages A’Ibom economy from national recession, debt overhang
* Diversifies economy via industrialisation, Aviation devt
* Harps on enduring peace, unity, political inclusion
* Wages a winning battle against Covid-19
THE MAN OF DESTINY
Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel emerged as a fulfilment of God’s promise at the appointed time when Akwa Ibom people yearned with great expectations for a leader that will return the State to its once peaceful, united and progressive path
Since May 29, 2015, Gov. Emmanuel has led the State with great sense of purpose. It is therefore pertinent in this special report, commemorating his 54th birthday, to present highlights of his journey to fulfil destiny as a manager of God’s own piece of real estate.
Sometime in 1988, young Udom Emmanuel was full of ambitions for a good future. He had set out his career plans immediately when he graduated from the University of Lagos. Emmanuel studied Accounting and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree (B.Sc Accounting) with a second class upper grade; and this provided the launch-pad to his career.
Although his dreams were quite profound, he first had to perform the compulsory one year of national service after his graduation. In 1989, Emmanuel was called up for his one-year national youth service. During the service programme, he was posted to the Lagos office of PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC).
Armed with a rich curriculum vitae adorned with a job experience from a multinational company, Emmanuel did not have to saunter all over the streets of Lagos in search of employment. Rather, he was made offers by several organizations. Eventually, he settled to work with Diamond Bank Limited. He later joined Zenith Bank Plc in 1996, six years after the bank was established.
At Zenith Bank, he imbibed the vision of the organisation, striving to ensure it achieved its mission of leading the Nigerian and global markets with a technology-driven range of financial services. Emmanuel grew rapidly with the nascent bank, emerging its pioneer Manager of Lagos Central Branch. Since then, his over 17 years of financial services experience were mostly spent in an organisation he loved and thrived in.
True to the Biblical axiom: “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men”, Emmanuel’s hard work and sacrifice marked him out for honour right from a very young age.
Speaking about himself on a television programme in 2015, Emmanuel who had just been elected Governor of Akwa Ibom State said “I was already sitting on the board of profit-making companies at the age of 35. At the age of 40, I was already sitting on the board of 12 corporate bodies, including a group. At the age of 40, I was [on] the board of one of the best banks on planet earth. And there is nobody at that level that will go home with a salary of less than $1 million per annum.”
With these achievements in his kitty, Emmanuel was getting ready for the assignment God prepared him for in Akwa Ibom State.
RISING TO FAITH OF GREATNESS
As at 2015, the economy of Akwa Ibom State was at the crossroads when Governor Udom Emmanuel took over the helms of affairs. On the day he was sworn in, the price of crude oil, Nigeria’s biggest revenue earnings, had dropped to $27 per barrel, with production capacity standing at less than 800,000 barrels per day.
In effect, the misfortune was that the revenue of the State slumped phenomenally, such that the new administration became almost cash-strapped. The falling revenue was not the only clog. The administration inherited N64.5billion debts owed to commercial banks as of May 29, 2015; with the debt servicing obligation standing at N3.5billion per month.
The government was expected to pay N3.5billion monthly for debts owed by the previous administration, from its net allocation which ranged between N7.6billion and N9.6billion in the third and fourth quarters of 2015.
With the financial outlook which was blinking red and constantly pointing to more uncertainties in the months ahead, peoples’ hope that the Emmanuel’s administration would do anything tangible waned. At that point, the five-point agenda and the industrialisation of the State which the governor promised looked more idealistic than practicable.
While hope got dimmer, Governor Udom Emmanuel sprang surprises. He showed expertise and dexterity in financing priority projects of the government. To ensure that the government did not shut-down due to suffocating bills – inherited debts and the rising wage bills due to the recruitment of about 5000 people into the civil service by the Akpabio administration on the eve of its exit – Udom Emmanuel did three things.
One, he worked and got the N64.5billion debt restructured and converted into Central Bank of Nigeria bonds. Under the bond, the debt servicing obligation changed from N3.5billion per month to N850million per month, spread over a period of 20 years. Two, the administration introduced a project financing policy called Alternative Project Funding Approach (APFA). Though this worked on two prongs, the popular prong was that the State would guarantee loans for its contractor to execute a project, thus allowing the State to pay for the project in tranches. “The approach relieved pressure on government purse and saved extra cost that would have arisen from price variation over a period”, Mr. Akan Okon, who was Commissioner for Finance in the first year of the Emmanuel’s administration, said. Three, the Internally Generated Revenue collection mechanism was reformed; automation and e-receipts replaced manual collection. The administration promoted financial discipline and was noticeably frugal in spending.
Governor Udom Emmanuel came with a five-point development agenda for Akwa Ibom State. The agenda comprised job creation, poverty alleviation, wealth creation, economic and political inclusion, and infrastructural consolidation and expansion. The key driver to this agenda was industrialization.
From the first day the administration started off, the governor worked hard and revamped moribund industries, built new ones and attracted foreign investors who built a number of industries which the state could not have had the financial requirements to undertake. Before the end of his first term, 15 industries were manufacturing different products including paints, syringes, toothpicks, pencils, fertilizer, plastic wares and others.
During the transition to his second term in office, when many friends turned enemies and betrayal was rife, Governor Udom Emmanuel made a profound statement, which revealed the secret of his calmness and later became the slogan of his re-election campaign. He said “all is well with us as far as this union, this body is concerned and we leave the rest into God’s hands and then we will see what God wants to do. This is God’s own state; we restate and reaffirm our faith in God and God alone”.
It is only a leader with a deep relationship with God that could have made this statement with sincerity. Eventually, there was no bloodshed, politically motivated killings or kidnappings throughout the electioneering period. The governor won convincingly on the strength of his faith in God, overwhelming peace in the State and the goodwill he enjoy from Akwa Ibom people across political party lines, who clamoured to return him to office.
HEALTH CARE DELIVERY, FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19
Once again, Akwa Ibom people made the right choice by re-electing Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel in 2019 because as soon as he was sworn in, the world was faced with another apocalyptic challenge – the coronavirus and the State relied on his quick wits to pull through. The governor seems to have anticipated the double disaster of a slump in oil price and a dire health challenge when he worked tirelessly to diversify the state economy and focused on growing a non-oil sector while also putting a lot of investment in improving the state health sector.
There is no gainsaying the fact that before the current global crisis, Akwa Ibom state was on its way to becoming an international business hot spot in the West African subregion. The state recorded a whooping N24.8 billion, an all-time high in IGR in 2019 and was bound to break that record this year. It made pioneering efforts on several fronts with enviable business models and world-class concepts which would help the state feed its people, employ its teeming population and build a robust economy.
In transforming the state healthcare system, the governor focused on providing optimum service delivery. He put in remarkable effort towards refurbishing secondary health care facilities across the state, fitting them with state-of-the-art equipment and salvaged Ibom Specialty Hospital from rot. He also embarked on training of health workers and recruiting more to replace those retiring.
It would not be out of place to state that Governor Udom Emmanuel prepared the state to weather the difficulties of present-day Nigeria. Accordingly, Governor Emmanuel’s response to the global pandemic is not informed by fear nor panic, but with carefully weighed steps he is taking Akwa Ibom state through the most difficult period in her history, keeping her safe and thriving.
More so, as a state chief executive officer, he sees the big picture and knows that if we are to survive, we must not allow emotions becloud our reasoning rather we must take steps to remain on top of the situation as much as possible. In keeping to this policy, the governor has built a 300-bed capacity isolation center/Emergency Operating Center at General hospital, Ituk Mbang fully equipped with state-of-the-art facilities to fight the virus and any other communicable pathogen. This is in addition to similar centers at the state owned Multi-specialty hospital- Itam, Infectious disease hospital – Ikot Ekpene and State Secretariat Annex – Uyo.
Thus while many states were shutting down, Akwa Ibom state was able to bring in the new Aircraft even in the midst of the gloomy economic situation. The 90-seater Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft brought the number of airplanes in Ibomair fleet to four. In addition, the governor constructed a taxiway at the Victor Attah International Airport, engaged in full upgrading of Airfield Lighting System at the airport as well as constructed commercial terminal building at the airport.
POLITICAL INCLUSION AND PEACE
Another remarkable feat by the Udom administration is political inclusion, peace and unity among various ethnic nationalities living together in the State. He has fulfilled his promise to reachout to everyone not minding tribe, religious or political affiliation.
In response to Governor Emmanuel’s extension of the olive branch to the opposition, on Thursday, November 21, 2019, eleven (11) bonafide members of the All Progressives Congress in Akwa Ibom state who are stakeholders of the party in their own right, published a full page message of congratulations to Governor Udom Emmanuel.
The message which was duly signed by the APC members was in solidarity with Governor Udom Emmanuel’s Appeal Court victory. It noted that “under the first four years of the Udom Emmanuel’s administration, Akwa Ibom State has experienced sufficient peace and tranquillity. The government and persons in charge of instruments of the State have not used same to hunt down the opposition or any person who disagreed with them politically. This has interestingly created a mutual and warm political relationship between members of different political parties across the state aside from fostering brotherliness and the spirit of sportsmanship.”
Soon after that publication, state chairmen of nine political parties under a group called “Forum of Uruan Political State Party Chairmen” were on a courtesy call to an appointee of Governor Udom Emmanuel, chairman of Akwa Ibom Roads and Other Infrastructure Maintenance Agency, (AKROIMA), Prince Godwin Ntuk Udeh, Ph.D.
The forum went to reaffirm their support to Governor Udom Emmanuel, having earlier during the 2019 election declared support for Governor Udom Emmanuel’s second term.
Also, within the same period, Governor Udom Emmanuel announced the appointment of a state caucus member of the APC, Elder Enefiok Ekefre, as his honorary special adviser on grassroots development.
These experiences and the mutual political relationship between the ruling party and members of opposition political parties are rare in the state’s political history. Members of opposition parties in state have seen Governor Udom Emmanuel as their own, a man they can work with, a man they trust beyond political differences and affinities.
Governor Udom Emmanuel came up with political inclusion as one of his five points agenda. Some people had merely dismissed him on this, describing it a pretentious cloak to make him and his administration look good before the wide majority of Akwa Ibom people.
However, in his second term, Governor Emmanuel, has openly demonstrated that he meant every word when he declared in his inauguration speech, that the “fleeting passion of politics” should not be allowed to “break the cords of our brotherhoo“As I said in my victory speech, I extend again my hands of fellowship and bond of friendship to my brothers and sisters on the opposite side of the political divide. I call on them to join me in building a State that we all, irrespective of political affiliations will be proud to call our home”.
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