He walks smartly to the front pew. He grabs the microphone. A broad smile on his face, he thunders: ‘Praise the Lord!’ The congregation responds with an equally loud, ‘hallelujah!’ There’s a clap of hands, clang of musical instruments and an air of excitement.
“Whatever the nation is going through is only temporary,” he says. “We shall overcome. We shall triumph. God is with us. God is with our state and our people. God is with Nigeria. Let somebody shout a loud amen.” A chorus of Amen! Hallelujah!
“A people that stand together, walk together, work hard and share the vision of greatness will surely be great. No obstacles will be too high for us to surmount because we are the Lord’s chosen. We are the Lord’s anointed. And we are more than conquerors, those that put their trust in His name. Hallelujah!”
You are listening to Mr. Udom Emmanuel, governor of Akwa Ibom State, ex-top banker, an ordained deacon and chief host at this prayer meeting organised monthly at the Government House chapel.
It was an electrifying moment for me, listening to the melodious songs of the chapel choir. The exhortations of the officiating pastors, drawn across denominations, respected men of God, was quite soul-stirring. I was delighted to see His Eminence, Prelate Sunday Mbang, former leader of the Methodist Church and Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, looking strong at 80!
One of the officiating ministers at the fellowship called Gov. Emmanuel, the ‘performing governor.’ But, to me, he is the praying governor; the man who puts God first in the administration of his state. He prays and works hard. He goes to God on his knees to bless his works, his people. He combines both (praying and working) because prayer without work can’t go far.
I had gone to Uyo on Friday on an official visit, which took me to the seat of power. I was not unfamiliar with the city, having visited several times when the immediate past governor, Senator Godswill Akpabio, held sway. But, this would be my first, since Gov. Udom Emmanuel was sworn in on May 29, 2015.
It was a day’s visit, but it left me with memorable impressions about the direction the state was going and the man who leads the people. I had the opportunity to interact with the states helmsman at close quarters, pick his brains and see the way his thoughts ran. I will speak on that in the course of this piece.
It was by happenstance I found myself in the Government House worship session, as that was not part of my itinerary.
“Would you like to join me in the chapel tomorrow morning?’ the governor had asked me, after the gala night of The Family Empowerment and Youth Reorientation Programme, FEYREP, led by his wife, Mrs. Martha Udom Emmanuel, which empowers the less privileged, physically challenged and indigent citizens of the state. I understand the programme has been quite impactful since its inception a year ago. It has brought smiles to the people for which it is meant.
Without waiting for an answer, my host quipped: “I know you media people don’t wake up too early; the service starts by 8am and ends by 10am. Join me if you can, but I know you won’t be able to.”
I guess the governor was surprised to see me when he arrived at the chapel at exactly 8am. This came to me as some sort of surprise too, as many top government officials in this country are notorious late comers to even their scheduled events. One of his aides told me one of the governor’s leadership qualities is his being a stickler for time.
Music. Dance. Prayers. Supplication. For two long hours, the leaders of Akwa Ibom State took their petition to God, to turn the economic meltdown in the country to prosperity. The God, who prospered the people of Israel even in the land of bondage, was asked to intercede for Nigeria. The guest speaker, Rev. USA, said he believed God had answered the prayers of Gov. Emmanuel and his team, because the state had kept moving smoothly even as the national economy wobbles.
Time to speak. The governor expressed gratitude to God, who had kept the state going despite the economic upheaval. He said things were going to get tougher, but expressed optimism that the state would overcome.
But, what was also significant for me, and I guess others at the chapel this Saturday morning, was what the governor was doing to turn things around. He shared his vision to explore and exploit the agricultural potentials of the state. He talked about how he had acquired state lands for agricultural purposes, cultivating cocoa, palms, rubber plantations and any kind of crops and farm produces that can germinate under Akwa Ibom soil.
He had also taken the lead by acquiring some hectares to engage in farming, while encouraging other state officials from the deputy governor to cabinet members to go to their constituencies and lead the agricultural revolution, sweeping across the length and breadth of the state.
He is optimistic that if well harnessed, the state could become more prosperous by exporting its agricultural products to other parts of the world. You couldn’t fail to feel the ecstasy in his voice, as he spoke on the latent wealth in the soil of Akwa Ibom.
“We have the best cocoa in the world. We could earn so much from that. Every land of Akwa Ibom is fertile. We can gain more from tilling the soil. That’s where we are going. And great things will happen by the grace of God.”
He appealed to the elders and leaders of the communities to appeal to their people to see the agricultural revolution, as one designed for their good rather than antagonising and placing obstacles to those who want to invest in hitherto fallow lands.
I listened with rapt attention, impressed at the fresh initiative and thinking of the governor. While his predecessor concentrated on infrastructure development, he’s focussed on industrialisation and wealth creation. That’s the beauty of positive continuity; the type we see in Lagos, where Gov. Ambode is transforming the forgotten parts of Lagos, lighting the city up, while Fashola built up the Island and other parts considered elitist. A ‘win-win’ for the people. That’s what the government is about in Akwa Ibom, says Gov. Emmanuel.