By N.T.A. Efo
Friday May 29 celebrated as the 21st anniversary of our civilian democracy was also the birthday of ONE man many have come to see as the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of millions of Akwa Ibom people for transformational change. Obong Nsima Ekere, popularly referred to as ONE, businessman and politician, former Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State, former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the last general election, turned 55.
As he has done since year 2000, the day went unmarked consistent with his position that Nigerians should rather focus on how to make democracy to serve the greatest good of the most people.
Doing good to the greatest number of people was the major undertone of his campaign for governor under the APC. Friday would have been his first year in office as Governor if he had won the elections in which he showed a formidable presence, mustered massive bipartisan support and fearlessly challenged the state’s seeming religious attachment to the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP and the political status quo.
Because he didn’t win, it is needless imagining what he would have done in one year. So I’d rather look at the beautiful life that he has lived these past 55 years and the indelible marks he has imprinted in areas providence thrusted his feet upon.
Ekere embraced entrepreneurship very early in life, using his professional background in real estate to launch into diverse fields such as construction, power and alternative energy, oil and gas, finance and investments and technology.
While you are more likely to associate him with the Real Estate firm that bears his name, Ekere and Associates, his extensive national and international network and partnerships have ensured his active play in many high yielding fields.
While his public service role dates back to the early days of Akwa Ibom State where he served in various asset management and distribution roles, the first major stage for his executive leadership came with his appointment as Executive Chairman of the Akwa Ibom State Investment and Industrial Promotion Council, AKIIPOC, (the precursor to today’s Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation, AKICORP). There, he conceived and implemented some remarkable ventures including the first private sector driven gas-to-power projects in Nigeria.
In fact, his position paper on how states should play in the power generation and distribution space was a major highlight of final decisions by the National Council on Power headed by then Vice President, Arc. Namadi Sambo.
As Deputy Governor, and Acting Governor for a month, he showed remarkable courage, loyalty, sound judgement and innovation in service delivery.
As Managing Director of the NDDC, he challenged long established statutes and took the Commission on a long road to redemption. It is instructive that since he left in January 2019, NDDC has had four managing directors with plenty of motion but little movement.
As Managing Director, Ekere was a member of a 16-man board headed by a diligent, successful and development-oriented leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba. Less than 2 months into his tenure, he launched his roadmap, called the 4R Strategy to firstly, restore the balance sheet of the commission; secondly, reform governance protocols; thirdly, restore the commission to its core mandates and lastly, reaffirm the commitment for operatives of the commission to do what is right and proper. That roadmap was the product of extensive interaction with stakeholders across the region.
He found the 4R Strategy expedient as the situation he met on assuming office was to say the least despicable. Abandoned jobs littered everywhere in the region; the funds of the commission was at its least ebb; staff and contractors morale was low and the core mandate of the commission was completely ignored. Working on changing the template at the commission was very challenging. Without noise, he carried out an audit of projects. In one fell swoop, he cancelled over 600 non-performing projects; and threatened to cancel more, especially those that had 0 to 5 percent completion status.
Seeing that he meant business, contractors who had abandoned projects went back to site. By the next assessment, over a 100 abandoned jobs were at over 50 percent completion status. He restructured the governance system at the place, especially the financial aspect. Contractors who finished their work were paid promptly after passing through stages of project auditing and verification, over 11 stages in all.
To fund his plans for the region, Ekere knew he had to find the resources. When he arrived, NDDC was reeling under the pressure of more than N2 trillion in liabilities. He knew from the books that both the federal government and the international oil companies, IOCs, were grossly under-funding the commission.
So in April 2017, Ekere petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari, and the Senate seeking intervention for the payment of over N1.8 trillion unpaid statutory allocations and ecological funds accruing to the Commission for the years 2000 to 2015. Of this amount, the sum of N1,797,713,966,652.29 was for unpaid statutory allocations while N45,091,075,401.66 was for unpaid ecological funds.
Ekere who signed the letter urged President Bihari to prevail upon then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun to commence full implementation of the funding provisions of the NDDC Act 2000 section 14(2)(a) & (c). This resulted in Mr President’s directive to the Ministries of Finance and Budget & Planning to sit with NDDC, reconcile their books and agree and acceptable payment plan. Unfortunately successive managements have not followed through this initiative.
Working with members of the National Assembly for the region, a review of the
Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Act was accomplished, ensuring for the first time in 19 years, that the NLNG contributed to the development of the region through the Commission. His principled stance, completely devoid of needless publicity reminds me of what Obong Victor Attah and Senator Udo Udoma did with the political solution to the onshore-offshore oil dichotomy.
The success of this fight can only be quantified when you recall that on resigning to contest the Akwa Ibom Governorship, he left a more than N150 billion in the NDDC account.
NDDC runs on conventions that allocates it’s resources to member states on the basis of their oil production quota. Akwa Ibom being the number one oil producing state should naturally receive the highest value of projects every budget year. That’s not what Ekere met on ground. Akwa Ibom was a distant third, after Rivers and Delta.
He quickly engaged his colleagues on the Board and pushed for an agreement to correct the injustice. That explains the flurry of jobs that came to Akwa Ibom. They weren’t political. Ekere was simply righting a wrong that robbed our state of its benefit as the number one oil producing state in the country. Akwa Ibom people who fought him and stopped those jobs from being executed are not different from those who for years fed the state with meat crumbs.
In his less than 3years at the Commission, more than 100 roads were constructed or rehabilitated including life touching ones like the Hospital Road in Abak which had cut a community into two; school blocks in all the 31 local government areas were renovated; water projects; flood control; maintenance and dredging creeks and shore protection works were also on the cards .
Overall, in the area of projects, Obong Nsima Ekere created two main focal points: The quick fixes like roads, (rehabilitation and construction), school rehabilitation, water projects, etc and the strategic long term initiatives like the Niger Delta Power Pool, the Niger Delta Development Bank, Digital Learning Project,The Niger Delta Broadband Project, Modular Refinery, the Coastal Road Project, Rice Milling and Manpower Development. Most of these projects were at the embryonic stages when he left the Commission to contest the governorship. We challenge the current management to key into some of these lofty projects for the good of the region.
Early in life, Obong Ekere had known that politics provides a platform for service to humanity. Since contesting and winning election into the State House of Assembly in 1998 under the Grassroots Democratic Movement, GDM, for the still bird Third Republic, he has been consistent in service to community and humanity through politics. His formidable presence in the 2007 race for Governorship of Akwa Ibom State, provided some buffer and boost for the eventual emergence of Senator Godswill Akpabio as Governor through financial and material commitment and provision of some extra leeway to national political patronage.
In the run up to the 2019 election, Obong Ekere joined the race for Governorship on the strength of his popularity and positive impact through public service. He became the face of the APC in Akwa Ibom State. The APC then, as it is today, was, visibly divided along the camp of its leaders. Obong Ekere’s ability to put aside differences enabled him to bridge the enormous philosophical and political divides at play, and reach decisions for the best interest of the party. He shared friendship that went beyond disagreements with other leaders and members of the party. Party members trusted him. Party leaders looked up to him.
The elections brought out the best in his capacity for high level leadership. He maintained the poise of a calm, collected and highly prepared (for that level of leadership) contestant throughout the elections.
His manifesto was one in a million, highlighting a “New Vision for Our Collective Prosperity.” The vision, predicated on what he termed ‘Five Pillars of Change;’ highlighted great templates for interventions in the areas of Economic Prosperity; Infrastructural and Rural Development; Education; Health and Social Protection; Security; and Governance and Institutional Reforms. Key features under these broad themes included a N25,000 yearly bursary for all students of Akwa Ibom origin in higher institutions; full autonomy for Local Government Councils; N20 billion fund for entrepreneurial development and complete overhaul of the education sector. He also listed some must-do projects in his first 180 days in office, to include massive public works to create employment for artisans and get the state’s dilapidated infrastructure fixed, payment of all outstanding pensions and domestication of federal government’s economic programmes like the Anchor Borrowers Scheme.
One year has gone by and these are now in the realm of wishes and the missed impact it would have had on the people of the state.
For Obong Ekere, it’s been a year of break from public service; a year to reflect on the grace of God for him in the past 55 years and a year to look forward to exploring further opportunities in public service and successful runs in business. Indeed, for him, life goes on.
This Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers; member of the Institution of Revenue, Ratings and Valuation, Minnesota, USA, is big-hearted. He extensive social investments In such areas as education, healthcare, capacity building, and tc are largely unreported. You won’t find his names emboldened on it, but next time you visit the Accident and Emergency Ward/Trauma Centre to the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, you will be at a place he helped to put up.
So here’s to ONE at 55; here’s to ONE highly principled and religious humanist. Here’s to a Knight of John Wesley, a leader in the Methodist Church. Here’s to ONE good man, Obong Nsima Ekere. The future, they say, is an opportunity. I know you will grab it when it comes for the benefit of all who look up to you to lead.