EXCLUSIVE: Gov Emmanuel Is Committed, Focused –Aniekan Umanah
Honorable (Elder) Aniekan Umanah is a respected journalist, media guru, politician and businessman. He served as Commissioner in two successive administrations of Governors Godswill Akpabio and Udom Emmanuel and currently, President of African Media Network (AMNET). In this Interview, he discusses his vast experience in government, the hidden secrets in media management and his candid view of Akwa Ibom State Government.
Sir, recently in an interview with a statesman, ( name withheld), he said when one talks about Akwa Ibom State, particularly the uncommon transformation era, the names of His Excellency, Senator Godswill Akpabio and Hon. Aniekan Umanah remains a recurring decimal in view of how the State was projected and made a toast of the nation and beyond.. How do you react to this?
I don’t know what the conversion was about nor the background to such but they were correct when they referred to the former Governor in the manner they did. Senator Akpabio came on the scene as Governor and made very significant contributions to the turnaround of the State. His uncommon transformation mantra swept the State in the most positive manner. History can only be kind to such a committed leader who saw the development of the State as a task that must be done. He did his best in the circumstance he found and left the stage for another committed and focused Governor, His Excellency Udom Emmanuel who has within two years done a lot to and is already taking the State to the next level. For me, I had the privilege of serving these very unique gentlemen. So as history writers put out their notes, I believe they will find a corner for people like me who assisted from the rear. Having said that, please thank those who made the kid comments and tell them we appreciate them.
Sir, since you left office as Commissioner which you had held for many years, how does it feel like being out of Government, howbeit for a while?
I like to first give thanks to God who made it possible for me to serve. My sincere appreciation goes to former Governor Godswill Akpabio, now Senate Minority leader for giving me the first opportunity to serve. I also thank Gov. Udom Emmanuel for letting me be part of his administration for the period I served. Not being commissioner is like anything else in life including life itself which must end someday. I started the job with the end in mind so ending it on the note we did calls for thanksgiving. So far, it’s been interesting. I now have the freedom to express myself and engage the society as I deem necessary. More importantly, I have more time for the things of God and I spend more time with my family.
Secondly, I had to quickly adapt to the realities of being private citizen and also took advantage of the time available to wax new thoughts and weave them into tangible executable. One has to think and task ones creativity to be able to develop new things. You will be surprised, between October and now, how much I have done in terms of being able to sit down and work out ideas and develop strategies that are propelling the various initiatives we are running with. I am driving on a very big Continental initiative called the African Media Network as President. It comes enormous responsibilities. I am doing my best.
Sir, Can you please talk to us about the African Media Network. What is it about?
African Media Network is set up to evolve strategic actions that would stimulate growth and opportunities and propel a new narrative for the African media. Some of its cardinal focus areas include advocacy on critical issues of public concern, development of quality content and engendering of research and capacity enhancement. We are operating out of Nigeria, with a network partners in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. We are working on a numbers of initiatives that will be announced very soon to the public. We will showcase a lot in the weeks ahead for all to see the direction we have going. For instance we are developing young content entrepreneurs whom we shall position to earn forex by simply applying their brains. We have high profile Summits and colloquia coming on. There’s so much happening and the parts would soon fall into whole. That’s the much I can say now. Be on the lookout.
As an elder in the Church, How do you combine your work back then as a Commissioner and your service in Church and even as a family man?
I became an elder of Qua Iboe Church about a month before our dissolution. But I did my very best to manage my time to ensure I did what was expected of me in that capacity
Sir, talking about 2019, there are indications that you are interested in the House of Representatives Seat for Abak/Etim Ekpe/Ika Federal Constituency?
Yes, I am a political animal and I have the right to do so. I aspired to contest for that office in 2015 but was prevailed upon to withdraw for Hon. Emmanuel Ekon to go for a second term. I respected the leadership of the State and the party and dropped same. It did not end there. I supported Ekon, spent money and time to help him win right from the primaries up to the general elections. We have given Hon. Ekon the opportunity to serve for two terms. He has served his time and benefitted from the magnanimity of our people and my humility. He promised he will support me after his two terms. I hope he stands by his words. To answer your question directly, I say yes – I am very interested in the House of Representatives Seat which comes to Abak LGA going by our local zoning arrangement.
Who are your sponsors?
God will show himself at appropriate time.
Sir during your time as a Commissioner, what was the level of bonding with the people of Abak Local Government Area?
I am a grass-rooter and I bond with our people greatly. I always say to people, if you like form any group and run around the state, it’s good for the show, but when it comes to election, its each man to his tent and that is unit, ward and LGA I am close to our people and I draw my strength from them.
Sir, diverting form politics into something that concerns Journalism, right now we are talking about switching from analog to digital in broadcasting, how do you think Nigeria will cope with this looking at the amount of government stations we have?
I think it is time for everyone to get prepared in terms of equipment upgrade, training and retraining of the work force. Digitization will cost money and time and therefore, government at all levels must as a duty invest in the requite infrastructure and environment that would support the digital wave.
Digitization will be driven by content. The media feeds on content and without content nothing happens. So content Re-engineering is one of the things we are doing in Africa Media Network. We are committed to ensuring that we develop up to 100 content entrepreneurs in Akwa Ibom and and other states this year. We want to position our young people to enable them earn from the huge content dollars available. Look at global media platforms such as Google, Facebook etc, they live on content . That is the way to go..
Sir, recently we have experienced harassment from government officials it has become so rapid and most recently is the case of Nsibet John which I believed you must have been briefed about it and right now he is standing a case in court against the government and not against the person he wrote about, what is your take on that?
It would be subjudice for me to comment on a matter that is in court.
How about the recent one where some people were arrested but not taken to court?
I don’t have the details of what you are saying, but permit me to use this opportunity to sue for caution, professionalism, objectivity and tolerance from the press and the community. Libel and defamation are serious issues but the Rule of Law is the greatest.
During the tenure of former Governor Godswil Akpabio, Akwa Ibom State seemed to have been known as the number one State in terms of development particularly in terms of infrastructure. The state was also very loud which was the result of good publicity work you did. Now under Governor Udom Emmanuel much is also happening. You served both men. Can you give us a brief of both?
Thank you once again. First I served His Excellency, the Senate Minority Leader, Chief Godswill Akpabio, when he was Governor of Akwa Ibom. He was very passionate and committed to the development of the state and the people. As such, he made great strides in human capacity building and physical infrastructure.
Some of his notable accomplishments include the free and compulsory education programme, free healthcare for children, expectant mothers and the aged and the completion of phase one of Ibom International Airport, which he met at site clearing level. It is on record that Chief Akpabio, during his tenure, constructed over 400 new roads, measuring more than 1,900 kilometers across the State, with four flyovers and 32 other bridges.
The infrastructural renaissance of former Governor Akpabio was all encompassing. He built a new ultra modern Governor’s Lodge, a new digital Governor’s Office, a state-of-the-art Banquet Hall and West Africa’s first e-Library and ICT resource centre. Let us not forget that Chief Akpabio as Governor, constructed the first in Africa pipe-jacking underground drainage, in addition to building the world class Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre. He completed the Ibom Power Plant, which was at 65% completion when he became governor.
Though time would not permit me to mention all of the great accomplishments of Chief Akpabio as governor, yet, we cannot forget that he succeeded in the electrification of more than 1900 communities and achieving over 95% electricity coverage for the state. He constructed and completed the Gas Processing Plant at Iquo in Esit Eket with 69km gas pipeline.
Today, a number of national and international sporting activities are being hosted in Uyo, courtesy of the foresight of Chief Akpabio in constructing the 30,000 capacity world class stadium, which his successor graciously named after him. Same goes for the Ibom Multi-Specialty Hospital, which has been acknowledged as one of its kind in this part of the world.
I was serious when I said the accomplishments of Chief Akpabio were all encompassing. What do you make of about 6,012 life-touching rural projects across the 31 local government areas of the State in addition to 2,400 housing units? What about the new international standard federal prison/correctional centre? It is undeniable that the Senate Minority Leader performed excellently well as Governor.
Civil Servants in the state would not forget that former governor Akpabio improved their welfare and raised minimum wage to 21,000. he trained and empowered about 4,500 women with N250,000.00 each for commercial agriculture. He also trained and empowered 9,000 youths with N500,000.00 each, under the Integrated Farmers’ Scheme.
For his successor, His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel, it has been a continuation of outstanding performance on every front. And that is not surprising. With a clear cut five-point agenda of job creation; poverty alleviation; wealth creation; economic and political inclusion; and infrastructural consolidation and expansion.
Serving in Governor Udom Emmanuel as commissioner for Information offered me an insight into how blessed Akwa Ibom people are. So far, the governor has left no one in doubt of his capabilities. He has so far engaged in the construction of over 250 kilometers of roads and 17 bridges across the state. That is quite huge for any administration to accomplish in a period of economic recession and under two years.
It may interest you to know that under His Excellency, agriculture has been completely revolutionised with apparent results. Apart from cultivating about 11,000 hactres of cocoa farmland, which will place Akwa Ibom on top of the cocoa producing state in Nigeria, the administration, through the Akwa Ibom Entrepreneur and Enterprise Scheme, AKEES, has also embarked on the cultivation of a number of produce, like tomatoes, onion, potatoes that are capable of enhancing a sustainable agro-economy.
The hectares of coconut plantation around the Ikot Abasi-Mkpat Enin axis, is another first by the Udom administration. Apart from generating employment, it will equally provide raw material for the coconut refinery established in the area.
There are many achievements one can point to by the Udom Emmanuel administration. With his background in the banking and financial industry, he remains focused and will stop at nothing in the bid to deliver on his promises to the people of Akwa Ibom State. Therefore, no one should be surprised that our Peacock Paint factory is back to life, even as we now have a new pencil and toothpick factory up and running, as well as the metering plant under construction. That tells you that his industrialization vision is on track.
With more than 300 inter-ministerial rural intervention projects, construction of 1.2km underground drainage in Uyo; the remodelling works in Eket and other places, you can be sure Akwa Ibom people are in for a good time under Governor Udom Emmanuel. In addition, that public servants have their salaries paid as at when due is something the administration should be highly commended for. Many states are owing backlog of salaries.
Let me add that the Dakkada initiative of Governor Udom Emmanuel has significantly changed the orientation of our people. Today, Akwa ibom people are rising to the faith of greatness and doing very well in all spheres of life.
I don’t know if your question is asking for a review of our former Governors performance in a short interview. But be that as it may, I was a member of the uncommon transformation team. Yes, Governor Akpabio came in an angry man. He started from day one to tackle decayed infrastructure. He was determined to reposition the State. Like or hate him, we should give it to Senator Godswill Akpabio that he gave his best as a governor.
He constructed uncountable roads and bridges across the state . He built more bridges in the state than when he met it. So he did a lot like the free and compulsory Education which is still sustained by His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration. He run free health care program for children and the elders which still is sustained by Governor Udom Emmanuel. He pursued a very robust turn around project that has endeared Akwa Ibom to the heart of everyone. Like the international stadium has become the toast of Africa, if you look at the government house complex it can go for state house in any country in the world.
Those are some enduring infrastructures and because he did those things like the E-library, Airport-project and build it completely within two years we landed a plane and so many other efforts like the renovation of schools. He constructed new schools, launched empowerment schemes and all of that, that endear him to Nigerians and Akwa Ibomite particularly and his Excellency Governor Udom Emmanuel also came on board with some initiative, pursued the completion of some of the projects that could not be completed at that time like the Tropicana and Four Point Hotel which the administration of Godswill Akpabio had finished except for some soft element which his Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel has also pursued to see that it is open.
That is the beauty of Governance, it should be a continual process. So we should give it to Senator Godswill Akpabio because he did his best and his Excellency Governor Udom Emmanuel also came with his own idea of industrializing the state so that he can create wealth. We should also encourage him and rally support to make sure Akwa Ibom State moves forward.
Many people believed that your success may have been influence by the fact that you are professional Journalist. What do you have to say about this? How were you able to handle Media Relation (MR) that translated into very great and successful Public Relations?
Well, media relations and management remain in the realm of arts and science. One must understand the requirements at each time and apply oneself to those. But in all human relations, humility, patience and openness are keys. When you understand your job and further bring professionalism into it the likely outcome would be desired results. In communication, there is so much noise between the source and the receiver and one must make that such intervening variables are either eliminated or managed to ensure free flow of communication for feedback to be effective. We listened and engaged. No magic!!!
Sir, Dr. Sam Ibiyemi , Editor in Chief of Nigerian News direct Newspapers in a private chat spoke very well you and the professionalism you displayed as a commissioner for information. He said he wished you could be loaned to other State. What’s your take?
I thank and appreciate Dr. Ibiyemi for his kind words. For me one can only do his best. No one person can claim it all. The government did her part by providing the working environment and tools. The various Permanent Secretaries, Directors and staff of the ministry played their part. The media, community in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria and beyond did their best to support us succeed. God will always help his people to execute their Jobs excellently; I did mine and moved on. Once again I want to thank my friend Sam Ibiyemi for his kind..
Sir, let’s take a close look at the representation of Godswill Akpabio in the state. How can you describe that?
First is that he got into the Senate and caused an uncommon thing to happen by emerging Minority Leader against the norm that first timers are not elected into leadership positions. But that action has also paid the Senate and Law making process because he has brought experience and knowledge to bear in the affairs of the Senate. Akpabio has provided very mature leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party caucus and contributed significantly to the stability of the red chambers. He has often said that his interest was in the development of Nigeria. He has been able exercise the maturity required of someone in that level who had hitherto served as Governor for eight years , Commissioner for six years and earlier in life as speaker of the Student Union Parliament at the University of Calabar. These experiences have come to play in the quality of his contributions and leadership. We are proud of him.
How about the defection of Senator Nelson Effiong the party which gave him ticket?
It’s unfortunate that Senator Nelson Effiong defected to the APC. But the party has taken steps to contain that move. There’s nothing to worry about.
What is your message to Akwa Ibom People at this time?
They should be steadfast and hold to God. They should continue to support His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel and he strives to move the State to higher heights. Let us all support the industrialization and wealth creation drive of the Governor. Let’s all contribute our quota and Akwa Ibom shall rise to its greatest potentials
Thank You, Sir.