By Sam Omatseye
With a near frown above well-defined eyebrows beneath the benevolent shadow of his Niger Delta hat, Governor Udom Emmanuel was earnest about not saying the other guy’s name. That belongs to gossip. It’s mean to do so, and he means it. He challenges me to look through the files, scour his public utterances. He may fight, but he does not fight people. He duels in the dungeons of policy and ideas.
He does not even name the other party when he barnstorms, no matter the storm. He cuts his own path. He plays his own cord.
“That’s my upbringing,” insists the man who pilots the oil-rich Akwa Ibom State. The other guy is Godswill Akpabio, his predecessor, who once towered and flexed improbable muscles in a state he demarcated in flamboyant historical terms just like before Christ and after Christ, BC and AD. He says it is before Akpabio and after Akpabio. That will be BA and AA, sounds more like two familiar airlines from two powerful nations.
After Akpabio, however, sours the palate for the now minister of Niger Delta. The After Akpabio story is unfolding in a less flattering narrative than Christ. Christ died into apotheosis, into a redeemer. As Job says, “I know my redeemer liveth.” Christ himself tells John on the Island of Patmos, “Behold I hold the keys of life and of death.”
After Akpabio is a story not of electoral triumph. But it shies away from a re-contest spurring a defeat in absentia, an evaporation of the spirit. “As streams are,” sang the Roman Poet Virgil, “power is.”
So, why would Gov. Emmanuel not say his name? I ask if he is afraid. A little ruffled, he strikes back. He says his opponents once described him as a gateman and a gateman can easily be sacked. But he is there. They are not. Results are the best revenge, he seemed to imply.
Even when he throws another challenge, he would not say a name. He speaks of presiding over about 30 percent of the revenue that the state once commandeered, not to mention the steep rise in dollar value and inflationary pressures. Yet, he mentions roads that he has undertaken at far lesser costs than he met them.
“I have the documents,” he thumps. He is ready to jab his opponents in a debate. He does not speak about his foe in singular terms, but in plural. But he won’t say a name, no less names. He speaks of a plethora of dual carriage expressways in furious stages of execution across the state: the 55.1km super highway from Ibom Deep Sea Port; 28km road from the airport to Oron; the 25km Uyo-Ikot Ekpene Road, 29.5 km Etinan –Onna road, etc.
He wanted to mention figures but he retreats, probably laying ambush for anyone who wants to throw back a gauntlet. Many would bay for blood if such a debate ever erupts. A former bank executive, Governor Emmanuel has challenged himself as well, and he is doing it in the form of what political economists call state capitalism. He wants Akwa Ibom State to become a state that makes profit, its version of generating internally generated revenue, away from the routine smugness of waiting for tax revenues from established private enterprises.
In his book, The End of the Free Market, Ian Bremmer mentions Nigeria as one of the countries, including China, Russia and India, involved in state capitalism, a concept sparked off by Germany centuries back. Nigeria does it with oil with the agency of the NNPC, our gold pot, the multinationals being parasitic partners. Bremmer is probably echoing another American thinker, Francis Fukuyama, who proclaimed the end of history after the fall of soviet communism. His was a totally different view in which he ushered us into a world of liberal ideas. Fukuyama didn’t see today, didn’t anticipate the 2008 capitalism crash, or the high-command explosion of China. He didn’t eyeball Governor Emmanuel from two decades away.
One of his well-known forays is in the air, Ibom Air, with its aircraft that he boasts bests any of the ones flying around the continent. One of the aircraft is worth in quality and performance four of the 737s bustling in the continent’s clouds. He says he has followed the seven aces of management, and ticked all of them for Ibom Air so far.
He has quite a few in motion. He is building what is blooming into its version of an industrial hub around Awa village, with metering factory, syringe factory, a coconut refinery and plywood company. Its Electric Metering Solution Company seeks to fill the void of scarce meters in the country. With cost lower than the imports, it is a work in motion with meters knocked together by graduates, some trained here and others outside the country. They undergo simulation and capacity and endurance tests before hitting the market. He has installed a power plant that feeds them as well as the state university without interruption.
For now the syringe factory churns out 400 million syringes a year with a target of a billion. The Lion Plywood Manufacturing Company is a sprawl with logs squeezed into machines that flatten them into ready-for-furniture finishes. For a region that teems with forests, it is open for work. The St Gabriel Coconut refinery is still under construction, with work at an advanced stage. It plans to refine 300,000 coconuts a day.
This hub will spur agricultural work and employment to feed this buzz of factory needs. All over the state, Governor Emmanuel touts his completion agenda. He has challenged himself. To set up an infrastructure work is one thing, to turn them into fruits is another. Harvests, however, are afoot already.
If he will not say the other guy’s name, he knows his name is on the line.