Recently, Akwa Ibom State Government hosted the Nigeria Guild of Editors to a four-day conference.
In this interview with the state Commissioner for Information Comrade Ini Ememobong by ISAAC JOB in Uyo, the Commissioner highlights the benefits of the Editors Summit in the state.
The Nigeria Guild of Editors were in the state for a four-day conference What does the state gain from the retreat?
The first thing is that agreeing to attend an event of that magnitude, especially regarding people who have a microscopic view of things, the state accepting to host is an indication of the confidence of the governor in the performance of the administration and the hospitality of the state. This is because the state can be hospitable but the governor is not performing. So it is a combination of two things. First, the state is hospitable, safe, secure and secondly, Governor Umo Eno is confident that he has done well and his predecessors also have done well and therefore the state is on an upward trajectory. Bringing editors, who were first journalists with a nose for news, know that everywhere in the world, bad news is news. People actually go out looking for bad news and journalists are trained not to see the large wide board but to see small black dots. Something could be 99 percent right, journalists may not be interested, they may be interested in the 1 percent that is wrong because they understand and appreciate the capacity of the one percent that is wrong to expand and become 99 percent bad. Journalists also understand that it is the evolution of things, the actions of people, if left unchecked that will either build or destroy. Therefore, they are more interested in activities that have high destructive value than activities that have huge building value.
Are you saying the media should not report on failings in society?
That is why there is a push for development journalism which appears to ask journalists to take their eyes away from the wrongs, from the investigative genre, by trying to see what is right and can begin to report in such a way that communities can be empowered to be involved in governance. Can we highlight efforts that are being made to help people make informed decisions? For me, Akwa Ibom state benefitted, the people who came were senior editors, they slept in hotels, they got involved in the informal economy of the state. So you cannot directly quantify the benefits. When countries host the FIFA World Cup, yes they spend a lot to host it, but a lot happens thereafter. Since Qatar 2022, FIFA World Cup, you now see without that event, there would not have been any attention on football in the Middle East. Now people like Christian Ronaldo and others are playing in Saudi Arabia. There is no way you are going to talk about the Saudi League without linking it with what happened in Qatar. Each time people host an event, there are hidden and incalculable benefits that accrue to the host. They came and left, there was no incident, with positive reports of the events, that is what money cannot buy. How could you have gathered all the editors in one place and given them an impression of Akwa Ibom State if you did not host the Guild of the Editors?
In terms of the Governor’s performance, what do you think he has done spectacularly?
This administration, if I draw a line at this point, would be credited with equitable distribution of projects. Equitable in the sense that whether you are looking at geography or you are looking at sectoral or demography, or you are talking about inequalities. It is glaring, for example, in local government areas, some council areas have said that in the past many years, nothing had happened in their communities, the democratisation of projects alone, people did not just vote for the governor but for projects, if communities that no secondary school like Ibiono Ibom, the governor has promised a community in Ibiono Ibom a secondary school. In Primary Health Care, he is interested in the complete ecosystem of healthcare services, a complete cycle in healthcare and education. You also see the N100 million donation to students living with disabilities. That is the first of its kind, addressing inequalities in education. You see bursary payment, has been digitised. Those who have registered and have been verified have been paid. You can also see the cross-cutting nature of leadership delivery. It will be difficult to narrow him down to a space. When he pushes the idea of ruralisation, which would help to curb rural-urban migration, it will also help to attract the amenities that are urban centres.
But his critics say he has not launched any mega project months after his inauguration?
What is more mega than having 31 projects that are ongoing at the same time? What is more mega than having a disposition towards education? What is more mega than having the housing estate in Mbierebe Akpawat which also helps to lessen pressure from Uyo, What is more, mega than opening the third ring road that will crisscross from Ibiono through Idoro road in Uyo, the state capital? The governor has indicated that he intends to do a medical corridor that will be anchored between the Ibom Specialty Hospital and the Four Points by Sheraton turning it into a medical village. What the governor wants to do is more than mega but effective delivery of projects. Mega does not put food on the table. Mega does not ensure that we can create jobs for our people.
The tenure of the present local government council has ended what is the next plan for the grassroots government?
It is the duty of the State House of Assembly to make laws for the running of the local governments, it is within the prerogative of the State House of Assembly. So the House of Assembly is established to make laws for the smooth running of the state, and the duty of the governor is to implement the laws made by the House of Assembly.
Governor Umo Eno travelled with President Ahmed Tinubu to the COP28 conference in Dubai, how would that be of benefit to the state?
People think they can only work together if they belong to the same political party. People are not connected because of parties but because of ideas. People are connected by virtues, people are connected by socio-economics, the rich men’s club, the poor men’s club, the women’s club, the men’s club, we are connected by mostly very informal things and we now transcend the informal connections into formalised relationships. The governor has qualities and virtues the president admires.
There are absolutely no qualms between both of them. The governor grew up in Lagos and speaks Yoruba perfectly and if you know what language does, you will understand the fact that it draws people together. Again, he is the governor of one of the largest oil-producing states, the president during his trip to the UN decided to go with the governor, Mobil Producing Nigeria which is an American company in the US, the conference will be talking about gas flaring and fossil fuel reduction. There is hardly anyone who relates with the governor who has not found warmth in the governor. So the president may have found warmth with the governor who is frank and open and maybe unpretentious about what he wants and you seldom find these qualities in politics, because everyone schemes for something. Umo Eno seldom schemes. He realises the role of providence and he is not willing and ready to get into a fight easily. You seldom find politicians come in his mould.
Talking about the president and the governor’s trip to Dubai for the COP28 conference, there is also criticism about the large contingent of delegates of which the governor was part.
I would like to think that not all the delegates were the official delegates of the government. This climate change issue is still relatively new to many people. The issue should not be whether the government went with a delegation large or small, it is what will happen after the event. If we come back and there are fundings available under COP, with different initiatives, if we now have an explosion of different initiatives attracting resources from the event and a change of government policy that is more environmentally friendly, then we would have justified the expenditure. It is not in how much was spent, it is not in how many people went to the conference, it is what we get by the reason for the conference. If a large delegation is also able to bring more than a small delegation would have brought, it is for us to give them time to check whether there is a need for people to attend the conference.
Working with Udom and Umo Eno, who is a better listener?
The two gentlemen come from different sectors, one is an entrepreneur, and the other one is a banker and economist, both of them have ears and both of them can hear and both of them were invited to take over the government. So any taken by any of them is as a result of listening and processing. If Udom was not a listening governor, there is no way Udung Uko local government area would have had a road, the first time the government built a road there. If Udom had not listened, there is no way the Etebi-Ewang bridge would have been constructed. Umo Eno is also listening, that is why he is doing one project per local government. Again, no two persons including identical twins are the same.