Pastor Ita Umo Udo is from Effoi, Eket, and a former Commissioner for Youth and Sport, then Culture, and Tourism during the administration of Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio. This alumnus of the University of Calabar was from 2001 to 2003 the Secretary-General of Afigh Iwaad Ekid and President General of the socio-cultural organization from 2012 to 2014. He was a former Special Assistant to Rt. Hon. (Chief) Nduese Essien, a Member Federal House of Representative, Abuja, and a Special Assistant to the Governor on Education. Pastor Udoh is very blunt when it comes to topical issues that concern the development of Akwa Ibom state as an advocate for good governance. In this interview, the Chairman, BOT, of Eket Integrity Forum, Presiding Pastor, Trinity Gospel Mission and successful Businessman bares his mind on a wide variety of issues as well as on the rumored ambition of former Vice-Chairman of ExxonMobil Companies in Nigeria, Mr. Udom Inoyo. Excerpt:
Question: How do you comprehend the development plan of Akwa Ibom State in the last 34 years and the attempt to build the youth to be economically sufficient?
Answer: Akwa Ibom state has grown leaps and bounds making conscious steps towards development. However certain areas like documentation of development initiatives and statistics need to be looked into. The state needs data to progress and these statistics are not readily available. To advance, we need to know how many Akwa Ibom students are entering the university yearly and begin to plan for that number on graduation. If you have a plan on how to take the youths out of poverty, it should be made consistent and intentional. Helping the youth to become financially independent is not by giving handouts to people or throwing money about to youths in the streets. For instance, I am a well-known businessman, and I did not collect any handouts from anybody before I grew my business and stabilized it to what it is today.
So the youth and women need a good plan that will change the economic fortunes of the state. If that is initiated, you don’t need to give handouts to people. Handouts that are thrown around on people won’t last in their pockets. It is necessary that we re-orientated our youths to understand the dynamics of business and to discourage them from seeing handouts as a way out of poverty. How will you give a young man in Akwa Ibom state one million Naira and the first thing that crosses his mind is to buy a car that falls within that range of money. Why do our youths make driving cars their priority?
Let me tell you something from experience. If you call an Akwa Ibom youth today and empower him with cash, the first thing he does is to go and buy a car or land and start a building that he may not finish in the next seven years because he has no steady source of income. That means he will tie down the money, instead of investing the money for more income. I discovered that our youths are not focused, in that, investment drive is lacking in the youths of Akwa Ibom state. That is why when I was the Commissioner for Youths and Sports; I organized a seminar program for youth leaders in Akwa Ibom state. The present member of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly from Essien Udim can attest to what I am saying because he was a part of it as the leader of the youths then.
I brought in the Bank of Industry, the Industrial Training Fund, and various other groups. Unfortunately, the week that seminar ended I was redeployed from the Ministry of Youth and Sports to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the person that took over from me couldn’t continue on the program. If I had any regret during my time as a Commissioner, it was that program that I didn’t complete because of the way I planned to impact the lives of the youths positively. If we had inculcated these ideas, politicians and private sector practitioners won’t need to go to the plaza or Akpan Andem market to give handouts to youths. The government needs to plan on how to train the youths to invest. In 2012, when I observed some challenges hindering the youths from investing, I had advocated for a Youth Development Bank in Akwa Ibom state. If such a bank is functioning, youths can get loans, perhaps using their NYSC discharge or degree certificates as collateral. They won’t need to use their parents, family houses, or landed properties as collateral. The bank will monitor the business to see how successful it is.
Cut in: Is that possible for government and individuals to undertake?
Answer: Yes, very possible. Both government and private individuals can do it. A private individual has undertaken such an initiative before, as far back as 2002. Barr Udom Inoyo, the former Vice-Chairman of ExxonMobil companies in Nigeria, did that for the core oil communities in Akwa Ibom state and it was successful. The Afigh Iwaad Ekid organization which I was the Secretary-General then had a meeting with Barr. Inoyo to rub minds and proffer ways that he can assist empower youths in our community. He left with a promise to do something and returned with a financial organization called the Growing Business Foundation (GBF) to help Eket environs and Akwa Ibom people build their businesses. Before then, Barr Inoyo selected some youth leaders in Eket Federal Constituency for one month of training on agribusiness at Songhai Farms in Port-Novo, Benin Republic. He sponsored their training full-time. When they returned to Nigeria, Mr. Inoyo was concerned about the difficulties some of them as well as other youths will come upon, trying to access funds for business, ensured that the organization – Growing Business Foundation, which he brought from Lagos to Akwa Ibom state give the beneficiaries loans between 2 to 14 million Naira on a single-digit interest rate to start businesses. He also linked a training organization – Support and Training Entrepreneurship Program, STEP, to train those who were unable to attain the training in Port-Novo. Never has such a thing happened in Akwa Ibom state. I had taken a loan from a bank to grow my business on double digit interest rate but this one is different and coming from a single individual. It is unprecedented. Mr. Udom Inoyo should be celebrated by the Akwa Ibom people. The beneficiaries should celebrate him. It is bad that we don’t celebrate people, especially those who have been of help to us rather we try to bring them down. The lifestyle of Akwa Ibomites is not to celebrate their hero. They are used to celebrating the dead more than the living. How can we have a man like Mr. Inoyo who worked sincerely for the development and progress of the state and retired going close to two years now and has not been celebrated by Akwa Ibom state? The state not celebrating Mr. Inoyo attracts negative consequences to itself. There will not be a model to support hard work. You do not celebrate somebody that has not done anything but someone who has done a lot, someone who created a pathway for Akwa Ibom people in terms of career. If Inoyo were to be from one of the Yoruba language-speaking states, he would have been celebrated by now. We should endeavor to celebrate excellence.
Question: Are you saying these things about Inoyo because you have a relationship with him or because he favored you while he was in ExxonMobil?
Answer: I am not saying this because Inoyo gave me a contract or linked me up while in the employ of ExxonMobil. Neither did I say them to get favor from him. I have known him enough to know what he stands for. I have been involved in community service with Afigh Iwaad Ekid since 2001 and I knew him when our organization made agitations to the company where he worked. He has always been available for useful discussions and talks. And he uses that same phone number I got from him since 2002 till date. So we often had meetings with him on employment issues and he always complied with all our letters and I need to say that to the best of my knowledge, and as a key member of the Afigh Iwaad Ekid organization, the majority of the people who got employed and are working in the company were facilitated by Inoyo. These are some of the things Akwa Ibom people don’t know.
Question: Is that so?
Answer: I also remember that, as the then Secretary-General of Afigh Iwaad Ekid, we had a meeting with Barr Inoyo on employment issues. People from Training School were not immediately absorbed after graduation, and we wrote a letter to Inoyo, and he will humble himself and come down to Eket to discuss with us and he will say that these people will be taken gradually, of course, the larger percentage of people who come out of Training School were Akwa Ibom, so the much I know is that Barr. Udom Inoyo facilitated their employment. Again these are another set of people that would have celebrated Barr. Udom Inoyo if Akwa Ibom was a state that appreciates good things. I have never been a Mobil staff, I have never applied to work with Mobil, but as a community man I know some of these things, because these young men and women who returned from school if they did not have employment immediately after they return from Training School, they will come to Afigh Iwaad Ekid to complain. We would schedule a meeting with Udom Inoyo, who will give us assurances that they will be employed and once they are employed, we won’t see them again.
Question: You talked about the Growing business Foundation, how were beneficiaries chosen?
Barr Inoyo championed the Growing Business Foundation Empowerment Programme and got STEP involved in training youths. The program was open for all to submit proposals on which business they intend to do. Then the organization looks at the proposals submitted by those who undergo the training. People who could not go to Songhai Farms were trained by STEP here in the core community and given loans to start their investment. A young brilliant, and a very articulate woman called Ndidi Edozien, was the MD of the foundation.
Question: If Udom Inoyo did these things, why are some people saying that he did not do anything in Eket?
Answer: That is why I am saying that Barr. Udom Inoyo is an unsung hero. He is a man that should have been celebrated. The over 50 beneficiaries of the growing business foundation should have been the ones to celebrate him when he retired but they haven’t. Some of those businesses that took the loan facilities are in existence today but have refused to say anything, that’s why some people think Udom has not done anything.
Question: You talked about the government and Akwa Ibom people celebrating Inoyo, can you clarify more on that?
Answer: If someone has been of help to me, at any given time when I hear people say negative things about him I will say no, this person did this for me. Remember the case of a blind man that was healed by Jesus, when people were criticizing Jesus, the blind man said no, He is a good man, He restored my sight. But Akwa Ibom is not like that, we don’t celebrate people who have been of help to us, rather we bring them down. It pains to hear people ask, who is Udom Inoyo, what did he do when he was in Mobil? Most annoying is that the people he helped has refused to speak out by telling the world that this man did this or that for me except for a few that I have read online like Assam Udo, Idotenyen Isaac, George Akpan, etc, unlike others who would not mention Inoyo’s name whenever he is being denounced for not doing anything.
Question: So, what do you think are the reasons for this, is it politics or what?
Answer: It is the lifestyle of a typical Akwa Ibom man; it is natural for Akwa Ibom people not to celebrate their heroes. It will surprise you that Akwa Ibom celebrates dead than the living, do findings, you will see that when a prominent Akwa Ibom person dies, people contribute money to bury him; they celebrate him at death but when he is alive they wouldn’t talk about him, so we celebrate the death more than the living. If not, how on earth will we have a man that was able to rise to the position of executive vice-chairman of a world-class multinational corporation like ExxonMobil, and nearly two years after retiring, the state or any group has not celebrated him? It is a very painful experience.
Question: Don’t you think Afigh Iwaad Ekid should have been the vanguard for celebrating him?
Answer: Yes but Afigh Iwaad Ekid’s leadership keeps changing. For instance, I was the Secretary-General when ObongIwaad Isaiah Abia was the President General, after Isaiah Abia, we had Obong Iwaad Emman Mbong, after ObongIwaad Emman Mbong we had Ibanga Etang of blessed memory, after ObongIwaad Ibanga Etank, we had Justice Nkanang who was then Barr. Nkanang. Today he is the Judge of a high court. So the consistent change of leadership makes it difficult. I don’t know how other administration related with Udom Inoyo. I can speak boldly about Udom Inoyo because, during the time I served in the organization, we had a very cordial relationship with him. Perhaps after ours, some other administrations who may not have been able to relate with him the way we did, did not remember how he inspired The Growing Business Foundation to help the Akwa Ibom people in the entire core communities, especially youth and women leaders. If they are not aware, there is no way they can remember to celebrate him. This is not limited to Afigh Iwaad Ekid alone, as others who benefited from the gesture should have celebrated him.
Question: Are you trying to say that Udom Inoyo is the best options available to Akwa Ibom youths come 2023?
Answer: That is why Udom Inoyo should start talking. Because he is not talking, people don’t know what his plans are. If he is interested in the governorship, he should start talking; he should start letting people know what he has in stock. He is very loaded.
Question: But he has been talking. Some of his messages are indirectly reflected in some of the conferences and public events he has been asked to speak like the Engineering Week, Uniuyo SUG Award event, AkiTech Week, the NUJ monthly congress, and many other forums, is it that Akwa Ibom people are not listening or they don’t know what they want?
Answer: I am not saying they are not listening but quite a good number of Akwa Ibomites are literates. Many of them that are online belong to so many online groups and they see the things that he has been saying as something impossible but are not aware that they are things Udom Inoyo can do.
Question: Don’t you think it is too early for Inoyo to start talking about the politics of 2023?
Answer: Well, if he is interested in politics, he should know that politics is a game that does not have much of a time frame. Inoyo has not told me that he is interested, but if he is interested in contesting the governorship election, he is very much qualified, eminently qualified to contest, but let him start talking. I have heard people say he is not doing consultation and has not consulted them. I don’t know whether he is contesting but why I am talking about him is that many places I have been to people seem not to know what he has done. So I am calling on the people that have benefited from Udom Inoyo to speak out. I have not been a beneficiary of Udom Inoyo’s gesture but these are the things he did. As a man of integrity, and with the little I know about him, I think he should be celebrated. I am not saying this because I am that close to Inoyo. I don’t know where Udom Inoyo resides, I never went to his office, I only talk to him on phone or see him on occasions.
Question: Do you think if he decides to contest for governor; and wins, he will do more?
Answer: He will certainly do more. What does a governor do, the work of a governor is to administer the state. As administrator of the state, he would certainly do more.
Question: What do you think are likely threats to his rumored ambition; could it be career politicians who want homegrown aspirants or maintain that only core politicians can govern well?
Answer: Let us start it this way, was Obong Attah homegrown? Was Godswill Akpabio homegrown, is Udom Emmanuel homegrown? We need experience; anybody that says Obong Attah and Godswill Akpabio didn’t do well is talking based on ignorance. I may have certain disagreements with Governor Udom Emmanuel, the sitting governor, but not because he is not performing. I may disagree, or I agree. My disagreement with him is on the ground that he has not given due attention to Eket Federal Constituency. But in terms of performance I give it to him, he is focused and has direction.
So when people talk about homegrown politicians, one is forced to ask, who are the homegrown politicians? Mention one homegrown politician in Akwa Ibom State, let us see. Emphatically, homegrown politicians cannot govern well, because Akwa Ibom is not a local state, you need to have a national and worldview to be able to govern a place like Akwa Ibom State. So why are we talking about homegrown politicians? A governor doesn’t need to know my name provided he performs well. Why we talk about homegrown politicians is because of our relationship with certain politicians. I am not saying this because I am that close to Inoyo but why must we insist that only people we know must be the governor. What will you do if he becomes the governor and doesn’t do anything for you? At the level that Akwa Ibom is today, we should not be emphasizing homegrown politicians, we should not. Our emphasis on choosing the next governor of Akwa Ibom State should be based on the quality of the individual.
Question: Lastly what advice do you have for Akwa Ibom people as 2023 draws closer?
Answer: As a pastor, I will advise the Akwa Ibom people to pray for God to guide Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel on whom he will support as his successor. Because he has to support somebody, anybody that says that the governor does not have the right to support somebody to succeed him is just fooling himself or herself. He has the right, it is his inalienable right to look at who can succeed him and continue with what he has done and even do better than what he has done. Any good father should wish his children to do better than him. Even Jesus Christ told his discipline that what I do, you will do more; he was expecting them to do more, so Governor Udom Emmanuel should be looking for somebody like Barr Inoyo, who will perform better than him.
Question: Any word to the stakeholders and the electorate?
Answer: The problem with our electorate is that they are highly uninformed. I think EARCOM should live up to its responsibilities in the direction. We need to inform our people, educate them on the caliber of leadership that Akwa Ibom needs. Why are you talking about career politicians, a career politician in empowerment? Is that what you call career politician, doing empowerment for the cameras? We need experienced people in leadership positions in Akwa Ibom State.
Akwa Ibom is a state for the future and we should look for people who see Akwa Ibom in that light. Also, Akwa Ibom elites should be able to come up with what they want. What are we looking for, we should be able to say what we are looking for, even when the governor comes up, we allow the governor that comes on board to give the state the direction he wants, no state can have its direction that the governor will not follow. The political élites should be able to tell the incoming governor what we want. How many discussions do we have in that direction, we should be able to sit down and assess the governance and leadership of the present governor and give him credit where he has done well, where he has not done well we tell him, Sir, you have not done well, by this the incoming governor will see and adjust but we are not doing that, Akwa Ibom people are not doing that. If you begin to say that Governor Udom Emmanuel is not doing this well in this direction, you will see attack dogs coming after you. It is worthwhile to identify areas the present governor, Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel is not doing well so that the man who is planning to come on board will be aware and channel his priority to doing the right thing from the missteps taken by his predecessor.