Mankind is fighting World War III or something worse. It is a dastardly unique world war. First of all, unlike World War I or World War II, the entire globe has had to go on lockdown -for months. Second of all, there’s been not one gun fired, not one bomb dropped, not one ballistic missile released.

Third of all, the enemy is a strange one. This time, it is not man fighting man. This war is waged on the human race by an unseen foe. The hydra-headed, solution-defying agent of death has two names.

Known either by its baptismal name, coronavirus, or interchangeably by its latter-day identity, covid-19, this virus has ravaged humanity. For the record, it sneaked in through Wuhan, China back in December, last year. At the time of piecing this together, the live updates by World Health Organisation (WHO) show that globally, there have been 3,822,951 coronavirus cases and out of that: 265,084 fatalities. This is the grim reality of our world, with each country and in most cases each part of a country fighting the war its own way.

In Nigeria, the so-called giant of Africa which operates like a dwarf, the situation is even grimmer. With failing infrastructure across all (but especially medical) sectors, falling revenue, rising poverty, choking corruption, mounting anxiety, and an apathetic citizenry wallowing in untold ignorance or crass illiteracy or both, its covid-19 crisis is expectedly one-way traffic. Current news feeds by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) say that the country now has 21,208 tests carried out, 3,145 confirmed cases, 2,508 active, 534 discharged, and 103 dead. Hope hangs in the balance, penduluming lazily and dreadfully.

Somewhere in the deep south of the country though, the sun seems to be rising and shining, brighter and brighter. Akwa Ibom state, world famous for its cosmopolitanism, compactness, and a people so highly hospitable to visitors as well as adventurous in travelling, has surprisingly kept its numbers incredibly low. NCDC records the state in good standing: 16 cases, four active, 10 discharged, two dead. The two unfortunate losses notwithstanding, the Akwa Ibom experience is pure magic, contextualised in the Nigeria macrocosm and vis-à-vis the very nature of the state and its people as enunciated above.

Clearly, Gov. Udom Emmanuel has the magic wand. That must be the reason many say he’s leading this war from the front lines. While that is true and right, it can also be argued that it is not complete and correct. Apart from leading this viral battle from the front lines, this first class accountant turned governor is doing so equally from the middle and from the rear.

In nearly five years of his stewardship, there’s been a deliberate tune-up of infrastructure (medical and otherwise) in the state. Except for primary healthcare which the administration was turning its attention to, just before the pandemic struck, the state boasts what might be the best secondary, tertiary and quaternary setups nationwide. World standard hospitals in Ituk Mbang -Uruan, Iquita -Oron, Ibiaku Ntok Okpo -Ikono (and others spread across the three senatorial districts) plus including Ibom Specialist in Uyo, the state capital, run by well trained personnel deploying top class facilities explain why the state looked prepared for covid-19. Without a doubt, this visionary governor put everything in place long before yesterday to secure the today and future of his state and people.

Added to the growing lists of roads and Ibom Air and sundry flagship achievements, Mr. Udom Emmanuel has secured his jurisdiction and compatriots from the front. Ditto, what he has done; economy-wise. So far, the state in his time has helped to bring about all of 18 industries and counting. Economic security plays a pivotal role in restraining disease spread.

Furthermore, the way the Akwa Ibom state chief executive has rallied and continues to mobilise and motivate his team, and all the heroes (medical workers, security agents, food dealers, journalists, transporters, etc.) in the front lines of this war -even staying up as late as 3am everyday to receive ad hoc briefings- speak to a leader who is not only totally in charge but also in touch. To understand that Mr. Emmanuel also leads the fight against covid-19 from the middle and from the back, one only need take a more critical second look at the surefooted measuredness with which this governor approaches decisions that have to do with the people. It took him sometime to declare a lockdown, more to extend it, and as soon as he could he relaxed it to secure the people if you like against mental and pocket depression; replacing it with an 8pm to 6am curfew -obviously to secure the people against petty banditry that seemed to have raised its ugly head during the lockdown.

Recently, while addressing Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the state, the governor quieted and indeed won over critics who felt he was slow in taking some of those hard decisions. ‘Look, being governor doesn’t make me any special or better than every other Akwa Ibom person. Coronavirus doesn’t care if you’re governor. In taking a decision or building a facility such as the 300-bed isolation centre that should be ready in another fortnight, I take time to ensure it is the best for every person including me!’

That humanity or empathy is one of the fundamental ingredients missing in leadership in our continent. It is a thing of joy that somewhere off the Gulf of Guinea, a state governor is securing our bragging rights as a people who know what to do and how to do it. By commanding his team, and motivating everyone in the front lines of battling covid-19 and at the same time never for once losing touch with the people, Gov. Udom Emmanuel has provided leadership in front, in the middle and at the back. And, the people have risen in support as can be seen in the evolving success against coronavirus.

God bless Akwa Ibom State!

Michael BUSH
Uyo – Nigeria

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