An International Human Resources Professional and Political Scientist in the country, Mr. Ide Okon Owodiong–Idemeko, a one-time aspirant for the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Coordinator of a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), 1001 Plus Voices Initiative for People Empowerment has proposed ways of getting Akwa Ibom to be a self-sufficient and self-sustaining state in the country. He bared his mind on some critical political, economic, and social issues including answer to leadership question in Nigeria, power, infrastructure, education, Nigeria political selection process among other State and National issues of concern. This interaction was conducted by Century Newsfront Newspapers crew members led by its Editor-in-Chief, Saviour Ekpe. EXCERPTS:
My name is Ide Okon Owodiong-Idemeko. I am from Ikot Ukop in Okop Ndua Erong, Ibesikpo Asutan local government area of Akwa Ibom state. In terms of my educational background, I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science and Public Administration; Masters of Science degree in Comparative Politics and also have very extensive professional and managerial studies some of which have taken me to some top management institutions in the world, for example, Insead Business School, Fontainebleau – Paris, France and Thunderbird School of Global Management, Phoenix, Arizona. I am married to my lovely wife, Joanna who is from Ndiya in Nsit Ubium local government area, we have four lovely children (two girls and two boys),three of them are university graduates and my second daughter also has a Master’s degree while my last child is in his first year in the university.
Interestingly, yesterday (referring to October 2, 2020) was my employment anniversary with an Oil and Gas company, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited. I have been with the company for the last 29 years and I have had an exciting career. 28 of those 29 years, have been in the human resources functions. Over these years, I have found myself doing all sorts of stuff covering the whole gamut of the human resources spectrum, such as recruitment, performance management, labor relations and strategy, leadership development, staffing, compensation and benefits, policy development etc. In the last one year I have been functioning in a different role as Senior Manager for Security, External Relations. My job has also taken me to different parts of the world. For about three and a half years, I was based in Brussels as part of our Compensation & Benefits Center of Expertise for Europe, Africa& the Middle East operations. My portfolio at the time covered 12 countries in the region, specifically the Middle East and Eastern Europe. I have also been to Western and Central Europe, North America, and South America in the course of my work. I will say it has been a fulfilling and very exciting career as it has afforded me the opportunity to see the different shades of how the world looks likes and how the world operates.
Leadership Experience in Other Parts of the World
Leaders outside this part of the world are more interested about the legacy they leave behind for generations unborn. Sadly, leadership in Nigeria and Africa at large seems to be more focused on personal aggrandizement and personal interest, rather than about the future. So, for me that is the major difference. You can look at countries that started the same time with us like UAE, Singapore and Malaysia, all these countries have had leaders who have stepped up to provide positive direction for their countries and the legacy they will leave behind and not about what and how much personal wealth they will amass for themselves.
Infrastructure in Akwa Ibom State
There is always room for improvement; I will say that all our past leaders have done the best they can, looking at different areas of focus. Government is a continuum and successive governments build on what the previous governments have left behind. Infrastructure is quite a big deal; it’s not just about building roads, there is still a lot of work to be done in many other areas be it economic, social, political etc. but I want to commend all past leaders of Akwa Ibom State for their contributions to the development strides the State has made in the past 33 years of its creation. With Retired Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, we witnessed the building of the administrative and bureaucratic structure of the State during the military dispensation. Ex-governor Victor Attah fought for resource control which enabled Akwa Ibom State benefit from the 13% derivation formula on proceeds from oil and provided the funding for subsequent development projects we are seeing today. Ex-governor Godswill Akpabio provided focus on big time infrastructural projects and currently, Governor Udom Emmanuel is plowing all his energy into the Industrialization of the State. Sometimes, four years is not just enough for one to achieve a whole lot of what you want to achieve. On the balance, I will say that we’ve done well; thinking about when the state was created and now, we are celebrating 33 years of creation, I think we could have done more but certainly, we have not done poorly either.
How to Improve the Educational Sector
I want to commend the Governor, Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel for taking the bold step in setting up a Think-Tank on education to draw up the Education Strategic Road Map for Akwa Ibom State 2020- 2030 under the leadership of my friend and senior brother, Prof. Hilary Inyang, a very distinguished scholar. The Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) which I lead, 1001 Plus Voices Initiative for People Empowerment did turn in a Memorandum to the Think-Tank. In that Memorandum, we identified 10 thematic areas where we think the government should focus on and try to see how we can change the narrative on education. These thematic areas included the following: Educational Strategic Plan Development, Educational Programme Monitoring and Audit, Student and Teacher Testing Protocols, Institutional Financing Programme, Talent Search Programmes, Ethics and Morality Support Programmes, Structuring of Scholarly and Scholarship Programmes, Elimination of Cultism from Schools, Teacher Welfare and Training Programmes and Technology. These are the things we need to look at. The parlous state of our educational system is really challenging and worrisome if we need to bring it to the level of the 21st century standards. We need to put things in place to make our children globally competitive within the context and requirements of the 21st century. Our educational administrators need to understand that we are producing educated resources, not only for Nigeria but also for the world and in competition with Europeans, Asians, Americans, etc. Our people must be competitive at that level.
Without being accused of being too simplistic, I think the problem with power is two-fold; first, is the problem of endemic corruption and second, is the fact that the lopsided federal structure of Nigeria is a great hindrance. The power sector needs to be further liberalized and fully unbundled to allow more private investments into the sector to grow the sector just as we did with the Telcos. I do not see why local governments cannot generate their own power with the right enabling environment and I do not see why we cannot aggressively explore other alternative sources of power, such as solar, wind, gas etc. I have no doubt that with the enabling platform; investors will be encouraged to come in and help galvanize the power sector in Nigeria.
Developing Akwa Ibom state: the21st Century Challenge
There is a lot going on in the world of development and we are far behind. It is a race for time, and we must leap-frog into the 21st century. But then, we are bugged down by our inability to comprehensively solve the very fundamental and basic needs of our people – food, shelter and clothing – needs that occupy the lowest rung of the ladder in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There must be a broad and concerted strategy to provide these basic needs to the greatest number of people in the shortest possible time. So that would require massive investments in agriculture, housing, and employment opportunities for people. These three things are critical in ensuring that our people are significantly empowered. The minds of our population must be re-oriented away from white collar jobs to uncover the huge benefits derivable from investing in agriculture. Currently, my wife and I own about two hectares of land in the village where we cultivate cassava and process garri. So, I have a sense of what I am proposing. If we really focus on harnessing our Agriculture sector, we will create jobs and be able to provide food for people to eat. Of course, in doing these things we need to look at the infrastructure. Not just planting. How do you plant? How do you harvest? How do you ensure that it is made commercial? Not to forget the challenges around security which also impacts on food availability? All the food we use to rely on from the north is now being significantly constrained because of the conflict in the Northeast, Boko Haram; North West, banditry; and the North Central, harassment by Fulani herdsmen etc. So, we must develop our own sources of food, we need to cultivate our cattle, grow our onion, tomatoes, and yams, etc. It’s a good thing that the governor is trying to bring up food industries like tomatoes etc. There are a whole lot of things that we need to do in that area. In addition, we need to have the right housing strategy to enable people own homes of their own or at least have access to shelter at affordable costs. Once we can solve these basic needs people will be empowered to look at doing great things. These are all very deep significant challenges that we need to look at and quickly resolve
Political Selection Process in Nigeria
Our selection process is flawed; the quality and character of our political selection process needs improvement. Quality of people who are coming into the political recruitment process needs to be high-graded. The selection process must be freed from the clutches of godfathers and party stake holders. We must allow the people freely select those that will represent them and allow the electorate to be fully empowered to select those that will represent them; that is why it is called representative democracy. When few people sit down in their rooms and determine those that will represent the people, the process becomes terribly flawed – so I think there is a whole lot to be done – that is the challenge that I see with the political selection process in our country. People are talking of it, as being a guided democracy – I do not know what they mean by guided democracy; just allow the people to select who they want to represent them. As previously said, there is urgent need to high-grade the quality of people coming into the political space. I would advocate for a minimum of OND to run for the councillorship position. It is sad for a country that has produced well educated graduates, intellectuals, and professors to be saddled with either a president, governor or any political office holder who cannot conceptualize and contextualize the problem of the country. The internal democracy within the political parties must be enhanced to help democratize the selection space as well.
Governor Udom Emmanuel
As I noted earlier, government is a continuum. We should not expect Governor Udom Emmanuel to transform Akwa Ibom State into Eldorado in four years, but he certainly is doing well. You cannot expect him to be loved by everyone or to satisfy all interest groups. So far, he is doing well within the context of the daily challenges he faces, dwindling revenues and multiple interests to juggle. At the end of his eight-year tenure, we would be able then to conduct a proper assessment of his administration and governance. I am happy that he understands the limitation of time and has decided to focus during this his second term in office on completing all projects he started in the first term. We are all witnessing the several projects he is commissioning as part of the celebration of the Akwa Ibom State’s 33rd Anniversary. After his eight years in office, we will have a holistic view of whether the governor did well or did not do well. However, I must acknowledge the great strides of the Governor in aviation development with the establishment of Ibom Air.
2023 and the Akwa Ibom of our Dream
I would like to see an Akwa Ibom that is self-sufficient and self sustaining within the federating units of Nigeria; an economy that can stand on its own with an educational system that is second to none in the country. We are a very homogeneous state, we understand each other; let’s forget about the dialectical differences. Historically, we are from the same father, that is the beauty of our state, we do not need too many interventions for us to understand ourselves. Even when we have challenges, we have it as brothers and we come to the table to resolve it.
Interest in Gubernatorial Election 2023
Every son and daughter of Akwa Ibom State should be interested in who represents us at all levels of government. I also encourage all qualified and competent sons and daughters of Akwa Ibom State who are interested in holding public office to present themselves for consideration by the electorate. In2018,when I threw my hat in the ring to seek for nomination to contest for the Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial position, that was a clear indication that I was interested in offering myself for public service and to be part of the governance of the state. 2023 is still a way off; there have been lots of contemplations, lots of thinking about what exact role I would love to play in the developing electoral and governance process of the State. But for now, let me focus on my Career. We will get there in due course. Thank you.