Being energetic, visionary, well educated, experienced, possessing leadership skills, and a genuine love for community service should ordinarily form some of the basic qualifications for leadership even in the political space.
However, as Akwa Ibomites prepare for 2023 governorship elections, the criteria for the search and selection of the next state chief executive is not just about these qualities. Other criteria such as the nature, quality, and background of aspirants that have so far indicated interest has divided the aspirants and direction of the contest to be between two distinctive kinds of ASPIRANTS. On one side are those we could call the ‘just arrived’ (in politics). People with no exposure in public service either elected or appointed. They have worked for decades in the private sector, some are business moguls, but have just arrived the state’s political scene with a desire to become the next Governor of Akwa Ibom state (these are generally believed to have recognizable ‘international email addresses’). On the other side are aspirants with political or public service background. People who have either been elected or appointed into political office in the past or presently. These fellows are popular in the state due to their deep grassroots activities and interactions with people over time. They are not new to the challenges of the people and that of the political and economic climate of the state.
The state Governor himself, Mr. Udom Emmanuel sparked the “International Email versus Grassroots Politician” controversy when in one of his speeches he openly said that “…we need a governor with an “internationally recognized email” and not a mere crowd puller who shares money on the street or go on long convoys.
However, the people are not interested in the controversies, they are only interested in good leadership and this time it seems a man of the people is needed because Gov. Udom Emmanuel is a man with the internationally recognized email and having led the state for 6 years now, the people want something different, after all, variety is the spice of life.
The question is, between a person who is just arriving after spending three decades or more working from the 27th floor of an international firm somewhere in Lekki/Victoria Island in Lagos or New York in America, far away from the penury, poverty, and other challenges of the people he seeks to govern, and a person who has spent decades trekking, toiling in the political scene, participating in community development and cutting his or her teeth in political leadership and its peculiarities in Nigeria, who is likely to make a good political leader?
The argument cannot be limited to Nigeria, it must be taken international; we could begin with the 44th President of America, Mr. Barrack Obama. Obama’s performance during his stay in office has remained yet unrivaled as he has been adjudged one of the best Presidents America ever had because according to celebrity TV host, Christiane Amanpour, ‘President Barrack Obama has been involved in American politics long enough to know exactly what Americans want and this has made it easy for his administration to be very direct in their approach to solving America’s problems”.
For example, at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown across the world, and its attendant economic and social challenges, Rt. Hon. Barr. Onofiok Akpan Luke was the first public servant in Akwa Ibom state to dole out palliatives in cash and in materials to the people. On the fateful day, he gave out 15million naira in cash to his constituents in addition to truck loads of food items. He did this even before the Government conceived the idea of giving out subsidies to citizens. Such a demonstration speaks volumes of a leader who understands the challenges of his people and is passionate enough to proactively move to action. Such are pointers that a Governor of such disposition might not be comfortable to owe government workers backlog of entitlements whether salaries, pension or gratuity.
Also, ahead of his contributions to the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) in the National Assembly, G.O.A.L, as he’s fondly referred to, held a town hall meeting where hundreds of copies of the bill was circulated to his constituents to make their contributions, before he eventually collated same to enrich his presentation on the floor of the House. Such legislative engagement is hardly heard of in this clime. This is a clear demonstration of respect for the people’s opinion and a listening mindset.
Ahead of the 2019 polls, an election where the ruling PDP faced stiff political onslaught, Onofiok Luke, as the then Speaker of the State’s House of Assembly, was at the forefront, confronting the opposition and standing by the state Governor to ensure victory for “THE PEOPLE”. At all times, he has proven that he understands the yearnings of the PEOPLE and that to act in the interest of the people is paramount to him. At the National Assembly, he has accurately separated politics from governance, a development that has seen him always networking with the who-is-who in the country, irrespective of political leanings, working for the benefit of the PEOPLE.
If it is true as said by many that Akwa Ibom now needs a Governor of the people, a man who truly knows what the people need, a person whose love for the people has been tested and tried and has been found to genuinely make himself available to many Akwa Ibomites both in times of joy and in times of sadness, even in times of ‘political wars’ then Barr. Onofiok Luke has everything it takes to be the next Governor of Akwa Abasi Ibom state.
As against the new narrative making the rounds that Akwa Ibom State needs a Governor with an ‘internationally recognized email’, there is absolutely no good records that people who have been very far from their people in search of greener pastures (which by the way is a noble venture) make better leaders to their people than those who had been with the people, shared the little they had with the people, had first hand experience of the situation on the ground and advocated at various times for them, as well as share in their challenges.
President Emanuel Macron of France had no companies and no internationally recognized emails, same as Joe Biden of America. In fact, it is easier to link experience in public service to good political leadership than it is to link experience in the very conservative and rigid private business world to good political leadership.
Back to Akwa Ibom, the people need a man who understands the necessity of funding the grassroots systems in order to spread the wealth and economic development, and ameliorate the current groaning in the state. Not a man who will look down on the majority of the people because of a feeling of superiority to or thinking ‘I’m better than them’.
The people must not be made to feel privileged to be led by a particular governor; rather public service is always a privilege to the public servant.
Onofiok Luke, like Barrack Obama, is without international business concerns but rich with the currency of relationships and proven passion for service with sterling results to show. He is highly experienced and has the largest following amongst politicians in the state due to his empathetic spirit, interactions and connections with the people over time.
From being a Student Union leader to Personal Assistant to the Governor, House of Assembly member, Speaker, State House of Assembly, and now one of the most outspoken members in the National Assembly. He is a fellow of Harvard school of leadership. A school attended by most men of global relevance. Due to his diligence he was spotted, selected and fully sponsored by the American government to be a part of the International Visitors Leadership Program in the USA. There is no way such curriculum vitae in public service can be put away.
Come 2023, Akwa Ibom people know what they want, and from the mood in the state, it is crystal clear that the people will be firm on their demand to be governed by a man with a deep passion for the welfare of the people as against any aspirant who wants to take the governorship seat as retirement benefit from the private sector, and would need up to 3years to learn the modus operandi of this particular terrain or to understand the real need of the people.
(Daniel Okwara is a PR Executive and political communications strategist).