The Evangelist News Edition, Monday July 10, 2023. By Anietie Usen II
On a Monday morning, when most governors and chief executives would step out in their corporate best for meetings in their exotic offices, this governor was in his blue jeans, a gray jacket, a black canvas with his rain boot not far from him.
When I walked into his parlour behind the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Prince Enobong Uwah, looking slick and spruced up in Italian suits, he laughed at us. “SSG where are you people going to with this kind of fine suit”?, the governor asked, as the deputy governor joined in the laughter. “Ok let’s go” the governor said, motioning everyone in the palour to join him. Better believe it, this governor was going to the farm on a Monday morning.
To be sure, this farm is one of Nigeria’s foremost Oil Palm plantations, the 3000 hectares Dakada Global Oil Palm Company, formerly known as Akwa Palms. The plantation is nowhere near the city. It is in the uttermost hinterland of Akwa Ibom State. Like a colossus, it bestrides six communities and three LGAs of Esit Eket, Mbo and Uruefong Oruko, with 200,000 stands of palm trees and 300,000 capacity of palm nursery.
There was no time to waste. As we jumped into our cars lined up outside governor’s residence, the windows of heaven opened. A heavy downpour came down, in the company of thunder and lightning. But no hale nor storm would hold this governor from working his talk.
On the way, the convoy suddenly slowed down and crawled to a stop in front of a row of houses in Eket. The governor was the first to step out of his car. He walked into one of the small houses, calm and collected. Eket is his home base and he knows nearly everywhere here like the back of his palm. Everybody sprang out of their cars and ran after the governor into the small house that he entered. This is one of the homes of the bereaved clerics of the Salvation Army. Only a few days earlier, the church had lost 11 pastors, including five couples, killed in a pathetic road accident in Edo State on their way back from a church conference in Lagos, Nigeria
Inside the sparsely furnished parlour, in the company of Chief Samingo Etokakpan and his bereaved family, he looked visibly shaken and overwhelmed with grief. He spoke in a sombre tone, doleful and sad. But the pastor in him showed up fast. He prayed that never again would such a tragedy befall the State.
“In times like this, words fail me. I don’t really know how to start. But I know that the Holy Spirit can do more than any of us can. So I am asking the Holy Spirit to take over, and be the Comforter to these families at a time like this…We feel this pain and we are deeply hurt by this tragic event…One would tend to query God sometimes because these victims were coming back from church. But we can’t query God because he is sovereign…Instead, as the leadership of the government and people of our State, we came here to pay our heartfelt condolences to you, hoping that it will bring some soothing and comfort to you, trusting that the souls of all the departed will have eternal rest with God”, the governor said.
No eye was left dry as the governor and his team reluctantly left this grief-striken family. It took another 30 minutes or so to meander many rural routes and zigzag our way under the rain, before we arrived the sprawling and muddy forest of palm trees, dotted with farm houses and offices. This is Etebi Idung Asan in Esit Eket LGA.
This Oil Palm project is very dear to the heart of this governor. The communities here know that too well. They know too well also that he is the man who breathed oxygen into the oil palm project, after it had been abandoned for 30 years. They love him for that and their reception party for him was rousing, complete with traditional drumings, dances and masquerades of all types.
As the Executive Director, Agric Investment in the State three years ago, he staked his credibility and job to convince former Governor Udom Emmanuel that he can revamp the project. This was a time when the government was about to finally turn its back on the prohect and hand it over to some businessmen. “If you cannot revamp the plantation as you say, what should I do to you?”, Governor Emmanuel had asked Pastor Eno openly at a retreat. His answer was short and simple. “Sack me, Sir”.
He did not disappoint. Instead of sack, his performance earned him promotions. First he was named the Chairman of Ibom Farmers [Fadama] Microfinance Bank, and later Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources, from where he resigned to contest the governorship election and won a landslide victory.
Now, it was time to work the talk. He reassured the communities that thronged the plantation to see him of his readiness to fully revamp the oil palm industry and ensure its full value chain. As more rain poured across the plantation, the communities poured encomiums on him for the role he played in putting life back to the project.
But he deflected the praises heaped on him. He said the credit must go to someone else, namely his political father and former Governor Emmanuel. “We must give credit to whom credit is due. It is not my Administration that revamped this Oil Palm project. It is the Administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel. If he did not give me money to put here, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
According to the new governor, he brought in the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, into the project to pave way for the State to benefit from the Bank’s Oil Palm Development Initiatives, a move which prompted Governor Emmanuel to release the sum of N200 million to facilitate the resuscitation. “So we must thank him for the foresight that he had and the leadership he gave us to start this work. We graded all the roads leading to this plantation and met with the chiefs, community leaders and youth leaders before we started. We brought the CBN here because we wanted and still want to key into the CBN Oil Palm Development initiatives”.
He promised to fast track the productivity of the plantation with an efficient outgrower and offtaker scheme, as well as appoint professional hands to manage the plantation and bring in modern machinery such as PKO mills into the plantation. The plantation he said will also be provided with Police Stations, clinics, solar powered electricity and portable water. Immediately after his speech, he pulled off his grey jacket, rolled up the sleeves of his bold striped shirt and stepped further inside the plantation to inspect the nursery section of the plantation with 300,000 seedlings.
From the plantation, the governor and his team took off to another destination considered very critical for the success of his Administration. After a journey across the three LGAs of Eket, Onna and Mkpat Enin, the team arrived finally at Ibom Power Plant in Ikot Abasi LGA. The plant is one of the first independent power plants in Nigeria. It received a licence from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to generate electricity in 2008. The governor had thoroughly read the handing over note on the power plant, but he needed, in his words, “boots on the ground” to see and access things for himself.
Traditional and political leaders of Ikot Abasi were all seated and waiting in the Company’s decorated conference hall to welcome the governor. It was well past 4pm by now and the downpour had turned into a drizzle,
falling gently in very fine drops. Instead of heading into the jam-packed conference hall to the warm welcome of the expectant hosts, the governor got a white helmet for himself and demanded to inspect the machines, equipment, turbines and other facilities of the power plant.
Like his visit to Ibom Air, he needed to know more of the challenges facing Ibom Power than the accomplishments. But unlike Ibom Air where he was visibly happy with the strides of the airline, his visage at the onset in Ibom Power betrayed an unspoken displeasure with some of the information he got.
The inspection took him more than one hour of trekking into the nooks and crannies of the power plant. By the time he emerged from the plant, he walked briskly straight to his car, visibly unhappy. Unknown to him, community leaders and staff of the company were waiting in the conference hall for him. As an aide whispered to him and he motioned to go see them, those in the conference hall trooped out to meet the governor outside. It became a ‘standing committee’ meeting as he shook hands, hugged others and waved to those he couldn’t reach. The happiness on the faces of the host community was inexpressible. To them, the man that would finally bail out the plant had come. The goodwill and confidence he had earned in one month as governor had spread across the State. Even before he connects the dots of development in Akwa Ibom State as he promised during the campaigns, he had in one month connected so seamlessly with Akwa Ibom people in such a short time.
Surrounded by the community leaders, he spoke to the press about his more than one hour inpection of the power plant. His remark was a stark contrast to what he said in Ibom Air two weeks earlier. In Ibom Air he said “I am happy with Ibom Air. I am proud of Ibom Air”. But here in Ibom Power, he said: “I think we will need an auditor here as soon as possible”. Elaborating a bit further, the governor spoke of the importance of the power plant to his economic agenda especially at a time the federal government has lessened its control of independent power plants.
“My visit here is very important and quite informative…I came with my deputy and the entire apparatus of government so that we can see things for ourselves…I have uncovered a few things, and I am sure we are going to correct all of them…But first, let’s have a comprehensive audit report of what the issues are so that we can tackle them, solve them and get the place running in full capacity…That’s what I have demanded for today…” the governor said. Dr. Akpan Micah Umoh, one of the community leaders, a former lawmaker in the National Assembly and consultant to the Ninth Senate, captured the style and performance of the governor in a few words: “This man has demystified governance overnight…Akwa Ibom must prepare for business unusual”, he said.
Back to Uyo that night, the governor met with the leadership and stakeholders of the PDP, who were waiting for him in his office. The meeting lasted long into the night with his energy and zeal intact. The earliest he has left office since he assumed duties is 10pm every working day. He sees himself as a public sector leader with a private sector mindset and that has kept all senior government official on their toes since May 29, 2023.
When Senator Ita Enang, the opposition APC governorship aspirant in the last election, paid a courtesy call on the governor, the next day, July 6, 2023, he did not hide his admiration for the governor. “I commend you for your leadership style and I thank you for the respect you have shown the Senate President by coming to Abuja in person to congratulate him and going to the airport in Uyo in person to receive him when he visited the State”, Senator Enang, who presented the governor with the Federal government approval of a Federal College of Education in Ididep, Ibiono LGA, said.
“This is how it shoul be…” the governor replied. “Let us work in sync to bring development to our State. I am really happy with you, Senator Enang for bringing something back home from Abuja…This collaboration across party lines must continue for the good of our people…We can work together irrespective of party affiliations and when it’s time for politicking, we play politics without bitterness”, the governor said.
So far, Akwa Ibom people from the creeks to the streets are very happy with the quality of the governor that they elected. The PDP, the party that owns Governor Eno are even more excited with the performance and instant acceptance of the governor by the generality of Akwa Ibom people. Said the Party Chairman, Elder Aniekan Akpan, before a mammoth crowd of PDP faithfuls, July 6, 2023, when Governor Eno went for a ‘Thank You Visit’ to the party: “The Party is very happy with you…You are a very good ambassador of the PDP. We are very proud of you”.