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Mapping The Future Of Akwa Ibom

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Governor Umo Eno of Akwa Ibom state at the retreat.

OPINION

By Anietie Usen

It was four days of hard work, very hard work. Some retreats by government officials in Nigeria usually end up as mere talk shops. But this retreat was a rigorous workshop. The working template was drafted at Akwa Ibom Dialogue held last July in Uyo, while the working document was the Economic Blueprint of the Umo Eno Administration known as ARISE Agenda.

Right from Day One, October 4, 2023, when the tone of the retreat was set, inside the Fantasia Hall, in the belly of the Eko Hotel & Suites, venue of the retreat in Lagos, it was clear that Governor Umo Eno of Akwa Ibom State would not pull punches, nor box with kid gloves.
“This is not just a routine Exco retreat”, Governor Eno began. “This is both a working retreat and a serious effort to build a solid team that will guarantee quality service delivery for our people…Let no one mistake this gathering for a jamboree…Let us all resolve here and now, to give Akwa Ibom people the hard work, quality service and development programmes that they are all yearning for”, the governor said.

Senator Akon Eyakenyi, the deputy governor, tried to add a motherly touch and land a softer punch to the uncompromising posture of the governor. But she too wound up drawing a line on the sand. “So far, we are doing well, but it is too early to rest on our oars… We have no option but to perform optimally after this retreat”.

Former Governor Udom Emmanuel, who was the guest of honour, threw down the gauntlet too, in his paper on “Overcoming The Challenges Of Policy Implementation In The Public Sector”. “You will not help the ARISE Agenda if you do not make yourself a round peg in a round hole.”

The resolute demand that Governor Eno made on his Exco throughout the retreat and tenaciously insisted on, was for the specificity of projects and programmes identification, based on the outcomes of Akwa Ibom Dialogue’s sectoral reports. In addition, he required realistic timelines, milestones, budgets and benchmarking. No obfuscation. No theoretical solutions to practical problems.

Steadily, tension crept into the discourse. It was clear to all that Eno’s depth, knowhow and insights into development issues were unequalled and made no room for half measures. He was more or less demanding to see, end to end, projects and programmes of MDAs and the full process of execution from start to finish. His service delivery style is the type that sees through projects and programmes from the kick-off or initiation through the final product. The quality of his interventions reminded nearly all participants of the now famous statement by then Governor Udom Emmanuel that Eno is “hundred times better than me.”

Two days into the retreat, it was clear to all that this would be a retreat like no other. Soon, it became very intense and mentally demanding. Participants had to raise their game to meet the high bars raised by the governor. And like tea bags in boiling water they quickly became the best version of themselves.

Subject matter experts and resource persons were no less awed by the capacity and competency that the governor and his Exco exhibited. They too had to step up their game.

Immediate past Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Mr. Udom Emmanuel delivering a speech at the retreat

The faculty itself was vast in terms of expertise, experience and pedigree. Led by Barr. Mrs. Mfon Usoro, Managing Partner of Paul Usoro & Co, and Bismarck Rewane, a renowned economist and MD/CEO of Financial Derivatives Company (FDC), the team also included Professor Oluwole Ajai, Professor of Corporate Governance at the Lagos Business School, Dr. Clement Igbanugo, Head of Research in FDC, Aghad Narula, the Indian CEO of Africa Plus Partners, Nelson Wilbert, the Country Director of Schlumberger, the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor by revenue, Obehi Okafor, MD of Edo State Tourism Agency, Nsikak Usoro, GM, Commercial Banking of Access Bank, to mention a few.

They took on topics ranging from Synergy in Governance and Social Contract, Fiscal Independence, Consolidation & Macroeconomic Absorptive Capacity, Innovative Infrastructure Financing Options, Charter of Demand and Effective Budgeting as a Tool for Promoting Good Governance, Nigeria’s Oil & Gas Industry in a Post-PIA Environment, Optimizing Agricultural Value Chain: The Role of Innovation, Technology & Backwards Integration, to Cranking Up Akwa Ibom’s Industrial Engine in Tourism & Aviation, Blue Economy and Oil & Gas, Agribusiness, Industrial Clusters, Digital Economy, Social Inclusion and Equity in Sustainable Development: Ensuring Fairness and Opportunity for All, among others. In all cases, the faculty ensured that these topics were properly and pragmatically aligned with the ARISE Agenda.

Arguments and debates on issues were sometimes very robust and heated, while at other times convivial and vivacious. At one point, when it appeared the goal-setting task by MDAs was not progressing as expected, the governor baulked and put his foot down. ” Nobody is leaving this hotel on Sunday unless we have in our hands realistic work plan for our short term, medium term and long term goals. It must be clear to Akwa Ibom people what each MDA will accomplish before the end of the year and in six months and beyond…That is the purpose of this retreat. It is the reason we left Uyo to Lagos. Nobody will go back empty-handed and uncertain about his or her tasks, complete with timelines, milestones and budgetary estimates…We will not leave this hotel unless we have measurable results”, the governor said looking unhappy.

It was a call to order. Everyone sat up immediately. Tension walked back into the hall. It was clear the man meant what he said and said what he meant. It was one leadership virtue of the governor that Rewane applauded as a “mental discipline and strength” to stay the course of action amidst distractions and interferences.

But it was also the role of the governor to defuse tensions whenever it sneaked into the retreat. And he had the good grace to handle that in style, usually through Ibibio and Yoruba adages and proverbs that would send participants reeling in laughter. A simple and unassuming man, he would sometimes leave his high table to sit with participants in the audience or move around to shake hands with the faculty and participants during tea breaks.

The hard-line approach and seriousness of the retreat was not championed by the governor alone. Rewane was a task master and like the governor, imposing workload and expanding scopes and thinking on projects and programmes. Offiong Offor, the brilliant commissioner of Agriculture and Rural Development, was on the floor reeling out her work plan, when Rewane stopped her midway. “Hold it there”, he said, attracting the attention of all participants. “As a subnational, Akwa Ibom will not move the needle in agriculture with the scale of your proposal vis-a-vis your GDP target. You must be more ambitious in your investment in this critical sector…We believe that Akwa Ibom has all it takes to breakthrough. Akwa Ibom should outperform the GDP of Nigeria by 3%. In other words, if the Nigerian economy grows by 2%, Akwa Ibom State should grow by 5%”.

It was a clarion call to think big and partner widely with the private sector and funding agencies to make Akwa Ibom the part of Nigeria that is working in Agribusiness, Aviation & Tourism, Industrial Clusters, Digital Economy, Education, Power generation, transmission and distribution as well as various aspects of infrastructure.

Luckily, this gathering was beyond the State Exco. It could probably be termed as the enlarged Exco retreat. Apart from his cabinet, the governor also “carried along ” other stakeholders and senior aides to the retreat. They included the leadership of the PDP and his campaign organisation led by Elder Aniekan Akpan, the State PDP Chairman; Ambassador Assam Assam, SAN, the Director General Of PDP Governorship Campaign and Barr. Emmanuel Enoidem, the Chairman of the Maintain Peace Movement, MPM. Others included the leadership of the Labour Union, led by the State NLC Chairman, Comrade Sunny James, the TUC chairman, Comrade Dominic Abang, the NUT Chairman, Comrade Edet Emenyi and the State NUJ Chairman, Comrade Amos Etuk. The idea, according to the governor, was to give stakeholders some insight into the workings of his Administration and carry them along in the implementation of the ARISE Agenda for Akwa Ibom people.

Facilitator of the retreat, Barr. Mfon Usoro

The breakout session featured five thematic groups on infrastructure, human capital development, finance and economic development, social welfare, as well as security and law enforcement; led respectively by Prof. Eno James Ibanga, Commissioner of Works; Prof. Imoh Moffat, Commissioner of Science & Tech; Emem Bob, Commissioner of Economics Development; Sir Charles Udoh, Commissioner of Culture & Tourism and retired General Koko Essien, Commissioner of Internal Security & Waterways. The five thematic groups covered the operation of all the MDAs in the State.

Timelines for the completion of short term goals was pegged at “immediate to six months”. At the end, all participants were fully persuaded that the retreat had made a world of difference in their capacity to implement the ARISE Agenda. According to Engr. Camillus Umoh, the Commissioner of Power the retreat will greatly improve service delivery in the State. “Every learning experience is very welcomed because it adds up to service delivery. This retreat has deepened our knowledge of the ARISE Agenda and help us to appreciate the policy direction of the governor as well as the needed collaboration among the MDAs”. Orman Esin, the commissioner of Transport, spoke also in terms of the “benefit of synergy” gained at the retreat.

Ambassador Assam and Elder Akpan were exultant about the calibre, capacity and competence of the governor they helped to midwife.
Comrade James, the NLC Chairman who spoke on behalf of the organised labour praised the unprecedented gesture of the governor for granting the Labour a pride of place in his Administration.

Said Charles Udoh, the Commissioner of Tourism & Culture: “The retreat was very insightful and impactful”.

One of the intangible but albeit critical outcomes of the retreat was that it went beyond team-building and bonding; and provided opportunity for the team to read the lips of the governor, know the way his mind works and understand him a bit more better.

Speaking after the retreat, Governor Eno said the achievement of the retreat was ‘substancial’. He said the post-retreat dispensation will see stronger institutions than strong individuals. “No one has the monopoly of knowledge. In the new dispensation, we must situate things where they belong. We will leverage on experience, but we must begin to build and depend on institutions. The era of strong men and weak institutions is gone. This is important because we will all come and go, but our institutions must remain strong enough to support the coming generation”.

Usen is a Journalist, writes from Uyo

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