By A N I E T I E U S E N

There is no record to show that such a project had been undertaken anywhere else by a new governor in Nigeria. Every known expert on various fields of economic development were on ground together, camped for three days, July 24 – 27, 2023, at the five-star Ibom Icon Hotel and Golf Resort, by Governor Umo Eno of Akwa Ibom State. It was tagged Akwa Ibom Dialogue. But the experts and specialists assembled to dialogue and contemplate the future of this pacesetting State went far beyond Akwa Ibom. They included renowned and respected industrialists, entrepreneurs, investors and professors of international repute.

The audience was diverse as well, and varied. It cut across the political spectrum, with people of different political and economic backgrounds, perspectives and tendencies seated together to jaw-jaw. They included the past governors of the State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, Obong Victor Attah, former military governor of Rivers and Ogun States, retired Group Captain Sam Enwang, a stalwart of the APC, former minister of petroleum and chieftain of the APC, Atuekong Don Etiebiet, former minister of Housing, Chief Ndueso Essien, former minister of power, the respected Professor Barth Nnaji, who personally spearheaded the dialogue in the power sector as a facilitator, former minister of women affairs, Obonganwan Rita Akpan, the Akwa Ibom governorship candidate of ADC in the last election, Architect Ezekiel Nyaetok, past and present National lawmakers across all political spectrum in Nigeria as well as high ranking officials of ECOWAS, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA, Nigeria’s Governors Forum, NGF, Allcare Health Services, USA, NNPC, NUPENG, International Institute of Hospitality, USA, Association of Tour Operators of Nigeria, in addition to 14 professors from various Nigerian universities. Backing the governor was his deputy, Senator Akon Eyakenyi, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Udeme Otong, the State Chief Judge, Justice Ekaette Obot, the Secretary to the State Government, Prince Enobong Uwah, among others.

Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, former minister of Budget and National Planning presided over the event as the Chairman. Always calm, calculating and deliberate, he called the shots effortlessly and effectively for three straight days. He seemed to fully grasp the import of his assignment as one that can make or mar his homeland. He rooted for the latter.

Placed before the experts was the draft economic blueprint of Governor Eno known by its acronym as ARISE Agenda, representing in broad terms five aspirations in Agriculture, Rural Development, Infrastructure, Security and Education. These five aspirations were further broken down into 18 focal sectors, namely: Power, Education, Health, Agriculture, Youth and Sports, Environments, Women and Children, ICT, Mineral Resources/Oil and Gas/Solid Minerals, Commerce, Trade and Industry, Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure, Tourism, Urban Renewal, Security, Public Sector and Good Governance, Rural Development.

Governor Eno’s Economic Adviser, Dr. Mrs. Uduakobong Inam, looking bold and sounding confident, set the tone for the Dialogue. She justified the gathering and defined the scope of discourse.. “The ARISE Agenda is more than a political manifesto…It is not a short, medium or long term plan. It is actually a precursor of a long-term development plan…for Akwa Ibom people. The essence of this Dialogue therefore is to provide opportunity for Akwa Ibom people to help chart a Roadmap of implementation of the ARISE Agenda” she said.

Governor Eno’s predecessor and cheerleader, former Governor Emmanuel, who was appearing for the first time in a public function in the State since he completed his tenure two months ago, described the economic blueprint of his successor as unbeatable. “Nothing could beat this. It is developmental. It is transformational and it is also transitional…I am sure that Akwa Ibom will shine more with the ARISE Agenda”, Emmanuel said.

Obong Attah was exultant in his view of the ARISE Agenda. “Today represents the restoration of a dream that was beginning to fade…Thank you for bringing back the Akwa Ibom dream…” Attah said. Etiebet, the APC chieftain, spoke on the same vein. “Your Excellency, you have come to renew the true spirit of all Akwa Ibomites…and I want to promise that we shall all stand by you in the development of Akwa Ibom State”.

For Udoma, the Chairman of the occasion, what struck him was the surprising willingness of the Governor Eno to subject his economic blueprint to the scrutiny of critics of Akwa Ibom people before implementation. “For the governor to willingly expose his blueprint to sector experts as well as the general public for review and constructive criticism before adopting it as his working tool for governance, is very very commendable”. Udoma said.

Governor Eno’s response to all the thumbs-up by nationally respected icons was unpretentious and meek. In his written speech he spoke of his conviction that reasoning together across party and ideological lines was the best way to “move the needle of development of our State further”. He said he needed not just a buy-in of Akwa people but for his people to take ownership of the Agenda. He said that Akwa Ibom “is working, clearly on ascendancy and on the cusp of greatness”, a stage of development he said requires all Akwa Ibom people to join hands to rise and shine together. He said he foresees a vibrant, inclusive, diversified and highly industrialised Akwa Ibom” that is achievable with the implementation of the reviewed ARISE Agenda.

At a point, he abandoned his written speech and spoke candidly from his hearts to the mammoth crowd. That is when he got the first standing ovation. “I don’t know everything and I have come to you all to help me review, criticise and contribute your ideas, viewpoints and expertise to the emergence of this potentially very great part of Nigeria”, the governor said in a down-to-earth manner that won the hearts of his massive audience, including 29,000 of them watching online on the State official Facebook platform.

The breakout sessions in 18 focal areas of the blueprint, inside 18 chalets of the five star hotel was so absorbing that 14 world class businessmen and intellectuals including Professor Nnaji, Professor Akpan Ekpo along with 236 resource persons, sacrificed three full days for the blueprint. It was an indicator of the quality and depth of the draft economic blueprint at hand. The governor visited and interacted with all the 18 breakout sectors in their various locations in the hotel.

Perhaps the most critical day of the Dialogue was the third day. Full of intellectual and entrepreneurial fireworks, it was the day all the sectoral facilitators and resource persons returned to plenary to present their sectoral Roadmap before a fully engaged Akwa Ibom elites at home and in Diaspora. Professor Nnaji was the first to mount the podium. He was in charge of the power sector and eminently qualified to shoulder that responsibility not just because he was a high-flying minister of power who resigned as minister but moreso because his $600million power plant in Aba is one of the two successful power plants in Nigeria. Nnaji brought his enormous social capital, foresight, dynamism, discipline, work ethic, personal integrity and international experience to bear in the power sector. The recommendation by the power sector began with the need for independent audit of Ibom Power Company “technically and financially”. The timeline for that action is August 2023.

Other sectoral reports were equally robust, pragmatic and backed with implementation guidelines, timelines and action points. The only exception was the Security sector where the facilitor of the sector retired General Koko Essien backed by the resource persons which the commissioner of police, Director SSS and heads of military and paramilitary bases in the State, opted to “redact” the better part of their submission for security reasons.

The reports from other sectors such as Oil and Gas, Tourism, infrastructure, Agriculture, ICT, Good Governance and Public Sector Development, Commerce, Trade and Investment, Education, Youth and Sports, to mention a few, were eye openers, for all.

The communique of the Dialogue signed by Professors Okon Ansa and Trenchard Ibia acknowledged the tremendous inputs and enrichment of the ARISE Agenda by the 18 facilitators and 236 resource persons: “The development of Akwa Ibom is on the upward swing. There is no question, no question whatsoever in my mind that this Agenda is totally realisable”, Professor Nnaji said in his concluding remarks. Said Governor Eno at the end of the Dialogue: “I want to guarantee Akwa Ibom people and all our facilitators, resource persons and guests that, trust me, we will implement this blueprint and we will do the very best to make Akwa Ibom people proud”.


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