Governor Udom Emmanuel has done a very good job in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in Akwa Ibom State but he is not given full marks for his exertions.
By the opinion of non-partisan and fair-minded people, he has also performed admirably in such areas as industrialisation, agriculture, road development and airline business, an area that he has recorded his name as the first among equals. Despite these life-transforming activities, he remains unpopular.
Dr. Udeme Nnanna, a cerebral journalism teacher puts it down to the Governor’s unwillingness or failure to share money as generously as the political elite and their followers expect. This money-sharing business, call it stomach infrastructure, is the bane of our politics and is a potent source of disgruntlement and disconnectedness which have led to intra-party disharmony in many states. So the blows that Emmanuel is receiving now go beyond and before COVID-19.
It is partly a by-product of the messy elections of last year. But the perception of any person’s reputation often goes beyond a single issue. More often than not it is a coterie of issues that come together to set ablaze someone’s reputation.
In a political setting, there are often many enemies armed with the matchet of revenge for wrongs, real or imagined, allegedly done to them. They include people who failed to get sweet-heart contracts or juicy, pots-of-honey appointments or out of favour politicians, or neglected political thugs or touts or media hirelings who do their dirty jobs for a mess of pottage.
The list could also include congenital complainants, pull-them-down-specialists, fetishists, preachers of pessimism, political perverts who seek recognition they haven’t received and 2023 political contenders who are convinced that the Governor may not look in their direction when choices for electoral offices will be made. It is an aggregated assortment of the disgruntled. They work separately or in groups or both when they believe that their collective interest in mischief will serve their ultimate purpose.
When they meet they all air their grievances like jewels. This builds between them and espirit de corps, a convivial camaraderie garnished by desperation. Desperation can blindside people. It doesn’t matter to them in so far as it satisfies the venial whims of their disgruntled selves.
Their tools are three media groups: a couple of fly-by-night radio stations that are ready to spread insults and falsehood like confetti; local rag sheets otherwise called tabloids that are the denizens of lollipop journalism and of course their prime playgrounds are the gilded gutters of the social media.
As you know in the pit-latrine of social media anything goes. That is largely where the huff and puff of political propaganda are mindlessly executed and people’s good reputations slaughtered without mercy or compunction. The fellow who stated falsely in the social media that nine of Emmanuel’s Commissioners had tested positive of COVID-19 was arrested and kept at an isolation centre at the State Specialist Hospital in Uyo. He is to be charged to court after his stint at the isolation centre.
I saw a video clip in which he was flashing a victory sign and I was wondering what was the nature of his victory when he is yet to have his day in court. His attitude smacks of unmitigated idiocy, evidence that he maliciously and deliberately set out to damage the hard-earned reputation of people with his farrago of lies against them.
It is clear that people who are not trained in information dissemination think that you can do or say or publish anything yes, anything in the social media and get away with it since it is a forum without borders. To them, that means licentiousness is permissible, freedom without let or hindrance. It is their misbehaviour that tempts the National Assembly to try to put more gags on the use of social media. Current legislation on the matter is adequate.
The only problem is that many people do not take offenders on social media to court for several reasons. That is what breeds the impunity and allows those internet rats to perform with reckless abandon.
Emmanuel’s performance on the management of COVID-19 has been subjected to withering criticism by his traducers. But when you examine critically how he has managed the unexpected pandemic you cannot fail to commend him if you are a fair-minded and non-partisan person.
He has done many times better than most of the State Governors. He was among the first three State Governors to roll out a state-funded palliative programme with a committee in each of the 31 local governments. Apart from the two existing isolation centres in Uyo and Ikot Ekpene he is building a 300-bed isolation centre at Ituk Mbang which is nearing completion.
Last month, he ordered that civil servants in the state should be paid early so that they can stock up in readiness for the lockdown. In some states, political appointees’ salaries are being reduced and are not even paid promptly.
As the price of crude oil plummeted and the ability to sell it shrank Governor Emmanuel proactively revised the State budget from N587 billion to N388 billion. He is one of the first few Governors to set up a Situation Room that is manned 24 hours, a setting where people can give and receive information on the pandemic promptly.
The kind of pressure that a centre like that faces can only be imagined. It is also obvious that the Governor has been able to establish a good rapport with the security agencies in the state. The most recent evidence of that is the arrest of a vehicle from Lagos that went unmolested through six states carrying a corpse only to be arrested by the security operatives in Akwa Ibom State.
The Governor broadcasts to Akwa Ibomites regularly and shows visible leadership by personally appearing at places where he ought to appear and encouraging people to do what is right. The most impressive thing he has done is the setting up of a blue ribbon, Pan-Nigerian Economic Reconstruction Committee of experts to deal with the economic repercussions of the pandemic and how the state can cope. That is a show of foresight.
The Committee is headed by Akpan Hogan Ekpo, a professor of Economics, ex Vice-Chancellor of the University of Uyo and ex Director-General of the West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management.
The members include Mary Uduk, Acting Director-General of the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), Leo Stan Ekeh, Chairman of Zinox Technologies and Konga, Udom Inoyo, ex-Vice Chairman of ExxonMobil, Professor Vincent Anigbogu of the Institute for National Transformation.
There are other high-rollers representing Agriculture, Pharmacology, Consulting, Commerce and Industry as well as Investment. Their mandate includes ways and means of attracting investment and sourcing for non-oil revenue for the State etc.
What impresses me most among the mandate items is the request for them to also make recommendations for a strong social re-orientation programme for the citizens on the need to unlearn old mindsets and adopt new ones.
Why this aspect of their mandate is very important is that development does not take place in a vacuum. It begins from the minds of the potential beneficiary of any development project. The beneficiary must understand what is important and beneficial in the expectation matrix.
A Commissioner in the State who used to live and work in the private sector in Lagos told me how shocked he was when a 50-year old man asked him to give him money to go and marry. When he asked the man if he gave him money for marriage how would he maintain the wife? His reply was: “When I get to the river I will cross it.” The Commissioner had to give him some money not out of conviction or a compelling need to do so but simply for the man to go away so he could work.
Another Akwa Ibomite who got a contract from the NDDC to build a road in his village told me that his people gave him hell. For every truck that brought materials for the road building, they asked for N5000. That is apart from some money he had already given the two villages through which the road traversed as awuf. He said he also employed labourers from the two villages on the project.
“Why would they ask for money from you for coming to build a road for them?” I asked. He said that what the Niger Delta youths had been doing to the oil companies has now snowballed into a weird sub-culture of project execution, any project, in the region.
Emmanuel has attracted more than a dozen industries to the State in the last five years yet you may come across someone in the State who asks “Na industry we go chop?” He ignores the employment and other multiplier effects of such investments.
The mental reorientation of the people is absolutely important because up till now any ailment such as diabetes or high blood pressure is put at the doors of witchcraft by even many educated people in the State. Every ailment is regarded as a spiritual matter which has to be treated by a man of God.
I bet there must be more churches in the state than schools. There must be more churchgoers than Christians because cults exist there in abundance. A few months ago, the government had to proscribe about 50 of those cults.
A couple of years ago two local governments, Etim Ekpo and my own Ukanafun were no go areas. Mindless killings were the order of the day. People had to desert their villages for safe sanctuaries elsewhere. Life practically ground to a halt. In the governance of the State, how does the Chief Executive cope with that pagan-like mentality that is an affront to modern life-transforming policies and programmes?
There has been an ethical reorientation parastatal in the State for several years now. I have no idea how much impact it has made in refurbishing the mentality of the people who seem to want to continue to live in the past with all the pathologies of our ancient days.
This deformed mentality is a roadblock to development or to the sane practice of democratic governance. That must be a daunting challenge to any governor who is interested in taking his state into modernity.
The free education programme of the government may help in the long run but more can be achieved in the short run by intensive and extensive use of the available information channels in the state.
For example, why can’t the State Government-owned newspaper, The Pioneer be transformed into a regional daily newspaper with appropriate media convergence facilities?
In my days at the Nigerian Chronicle in Calabar in the 70s, we used the paper effectively to fight big battles for the Cross River State. One of the rewards of our fight was that the campus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka which was located in Calabar was converted to the present University of Calabar.
In Nigeria where poverty level is high and the means of alleviating it is low, most people expect their leaders especially Governors and Presidents to meet their every need, reasonable or unreasonable, individual or community. This is partly caused by the public’s rising expectations which are often whipped up by politicians who make fabulous promises during campaigns.
I believe that all things considered, Governor Emmanuel has been given less credit than he deserves because politics is a partisan blood sport where it is difficult to bring otherwise reasonable people into the circle of reason.
In politics, there are too many jaundiced people and to the jaundiced all things are yellow. There are also very many prejudiced people who exhibit maximum hate for the minimum reason.
For those categories of politicians everything, almost everything, is a pocketbook issue. If nothing comes into their pockets they are ready to crank up their mud machines and sandbag the leader.
As a human being Emmanuel may have made some mistakes but his mistakes, whatever they are, must pale into insignificance when juxtaposed with his accomplishments. There are no absolutes in governance, no absolute success and no absolute failure.
But Emmanuel has worked his socks off especially in the management of the COVID-19 problem and generally in the running of the State. He has proved a dab hand in managing the crisis leading most of the governors in pro-activeness. He deserves a few gbosas.
If his achievements are not fully appreciated now he will be borne out by what Abraham Lincoln called “the silent artillery of time.” Most leaders are never fully appreciated when in office but when they depart the gift of hindsight repairs their reputation for them. That becomes the gift of serendipity.