You are currently viewing Udom Emmanuel: Signing off in a blaze of glory, by Bola Bolawole
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I recall my perennial visits to the three South-south Nigerian states of Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Rivers in the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was the Features of The PUNCH newspapers and, later, the Acting Editor of The Sunday PUNCH title with responsibilities for editing and producing the paper. Those were the days when Akpandem James was our State Correspondent in Akwa Ibom , Timi Fakrogha manned Cross Rivers (Calabar) and Ken-Fash Ayibaemi held sway in Port-Harcourt. I recall that Akpandem was one of the best writers we had in those days and his copy was always a delight to edit. I still remember a particular piece in which he described Uyo as the “Can-Do City” with its streams of commercial motorcycle riders which we call Okada” in Lagos but which, in Uyo, he said were called “alalok”, if my memory hasn’t failed me.

Those were the days when Nigeria hadn’t completely gone crazy with the importation of every conceivable item, down to toothpicks, and when the newsprint manufacturing company at Oku-Iboku in Cross River state, where Nigerian newspapers sourced their newsprints, was still functional. Timi had the additional assignment of enduring we got prompt and adequate supply of newsprints for our operations. Ken-Fash was adept at setting up high-brow and controversial personalities for interviews. I recall that he arranged for me to interview, among others, the musician, Evi-Edna Ogholi; Muhammed, a grandson of the then Sultan of Sokoto who got converted to Christianity and had to go into hiding; the Ogoni environmentalist and social justice crusader, Ken Saro-Wiwa; and the first military governor of Rivers state, at 25 years of age, during the Yakubu Gowon era, Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff, at that time the Amanyanabo of Twon-Brass.

Gen. Sani Abacha is well known for his obnoxious Decree 4 of 1984 which criminalized any publication by a journalist deemed by the authorities as embarrassing to a public official but Diete-Spiff, decades before him (on July 30, 1970), had set the unenviable record of an intolerant and high-handed military governor. A journalist, Minare Amakiri (Rivers State Correspondent of the Edo State-based Observer newspaper), had published, on the governor’s birthday, a story that the governor considered offensive (the grumbling of teachers in the state). An enraged Diete-Spiff decided to teach Amakiri a lesson for ruining his birthday fun. One of the governor’s aides, Ralph Iwowari, had Amakiri’s head publicly shaved with a broken bottle, in addition to his being given 24 lashes of the cane!

My interview of Saro-wiwa was not as explosive as his recourse to it in his column in the Daily Times titled “Cannibal Rage”, in which he warned everyone to “Fear the Ogoni”! The question I asked him was whether his people, the Ogoni, still ate human flesh as his fore-bears were alleged to have done!

Penultimate Monday, I was back again in Uyo to give moral support to Gov. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel as he rounded off his eight-year tour of duty as governor of the state. The first recommendation I had of Gov. Udom Emmanuel came from Femi Falana, SAN. Each time I advocated restructuring and fiscal federalism as panacea to Nigeria’s myriad problems, Femi would say “Go to Akwa Ibom and see what their governor is doing there”! He specifically mentioned the five-star Ibom Air founded by Udom Emmanuel. His argument was that despite the imperfections in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, there is still a lot that any serious, focused and competent governor can do to uplift their people and that our fixation on restructuring only allows our governors in the South-west a convenient excuse for their below par performance in the delivery of the dividends of democracy to their own people.

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The second person I heard the name Udom Emmanuel from was my brother-journalist, US-based Dr. Moshood Fayemiwo, publisher of the very popular “Razor” and, later, “Sunset” tabloids with which he relentlessly fought military dictatorship. Moshood and I hail from the same town, Owo in Ondo state but more importantly, we were both in the trenches as Nigerians fought Babangida and Abacha on the way to giving birth to the democracy we enjoy today. Along with many other activists, we were hounded, harassed and detained but were lucky to escape with our life. Dr. Moshood called from the US one day and said he wanted me to work with his friend, Gov. Udom Emmanuel, who wanted to be the presidential candidate of PDP in the last election. I said to myself “Udom Emmanuel again!” I told Dr. Moshood I would think about it. I decided to pray. I called one of my prayer partners but as soon as I mentioned the name Udom Emmanuel, he interjected: “I know Udom Emmanuel” and recommended him very well.

The word of God says from the mouth of two or three witnesses the truth of a matter shall be established (2 Corinthians 13:1). That was how I came to work with Gov Udom Emmanuel as his presidential spokesperson. Had he been given the PDP flag, the result, I dare to say, would have been different. But hope deferred is not hope denied! Coming with him to Akwa Ibom while the campaign lasted, I saw more than Ibom Air. I saw the coconut oil factory and when the sample I took to Lagos with me got exhausted, my wife moaned. I was again in Akwa Ibom from Monday, 22nd May to the stepping down of Udom Emmanuel as governor and the inauguration of the new governor, Pastor Umo Bassey Eno, on Monday the 29th May to honour this special breed of a leader that we call, in Yoruba, “akanda eniyan” (specially made by God). All the superlatives that were deployed to describe him as he commissioned one project after another were, in my view, well deserved. His record of achievements are astounding, to say the least.

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I have since added Udom Emmanuel’s name to those of JAMB Registrar, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, NDLEA’s Gen. Mohammed Buba Marwa, and retired but not tired judge of the Kogi State High Court, Justice Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye as public officials who, having performed creditably well in their given assignments, deserve a place in the government of competency that our brand-new president, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has promised to run. I dare to say that Akwa Ibom has been fortunate and privileged to offer Udom Emmanuel the pedestal on which to showcase the stuff of which he is made. Like Archimedes said: “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world” For Udom Emmanuel, Akwa Ibom was that “place to stand”. His record of achievements was the “lever long enough”.

But it was not a bed of roses for the former governor; Nigeria’s political landscape is strewn with charlatans, petty jealousies, acrimony, blatant lying and the now-famous PHD (pull-him-down syndrome). There was a tinge of sadness in Udom’s voice as he narrated his experience on this score, first at the valedictory thanksgiving service and dedication of the International Christian Worship Centre and later the same day at his end-of-term media parley. He was miffed at the deliberate destruction of facilities provided at great cost for the benefit of the same people destroying them for political or selfish reasons. The strife between communities over boundary issues which his mapping policy was meant to address was deliberately misinterpreted by political detractors and ignorant people to cause mayhem and destroy projects meant to provide jobs and enhance the state’s economic fortunes.

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Udom knelt down on the altar at the International Christian Worship Centre and decreed: “No evil man, no wicked man will rule over Akwa Ibom” Turning to his successor, Pastor Umo Eno, he passed until him the same mantle of grace that had been upon him (Udom) for eight years in which the state enjoyed unparallel peace, attested to by even the man on the street. The service was still ongoing when news came that Udom Emmanuel has been conferred with the national honours of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). Udom and his wife Dr. Martha Udom Emmanuel were also honoured by the Christian community.

At the media parley, Udom passed this message across to the people: “You cannot have a better state than yours”. So people should stop deliberately putting their state of origin down to score cheap political points. Satisfied with his efforts which have made many to refer to him as the architect of modern Akwa Ibom state, Udom declared: “I am leaving this state better than I met it ”. He was confident his investment in human and capital development would stand the test of time

These days Nigerians flock to Dubai but hear what a citizen of that country said about Nigeria and Dubai in a post that has gone viral: “If you compare Nigeria with Dubai, listen to this: Nigeria has (crude) oil before Dubai. They are richer than us. They have agriculture, they have mining, they have everything, you name it; they have it. Am I right or wrong? When you have true leadership – which we have – we have nothing but we have everything because we have the right leadership. That is the only thing you need – a right leader for your country… That is what brings your country to the top. You don’t need anything (else). We don’t have water; we don’t have agriculture; we don’t have mining…” It could not have been better put!

That, in a nutshell, is the real value we must attach to the likes of Udom Emmanuel – providing the right leadership – which he demonstrated in Akwa Ibom. So, the last may not have been heard of this banker-turned-politician. His next bus stop lies ahead – in the womb of time.

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*Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television. BOLAWOLE was the National Director, Media and Publicity for the Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa Presidential Campaign Organisation, 2006 and Member, Media and Publicity Sub-Committee of the Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Presidential Inauguration in 2011. He was the spokesperson for the Gov. Udom Emmanuel presidential campaign council in 2022.

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