Umo Eno… Barracks Boy who wants to be governor
Umo Eno is the Peoples Democratic Party’s gubernatorial candidate for Akwa Ibom State. In this interactive session with journalists, the accomplished entrepreneur and former Commissioner of Lands and Water Resources talks about his life and vision for the state.
Could you share with us your growing up days, what was the experience like?
I GREW up in the Police Barracks; I am a Barracks boy. I started from the lowest of the low. I grew up in the barracks, because my father was a police officer. Therefore, because of my upbringing, I understand community living; I understand inter-tribal living. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon.
As someone from that kind of setting, people sometimes may look down on you, because you have to struggle to survive. But the culture of discipline was something that helped to shape one’s life.
As son of a police officer, could you tell us about your father, any fond memories of him?
Fine police gentleman; one of the finest I have seen. My father was trained by the British, a very strict disciplinarian, someone who will not take ‘no’ for an answer, a man who brought us up under strict disciplinary conditions; clean person. I remember that while growing up that he won the award of the cleanest officer of the year in Police College, Ikeja, many times. He was meticulous
My father was the kind of man that when he sits down, he will rub his hands on the table, to see if it was dusty. If it was, you will be in trouble. My father will put his radio (radio Nigeria) on to listen to the 4 O’clock news, because he will come back home by 3pm and he knew where he left the setting of that radio. So, if anyone tampered with it, he usually finds out. He will call me, ‘Umo, who touched the radio?’ And you dared not lie to him, because he knew what had happened. That was the kind of father I had.
He paid attention to details. I think some of these characteristics I have imbibed and I will eternally remain grateful to him.
And your mum?
My mum was everything to me and I don’t like talking about it in interviews, because sometimes I become emotional. You know my father died in active service in Kaduna and my mum was barely forty years then. My mum gave up everything to take care of all of us, six of us. She was there for us; she never got married again. We were her only priority.
I am happy that later, she came to live with us and enjoyed her older years. She was able to live peacefully with my wife in the same house until she passed. She was my prayer warrior. To her, I was still that small boy. She will scold you for things you didn’t do right and for the ones you did right, she will hug you and pray for you. My mum was just special.
Take us into your educational journey?
My first school was Local Authority Primary School in Ikeja; we just used to trek to school because it was close to the Ikeja barracks. While other boys used to go out to play football after school, I could not, because I used have so many chores to do and you dared not go out without finishing all my tasks. That was how I lost interest in football.
When I finished my primary education at Local Authority, my parents felt that we had to understand our language and culture because at the time, when you speak Ibibio to us, we could hear, but we could not speak. We only spoke English, pidgin and Yoruba. My father and all police officers from here decided to send their children home. That was how I was bundled to St. Francis secondary school in Eket.
I spent only two years there, because to be honest with you, I couldn’t really cope with the environment; the disciplinary nature, the punishments, it was just something I couldn’t stand. So, after my second year when I went on vacation, I was seriously sick, so my mum decided that I should not return there despite my father’s insistence. That was how my mum took me to Victory High School in Ikeja, which was where I eventually finished.
Moving from Secondary School to University, could you share your experience?
The truth is that if you look at my CV, there is a lot of gap in my educational sojourn, because when I finished secondary school, I got employed in the bank. I decided to work to augment the income of my parents and also save some money to continue my education. I had been working for about two years when my father died. I was the eldest of six siblings, so I had to grow up very fast and become a breadwinner.
At the time too, I was courting my wife and she lost her mother too. She had five siblings as well and they too became my responsibility. I was at the bank and we were attending Apostolic Church. It was in that church that I met a gentleman, Mr. Albert Inyang, MD, Bertola Machine Tools Nigeria Limited who invited me join his business, because he knew the troubles I was going through and he stated that, if I worked hard, the money the bank was paying me one year, I can make in one month.
He is still alive, he is one of the greatest men I respect, because he gave me encouragement and that was how I found myself working for him as his Commercial Director and I moved on in life. So the gap in my education are the years spent trying to raise my kids and family. I eventually went to study at University of Uyo, after I formed Royalty Group and relocated to Akwa Ibom State.
Now that you have mentioned Royalty, what was the idea behind the venture, how did it happen?
From Bertola, two of us were invited for an interview at Norman Holdings; I was the preferred candidate. You know, they referred to me as preferred candidate. So, that name has been with me from way back. I have always had the grace of God in my life and that was how I joined Norman Holdings as Investment Officer. I grew through the ranks and became the Group General Manager.
The company needed to do some expansion and I led the team that was commissioned to come up with three areas of investment that we would like the company to dabble into. After weeks of hardwork, I made my presentation to the board. We asked the company to consider investing in hotels, water bottling and salt. My Chairman said, ‘Umo, you have done well, but I don’t think this will work. We think you should go and do some more research.’ We had been working on this thing for six months and I knew how thorough and solid our research was.
I felt really sad, especially the fact that the Board had lost confidence in my abilities. So, I went to my immediate boss and we used to discuss in pidgin English, and I said, ‘Aunty I dey go.’ I told her I believed in these projects and God helping me, I will go and execute them. I tendered my resignation.
At the time I took this decision, I was very much well paid. But I had made up my mind. That was how I decided to come back to Eket, Akwa Ibom State and we started Royalty Group. We built our first 5-room hotel facility, which was a story in resilience and today, we have many other facilities in other parts of the state and also into other businesses, including water bottling.
You are reputed as someone who loves to serve, what’s the drive?
I am in the hospitality industry and I love serving my customers. I would not sit and watch my staff do everything; you show leadership. If I walk into a place and things are not done right, I make it right. We are all called to serve and besides, I am a pastor and a pastor is a servant.
At Royalty, you called yourself Executive Governor, how did this come about?
I had two inspirations. In those days, I used to go to Nightshift, the owner of the place was Ken Calebs Olumese and they used to call him the governor. He was always working, serving and I really admired that.
Secondly, I always wanted to be different. Everybody was called MD, so, I wanted to create my own identity, an empire where I will be in charge; so that was what propelled me to call myself Executive Governor.
Akwa Ibom is generally regarded as a civil service state, how do you intend to change that perception?
THAT impression is not true. Yes, that used to be the case, but governments over the years have worked hard to refocus the state and its people. Having lived and done business here for over 25 years, I can say that things have changed remarkably.
In deed, Governor Udom Emmanuel has done a lot in the area of industrialisation. That is why we now want to connect the dots and ensure that there is a trickle-down effect of the infrastructure and industries on the people.
Is this what has inspired your ambition to run for Governor in the state?
Becoming governor for me is a calling, not an ambition. I believe that God at any point in time controls the destinies of men. I believe that with my experience, expertise and track record, I have so much to offer our people by serving as their governor. And we have very clear short, medium and long term plans.
Our current government, like I said earlier, is investing heavily on infrastructure. For example, it has done major roads, set up Ibom Air and facilitated the setting up of many industries. Therefore, we intend to ensure that our people enjoy the benefits of these industries and natural resources. We intend to connect the dots while furthering peace and prosperity
What will be your major focus as governor?
We will be all about jobs, jobs and more jobs. The next government would provide jobs in so many ways. We will put resources into the completion of the Science Park, which was started by Governor Victor Attah. We will promote the knowledge economy by also funding and creating ICT hubs that will engage our talented youths. We will award grants and as well as, low interest loans to SMEs.
As someone who started business from the very scratch, I know full well how funding can hamper a budding entrepreneur. So this will be a top priority. We want our people to earn a descent living through the work of their hands, which we believe will be ultimately blessed by God.
In addition, we will be involved in massive rural development. We intend to invest in primary health care, rural electrification, revamp our schools and ultimately reduce rural-urban drift. We are an agrarian state. We will harness our agriculture potentials, for example, the Oil Palm. We will invest in and explore the Agriculture value chain of various crops. Agri-business will be encouraged because of its job creation and economic benefits.
Because of the current realities of the country and even the world, our state needs someone who understands the practical aspects of running the economy not just people who talk about it. I keep telling our people that if God gives me the opportunity, we intend to create a middle-class for this state
Akwa Ibom has a vast array of water bodies, do you have any plans for the riverine areas?
Of course, we have 129kms of coastline. I have promised that within our first six months in office, I will invest in trawlers and boats for our people; build refrigerating facilities and put a fish-canning factory along those areas.
The people are really suffering; they are not making much from their sweat, because others own everything they use. Our government will stand in the gap for them. We will also collaborate with the security agencies to give them adequate protection along the waterways. Also, we will develop the tourism potential of these water bodies, our beaches will be upgraded and we will tie this with our comprehensive hospitality and tourism plan.
You know hospitality and tourism is my forte. We will upgrade all our tourists’ sites, harness our tourism assets and revamp our beaches to international standard as well as provide all support services. Our goal is to make Akwa Ibom the number 1 tourism destination in Nigeria.
Seriously, we intend to make the state very investment friendly. Our people are hospitable, we gave excellent road network; our state is peaceful. So, Akwa Ibom will be the one-stop open to business and as a businessman, I know what is required to make this happen. In addition, I am probably the only candidate who has conducted a needs assessment and have plans for all sectors and LGAs of this state.
My vision is to deliver a prosperous state with ease of doing business. We want to create a state every Akwa Ibom person will have a sense of belonging and where every part of the state will be developed based on comparative advantage. I will round off by saying that I have an economic blueprint encapsulated what we have called the ARISE Agenda. Which covers agricural revolution, Infrastructural renewal and maintenance, women and youth empowerment, ICT development security management and sound education and healthcare sector management, sports and tourism development, reorganisation and up skilling of the civil service, as well as wealth creation.
Some people are of the opinion that you do not have the requisite political experience for the job at hand, what’s your take?
Really? I am probably one of the few who combines public sector and private sector experience. In terms of political experience, I have been in politics for decades, though not an active participant. I began my stint in public service courtesy of Obong Victor Attah who made me Chairman, Akwa Ibom Hotels and Tourisim Board from 2004-2007. While there, we made our modest contribution. It was under my watch that the first Hotel/Tourism Directory was published.
After that assignment, I went back to my business, until Governor Udom Emmanuel invited me to become Executive Director, Agricultural Investments Directorate of Akwa Ibom State Investment Corporation (AKICORP). While there, among other things, we planned and developed the first-ever comprehensive database of farmers in the state; we covered crops and animal farmers. It has helped government to easily coordinate, support, educate and execute programmes.
Also, I was made to Chair the team to establish the Ibom Fadama Bank. This was a project that had been in the pipeline for years, but we were able to get all the approvals done. The bank is now up and running. It was while still on that assignment that I was made Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources. I was there for slightly over a year, before I resigned to face this gubernatorial race.
In the private sector, I began my work career in banking and left paid employment as a Group General Manager to start my own business called Royalty Group, a company that at a time employed over 2500 people and was second highest employer of labour in the state. That is why I say with all sense of modesty that no one in the race has my job creation credentials.
How do you see your chances in the forthcoming election, especially with the opposition that characterised your emergence?
The PDP is a very formidable force in Akwa Ibom State. Virtually all the accolades the state receives today are the works of the PDP. The party is strong, but we are not resting on our oars. We campaigned vigorously and tried to sell our vision.
On my emergeance, we had to deal with court cases. All manner of cases, some very frivolous and annoying, outright lies but I am told it comes with the territory. We have overcome them, winning all the way to the Supreme Court. Like I have said, I abhor no grudges, we are going to run an all-inclusive government.
My running mate, Senator Akon Eyakenyi and myself want to assure Akwa Ibom people that the future they desire for themselves and their children is possible. We intend to run a state couched in Christian values and virtues. With the votes of our people, I am promising that we are about to enter the golden years of Akwa Ibom State.