Otuekong Anietie Archibong Ekong is the national chairman of Transformation Initiative for the Empowerment of Ibom People (TIEIP), a socio-political group founded by Akparawa Ephraim Akparawa Inyang-Eyen, who is the incumbent Chief of Staff to Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State. Ekong, a former state secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa Ibom State and grassroots politician, in this interview throws more light on his impression of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration, the man Ephraim Inyang-Eyen, his group and politics in Akwa Ibom State in an hour’s exclusive interview with Crystal Express.
As the national president, could you let us know what the Transformation Initiative for the Empowerment of Ibom People is doing so far?
As the national chairman, interviews of this magnitude have to be approved by the board of trustees so that I can divulge all the information you may need and possibly hold back those which may not be necessary for you. However, TIEIP is set up to empower indigenes of Akwa Ibom State. The group is doing a lot of things and sooner or later the impact will be very visible. TIEIP has representation in all the wards in the state and beyond. Again, we have to put some things on hold after the election to allow government to take off properly. Now that government has taken off, very soon you will hear from us.
We are aware that part of TIEIP’s objective is to massively support the government. What is your take on the performance of the Governor five years after?
I am not only impressed by the performance of the Governor Udom Emmanuel but overwhelmed by his activities. Firstly, he has taken humility in service to a different level. The governor is a very humble man. Taking a lot of things into consideration such as the management of resources under economic recession and living up to expectation of all including civil servants, political class and others, you will agree that he has done well. Let’s look at infrastructure. Talking about roads, there is no federal constituency in the state that has not gotten the presence of Governor Emmanuel’s government by way of infrastructure.
Besides the area of roads, look at the health sector and the massive renovation of general hospitals that were almost forgotten. He has brought them to a level where some could be listed as referral hospitals where they could train student doctors such as at the General Hospital in Ikono, and the St Luke’s Hospital, Anua. It is also on record too that we have the brand new disease control centre popularly called isolation centre now in Methodist Hospital, Ituk Mbang. These hospitals are not mere buildings but fully equipped with state-of-the-art equipment like the ones at General Hospital, Oron.
If you talk about electricity, he has built sub-stations to see how we can have at least 18-hour power supply, and these are found across the state. Talking about industries, you will be shocked at the number of industries which he has attracted; over 17 so far; ranging from coconut refinery, syringe factory, metering factory, flour mill, plywood factory, fertilizer blending company and many others. We must also understand that his first term in office was filled with distractions such as litigations in tribunal and courts and in the midst of these distractions, he tried to address the issues concerning the state.
That is why Akwa Ibom was among the first states that agreed to pay the new minimum wage. Besides, salaries are promptly paid and challenges of pensioners also addressed. The governor has done well tackling the challenges we have in Akwa Ibom State. He has also brought the fear of God to our doorstep. People now think twice for every action they want to take. Akwa Ibom State is named after God and the behavioural pattern of an average Akwa Ibom person reflects that. I am very convinced that the governor has done so well, even at the peak of the pandemic, he was there for the people. Palliatives were sent out and the government has intervened on issues affecting the indigenes in all ramifications.
The government has also intervened in rescuing communities plagued by erosion menace. We have seen massive intervention in roads construction across the state such as the Uyo–Ikot Ekpene Road, Etinan – Ndon Eyo Road and the ring roads in the state capital. I am glad the man who directly supervised the construction of these roads has been given more responsibilities. I am talking about Mr. Ephraim Inyang-eyen.
The governor has created Office of Chief of Staff which is alien to us here before now with Ephraim Inyang-eyen in charge. What is your take on the man Ephraim Inyang-eyen and this new office?
First and foremost, Akparawa Ephraim Inyang-eyen is a very hard-working young man and that is a fact known to everybody in this state. Even those that hate his guts admit that he is hard-working.
Secondly, the things he has ventured into to ensure quality delivery of our road infrastructure which include demolitions to recover right of ways to get the job properly done sometimes hurt but they must be done.
There is a saying that you cannot make omelet without breaking eggs. He has done a rare fit because without creating an enabling environment for the construction firms to work, the jobs would never have seen the light of the day. Secondly, Ephraim Inyang-Eyen is one man who once given an appointment, he spends sleepless nights to see how he can strategise and ensure the delivery of such assignments.
I have never for once heard, seen or caught him badmouth this government. He is always promoting and defending this government. There is a reward by God for such services and today he has been rewarded with extra responsibilities. There is a saying that the reward for hard work is more work and that we have seen exemplified in him.
The Office of the Chief of Staff oversees the activities of all ministries of which the Ministry of Works is one of them. The chief of staff ensures that the vision of the governor and the manifestoes of the party are being followed. He will spend time to look at the memos sent to the governor pertaining to a particular ministry and give inputs to the commissioner on the vision and direction of the government.
I know his presence in Government House will encourage people to increase their commitment to governance in the state in terms of hard work. The Office of Chief of Staff is very demanding and I know he’s equal to the task. The governor is a very hard working man, if not, the state wouldn’t be what it is today. Inyang-eyen knows that the governor in elevating him to the office of the chief of staff expects nothing than hard work. He was a very hard working commissioner for works and he will redouble the work of the chief of staff to the governor. In summary, we will have a greater responsibility in the Office of the Chief of Staff than just managing a ministry.
Drumbeats of 2023 gubernatorial election are increasing by the day. However the trending issue is the call by a politician in the state for the jettisoning of thegovernorship zoning arrangement once theEket Senatorial District completes its slot in 2023. What is your reaction to it?
First and foremost, I will advise people discussing 2023 to put it on hold and encourage and support the governor to deliver on his campaign promises. Discussing 2023 politics in 2020 is a major distraction to the governor which he doesn’t deserve at this time. He still has more than two years to deliver dividends of democracy.
I am a loyal member of PDP and the party is very competent to address issues of zoning and disenchantment. The people should be patient with the party because they will soon make policy statement which everybody will be satisfied with. It is too early to drive into 2023 politics and if unchecked will be a colossal distraction for the governor. The governor is the flag bearer of the PDP and he made promises which he is gradually delivering to the people.
I will assure you that when time comes for political discussion on 2023, I will discuss sufficiently on the issues.
However, politics is still being played as local government elections are in the offing and people are campaigning. Aren’t they?
Yes. The coming local government election will have the council chairmen judged by their performance. They represent the party and I don’t think they are doing badly. Although I have not been going round the councils but the few I have passed by, like my local government council, I am very impressed. In Nsit Ibom, there is a major face-lift in the council area. I have seen the presence of democracy dividends there. At the peak of the lockdown, the council tried well in distributing palliatives to the people. Out of the 31 local government areas in the state, there is remarkably peace in more than two thirds of councils.
To that extent as their tenure winds to an end, I don’t want to pre-empt government or the party. As a loyal party man, we are still waiting on what direction the party will give and what the government will say because as at today, AKISIEC, as supervisors of council elections, are yet to speak out. With a very competent PDP on ground and a loyal member I cannot prompt the leadership of the party in terms of direction.
What is your impression of the management of COVID-19 in Akwa Ibom State by the Governor Udom Emmanuel Administration?
I would summarise it with a sentence that Deacon Udom Emmanuel has been superb and has handled Covid-19 in a very fantastic manner. Look at the brand new world-class Disease Control Centre. A state in Nigeria acquired a tent as Covid-19 treatment centre and few weeks after, strong winds and torrential rain blew it away. You could imagine the amount of money wasted in the project. However, from the outset as a good leader, Governor Emmanuel and his team took a wise decision that an isolation centre be built and with a competent person like Ephraim Inyang-Eyen around, the project was delivered on record time.
Today the place is not just an isolation centre but a referral centre where even student doctors will be trained. To that extent, the governor has done very well. The management of Covid-19 in the state is perfect. Look at the 8pm curfew; even though it has created challenges for people, it has also hindered the spread of the disease in the state. The governor we know is a very strong Christian but leadership requires the ability not to be sentimental or carried away by emotions. Therefore the way he handled the issue of church reopening was without sentiments of being a strong Christian.
He insisted that the NCDC directives must be religiously followed. He has shown capacity in the administration of the state and the management of COVID-19 pandemic.
We are also told that most of the foodstuffs used as palliatives during the peak of the pandemic were home grown against the usual norm of importing from other states. Do you believe it?
The governor’s performance in the agricultural sector has been superb. We have massive cassava planting. The rice mill is also working at full capacity and of late the Agriculture Ministry gave out improved palm fruit seedlings and people who bought them are testifying that the palm fruits under 24 months are yielding fruits already. The governor has touched all sectors of the economy and I can assure you that by the end of his second term, we will have cause to express gratitude to him for a job well done.
How would you assess Akwa Ibom State in terms of unity among the people?
That has been a major cancer in the state because of the tripod of Ibibio, Annang and Oro. But I want to tell you that the governor has managed it well. If you look at it, Oro as a tribe has been integrated with the appointment of the secretary to the state government from there. An average Oro person has a feeling of inclusiveness of the tribe in governance.
The Annangs have had a fair share. The governor is completing all abandoned projects like the Uyo-Ikot Ekpene Road and Four Points by Sheraton Hotels. In Uyo Senatorial District, indigenes are enjoying appointments and projects of government. Governor Emmanuel is not tribal. He has exemplified his exposure by making governance an all-inclusive thing.
A place like Ibeno has a commissioner in the cabinet and more so we have a listening governor in the person of Udom Emmanuel. He has shown great capacity in managing the affairs of the state.
How would you rate the governor’s efforts and prohibition of cultism in the state?
I will quickly summarize that if I am to score Udom Emmanuel on his efforts at ensuring adequate security in the state. I will score him 80 per cent in the sense that robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes have reduced. Are you aware that the governor personally moves around sometimes at night to see things for himself? Governor Emmanuel is very practical with governance. He moves around to ensure that things are done properly. The incumbent police commissioner is also doing very well. He has complemented the governor’s security efforts. In summary, the security team in the state is doing very well and commendable, which is why we have a very peaceful state.
Talking about unity in the state, what is your advice to our leaders, both former and present, especially on the need to support the present administration?
Nothing will divide us in Akwa Ibom. My advice to political leaders is that whatever will divide us should be avoided and prominent among them is a tribal discussion such as this man is from Annang, that one is from Oro and the other from Ibibio. We should avoid such clannish talks, but rather talk more on merit, competency and equitable distribution of democracy. Akwa Ibom has gotten all it takes to be the first among equals.
There is no part of this state that is not blessed with natural and human resources. We have the best of the best deposited in all nooks and crannies of the state. We have brains in Oro, Ibibio and Annang lands and if we come together the sky will be our starting point. I want to encourage leaders to only speak on things that will unite us and avoid things that will disunite us. If as a past or current leader you can access the governor, there is no need addressing him on the pages of the newspapers. You can book an appointment and see him as a committed stakeholder.
You need not rant publicly and I can assure you that you will have more satisfaction to dialogue with him on any issue of concern to you. Issues surrounding tribal sentiments should be avoided. We should never be found beating drums of war against ourselves. Akwa Ibom is too small for that kind of disunity. We need one another. God did not make mistake in bringing us together in one geographical area called Akwa Ibom State.
The PDP which you one served as state secretary has been in power in Akwa Ibom State for 21 years now. Going down the memory lane, what are those things the party has achieved?
There are many. Whether we like it or not PDP is one party that is in deep consultations ranging from days of town hall meetings to door to door campaigns. PDP as a party in Akwa Ibom dissipated so much energy in campaigns, especially in the last election, in such a way that people are asking if they are the only party campaigning village to village, unit to unit, door to door, ward to ward, house to house and we are not surprised at the result of the election.
The truth is that election is garbage in, garbage out. If you campaign extensively, it is obvious you will win. If you are passive about campaign then the result will also show. PDP has always been consistent in campaigns.
Secondly, I am also happy with the party because the issue of imposition of candidates is being addressed. You could see in the last election that the governor insisted like in the local government election that zoning be respected and that popular candidates should be encouraged to emerge and we have seen the result. PDP as a party is doing well to ensure justice, equity and fair play and that democracy dividends are being shared to the masses.
The party has also through his various administrations right from the days of Obong Victor Attah had remarkable projects. Attah’s era saw the fight against oil dichotomy and for resource control which was successful. Akpabio’s era came with infrastructural renaissance and Udom Emmanuel’s era is consolidating on and at the same time into massive industrial renaissance. When you put all these together, you will discover that outside the synergy in performance at the level, the consistency is there. And it will still continue. So PDP is the best party for Akwa Ibom people.
The outgoing commissioner for works, Mr. Ephraim Inyang-Eyen, said over 1750 kilometres of roads have been constructed by the current administration. Some people feel it is not possible. What is your take?
That has to do with data statistics and Akparawa Ephraim Inyang-Eyen does not talk carelessly. If he has said it, it means the records are there and I know on request as journalists, he will give you the roads and their statistics and on extra request, he will empower you to physically see the roads, take pictures and enlighten the public because, as I will always say, Governor Udom Emmanuel has done excellently well.