By Joe Iniodu
Proverbs 22:29 in the New International Version of the study Bible records; “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before Kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank”. This unalterable scripture was once again fulfilled in the life of Governor Udom Emmanuel as he took some bold and elegant steps to the podium to deliver a keynote address at the well organized Leadership Newspaper Award Ceremony held at the Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton Hotel on October 6, 2016.
The epochal event which was chaired by a former head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar had in attendance President Muhammadu Buhari who became head of State from December 31, 1983 at the first instance while Udom Emmanuel, then a teenager was savouring his Christmas holiday having returned from School of Arts and Science, Uyo, where he was a student. Having built strong sets of skills from childhood through various institutions and work places that moulded him in learning and in character, he has evolved into a cynosure that on that day shared the stage with people whom he once held in awe without the remotest contemplation of physical interaction.
But here he was on that fateful day behind the lectern, thundering out a baritone voice and eliciting intermittent applause from a captivated audience that watched in amazement the sublime delivery from a youthful governor from a hitherto backwater State that once served as the butt of jokes to other Nigerians as its people were hardly regarded. Mr. Emmanuel took the stage and wiped away whatever was left as the vestiges of the old narrative of Akwa Ibom of hewers of wood and drawers of water. He gave the people a new meaning in rating and attention. He proved to all that the Akwa Ibom of the timid lot has since been consigned to the relics of history and that its new crop are set to take the stage and chart the course for the Nation.
While Governor Udom’s display on the big stage caught many in shock and amazement, it elicited immeasurable joy from many. Those who were shocked may have thought that as a new governor, he was still learning the ropes. They therefore expected something that can at best measure with the ordinary especially when they considered it from the stereotype mindset with which they view Akwa Ibom peopl. But to their dismay, they were in for a new game. For them nothing provided any inkling to what they witnessed. Abiodun Adeshina, a friend of yours truly called from Lagos while watching the event on live telecast, “Na, where una get this kind governor. O boy, this is the Aristotle of our time. If he can perform in addition to this grandiloquence, then you people are lucky. This guy is brilliant”, Abiodun concluded with excitement. Yours truly also received a call from an unrepentant APC faithful. Hear him, “Udom has delivered and made all right thinking Akwa Ibom people proud. I did not vote for him but if I have another chance to cast my vote in any election that he is a candidate, I will vote for him as a token of my appreciation. I am impressed”, he enthused.
Those who played roles in the emergence of Udom Emmanuel as governor of Akwa Ibom State were effusive in the expression of their joy. Senator Godswill Akpabio, the immediate past governor of the state and predecessor to Governor Udom Emmanuel who spoke to yours truly said that he missed Senate sitting by about 33 minutes because he had to stay in the car to watch his governor brimming with confidence and regaling the audience with knowledge and wisdom.
The former governor said that he was elated watching him and noticing the genuine ovation from the audience including President Buhari. Senator Akpabio said that Governor Udom represents the new face of Akwa Ibom, asserting that he is just the type of governor suitable for the State. The former governor concluded that he is impressed with his performance at home and the pride of place he has given to Akwa Ibom from that stage where he delivered the keynote address, maintaining that Udom has continued to change positively public perception of the Akwa Ibom man.
Mr. Aniefiok Macauley, a Special Assistant to Governor Udom Emmanuel on media in Abuja said that he cannot count the number of media Bureau Chiefs who called him that day to express their excitement about the keynote address delivered by the governor. He said many of them even sought for further interaction with the governor. Macaulay said he felt a sense of elation to have such a governor. Mr. Uko Umoh, another Special Assistant to Governor Udom on local media while watching the event shouted, “This is my governor. He has made me proud”. He said Akwa Ibom people can walk tall because they have a governor that can tower above his peers.
It was not only in eloquence that Governor Udom scored high and elicited excitement from the audience and those who watched him on television. It was also in the advocacy he mounted for ordinary Nigerians, leadership, national unity and cohesion. The address delivered with passion and replete with cadence to compel the appreciation of our current national mood and engender our collective resolve to jettison divisive tendencies was forthwith, factual, logical, consistent with a message of hope boldly underlying it. It was from that unbridled energy that Nigerians saw a new dawn and yearned for a Nigeria that its leaders would dissolve all other interests in favour of national interest.
Governor Emmanuel whose keynote address was entitled: Democracy, Political Transition and the Challenge of Leadership in Africa, made kind remarks about Leadership newspaper noting that since its debut, the paper has always been projecting issues that deepen and sustain our national unity and cohesion with the uncompromising conviction that our continued existence as indivisible and inviolable entity is not negotiable. Mr. Udom whose intellectual excursions are vast and varied including a stint in leadership training at Harvard University stated that as a keynote speaker, he was to set the tone for discussion, energize and inspire the audience for a productive engagement. To all intents and purposes, His Excellency, Mr. Udom Emmanuel more than achieved those set objectives.
In adherence to the topic, Governor Udom delved into the meaning of democracy and made it patently clear that his quest for knowledge acknowledges the need for a paradigm shift. For instance, he defined democracy as a system of government where the will of the people trumps over all other considerations. He buttressed his views with the concept enunciated by an American Political Scientist; Harold Laswell who posited that democracy is a system of government where the motivating impulse is, “who gets what, when and how”. Rich in intellectual rigour, he traced the history of democracy from America to Europe and dovetailed to Africa isolating the attendant challenges that have afflicted democracies of all climes from inception. The keynote speaker presented an extensive study on the gradual process of transitions in Ghana and Nigeria to establish how the two democracies arrived at its current state of democratic fossilization. He attributed the failures of Nigeria’s four previous attempts at democratic rule to lack of elite consensus but noted that from 1999, the Nation’s democracy has withstood all internal fissures confirming Professor Samuel Huttington’s assertion that if elections enjoy two cycles and the process accepted to be free and transparent, then a consolidation of democracy can be said to have taken place. And so after 16-years of uninterrupted democracy, we can as a people declare that democracy has come to stay in our nation, seems to have been Governor Udom’s persuasion in his paper.
Providing more insight into the Nation’s prevailing democracy, Governor Emmanuel stated that the crowning glory of the democracy in our country was in former President Goodluck Jonathan conceding defeat to President Muhammadu Buhari even before the election result was announced. He said that the world stood still as what was hitherto deemed as an impossibility manifested in beautiful colours in our Nation. The postulation elicited a huge applause as Governor Emmanuel called on the audience to rise and give former President Goodluck Jonathan a standing ovation for such rare feat.
The Governor of Akwa Ibom State identified deep seated apathy and isolation, cleavages in our polity, identity politics, security and sectarian challenges as some of the hurdles our Nation must scale to further deepen our democracy. He charged those in leadership to constantly engage the people on what government is doing to address their problems noting that an engaged electorate is an informed electorate who are cured of apathy and the feeling of isolation. Governor Udom advised that as the Nation is going through economic challenges, there should be an aggressive building of a narrative of hope and reassurance for the people, citing a similar case during the Great Depression in America in the times of President Franklin Roosevelt, to give vent to his espousal.
Canvassing for National Unity and cohesion, Governor Emmanuel expressed reservation with our brand of politics. Hear him: “Ours is a deeply cleavaged society where the main allegiance and interest is first to our ethnic blocs over the larger national interest. We must do all we can not to promote identity politics but rather promote those tendencies that will unify us a people of common destiny…” Udom warned. He cited the case of Southern Sudan as an aftermath of identity politics adding that Nigeria as a country fought a 30-month civil war because of the inability of leaders to reassure the people that our diversity is a strength rather than a weakness.
Governor Udom also drew the Nation’s attention to the sectarian and security challenges that have ravaged the Nation. He said that the activities of Boko Haram, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB); the militants especially the Avengers have all combined to summarily weaken the economic strength of the country. He charged the people to resolve to work together stating that, “what we have is all we need to get to our desired destination”. Governor Udom called on the people to develop a new national narrative that would socialize the people to believe in the creed of promoting what is great and enduring about our country as exceptional people. The governor also used the platform to market the one year old Dakkada philosophy that is currently the buzz word in Akwa Ibom State. He also used the opportunity to highlight some of his economic diversification approaches especially that of agriculture maintaining that any nation that cannot feed its citizens is headed for disaster. In reiterating the need to revolutionized agriculture, Udom waxed philosophical, “collectively, we must decide to replace SUVs on our roads with tractors in the farms”.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Governor Udom’s outing that fateful day took Akwa Ibom notches higher in public esteem. But we wish to urge all to internalize the content of that keynote address as it holds out a message of hope for all Nigerians. To the harbinger of Divine Mandate, we say more grease as you cheerfully point at a new direction for the Nation.
Joe Iniodu is a public affairs analyst.