Mr. Akan Okon, immediate past Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport and governorship aspirant in Akwa Ibom State in this interaction with Okon Bassey bares his mind on why he wants to succeed his former boss Governor Udom Emmanuel in 2023
Are you satisfied with your performance while in the state executive council of the Akwa Ibom State Government?
While in office God helping me, I discharged my duties and the various assignments given to me creditably. I joined Akwa Ibom State Government in 2013 and my first assignment was at the Ministry of Economic Development. I spent six months there as Commissioner and at the end of six months I was moved to the Ministry of Finance where I served to the end of that administration led by Governor Godswill Akpabio. When Governor Udom Emmanuel won the election in 2015 and was sworn in as Governor, I was reappointed into that office. That has made me keep the record as the only person to serve two Governors as Finance Commissioner. I want to say that I served in that office with integrity. Why do I say so, in Nigeria, the easiest way to have issues with EFCC is to be a Finance Commissioner. To the glory of God I served there and I left in December, 2016. EFCC has never invited me and they will never invite me.
From that office I was sent to the Ministry of Housing & Urban Renewal, and later, Ministry of Special Duties. My responsibility and key deliverable was the 21-storey building which I am sure all of us can see. Another project the Ministry delivered under my supervision was the Governor’s lodge in Lagos. The lodge has since been completed and put to use. The airport was under my supervision. Being in that Ministry gave me the opportunity to correct the anomaly that I notice at our airport. Before now, when airline passengers move into the airport terminal building to check in or obtain boarding pass, you will pass through security. When there is a need to use the convenience you will have to go out of the security checkpoint and then come back to be screened. In fact in those days of when there were flight delays, there was no place for people waiting to buy water, because the only place water was sold was inside the departure hall which they didn’t have access to. That necessitated the construction of a new building attached to the existing terminal, where you have a restaurant, a gift shop, pharmacy and convenience for members of the public.
Today, if you are travelling, while waiting at the departure hall, if you have to come out of the security area, it won’t be because you want to use the convenience. Now also, members of the public can have access to whatever thing they need at the airport.
From that Ministry I was moved to Special Duties and Aviation Development, my responsibility was to ensure that we had Ibom Air flying and I am happy today to the glory of God, Ibom Air is flying and within a very short period of time it has become the airline of first choice for travelers in Nigeria. The high standards of professional service delivery offered by the airline has increased customers’ traffic to our airport and has rendered the existing terminal building inadequate that is what necessitated the move for the new permanent international terminal building which is under construction. When completed, the terminal will be one of the best in Africa.
From that Ministry I was moved to the Ministry of Economic Development & Ibom Deep seaport. The key deliverable there was to ensure that we obtain the approval for the development of Ibom deep seaport, an approval that eluded us for over 20 years as a State and by God’s grace on 16th December, 2020, we obtained that approval and I want to thank Governor Udom Emmanuel, the Chairperson of the Technical Committee on Ibom deep seaport, Mrs. Mfon Usoro, for their efforts and all the things they did to ensure that we obtained that approval.
The question was if I am satisfied, in all that I have said, God helped me to deliver on those assignments and I am happy I was able to accomplish all the tasks and assignments given to me and to that extent I am very happy I was able to do what I did.
What critical needs have you identified in the state that you intend to meet as Governor of Akwa Ibom State?
To be successful in any vocation, you need to undergo a lot of qualification and proficiency training. At 34 years, Akwa Ibom State cannot afford to be an experimental field where people come to learn leadership in public service. We need someone who has been around and understudied the various sectors of the State’s economy, and also understands the challenges that our people are facing so that from day one, he will hit the ground running in embarking on those policies and programmes that will lead to an improvement in the standard of living of our people. I want to thank Governor Udom Emmanuel for allowing God to use him to train me in public service. As you are aware, I have traversed many Ministries, this was a training and added advantage for me. A Ministry like Economic Development gave me an opportunity to have in-depth knowledge on the workings of government. Whatever happens in the judiciary, legislature or the executive comes to that Ministry. I have a good knowledge and understanding of what is required to be done so that Akwa Ibom State can continue to be on the path of development and growth.
I want to say that why I am contesting is that I have the experience, I have been trained, I am prepared for this leadership position and you will agree with me that we need someone with experience. If you want to look at it, competence is important in leadership, capacity is also important in leadership, integrity is also important in leadership. Governor Udom Emmanuel has done well, he has embarked on projects that are legacy projects and some of these projects cannot be completed in the life of this administration, his successor must be someone who has full understanding of these projects so that he can continue with them and ensure that they are completed and put to use. If you observe, Governor Udom Emmanuel’s developmental focus is based on three gateways, land, water and air, and fortunately I am the one who by the special grace of God supervised all the three areas, so I am better equipped to continue with what Governor Udom Emmanuel has done so that Akwa Ibom can be what we all want it to be.
Under the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel a lot has been done to create jobs. I believe we should continue to create jobs. We have a lot of intelligent and enterprising young men and women and all what they need is an opportunity to serve, I will create the needed opportunities for them.
As a State, we have had our fair share of issues arising from inconsistency in policies and projects implementation and a disconnect between the past and present. An average Akwa Ibom person requires a conducive environment to function, I know this based on what I have observed. I believe I have what it takes to provide that environment.
We will create business incubation centers to train and empower young people who have sellable and buyable ideas – we will link them with business angels, by that I mean investors who have funds to invest in their businesses- that will help them grow and become sustainable. The State needs the right environment for our people and a lot has been done in terms of security, we believe that if it continues in this fashion, we will achieve a lot.
Your former boss, Governor Emmanuel has anointed someone as his preferred successor. Were you shocked by the choice?
I was not shocked. You can observe that since the Governor made the announcement, you have not heard me make any comment. I went about my business and going to work everyday and delivering on all the assignments that I was given. At the appropriate time I had to leave. The reason for leaving was very clear which is to contest for the governorship in 2023
You are not the Governor’s preferred candidate, don’t you think you are swimming against the tide?
We are all seated here because God has made it possible. God is leading me, I don’t see myself swimming against the tide. There is no man on earth that is led by God that swims against the tide.
It appears that the Governor was intentional about the ministries he assigned you to head as his personal friend. Why was he not intentional about choosing you as his preferred successor?
God rules in the affairs of men, and God’s ways are different from that of men. One of you asked if I have consulted the Governor? Yes, I have. I consulted the Governor on 23rd day of September, 2021. That is a significant day because it is the date of our State creation.
What is your relationship like with Governor Udom Emmanuel?
Governor Udom Emmanuel is my friend. This is our 40th year of friendship and nothing will stand on the way of our relationship. I tendered my resignation on Monday 14th March, 2022, and last Friday we were together, that should confirm to you that my aspiration cannot come between our relationship. The Governor and I are interested in the development of the State, we are very passionate about it. I believe we have a very robust relationship and nothing can come between us.
What shortcomings have you identified in the Udom Emmanuel’s administration that you would want to correct?
There is no human being that is perfect. There is no perfect government, but I believe that the government led by Governor Udom Emmanuel has done well, and like it is always said, government is a continuum. A State is like a book with different chapters and if you remove five chapters from a book with ten chapters that book can never be complete. Every successive administration since the creation of Akwa Ibom has contributed to the development of the State. Each one comes to take over from where the previous one stopped. I believe that whatever has been the positive things achieved by this government, it will be the responsibility of the next administration to enforce it for the good of Akwa Ibom people and the areas you believe are not properly done, we will together make modifications because the State belongs to us; we will ensure that we do those modifications in a way that will be acceptable to everyone.
Looking at the quality of other aspirants seeking the governorship position, how do you intend to navigate your way to become the next Governor of the state?
You will be one of those who will help me navigate the way. (Laughs). As my friend, you have a duty to tell Akwa Ibom people the qualities of who should be the next Governor and what is expected of a good Governor. If you can tell Akwa Ibom people the lot you have known about my personality, performance, capacity and experience, they will decide that Akan Okon is the best for them in 2023.
Do you have support from the party to contest this election?
If you want to see my supporters, you wait for the day I will declare. You cannot do things the same way and expect a different result. You might be seeing quite new faces in what we are going to do, I can assure you that when we are through you will know that one with God is a majority.
What is your take on the agitation by Itu/Ibiono federal constituency that the seat of governor be zoned to the area in 2023?
I believe in the demand for the governorship by Itu/Ibiono people; I also believe that God is not an author of confusion, and the reason for zoning is to reduce in-fighting. I believe that in Itu/ibiono federal constituency, we have competent people that can lead this State. I support that sentiment, but that shouldn’t entirely be the yardstick – competence, experience, capacity must also be considered apart from zoning.
Are you part of the emerging coalition who wants to stop Governor Emmanuel’s preferred successor?
Life is evolving, we can’t say for sure that there is a coalition. We cannot preempt that it will continue in the same fashion it used to be. However, let’s keep our fingers crossed. Everything is in the hands of God.