There is a biblical story of how Jesus Christ was accused of breaking the Sabbath day law. His crime, according to his accusers, was that he was healing people on the Sabbath day which was supposed to be work-free. For the sick ones Jesus healed and others he delivered, all that mattered was that Jesus was their Saviour. So while some saw his acts as criminal, some others saw same acts as what gave them eternal freedom (if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed — John 8:36).
For over a year, I’ve been following unfolding events in the polity of Ikono/Ini Federal Constituency as it concerns the 2023 elections and who their next representative should be, and just like it would be for anyone else, the raised voices in the clamour for zoning did draw my attention. Apparently, the voices forming this sect are of the position that the current Rep, Hon Emmanuel Ukpong-udo, who is from the Ikono divide in the constituency should let go his second term bid and give way to a zoning arrangement which according to them, favours the Ini divide.
The writer being himself a maternal indigene of Ini was initially tempted to tilt towards this sentiment, especially with a woman at the Ini end as a possible beneficiary. However, it appeared that while the agitators were struggling to disentangle themselves from the web of having to market a newbie for a legislative succession, and without anything tangible other than a zoning arrangement, the incumbent Ukpong-udo was compounding their misery by giving them much more work to do by doubling the records of performance.
Such commitment to mandate delivery is not one to even place on same pedestal for comparison with a zoning arrangement that does not guarantee a matching, let alone, better replacement.
For all it matters in democracy, popularity and competence should lead the list of criteria, and same, the incumbent Ukpong-udo has so far invested above average efforts in passing the test. Just like any government or administration will pick an area of focus, his representation had picked human capital development to focus on, and the deliveries have been widely admitted to be superlative.
Matter of fact, he has made this focus appear much more like a passion by running a representative campaign originally structured to broaden the three core areas of legislation (lawmaking, oversighting and representation) to cover Welfare and Economic Empowerment, Employment and Job Creation, Education and Human Capital Development, as well as Infrastructure Development. And in each of these, marks have been made, and such that will leave behind effects beyond the short to the long and even longer terms.
For instance, his little efforts at job creation has seen over 112 constituents into permanent employment offers within the private sector, civil service and service organisations. This is not just above a hundred persons deducted from the mass of unemployed hands, but also the making of bread winners for more than a hundred families, and discouraging same number from resorting to crime by helping them find belief in the dignity of labour. In addition, his scorecard has a record of at least 20 constituents as beneficiaries of business startups between one and two million naira. In an economy where accessing capital in tens and hundreds of thousands to fund business ideas has been one herculean task, one regime of representation has been able to provide as much as a million naira each for up to 20 citizens.
This means that a beneficiary with business interest in fashion designing whose basic startup needs were a sewing machine and workstation, would be able to afford auxiliary equipments and still have some more funds left for such secondary needs as paid advertising to announce their brands into the market. And all of these, plus the N500k (each) grant for over 70 constituents are aside other lesser packages and programmes that either provided direct funds to constituents or exposed them to indirect fundings from other sources, all for the aim of boosting economic prosperity and self-dependence within the constituency.
Under what he titles “Welfare Programmes”, Ukpong-udo had, upon assuming office, planned programmes targeted at touching every household in Ikono/Ini. At this point of seeking continuation, the concern should be whether this had gone beyond the cheapness of talking, to making conscious and sincere efforts towards actualisation.
If the efforts in human capital development has not been enough to go round, the Macaire Mother and Child Care Programme should have completed the circle. This healthcare initiative targeted at eradicating maternal and infant mortality in the constituency and with random extension to the rest of the state, has been operational towards providing incentives to encourage pregnant
women to submit to professional medical care. Consistently running since November 2019, the said initiative has seen well over 200 pregnant women in the cover areas through successful deliveries with no fatalities recorded.
Conceding to the attribution of his life and successes to the privilege of having formal education, man had also chosen to use this first shot in public service to advance literacy rate as well as personal skills development within his constituency by investing constituency funds in education and trainings. Here, the records have been equally massive, recording scholarship grants that have already produced graduates among 40 beneficiaries, as well as exigency support funds for another 40 undergraduates. Several training workshops for constituents in areas of specialty such as peace and conflict resolution, agriculture as well as a special one on information technology for science teachers, also add to the list, with an effective touch of infrastructural boost such as freshly built and renovated classroom blocks, laboratories and market stalls, among others across the constituency, to further advance the cause of making the representative aspect of democracy more meaningful.
In addition to all of these is a sound record in lawmaking, having pushed a number of bills and other pieces of legislation numbering up to 14 into the 9th Assembly record, including one for the establishment of a Human Resource Development Council. Also in record under his name are, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (Amendment) bill, Factories Act (Repeal and Enactment) bill, and very significantly, a bill seeking provision for the establishment of Federal Medical Centre in Ikono, Akwa Ibom State, among others.
Also, out of concern over the increasing rate of brain drain in the health sector, Rep Ukpong-udo moved a motion praying for efforts on the part of the federal government to arrest the situation.
This, alongside another motion that prayed for urgent attention on a case of Landslide in Odoro Ikpe and Ibam Edet communities of the constituency, are just part of the rest. The latter had yielded result almost immediately when the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) promptly responded to arrest the situation.
With all of these established facts, one would then wonder what defines competency and true public service character if these do not. And to have folks not just willing, but also agitating for the replacement of a representative who has been able to make his first term and first ever opportunity in public office this much impacting, is reason analysts of rationality and idealism will always view zoning as a distraction to the selection of credible leadership.
Like a banker friend usually opines, zoning only creates a backdoor for mediocrity to creep into a business as serious as leadership. Else, what genuine reason would one give for wanting to sacrifice a productive bird at hand for another whose productivity is not guaranteed. Matter of fact, the progenitors, in drawing these zoning arrangements should always find a space to fix the clause that based on scarcity of credible leadership in the country, the need to retain one whenever found, must supersede whatever arrangement was made for zoning.
In the Ikono/Ini case, the productivity of Ukpong-udo’s leadership is not just a work of the pen or keypad for PR sake, there are living and bountiful evidences to substantiate. The streets of his constituency are full of testimonies to his impacting representation, even those in the supposed favoured zone have in their off-public gatherings, confessed to this— reason, he is the contender to beat in this contest. While the other minority unit of a camp had hurriedly gone into undue celebrations because Ukpong-udo’s clearance was delayed for no genuine reason, theirs was nothing compared to the wild ecstatic jubilations that erupted in the constituency when that hurdle was finally surmounted. That was enough to separate reality from the propagandas.
Revisiting the biblical reference in the first paragraph, it is almost clear that despite attempts to paint a massively productive representation with gloomy colours, Ikono/Ini people are persistently holding on to the bright side. Like the biblical accusers, they have spent so much energy and resources in trying to make constitutents and electorates at all levels see Ukpong-udo’s second term bid as “law-breaking”, yet, the constituents, banking on the records on ground, have remained resolute in setting their eyes on the benefits ahead. For, try as hard as the accusers may to refuse admitting this truth, it remains that this representation has, for those it could not this time, touched their relatives or kinsmen, and it will only be a matter of time to spread this touch closer and directly to them, should he be given a mandate extension to continue with this vigour.