Akwa-Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel, has challenged Nigerian political leaders to mobilize the population towards making the country a developed economy. In this interview with a group of reporters in Lagos, the governor who expressed dismay about the stunted growth of a nation endowed with huge human and natural resources, however added that his state is already doing the needful to correct the anomaly. NIYI BELLO was there. Excerpts:

Nigeria has what it takes to develop
Nigeria is a blessed country in all the areas of human and material endeavours but we find out that our people are not getting the benefits of these endowments. That actually should call for concern. If we look at the G7 Nations, they are not just there because they have the guns or that they can do propaganda. When you hear the committee of G7 Nations, it is those that have economic power. The question there is, do we not have better than what they have that made them that big? How come we are still where we are today? Of course we have what it takes to play in the big league but we are not harnessing those potentials that we have as a nation that can take us up.

We run a system in this country that is not taking care of the majority of the people. But the governing elite must rise up to the challenge of providing for all and sundry. If you think you have the capacity to take care of your health offshore, wait until you are in trouble and a flight of 50 minutes seems like eternity. If in the flight from Uyo to Lagos, the person is on Intensive Care, tell me how he is going to make it abroad. That is why we must have facilities that can take care of our health needs in this country

In Akwa-Ibom, the quest to maximize our potentials for the benefits of our people is what is driving us as a state, starting from the basic housekeeping facilities. I saw these housekeeping facilities to be very basic. These are the things that we are supposed to have had a long time ago. But we are trying as much as possible to have them in place now. How do we tell the outside world that we are just connecting villages to the national grid for electricity? The question they would ask is, through all the ages, does it mean they did not have light? But that is the truth about Africa, they didn’t have. And to think that at this age we are still talking of providing potable water for our people. That is why we are putting serious attention on these housekeeping facilities.

Then you talk about soft infrastructure that you can’t see. For example right now; I set up a target that Akwa-Ibom, in the next seven years, must have its presence felt in national sports teams. If you have eleven players on the football field, I must produce four to five players in the first eleven. I am working towards that.

That is not something I can come and start and opening discussing with anybody. I am saying every athletic event in this country; I must have an Akwa-Ibom athlete there. That is why Eyom Ekem, a JSS student, is running for Nigeria in 200 meters. We picked her from the village and trained her in our stadium.

So today what we are doing is that in the ten federal constituencies, you see some normal football pitches that can compete anywhere in the world. What is the difference between Serena Williams and a girl from my village? It is her exposure to facilities. So if they see fantastic tennis court to practice, they would do it because we are a government that believes that human development does not really begin and end with First Class. A lot of people who had First Class today are still not doing better than successful sportsmen like Messi and the rest of them.

In those days we used to hear of Ekarika, Friday Ekpo, Etim Essien, so we don’t have to lose sight of those things. We are rolling these things back but you won’t see most of these things to read. But we are working silently to bring back the old glory of sports in our people. This is a veritable instrument of growth for our youths. So in the next seven years, we are coming with something that will turn around our fortunes and we want to catch them young.

By September, we would start the Talent Hunt. At least, one of the centres is ready. The other ones would be ready before September. So in the 10 Federal Constituencies, we would start that and nothing is stopping me. Even today with the little we are doing, look at where we picked Akwa United from, from nowhere and they won the FA Cup. Even you could see that even mentally, a mental alertness can change a lot in the situation of things. We are raising the consciousness of our people and making them feel like the achievers that they are. This is already having positive effects on the outlook of an average Akwa-Ibom person.

On the challenges of security
Unfortunately I can’t say much on security but take it from me and you can quote me anywhere, every state governor would tell you the same thing. The little money we get today from Federal Allocation, we spend a lot of it on security.

Let me tell you something, the late MKO Abiola once said if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. If a state is not paying attention to security and says it is a waste of money, go and sleep and see whether you would sleep well. And there is something a lot of people don’t know, if government stops to work for one minute, you wouldn’t sit where you sit. So government must work 24/7 before you sit where you are sitting.

So for somebody like me, call me 2 am, in most cases, I must be somewhere doing night patrol with the security forces, even if I cannot shoot a gun. Even in mere driving around with them, they feel so excited that as a governor, you are showing concern for them because they are human beings like you too, they have family and they have children. That moral support goes a long way. It goes a long way. Pick up phone and call them, where are you going on patrol today, who is who? Let my ADC know and my CSO know. So at times they need a little support morally, you don’t just sit in the comfort of your room. Take it from me; governors spend a lot of time, energy, attention on security, not only in Africa, not only in Nigeria, but everywhere in the world. Security is a major issue and whatever you spend on security is an investment.

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