Umo Eno: New Face of Nigerian Politics

By Michael Effiong

Nigeria’s political landscape is witnessing a significant shift. Indeed, something unique is happening in Akwa Ibom State, and it is time for the nation to rise, applaud, and emulate Governor Umo Bassey Eno.

In just one year in office, Governor Eno is carving a niche for himself with his leadership and governance style, which are rooted in unity, empathy, humility, integrity, and prudence. Many now refer to him as the new face of Nigerian politics.

For those following Governor Eno’s activities, this moniker is not mere flattery. In words and actions, he has demonstrated rare traits in our political space. Even those traits hitherto exhibited by others, he is taking these traits to a new level. He is the true epitome of politics without bitterness.

Many politicians claim to operate an open-door policy and make decisions without political bias, but their actions often tell a different story. In his inauguration speech, Governor Eno stated, “Elections are over, and our kindred spirit must be renewed and deepened. We are all Akwa Ibomites first before politics. Politics must not separate or sever the ties of our brotherhood, common heritage, and aspirations. I pledge to be Governor for all, irrespective of political persuasions.”

Governor Eno understood from the start that no party has a monopoly of knowledge and that reducing the political temperature in the state would help him succeed. A toxic atmosphere stunts growth, no matter how good or intelligent a person is.

As a “Talk and Do” leader, he has extended his hand of friendship across party lines more than any other contemporary Nigerian politician. This is exemplified by his decision to fly to Abuja to congratulate former governor, Senator Godswill Akpabio just hours after he was elected as President of the Nigerian Senate.

This action drew mixed reactions in the state. Some political leaders in Umo Eno’s PDP were unhappy, feeling the move was uncharitable to his supporters after a bitter and divisive election season. However, as a thoughtful, earnest, decent, dignified, farsighted, and focused leader, Governor Eno knew that, as a pastor, there is no substitute for Unity and Faith. Even the Nigerian coat of arms shows that what usually follows are Peace and Progress.

This move has become his guiding principle, he has embraced All Progressives Congress (APC) members who received federal appointments and opened his heart to leaders from other parties. It is no wonder Nigeria’s Minister of State, Petroleum Resources (Gas), Rt Hon. Victor Ekperikpe Ekpo described him as a blessing and vessel of peace. According to the Minister, “As a Pastor, you have not disappointed the pulpit; as a politician, you have not disappointed us. As Governor, you’re the champion of unity in Akwa Ibom State. You are a unifier.”

Despite rumours that this open-arms and fatherly gesture may precede a crossover to APC, Governor Eno affirms that his rapprochement with APC political appointees and working closely with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu makes good business sense, as it would yield fruits and democratic dividends for the state and its people. Collaboration and cooperation trump confrontation any day for the astute entrepreneur.

The dividends of this relative peace are now evident as he is making giant strides in agri-business, rural development, infrastructural renewal, education and more, without traducing his predecessors. In rural development and road construction, the governor has continued projects started by the last administration and initiated his own in all 31 local government areas. Statistics show that over 280 kilometers of road are ongoing, with some completed and commissioned before his first anniversary. Because of the quantum of projects, some now call him “Mr. Projects Pro Max.”

A few of the road projects brought to fore his responsive and empathetic leadership style. Take for example the 1.3 kilometers underground concrete flood control and reconstruction of a section of Atiku Abubakar Way, Uyo, complete with walkway, drainage, and solar street lights. After receiving a tip about the road’s flood-ravaged state from a concerned citizen, he verified it personally and awarded a contract for its immediate reconstruction to prevent a recurrence by the next rainy season. The road has since been completed and was commissioned by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

Governor Eno’s empathy shines through his actions. Moved by the inflation biting the land, he established the Akwa Ibom Bulk Purchase Agency through which a Food Voucher scheme was launched. Beneficiaries selected from the updated National Social Register now receive 5kg bags of rice, beans, and garri. Emphasizing that the food voucher programme is a stopgap, he has begun an aggressive “Back to Farm” programme, where the state is supporting farmers and requiring political leaders to engage in agri-business.

To show his seriousness, he is setting up his own farm too while declaring every first and third Friday of the month as work-free days to enable civil servants embrace farming. Of course, one cannot forget his partnership with Songhai Farms. A Model Farm is already sprouting in Nsit Ubium LGA.

Governor Eno consistently states that his mantra is building from the bottom up and touching the poorest of the poor.

Another evidence of this is the ARISE Shelter Initiative, fondly called ARISE Homes. In the first phase, 100 poor people across the 31 LGAs will be gifted brand-new 2-bedroom houses. His model Primary Health Centre projects are a lullaby to rural dwellers. These centres have consulting rooms, a theatre, doctors, nurses, matrons and quarters, a laboratory, ICT and records unit, a modern kitchen, solar-powered electricity, a standby generator, and 214 medical equipment and consumables. To ensure proper staffing, 200 more health workers are to be recruited.

Furthermore, he initiated medical outreach programmes in the three senatorial districts which reached thousands, with hundreds of surgeries and treatments performed on-the-spot.

Ensuring peace is also the motivation for building goodwill with organized labour, apart from many perks for workers, he has released over N18billion for gratuities, leave grants and pensions.

People living with disabilities have not been left out, with a N100 million facility for students and grants of N250,000 per undergraduate and N300,000 for postgraduate students.

Understanding his own grass-to-grace story, Governor Eno genuinely cares about helping people earn a decent living. This mindset led to the establishment of the Ibom Leadership and Entrepreneurial Development Centre. Through its Entrepreneurship Accelerator Programme (EAP), the government has trained 800 budding entrepreneurs and given them N400 million in grants. His plan is to train 5,000 entrepreneurs before the end of his tenure, with N2.5 billion in grants. The economic effects of this will no doubt be massive.

In addition, he has completed the state-of-the-art Dakkada Skills Acquisition Centers (DASAC), reputed to be the first-of-its-kind in Nigeria.This facility which now has a governing council will train people in various skills in agri-business, woodwork, plumbing, ICT, Tailoring etc.

Governor Eno wants to equip youths with resources to make their own money and employ others, rather than wait for handouts.

In just one year, Akwa Ibom is really rising. As a matter of fact, Governor Umo Eno has shown competence, capacity, and character.

He has pursued his economic blueprint, the ARISE Agenda, with such gusto without borrowing a single kobo. So, describing him as the new face of Nigerian politics is not enough, we should also call him “Mr. Performer.”

Effiong, a Senior Special Assistant to Governor Eno writes from Lagos

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