Monday, 11th December 2023

Umo Eno’s first 100 days

By Ray Ekpu
12 September 2023   |   4:48 am
The first 100 days is not just a slogan but a governance timeframe that has the imprimatur of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933 and on that day he said: “I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken…

Governor Umo Eno.Pix: Leadership.

The first 100 days is not just a slogan but a governance timeframe that has the imprimatur of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933 and on that day he said: “I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require.”

He speedily got the United States Congress to pass 77 laws during his first 100 days, most of which were directed at reviving the American economy. The 100th day of his presidency was June 12, 1933. On July 25, 1933 Roosevelt gave a radio address in which he coined the term “first 100 days.”

Since then, the first 100 days of a presidential or governorship term has taken on a symbolic significance. The period is therefore considered globally a benchmark to measure the early success of a ruler.

One hundred days out of a governance term of four years or 1, 460 days is an infinitesimal time frame within which to assess or pronounce judgment on the performance of a government. That is just about seven per cent of the government’s term of office in Nigeria.

However, the idea of a 100 days timeframe is to ginger the government into action from day one, to ensure that the government “hits the ground running,” to use a tired expression. It is also intended as a precautionary tactic to ensure that the government does not hit the ground crawling.

There isn’t much that any government can achieve within 100 days but a lot can be done to indicate the direction and the can-do spirit of an administration within that symbolic time frame.

Today, I want to examine the performance of the government of Governor Umo Eno, of Akwa Ibom State, a state that produces the highest quantity of Nigeria’s oil and gas (34%).

Eno is the first governor of Akwa Ibom State that did not jump into the governance saddle from outside the state. Since 1999 all the governors, Obong Victor Attah, Chief Godswill Akpabio and Mr Udom Emmanuel were working in various places outside Akwa Ibom.

Governor Eno is the only one who was running his businesses in Akwa Ibom before he got elected. So you can say that he is home grown. That experience of living and working within the state ought to give him a first-hand knowledge of the lay of the land, the idiosyncracies of the people, what bites them and the colour and complexity of their rising expectations as the state is about to mark 36 years of its birth.

The governor has sent two bills to the State House of Assembly which have indicated the way his mind works. One is the establishment of Akwa Ibom Peace Corps, which I believe is intended to sustain the relatively peaceful atmosphere in the state. The other is a bill that is expected to compel Local Government Chairmen to live in their Local Government headquarters. At present, almost all the Local Government chairmen and even their councillors live in Uyo, the state capital and only go to their local government areas when there is an important event or when the governor is visiting.

Godswill Akpabio as governor of the state had built quarters in all the local government headquarters where the local government chairmen and the security operatives in each LGA should reside. This was to ensure that those places are safe for occupation by the chairmen. Those residential quarters have remained largely unoccupied for years now. This bill will compel the LGA chairmen to live and work with their people so that they can see, at close range, what gaps exist in the development of those LGAs.

The governor has flagged off the construction or repair of hitherto inaccessible roads in five local government areas of the state. He has also spent N2 billion to clear the arrears of gratuities owed by the previous government to primary school teachers in the state.

The governor has also launched the defining agenda of his government with the acronym ARISE. This constitutes the five-point agenda of his government. These are Agriculture, Rural Development, Infrastructure, Security and Education. A pan Akwa Ibom conference was organised to throw more light on these priority areas of governance. Eventhough health is not included among these five items. I have noticed that the governor has pushed for the completion and or expansion of some of the cottage hospitals in the state. That is an indication that his government also considers health as an indispensable catalyst in the development process even if it is not listed as one of the top five priority sectors.

There is an early indication that the government is likely to pay serious attention to agriculture. Already the governor has secured a partnership with both the Turkey Government in green house agriculture and also signed an MOU with the Benin Republic based Songhai Farms for technology driven agricultural investment and food production. Before crude oil was discovered in 1956, palm oil production was a major agric product in the area now known as Akwa Ibom.

The discovery of oil relegated palm oil production to the background making agriculture a despised profession left only for smallscale, low income farmers. Now with the volatility of oil, its unstable price, low production and the bigtime invasion of the oil industry by big time oil thieves, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding oil.

In any case, oil or no oil if we continue to import food at prices dictated by the producers and to sell our primary products also at prices dictated by the buyers, that is a double whammy. We have to invest a lot of our time, energy and money in developing our palm produce instead of importing palm oil products from Malaysia and Singapore, a reversal of what happened in the 60s. This will also create a lot of jobs for our teeming unemployed citizens.

The governor has announced the government’s decision to build 250 housing units in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area, an area not too far from Uyo. The idea, according to him, is to decongest Uyo by ensuring that there are good accommodation facilities for people to occupy in nearby towns. That is smart because Uyo is getting quite congested and if more people see it as the only place where they can have the good life, then there will be an unmanageable population explosion.

The Udom Emmanuel administration in the state had established or caused to be established a number of industries. Some of them are functioning; some were not completed. One of the uncompleted ones is the Coconut Refinery. A coconut refinery is a money spinner because several items can be produced from such refineries while a lot of jobs can be created. On sale in Nigeria today are all kinds of coconut products imported into the country. They include coconut water, coconut milk, coconut oil and coconut biscuits etc.

If the Akwa Ibom Coconut Refinery is completed it will produce a lot of these products for sale and the citizens of the state can be gainfully employed there. I hope the governor will pay attention to the completion of this and other industries that were not completed by the immediate past governor.

The governor has impressed me with what one can call his “politics without bitterness.” Before the elections, political opponents had called him names, thrown all sorts of brickbats at him and taunted him. He remained unfazed and has remained even-handed since then, inviting friends and foes to join him in building a new Akwa Ibom. That is very impressive.

Even more impressive is his government’s attitude to the emergence of Chief Godswill Akpabio as the Senate President. It is unclear what went wrong between Akpabio and his protegee, Udom Emmanuel, but the bitter feud between them had torn the state apart, broken the people into camps of unreconcilable warriors and turned the state into what a famous historian called an “atomistic society.” Some people thought that Eno being a protege of Emmanuel he would toe the path of his predecessor by making Akpabio his enemy.

At Akpabio’s inauguration as Senate President, Eno took the high ranking members of his government to Abuja to show solidarity with Akpabio. Akpabio told him not to inherit someone’s enemies. Eno’s identification with Akpabio is smart politics because Akpabio is in a position to help the state when the need arises. By this sane approach to politics, Eno has shown that he is a decent politician who is more interested in what can build, not break, the state.

He has had pleasant encounters with orphans, widows, street traders as a means of identifying with their plight. He answers phone calls and text messages from people he has not met. That is one way of demystifying governance. He has said that he wants to approach governance with the mindset of a businessman, free from the shackles of redtapism.

Redtapism is a roadblock to quick action and quick results in governance. Civil servants take advantage of it to delay or destroy projects that they do not want executed. To make quick progress, a governor who knows his onions must set time limits and deadlines on project execution so that his mandate is not blocked by the tardiness of lazy or irresponsible civil servants.

Governor Eno has started well by his symbolic gestures, which will indicate in which direction he wants to go. What can be achieved in 100 days can be largely low hanging fruits. High hanging fruits need more time, more energy, more resources to reach. So whatever verdict anyone gives about the performance of a government within 100 days can only be tentative, not definitive.

The Akwa Ibom State Government has some major projects that need to be pursued with vigour: The BUA Refinery, Ibom Deep Seaport, the petrochemical industry, the uncompleted industrial and other projects initiated by past governments but which were not completed.

There must also be initiated projects that will deal frontally with poverty and unemployment, two important diseases that are eating deep into the fabric of our society. The state government should consider the establishment of its own Bureau of Statistics. Without accurate statistics provided by independent and professional outfits no serious planning can take place.

The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) seems to have veered off into mixing its professional undertaking with political colouration. This has exposed it to controversy on the unemployment figures supplied by it recently.

Knowledge economy is a compelling subject in today’s world. It is also the way of the future. I wish to suggest that the state establishes a Ministry of Digital Economy, which will pay direct attention to the big fallouts in that sector and make a heavy harvest of its fruits.

Governor Eno and his cabinet must keep their eyes on the ball. For me the ball is taking the state out of the humdrum existence of a civil service state and catapulting it into a modern state that comes close to an El Dorado. That is the challenge Eno faces.That is the high hanging fruits he has to work towards plucking for his people’s pleasure.