Godwin James is a renowned architect and a very unrepentant critic of the extravagant lifestyle of Nigerian politicians. For him, the Nigerian democracy is a government of the politicians, by the politicians and for the politicians, at the expense of the long suffering Nigerians. Though his brother, Idorenyin James, is a politician and one of the PDP governorship aspirants in the last governorship elections, Architect James usually spares no efforts in castigating politicians for their greed and crass accumulation of ill gotten wealth that has virtually turned Nigerians into paupers.
On Tuesday, June 27, 2023, Architect James, who is also a National Secretary of the RCCG, sent me a lengthy and surprising WhatsApp message. “For a long time, if not for the first time in the history of Akwa Ibom State, a new government has hit the ground running, from day one on a very positive note. This is exciting, comforting and highly commendable. Never has it been noted, as it is now, that the general public is excited and full of praise for Governor Umo Eno…It is my sincere prayer that the momentum of these good strides be sustained and the actions and decisions of his administration continue with the noticeable proven integrity and deep sense of purpose…” Architect James said. That was just one-half of the message. The remaining part, which I may return to later, was his disagreement with the governor on ‘Happy Hour’ and suggestions on how to better the lives of poverty stricken Akwa Ibom people.
The next day, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, I got another very lengthy WhatsApp message from another architect, a world class expert on social housing development and governorship candidate of the ADC in the last governorship election, Architect Ezekiel Nyaetok. Like Architect James, he is my age long friend and associate. We parted ways briefly at the onset of the political campaigns as he jumped into the governorship race in his second or third quests for the Hilltop Mansion in Uyo. Though a family friend of Pastor Eno for years, what God had joined together, the governorship race had to put asunder. He had even gone to the Election Tribunal to challenge the victory of Governor Eno. But his lengthy WhatsApp message to me, which was actually directed at the governor, was salutary and politically salubrious. He divided politicians into two categories: those he said desire the ultimate betterment of the society and those who see politics as a money-making enterprise. He concluded that he and Governor Eno belong to the first category. He said Governor Eno has already shown great signs in his first month in office and has taken decisions that (positively) affect the generality of Akwa Ibom people.
I put a call quickly across to him to celebrate his statesmanship. As we are accustomed to, the call turned out to be a marathon. Just like Governor Eno, the Nyaetok I know is a man of depth and insight on many critical issues of development. “Let me tell you the truth about Governor Umo Eno”, he began. “He is a very good man and he has a very good idea of where he is going and what he wants…He has a burden. He has a vision and he has a direction…He has a good heart for the people…He has established himself as someone who is confident and independent-minded…and this is fantastic. I can tell you this for free…that these fundamentals are more important to me than his activities. I watch fundamentals. I don’t watch activities. Once the fundamentals are right, activities that follow will (have a bearing)”, Nyaetok said.
The activities of Governor Eno in his first 30 days in office, are however the yardstick that Akwa Ibom people have used in measuring his performance, which has already endeared the new governor to the people in such a short time. Coincidentally, these activities are products of Eno’s “heart for the people”, which Nyaetok singled out as one of the greatest attributes of the Governor.
Three times in three weeks and in three different LGAs, the governor brought his convoy to a halt suddenly just for the sake of poor women who are street traders, selling everything from bananas to cucumbers and from roasted corn to fried bean cakes, in order to eke a living. He shares words of respect, encouragement and admiration for these hardy women. He also shares some token gifts of money, prompting these women to break into spontaneous joy and wild jubilation. “Do you know the last time I held N50,000 in my hands?”, Rita Okon, a roadside trader in Ekpene Ukim, Uruan LGA, shouted. “This governor is too good. Since I started this roadside trading 10 years ago, no governor has stopped here to buy from us let alone empower us. Can you believe the governor actually came down from his vehicle, bought fruits from me and gave me N50,000, so that I can expand my business and buy something for myself and my children? May Almighty God bless him and his family”, she said.
Two other street traders along Mayflower Fruit Market in Uyo, spoke along the same vain. While Theresa Edet said she would quickly use the money the governor gave her to go to the hospital for the treatment of a lingering ailment, Mary Friday said she would increase her stock of diverse fruits. “Sincerely Umo Eno is different. I have been selling here for the past 16 years and have never seen anything like what Umo Eno has done. No governor has ever stopped here to buy from us… Instead, the Task Force people from government offices are always trying to drive us away, not minding how we survive with our children in these hard times. But this governor has remembered us and wiped our tears today. He has drawn us to himself, knowing that we are poor and struggling people who are labouring to feed our families… ”, Mama Friday said.
Governor Eno may not fully grasp the impact of his style yet. But in the short span of one month in office, he has won more hearts than those who gave him a landslide victory in the February 18, 2023, election. In that election, he won hands down in 29 out of 31 LGAs. Since May 29, when he assumed duties, his leadership style is disarming, simple and rare. He sees himself as a servant leader. He has no air of superiority whatsoever around him. He relates with everyone in genuine deference and reverence. He loves the big crowds and audiences he shows up from time to time. If he had his way, he would shake hands with everyone and hug them all in that crowd. He feels at home with everyone, just like a good pastor would, in his congregation. He cracks jokes, sometimes with local adages in vernacular.
By weekends, along with his deputy, Senator Akon Eyakenyi and the Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Udeme Otong, they walk into weddings, children’s dedications, church thanksgiving services, birthday celebrations and even burials, without invitation. These are not the weddings and burials of the high and mighty, but those of the lowly including journalists of community newspapers. Not altogether surprising. This renowned entrepreneur who once employed more than 2,500 workers in his enterprises, was simultaneously a rural pastor, traversing creeks and rural Akwa Ibom to care and bond with the poor and bring the good news of soul salvation to their doorsteps, in sunshine and rainfall.
Whenever the rain fell in Uyo, capital city of Akwa Ibom State, Ndiya Street was a no go area for many. No vehicle, truck, bus, taxi or tricycle would brave Ndiya Street and the surroundings. Residents would roll up their trousers, skirts, gowns and wrappers to shuffle their ways into their flooded homes. Next door, traders and market women in the sprawling Akpan Andem Market were the worst for it. During his campaign to be governor, Eno promised the market women that Ndiya Street would be his first target for construction when he is voted into power.
Three weeks into his Administration, Governor Eno arrived at Ndiya Street with Hensek Engineering services, a trusted and reputable road construction company to flag off the Ndiya Street construction, complete with solar powered street lights, de-flooding drainages and pipe borne water for the area. He said his decision to start his road construction from Ndiya Street is because the street is an economically viable street and demonstrates his soft spot for Small and Medium Enterprises, SME, in that axis of the city. He said similar economically relevant streets in Ikot Ekpene and Oron will all be commissioned within his first 100 days as governor. The entire market women and residents in the area erupted with joy. “Our talk and do governor, God will stand by you everyday of your government,” the women sang, danced and screamed. “Sösöngö Mbakara Kofnor mmi, Abasi akaka isö udiöng fien”, (Thank you, my European Governor. God will continue to bless you), a woman who simply identified herself as Eka Emediong said. “His path will continue to shine because he cares for the downtrodden who suffer in this crowded and flooded part of the town”, Kenneth Umoh, a shop owner said.
He has met with the Disabled students and set up a N100 Million Educational Intervention Fund to assist those of them in tertiary institutions. He has met with the retired and founding permanent secretaries of the State to sort out their concerns about non-payments of harmonised pension. He has met with his priestly constituency of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, who told him to excel enough as governor to make it easy for other pastors to become governors. He has visited top traditional and political leaders in their homes and brought together community leaders that are flexing muscles over their boundaries to sheath their swords and maintain peace in the continued overall economic interest of the State. He has begun initial engagement on the establishment of Ibom Medical City, a combo medical and hospitality corridor between Ibom Specialist Hospital, Uyo and the Four Points by Sheraton, Ikot Ekpene. He has also engaged the American and Turkish Embassies on various issues related to his economic blueprint known as ARISE Agenda. In addition, he has mobilized Multilateral and Donor agencies including USAID, WHO, World Bank and the European Union and their implementing partners to back his ARISE agenda, just as he as restructured the government department of Multilateral and Donor Agencies and appointed a seasoned Economic Adviser to ovesee the department.
His depth and insight on issues of entrepreneurship and economic development are probably phenomenal. When he speaks on corporate governance, planning, organising, directing and controlling of a business’s monetary resources to achieve its goals, as he did during his first official visit to Ibom Air, June 27, it became clear that his very accomplished predecessor, former Governor Udom Emmanuel was right when he said publicly that the new governor is “hundred times better” than him (Udom).
Yet, he may have ruffled some feathers lately and raised concerns among some PDP diehards by extending the olive branch and his magnanimity ‘too far’ across the party lines. After a scheduled private audience with President Bola Tinubu, which was well applauded, he met with all national law makers from Akwa Ibom, which was also well received. The respect and courtesy he has extended to the Senate President Senator Godswill Akpabio has also been commended. But diehard and nervous PDP members want the governor to remain as gentle as the dove but wiser than the serpent. “We are a core PDP State from Day One and we are not willing to be anything different. He must watch his back”, Joe Udofia, a PDP stalwart from Nsit Ibom LGA said.
But the governor is playing the script he personally wrote during his campaigns, which was encapsulated in his hair raising and powerful final campaign speech, during his meeting with the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, in the Labour House, Uyo, on March 16, 2023.
Said then candidate Eno: “As I end this campaign today, I’d like to say to all Akwa Ibom people that we are first of all Akwa Ibomites, before we are members of any political parties. The Akwa Ibom project is higher than any political party. Of all of the candidates that are running in this election, I am the only one that would say, I have friends across different political parties. I have no enemies. I am coming as a peacemaker. I have the ministry of reconciliation and I will reconcile Akwa Ibom across party lines. I will reconcile APC, PDP, YPP, NNPP, Labour Party, all! I am the one that God has given the ministry of reconciliation. I do not hate anybody. I do not have any baggage. There is no home I cannot enter. I will go round and see people. I will bring Akwa Ibom to the table. And we will discuss the Akwa Ibom project and I will ensure that all of us continue to work together. This State has been so completely polarised; polarised along party lines and polarised along ethnic lines. I will ensure that we kill that divide and together we will build a united Akwa Ibom State”.
So far, it is mission accomplished.