Accountability Watchword of Udom’s Administration
One of the many things that have endeared Udom Emmanuel to the people of Akwa Ibom State since 2015 is his professional pedigree. It is the belief that coming from an industry where accountability and transparency are key ingredients of corporate governance, he would be in the best position to manage the state’s enormous material and human resources and move it away from the profligacy and wastefulness that had characterized the administration before his own. What seemed to give vent to the belief is his deep religious disposition and the fact that he was a relatively new face on the political scene and had therefore not been tainted by the numerous ills of the country’s politics.
With about six months to the end of his first term, the governor has proved that the people’s faith in his integrity was not misplaced. If there is anything that can be said about Udom’s failings, it is not his inability to manage the state’s financial resources in a manner that is beneficial to the state. Nor can it be said that his administration is lacking in transparency and accountability – two words that were generally acknowledged to be missing in the lexicon of his immediate predecessor.
Indeed, if there is any wrongdoing the Akwa Ibom governor has been accused of by a handful of people, it is the fact that under him, there hasn’t been the free money that moved around a small circle before the advent of his administration. The accusation of stinginess leveled against him by some of his traducers has nothing to do with unwillingness to spend money on developmental programmes and projects for the people of the state, but the fact that he has remained resolute in his determination to ensure the resources of the state do not remain in the pockets of a few individuals, as was the case before his assumption of office. It is one of the reasons he fell out of favour with his predecessor and erstwhile political ally, Godswill Akpabio, which led to the latter’s defection from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress.
Udom, a former executive director with Zenith Bank, has brought corporate governance into public office in a manner that was never thought possible. He has stuck to the culture of openness and accountability he entrenched from his first day in office, and has been able to prove that public office could be run transparently. The perception of him as being tight fisted has to do with the fact that he pays attention to minute details that would otherwise be overlooked by many in his position.
The governor goes to any length to ensure every kobo spent by his administration is accounted for, even if it means adopting the most ingenious methods to guarantee accountability in the management of public funds. He is known to have a calculator permanently placed on his table, and would not approve any expenditure if the figure on the document presented for his signature does not tally with his own calculations. That is why it would be difficult to link him with any case of financial impropriety.
Udom’s brief tenure as secretary to the state government before his election as governor exposed him to the intricacies of political governance, which include the intrigues, conspiracies, betrayals and backstabbing that constitute the ubiquitous banana peels that line the path of public office holders, especially at the highest levels. As governor, he was once reported as saying that the only two people he trusts are his wife and himself.
The undue attention shown by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to Udom administration’s finances, including a brief freezing of the state’s accounts recently, is generally believed to be politically motivated – seeking to hang a dog by first of all giving it a bad name. The EFCC has found all its efforts frustrated by the governor’s integrity and adherence to accountability, which is the reason it has not been able to find anything linking him with impropriety and abuse of office.
The loss of those that were used to free money has proven to be the gain of the people of Akwa Ibom, as the governor has been able to utilize the state’s lean resources to achieve what would generally be considered the impossible in just three years in office. These achievements are evident in all the areas that directly touch the lives of the people of the state.
In the area of industrialization, the Udom administration has established nine industries that include an electricity metering company adjudged to be the first of its kind in Nigeria; a world-class syringe manufacturing company, a four mill and a toothpick and pencil manufacturing company. The governor has opened up the hinterland by constructing and rehabilitating over 1, 7000 kilometers of roads and building 35 bridges, to drive home the fact that Akwa Ibom does not begin and end in Uyo, the capital. His administration has built a second runway for the Ibom International Airport – the only airport, apart from Lagos, with two runways, while the state is the only one in the country that owns and maintain and airport without the support of the federal government.
The government has made education not only free but compulsory in public schools, while it has taken over seven community schools and constructed or renovated 62 school blocks. It has so far spent over N600 million on West African Examination Council fees for final year students in secondary schools. The government has been able to clear a backlog of outstanding pensions and gratuities for retired civil servants in the state, and makes prompt payment of salaries a top priority.
In the area of agriculture, the government has cultivated 1, 6000 hectres of cassava farmland and 11, 000 hectres of coconut plantation for its coconut refinery. It has registered 4, 920 rice farmers and trained 450 youths in cocoa maintenance.
Udom has been able to achieve so much with so little because of his pedigree as an astute manager of resources. Akwa Ibom receives the highest allocation from the Federation Account. But what is not generally known is the fact that not all that is published as being allocated to the state actually gets into its coffers. A larger chunk of the amount goes into paying back the huge debts Udom’s predecessor incurred, which included bank loans he took to pay, upfront, for uncompleted projects that the present governor has been spending fresh monies to complete. These loans are deducted from source, while the government has to make do with whatever is left.
It takes a manager steeped in financial prudence, accountability and corporate governance to do what Udom has been able to do these past three years in Akwa Ibom.