Except something extraordinary happens, Pastor Umo Eno is most likely to emerge as the next governor of Akwa Ibom State. Yet, the question is, is he the man the state needs?
It has now become a tradition in Nigeria for an outgoing state governor to choose his preferred successor. The political practice, which dates back to 2007, has since become almost statutory, as the ruling party structure now demands such from the incumbent.
Yet, the process leading to the nomination is never easy because a sitting governor must choose from a bunch of politicians, many of whom would do anything just to get the elusive endorsement. And when they don’t succeed, they instantly become the spoiler and will do just about anything to rock the boat. Such political drama has become commonplace across all states in Nigeria since 1999, including in Akwa Ibom. In 2006, as former governor Victor Attah was about to complete his tenure, he named his anointed successor. Godswill Akpabio, who became governor after Attah, also did the same when he endorsed the incumbent Emmanuel Udom as successor.
Udom has expectedly lived up to this political tradition by raising the hands of Eno, former commissioner for lands and water resources, as his preferred candidate for governor in 2023. He did so after due consultations with the elders of the state and other critical stakeholders.
Interestingly, the announcement sent shock waves across the state and beyond, with reactions ranging from surprise to disappointment and anger – disappointment and muffled grumblings from some members of Udom’s cabinet and anger from some aspirants, all of whom had assumed they were close enough to the outgoing governor to get nominated.
Seeing that they lost out, some of the disgruntled aspirants, apparently driven by a sense of entitlement have embarked on a mission to discredit Eno and undermine him politically. However, the average Akwa Ibomite does not seem bothered by their tantrums and mudslinging; their main concern is whether Eno possesses the capacity and wherewithal to take Akwa Ibom to the Promise Land.
Akwa Ibom is in a critical stage in its history, where political promises must be matched by tough actions and there can be no more room for politicians to play to the gallery. Does Eno have the ability to inspire socio-economic growth and create jobs for the millions of Akwa Ibom people who need gainful employment? Can he build upon the foundation of infrastructural growth and industrialisation laid by Governor Udom? Can he create and implement programmes that will support and encourage entrepreneurship as well as expand the state’s internally generated revenue base? Does he have the personality and charisma to deliver the needed change? Can he hit the ground running from day one? These are cogent questions that the average Akwa Ibomite wants to be answered.
Thankfully, Governor Udom did well to address some of these concerns as he tried to defend his choice of Eno. According to Udom, “Eno is a highly respected person who has enormous capacity and is an epitome of humility. He is a successful entrepreneur who has employed our people and lifted thousands from poverty to prosperity. He will be coming to the office of Governor with an economic blueprint that will further guarantee employment, development, and economic prosperity for our people.”
In nominating Eno as a successor, Governor Udom settled for a man who has demonstrated the capacity to drive Akwa Ibom’s industrialisation agenda through his belief and commitment to the economic development of the state. Eno himself demonstrated this belief a long time ago when he chose to leave his comfort zone of Lagos to come home to invest in a state which at the time did not have much to offer in terms of investment attraction when he could simply have set up shop in Lagos, a more attractive environment where he spent his entire working life. He took the risk of obtaining an N100 million loan facility to execute a hospitality contract that gave him the big break and made him the biggest individual player in the industry in the state. That he is today a success story in the private sector, the focus of the government’s economic drive is a testimony to his belief in the vision of the current administration.
Today, over 2,000 persons, mostly Akwa Ibomites, are gainfully employed by Eno, and this offers a glimpse into his capacity as a job creator. Indeed, none of the other contestants can boast of Eno’s track record in job creation.
More so, his calm demeanour has been severally tested by scandalous gossip and character assassination plots by his detractors, but not once has he lost his cool. At least not in public.
Continuity is another benefit that is likely to accrue from the nomination of Eno. With him as governor, there will be a seamless transition to the next dispensation in terms of government policy and ideas. Having played a major role in Udom’s industrialisation agenda, Eno is well-positioned to carry on from where Udom stopped and ensure that the state can get maximum gains from the industrialisation drive of the past seven years.
Lagos State for instance has benefitted tremendously from having continuity in government, enabling it to complete mega projects that have impacted its socio-economic landscape. Akwa Ibom too can begin to take giant steps by doing the same.
Ekeng is an Uyo-based journalist and public affairs commentator