Ekerete Udoh is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State. In this interview with ANIEFIOK UDONQUAK, he speaks on the governor’s strides in the area of industrialisation and prompt payment of workers’ salaries, retirees’ pension; the governor’s second term bid, and the task of media management in the era of social media. Excerpts:
The 2019 elections are fast approaching and we have seen series of adoptions in favour of the governor, is governor Udom Emmanuel interested in a second term?
Absolutely! He is re-contesting and he is not taking the opposition for granted, but he believes his good work will set him apart. The governor made a very profound statement during his endorsement by fathers of faith. He listed his scorecard and said “if I was able to do all these in three years, and given the lean resources available to me, should the train stop in 2019?’’ The resounding answer was, No! So, if he’s been able to achieve all these; capital projects all over the states, recurrent expenditure met on time, and a new tone and tenure in governance, a Christ-centric administration, a leader that connects with his people, a leader that is humble, that demystifies power, doesn’t allow power demystify him. He has done enough and the discerning people of Akwa Ibom state know that, majority of people of this state are Christians and they are observing him and will wholesomely return him. He campaigned on a broad platform that was encapsulated in five point agenda, and on each of the items on the agenda he has done exceedingly well. So to answer your question, yes! Governor Udom Emmanuel is going for a second term and given what he has done for the people of Akwa Ibom State, his disposition is that the people will return him overwhelmingly, the margin of victory in 2019 will be larger than 2015.
What is the relationship between Governor Udom Emmanuel and the opposition parties in the state?
The governor was elected to work for the people of Akwa Ibom State, so I am not seeing the opposition you are talking about, maybe they exist on social media. Akwa Ibom State is excitingly a Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) state. So it’s possible that the opposition you are talking about live, breath and circulate within the social media. When the real opposition materialises, we would let the works of the governor speak for itself.
Akwa Ibom State has been described as a PDP state because the party has been in power since 1999, given the fact that you have an opposition party in power at the centre, are you not afraid that it may work against PDP in 2019?
Let me ask you a question; is your life better off in 2019 than 2015? Are Nigerians better off? So Nigerians will make a determination. If APC is the real opposition in Akwa Ibom State for instance, we will present our scorecard and allow Akwa Ibom people to compare where they have been in the past 18 years that PDP had been in government and look at the totality of the evolution of the Akwa Ibom man or woman and juxtapose that with what APC has done in four years elsewhere, where APC governors are owing in some states. I recall a director in one of the states in Nigeria committed suicide. In some states, the governors had to tell civil servants that they’ll be paid in tranches. I have seen states where wheelbarrows were commissioned as projects, and the last I checked they were not PDP states. I have seen a disengagement of the central motivating impulse of the social contract, and those states are not PDP. I recall times before 1999 when I used to be very downcast about the physical ambience of the capital of my state, we were not inspirational, and we were just conditioned by that subservient mentality. Then PDP came in 1999, Governor Attah gave a purposeful leadership, handed over the baton to former Governor, now senator Godswill Akpabio, he brought about massive transformation, handed over to Governor Udom Emmanuel; fantastic expansion of transformation. The governor also came up with the DAKKADA philosophy, telling you; get up, do things differently, you don’t have to fall back to conventional wisdom. Wealth creation is not about doing things the same way, it’s about looking at things and proffering different suggestions. The US would not have gotten to where it is today if the people did not explore different approaches to doing things. So given all what PDP has done since 1999, and how Governor Udom Emmanuel is consolidating and expanding the layers, I don’t think Nigerians and Akwa Ibomites in particular, would want to try an experiment that has failed the nation. I want to believe that President Muhammadu Buhari is a democrat, he understands democratic ethos and ideas, if PDP lost the election in 2015 and Jonathan did not deploy federal might, but conceded even before the final votes were counted, I want to believe that president Buhari, himself a patriot who fought for this country, put his life on the line for the unity of this country, he will not stand in the way of any state, where the majority of people have aligned themselves with any political party. He will not stop their express will from being respected. The president is not that kind of person.
Looking at what people or even you may be considering as maladministration, are you seeing PDP returning to power at the centre?
I am very optimistic, because Nigerians have become exceedingly politically sophisticated; Nigerians now have the capacity to distinguish falsehood and facts, Nigerians political culture is deepening. Nigerians for whatever reason they felt about Jonathan elected Buhari, and Nigerians now are beginning to say “Oh my God!”! Nigerians are now going through buyers’ remorse because the change they were promised has not materialised. So there is no comparison, PDP is a party of doers and it’s a known facts. PDP stands a fantastic chance of reclaiming powers.
There are insinuations that Governor Udom Emmanuel is actually underperforming due to inherited debt burden from the immediate past administration
Thank God you asked me that question, take a look at the Punch newspaper of Tuesday March 20, 2018, on the front-page, they have listed states that are debtor states, Akwa Ibom state is not there, so, let people stop manufacturing lies, let people go by facts, this is from Punch.
Sometimes some media aides of the governor actually go mudslinging in an attempt to respond to critics of the administration, this goes against your reported approach of letting facts judge. Don’t you think their approaches may constitute image burden?
Once you run a media relations unit, there may be a majority opinion, and once in a while there may be a tiny itchy bitchy little opinion that is slightly not in consonance with the agreed narrative. So these are universal things, it happens all over the world. But it’s work in progress all over their world, but I am sure our guys are doing their best.
What is the relationship between Governor Udom Emmanuel and his predecessor, Sen. Godswill Akpabio?
I’m surprised you asked that. The distinguished Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Obot Akpabio granted an interview recently where it was massively circulated over the social media, he said that he has the best of relationships with his successor. Those rumour are manufactured by certain entities to throw banana peels, but nobody would step on it because the two leaders are brothers who have emotionally invested in the advancement of Akwa Ibom State. The two leaders are bests of friends.
In specific terms, what has this administration done to make you think that the governor would retain his seat come 2019? Because people are saying that the industrialization stories are only on papers.
So the syringe manufacturing industry is on paper? Have you gone there to confirm this? The metering solutions are on papers? Those things are there! The same APC media apparatus that put out all those things should also ask some of their governors leading APC states what tangible things they have been able to establish. If you have a man that pays workers’ salaries as and when due, a man that pays regular pensions and gratuities, except for those still on bio-metric processes. This is a man that has published in National newspapers all the lists of those he had paid pensions and gratuities, you can go to the Accountant General’s office and get the list. This is the governor that the first task he performed as governor was to clear the backlog of pensions and gratuities dating back from 2001-2011, he didn’t have to do that, he wasn’t the governor as at the time, but as a product of parents who were both teachers, he had to do that. This is a man that won’t go to bed feeling happy if workers’ salaries are not paid promptly. He believes that a little thing as payment of WAEC fee can determine the future of a child. And the last event when he was endorsed by fathers of faith, he sadly recalled his smart but poor classmate whose parents could not afford WAEC fee and whose education halted because of that. So for a governor to budget over N600m yearly for payment of WAEC fees for children across the state, it means that he wants a level playing level field for all Akwa Ibom sons and daughters to aspire.
Let’s talk about the relationship between the governor and the media in Akwa Ibom State; we understand he hardly reads newspapers
Where did you get that from? The governor respects and adores and appreciates the media community in Akwa Ibom State. Don’t forget that corporate communication was part of his responsibilities as Director at Zenith Bank. He understands the role of the media, the world of corporate communications and media relations, so whoever told you that is another manufacturer of pieces of junks.
How is it like, operating as an image maker of the governor in a social media era?
The experience has been interesting and exciting. Operating as an image maker or the spokesperson to the governor in the age of social media, where ethical considerations are all but desirable proposition but not attainable. Where somebody with a smart phone and an insidious thought process, somebody who wants to intentionally and maliciously create a public relation nightmare, can just manufacture a piece of lie and throw it out there on the social media and give it wings to fly and even very intellectually astute people would believe those kind of very obtuse and insidious as a fact. So, that is the major challenge, but God has also given us the presence of mind to be able to handle those kinds of issues. But the normal conventional media that you and I belong to, the world of mainstream journalism has been wonderful, I have had a wonderful and very robust relationship with my brothers in the media, and you guys have supported the governor on your media. However, there are certain areas that we disagree, but overall, I would say it’s been pretty exciting. It means I didn’t spend 32 years in journalism for nothing; those years prepared me for moments like these. The media terrain in Akwa Ibom state has been very interesting; I think we are the only state where it is fashionable in the part of the country for some ’practicing journalists’ to ignore certain ethical foundations that you and I were taught. In a state where there are over 100 tabloids and publications whose motivation may not be to edify the state or to promote and project the ideals which this state represents, but whose intention may be to satisfy the ‘he who pays the piper’; somebody gave you money to produce a paper and tells you this is what I want you to put there, front-page to back page, and the fellow is not trained in the profession as you and I have been, he is very likely to do certain things that you and I cannot do. I think we are the only state where journalists or people who pass themselves off as journalists just take delight in intentionally de-marketing the state to satisfy a certain political interest, but so far, the discerning majority of Akwa Ibom people have the capacity to separate facts from fiction.
It is alleged that the government fraternizes with the opposition media; that the government is actually cuddling them in order to curry their favor, while neglecting the mainstream media. Don’t you think this may motivate them to consider their trade lucrative?
That is news to me, I am not aware of government cuddling a particular layer of the media community, but what government does is to disseminate information using as many media platforms as possible to project what the governor is doing. If once in a while you see certain things in some papers that may be considered opposition, it goes with the saying that if you want to catch a thief, you use things that he likes to catch him. so if somebody has been manifestly lying against you, using a particular medium, and certain people read those things, maybe once in a while you need to tell the people the truth. But I know I deal with media across lines, but I am a stickler for professionalism, I try to operate along those lines.
How have been able to leverage on the emerging role of the social media in shaping public opinion? Or do you see social media as an aberration?
No! The social media is not an aberration, as a matter of fact; that is the new frontier, and any journalist worth his name and training who has not actively come to terms with the fact that the social media has come to stay and it is shaping public opinion, shaping the contours of governance, is possibly not ready for prime time. But users have to create their narratives and ensure that their voices are heard in the cacophony of the entire crack that makes up the social media platforms. The president of the country that I lived for 17 years, Donald Trump makes use of the social media, he tweets. And that’s a new frontier, but the challenging part of it for image makers is that the boundaries are expansive, you can’t control, no restraint. But on the whole, it’s a major platform that no responsible image maker can discountenance.