By Michael Effiong
Early this week, I got a call from a respected senior colleague and this dovetailed into a conversation about the future of Akwa Ibom State. The call went thus: ” Hello, Miccolo Jay, how are you?. I replied “bros, good morning sir”. He continued: “Guess What? I just landed in Abuja aboard your Ibom Air”? My heart skipped.
My heart skipped a beat because this senior colleague who spent many years living abroad is an incurable critic. He almost always wears the toga of that fierce-looking teacher, who is stingy with marks and you have to perform extraordinarily well to score good grades. He never sees anything good about Nigeria especially about our poor service delivery culture.
Having consistently preached and waxed lyrical to him about Ibom Air, I was brazing up for him to reel out his 1001 reasons the airline has not met his very high expectations. But he shocked me.
He told me how he was well attended to at the check-in counter, how the boarding formality was smooth, how clean and fresh the aircraft was and how courteous the flight attendants treated passengers. He even mentioned the multilingual translation of the onboard safety instructions “Trust me, the airline was worth your hype. I was really impressed”. He rounded off.
Of course, I heaved a sigh of relief and wanted to go on to say a few more good things and he cut me short. ” Don’t get carried away, are you sure this is not initial gra gra, do you think this will last and they will not be affected by the usual Nigerian factor?
These last words really touched me but it was an opportunity to inform him that I was sure that Ibom Air will not lower its standards. I went out to explain that the airline has been in business for over three years and I was so sure of its continued existence because of Pastor Umo Eno, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate.
His next words were: “what do you mean? I took time to explain to him that the airline was the brain child of Governor Udom Emmanuel who has told everyone that Pastor Umo Eno is his worthy successor, which is the reason any lover of Akwa Ibom State should back and vote for continuity.
I explained that Pastor Umo Eno, unlike other candidates in the race, is not a dye-in-the-wool politician, he is a man of integrity, a thoroughbred businessman who has been in the hospitality and tourism industry for over two decades. Therefore, Ibom Air will be a familiar turf for him.
Indeed, he is a seasoned entrepreneur who began his business with a 5-room facility, and nurtured it into a behemoth, a group of companies, that employed over 2,500 people and was at one time the second largest employer of labour after the state government.
Having caught his attention and knowing full well his penchant for soaking in information, I then went on to reel out more facts about Pastor Umo Eno and his vision for the state.
Born on April 24, 1964, Pastor Umo Eno attended Local Government Authority Primary School, Ikeja, had a stint at St. Francis Secondary School, Ikot Ataku, Eket and finished as Senior Prefect at Victory High School, Ikeja.
The ordained Apostle and Undershepherd of All Nation’s Christian Ministry International likes to refer to himself as a Barrack Boy because his father was a police officer and he lived within the barracks in Enugu, Lagos and Kaduna.
Being the first child, he was very close to his father, a thorough disciplinarian. His father was very clean, strict and paid attention to the minutest of details. He was so much influenced by his father, that he imbibed some of these traits too as he was growing up and looking forward to a bright future.
The tragic death of his father changed all his lofty plans. He had to re-engineer his life and priorities and this decision to brave the odds, and work harder to support the family, is reason there are some gaps in his educational history.
He however never let go of the thirst and quest for knowledge. Years later, being a very cerebral person, he got admission to the University of Uyo and graduated with a B.Sc. in Political Science and Public Administration. He also holds a Master’s Degree in Public Science and Public Administration.
There is no doubt that his life is divinely engineered. A fact that becomes more and more apparent as you weave your way through his story. How this unassuming gentleman moved from zero to hero, shows that the virtues of hard work, courage, diligence, dedication when imbibed and applied with the grace of God will ultimately lead to success.
It shows how his awe-inspiring doggedness, tenacity, sense of purpose and never-say-die spirit which were not acquired from any ivy league school but from the university of life have combined to catapult him from grass to grace.
A common thread that runs through the course of his entire life is his ability to prove people who never give him a chance wrong, by turning his challenges to opportunities and his tests to testimonies.
A Rotarian, 3-star Paul Harris Fellow and philanthropist, Umo Eno began his working life at Union Bank Plc, then he was convinced by Mr Albert Inyang, Chairman, Bertola Machine Tools Ltd, Lagos to leave banking. From here, he went on to Norman Holdings were he rose to Group General Manager (Commercial Services) which was his last paid employment before he started his company, Royalty Hotels now Royalty Group, where his title from the get go was Executive Governor.
His stint in public service of Akwa Ibom State began in 2004 when he was invited and appointed by H.E. Obong Victor Attah as Chairman, Akwa Ibom Hotels and Tourism Management Board.
Like any other assignment he has been involved in, Umo Eno is always very committed and ensures that he makes a mark, blaze a trail and leave legacies that people will talk about for years to come. He seems to have God’s grace to be a start-up person and a change agent everywhere he goes.
He held the appointment for three years, during that period, his achievements included conducting the first-ever state-wide hotel inspection for categorization and classification. He also developed and printed the first Akwa Ibom Hotels Directory which has served as a veritable source of information for the sector and guide to external and internal tourists.
His next port of call was an appointment in September, 2019 by Governor Udom Emmanuel as the Executive Director, Agricultural Investment at Akwa Ibom State Investment Corporation (AKICORP).
The corporation is a Special Purpose Vehicle, established by an act of the Akwa State Legislature to facilitate accelerated industrial development and investment promotion in the state.
Pastor Umo Eno and his team, began by ensuring that for the first time, there was documentation for farms and farmers in the state. So an enumeration exercise was activated and today, at the touch of a button, sitting anywhere in the world, one can know the number of cassava, corn or animal farmers there are in the state. In addition, because of this innovation, government can easily target its intervention projects or loan schemes to the sector.
Furthermore, to help realise the governor’s vision of ensuring that 70-80 per cent of the food eaten in Akwa Ibom are processed locally and also to be involved in the value chain, cassava warehouses were built as well as Off-taking Centres. That was not all, his team also began the process of revamping or privatizing moribund government Agribusinesses.
The state-owned Hatchery was brought back to life and Akwa Palm which was rechristened Dakkada Oil Palm Limited also got a new lease of life when its encroached land was reclaimed, the facility was fenced, new site office built, 100,000 seedlings purchased and funds disbursed for the purchase of a new mill.
In addition, plans had reached an advanced stage with Globus Bank to process funding from the CBN Oil Palm Financing Initiative to be injected into the company before he left.
On January 4, 2021, he was appointed by Governor Emmanuel into the state Executive Council as the Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources. The Ministry under his leadership, recorded remarkable strides and tangible achievements such as: Establishment of the Akwa Ibom State Geographical Information System (AKWAGIS), payment of compensation to the Lagos Fishing Settlement in Eastern Obolo for the area designated for the establishment of Sterling Petrochemical and Fertilizer Limited, began the process of acquisition of a 630.21 Hectare of land at Ntaikong, Ibeno LGA for the siting of Bua Refinery and Petrochemical Limited, Establishment of Dakkada Luxury Estate, compulsory acquisition of former Timber Market on Uruan Street for building of primary school, Establishment of The Emily Haven Estate and much more.
His penchant for taking and executing tough tasks must have really impressed Governor Udom Emmanuel because also in 2021, he was appointed as Chairman, Ibom FADAMA Microfinance Bank, a financial institution for famers and SMEs.
Though others had worked on the project before, in typical Umo Eno style, he hit the ground running from day one and ensured that all hands were on deck.
Within a very short time, the proposed Directors of the bank including himself, all passed the very rigorous security screening clearances, scaled through the tough CBN approval process and Ibom FADAMA got its licence in record time and commenced full operation.
Even before he won the party primaries, a sure-footed Umo Eno like every good leader had already outlined his vision for the state. His christened his ideas and ideals the ARISE Agenda.
This blueprint for economic consolidation and expansion aimed at growing the economy and developing the people has been applauded for its depth.
ARISE is acronym for Agricultural Revolution, Tourism, Sports/Social Development & Environmental Management, Rural Development, Women & Youth Empowerment, Infrastructural Maintenance/Advancement and ICT Development, Security Management, Sound Educational & Health Sector Management, Economic/Industrial Advancement & Wealth Creation.
Pastor Umo Eno believes that building upon the legacies of past administrations will engender faster and sustained development. And that is why many believe that continuity should be the way for Akwa Ibom indigenes come 2023. There is no need to break this chain of development and experimenting with another person. It is too much a risk to take for a state that is on the upward swing.
In his campaign stumps so far, it is obvious that Pastor Uno has spent time conducting a thorough needs assessment across the state.
He showed capacity, character and competence at Uyo Senatorial District Campaign flag-off where he promised to turn the capital city, Uyo, into a centre of commerce as well as centre of innovation and technology. He promised to revamp the science park too.
It was that occasion that he also stated thus “Your Excellency, you saw the future that was why you gave us Ibom Air. We will not only expand but use it as a foundation to turn our state to a tourists’ haven. We have 21 tourists’ sites and we will explore all of them”
In Eket, he promised to build a sports academy to compliment the recently built Eket Stadium, for the riverine communities, he noted that the 129 kilometres of shoreline from Mbo to Ikot Abasi will be developed for tourism purposes. He noted that there are many parts of the world were their main economic stay is tourism and Akwa Ibom is ready to do well in that area if he becomes governor.
That was not all, he also spoke about revamping the blue economy. Noting that one-third of the wealth of the state is in the deep sea, his government will encourage young people, farmers and fishing communities to engage in industrial fishing complete with trawlers and freezer and ensure that the coastlines are effectively secured, protected and preserved for commercial viability.
In Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, he promised to give the people an international market and help them upgrade their raffia production to meet international standards. He promised production hubs for different trades adding that he will prioritize big-time agricultural production.
The key goals of his plan will be poverty reduction, job creation, sustainable economic growth, improved standard of living, environmental sustainability, highly educated, healthy and skilled populace, safety and security.
He intends to motivate the civil service and public sector workers, take care of their pensions and gratuities and inspire them to deliver services comparable to the private sector.
His blueprint also mentions skills acquisition initiatives for women and youths, to promote and encourage creativity, and innovation as well as develop sports and the creative sector. sector to fast track tourism development, launch a deliberate destination marketing campaign. He also mentioned the Ibom Film Village and grants for the creative industry.
In addition, he plans to set up Senior Citizens homes, revive and upgrade existing primary healthcare centres, establish a Medical City and incorporate wellness and health spas, leveraging on the serene and scenic environment, wonderful cuisines and natural remedies, start a state-run health insurance scheme, reassess the free maternal, newborn and child healthcare services.
In education his plans include: building state of the art primary and secondary schools, prioritize training and retraining of teachers, extensive renovation of dilapidated school buildings and related infrastructure, establish and expand vocational and technical training, promote scholarship schemes for Akwa Ibom Students, reassess the free compulsory education policy with a view to make it functional and provision of free school uniforms and shoes (which will be produced in Akwa Ibom) to primary students.
He also intends to promote use of Made in Akwa Ibom products and services, encourage the formation of co-operatives amongst SMEs, promote and support the establishment of industrial layouts and clusters.
For Oil & Gas, he plans to domesticate the Nigerian Local Content Law, facilitate the creation of job opportunities through collaborative efforts with operating and oil servicing companies in the state, promote and support citizens to engage in Oil & Gas activities, promote long-term investments in the education and training of indigenous highly-skinned manpower in the Oil & Gas sector and ensure the use of sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices in the Oil & Gas value chain.
In all, Pastor Umo Eno’s ultimate vision is to take Akwa Ibom from a land of promise to a land of achievements. Therefore, for Akwa Ibom people to take their rightful position economically and socially, there is need to return to the basics and take a firm hold on those micro- economic enablers that would see the people driving the economic vehicles of the state and live comfortably from the work of their hands, instead of relying on government, public institutions and personalities.
Without any shadow of doubt, Pastor Umo Eno is the candidate for stability, cohesion and consistency and he is the best man for the job of Governor and I added jocularly, the only candidate that will ensure Ibom Air continues to soar excellently.
My senior colleague seemed to have heard enough “He just blurted:”Enough, enough. For your own good, I pray he wins and performs, so I will not have the opportunity to do my usual and prove you wrong” he laughed heartily and hung up the phone.
Effiong: A journalist is Editor of Ovation International Magazine