Udom Emmanuel – An underdog, but Highly Favoured
Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State has joined the presidential race perceived in many quarters s an underdog, not in the sense of being a political neophyte, but because, until a few weeks ago when he joined the fray, nobody looked in his direction as one that could be interested in succeeding President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023. The belief everywhere, including his own state, was that he was too focused on anchoring his Completion Agenda safely in the last of his eight-year tenure to be concerned about tenancy of Aso Rock in the next dispensation. His image of an underdog is re-enforced by the fact of his not having held any political office at the national level, either in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of which he is a member or in government.
It is worthy of mention as well that even when he threw his heart into the ring, Udom ( as he is popularly called) did not do so with the fanfare and celebration you would expect to accompany the formal announcement of an aspirant’s entry into the presidential race. The first time Nigerians heard he was going to join the race was when a group of radio listeners in faraway Abuja announced it was buying him the expression of interest and nomination forms. It was a subtle announcement of an important step taken by the gentle looking governor – by someone else. The image of an underdog may contribute to the surprise Udom could spring when PDP delegates gather on May 28 and 29 to elect the party’s flagbearer in the 2023 presidential election.
Udom is, by nature, a very quiet man, though richly endowed with the gift of oratory which he displays whenever he chooses to speak. He reminds one of the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an unassuming orator who could hold an audience spellbound with his mastery of English. The quiet mien of the Akwa Ibom State governor is one of the reasons many were surprised when the news hit the airwaves that listeners and fans of the popular Abuja-based Brekete Radio/TV show had purchased the party’s N40 million expression of interest and nomination form for the presidential primary for him.
If any doubt existed concerning Udom’s participation in the presidential race, such doubt evaporated when he publicly accepted the form and formally announced his entrance into the race. “I appreciate this gesture”, he said. “Be rest assured that I have accepted the form. All Nigerians cannot come together to give me something and I will refuse”.
Sources close to the Akwa Ibom State Governor said the buying of expression of interest and nomination forms by the Brekete Family for Udom may be a case of the hand being that of Esau, while the voice is that of Jacob. There is a belief in many quarters that Brekete represents a wider interest in the northern part of the country that is behind Udom’s aspiration. This belief must be considered against the background of the fact that the aspirant is a last-minute entrant into the presidential race, whose emergence on the field raised quite a number of eyebrows.
Despite the presence of PDP presidential aspirants from the northern part of the country in the race – Atiku, Bala Mohhammed, Aminu Tambuwal, Mohammed Hayatudyn and Bukola Saraki from the Middle Belt – the feeling among some political elites and power brokers in the North is that for the sake of equity and fair play, the presidency should go to the South after Buhari’s eight-year tenure.
Among the five aspirants on the PDP platform in the South, namely, Udom, Wike, Peter Obi, Pius Anyim and Sam Ohuabunwa, the Akwa Ibom State Governor is considered by some northern elements as being more level-headed, trustworthy and predictable for the job of president of Nigeria. Sources say Udom’s entry into the race was actually at the prodding of these elements. This suggests they are willing and ready to back him all the way. It may be the reason his consultations are devoid of the noise that attends the same exercise by others, which itself is suggestive of a man that is confident of victory at the primary.
Udom has a lot to show in terms of performance as Governor of Akwa Ibom in the last seven years. A private sector player all his working life until 2013 when he was appointed Secretary to the State Government by then Governor Godswill Akpabio, he came into office determined to change the narrative of Akwa Ibom as a civil service state and create an economy that would be private sector-driven. He has the vision to make the state an economic and industrial hub not just in Nigeria, but the West African sub-region.
Before he came into government, Udom was an executive director at Zenith Bank Plc, one of Nigeria’s leading Tier-1 financial institutions. It was a position that enabled him to help drive the establishment and growth of businesses. Little wonder, he was able to set up 16 functional industries under three years in his first term, a feat that has not been equaled anywhere in the country, not even by the Federal Government.
Udom has been able to shatter the myth of government enterprises not succeeding – a belief that arose from the litany of failures which government-owned businesses recorded in the past. He set up Ibom Air, the first airline to be owned by a state government in Africa, on June 9, 2019. The airline has, under three years, grown from one aircraft to seven in its fleet, including two Airbus A220 series, one of the latest in the world.
The airline currently operates from Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, to Abuja, Lagos, Calabar and Enugu, with plans to commence international flights to Ghana, Cameroun, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea once construction of the international terminal of the Victor Attah International Airport is completed. The outstanding success of the airline in its short history, which is run strictly as a business and not a government parastatal, has proved that government enterprises can be success stories if entrusted in competent hands.
Udom has opened up Akwa Ibom by creating an enabling environment to make businesses thrive. He restored peace to a state that was contending with incessant cases of kidnapping, cultism and banditry when he assumed office by enacting an anti-cultism law and offering amnesty to cultists who agreed to turn in their arms. Today, the state is arguably one of the most relatively peaceful and safest in the country. It is the reason it is fast becoming an attractive destination for investors.
In September, 2021, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo commissioned the 21-storey Dakkada smart towers in Uyo as part of the 34th anniversary celebrations of the creation of Akwa Ibom State. The building, the tallest structure in the South South and South East geo-political zones, is designed to provide a suitable office accommodation for international businesses operating in the state.
The reason for the purchase of expression of interest and nomination forms by the Brekete Family sums up public perception of Udom’s performance as Governor of Akwa Ibom. While presenting the forms to Udom, Innocent Orji, leader of the delegation of Brekete family, said they decided to support him for the presidential race after visiting Akwa Ibom to ascertain the veracity of what he told the public during a television interview. “After that programme, the Brekete Family sent a delegation to Akwa Ibom State”, Orji said. “They spent about three days there and sent in a report. And in that report, they said what they found on ground was more than what you told them during the live TV programme. For that reason, a decision was taken by Brekete Family that when the times comes we will contribute money to purchase the form for you to contest the position”.
Udom is expected to apply his knowledge of the economy, industrialization and and job creation capabilities in solving the country’s economic challenges if he finds is way into Aso Rock on May 29, 2023.
Gabriel Suswam, former Benue State governor and chairman of Udom’s Presidential Campaign Council, told media practitioners in Lagos why his principal is the best man for the job of running Nigeria at this critical moment of its history.
“His Excellency’s campaign will revolve around revamping the economy of this country that is in a shambles. It will revolve around infrastructure – the need to improve the power situation in the country; roads and rail travel and generally fix the infrastructure deficit in the country”.
Said Suswam: “We are talking about a man who has done a lot to improve the economy of his state. Whereas Nigeria as a country does not have a national carrier, Akwa Ibom today has a functional airline that is first class in terms of operation and management. He creates money by the kinds of projects he does”
Udom has promised to provide solutions to Nigeria’s myriad or problems if he becomes president. “I am a bridge builder; I have the capacity; I understand the issues; I know the problems and I have the solutions. Anywhere in the world, the economy is preeminent. As a trained, tried and tested economist, I know what to do”.
In the last seven years of his tenure as governor of Akwa Ibom, Udom has demonstrated leadership qualities that have won for him the admiration and commendation of people of all callings, ranging from political to religious and traditional leaders, as well as diplomats. He has succeeded in uniting the various sub-ethnic groups in the state, ensuring amenities, development projects and political offices are evenly shared, to give every part of the state a sense of belonging.
The belief in his leadership qualities has manifested in the mass endorsement that has trailed Umo Eno, his choice of successor, since he announced the choice on January, 30, 2022. In an action that is unprecedented in the state, Eno has been endorsed by the state’s traditional and religious institutions, the state assembly, Udom’s cabinet and political leaders in various parts of the state. This has been possible because Udom is generally seen as a man of peace whose stewardship has shown that he means well for the state.
He is expected to be a unifier capable of uniting a country that is currently divided very deeply along ethnic and religious lines, if he scales the hurdle of party primary to get elected president of Nigeria.
As a member of the Executive Management Committee of Zenith Bank, Udom saw Nigeria as his constituency. His position was not that of a branch manager whose activities were limited to a small geographical area. He was as concerned and involved in developments in Sokoto as he was about developments in Maiduguri, Ilorin, Lagos, Calabar, Enugu, Port Harcourt and outside the country. Many years of dealing with Nigeria has enabled him to understand the different parts of the country, their peculiarities, problems, aspirations and needs. He therefore understands that the country’s problems are more socio-economic than political, that is, outside security.
Long before he got involved in the presidential race Udom had demonstrated concern about the situation in the country, knowing full well that no part of the country is safe, secure and doing well socio-economically if one part is ravaged by challenges of any kind. He reflects this concern in virtually all his speeches and statements, whether laying the foundation or commissioning a project in his state, or speaking on national issues in Abuja or any part of the country. He is a nationalist.
Udom has demonstrated in the last seven years as Governor of Akwa Ibom that he is a man that can be trusted to deliver on his promises. On assumption of office in 2015, he promised to move the state from public sector to private sector-led economy. Though still work in progress, there has been a remarkable transformation of the state’s economic landscape. He promised to restore peace that had eluded the state for some time. Today, the state enjoys a reasonable degree of peace.
Everyone knows where he is coming from when he says he understands the problems of Nigeria and has the answers to them. If no one in his state can recall a lie told the people, then Nigerians can believe that he is a man whose word is his bond.
There is a clamour for the younger generation to assume leadership of Nigeria, based on the belief that the older generation political class has given its best and has nothing more to offer. In fact, many Nigerians believe those that are commonly referred to as recycled politicians have been responsible for the woes that have brought the country to its present sorry state.
The call for younger leaders finds favour with Udom. At 55, he fits perfectly into the class of leader Nigerians want. He is seen as urbane, cosmopolitan and very knowledgeable about national and world affairs. He exudes an air of friendliness that endears him to any one meeting him for the first time, the reason he is well liked, even by his colleagues.
Udom was born on July 11, 1966 in ONNA Local Government Area. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from the University of Lagos, and has attended the Advanced Management Programme at INSEAD, France. He is a Fellow of Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management and an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria.
He worked variously as audit manager at PriceWaterhouse Coopers; pioneer manager of the Lagos Central branch of Diamond Bank; manager in charge of Telecoms sector, Income Optimization, as well as Financial and Strategic Planning Group of Zenith Bank before being appointed Executive Director, his last position in the private sector.
In view of his high electability credentials, Gov. Udom is listed by The Top10 Magazine as one of the top 10 presidential hopefuls for 2023.