Between Governor Udom Emmanuel, Dominic Ukpong, and Aniekeme Uwah

By Osondu Ahirika

The date was December 12, 2016. Two days after the Reigners Bible Church collapsed on worshippers that included Akwa Ibom State Governor, His Excellency, Mr Udom Emmanuel, and several top Goverment officials and dignitaries from all walks of life. The Governor who survived the disaster hosted a News crew of the China Global Television Network, CGTN, who flew into the State to cover the disaster.

Yours truly was the linkman in the State who guided the CGTN Team and the Special Assistant to the Governor on Public Affairs, Mr Raphael Edem graciously brokered an appointment with the Governor for us.

It was well close to midnight, before Governor Emmanuel granted the CGTN Crew led by Kelechi Emekalam audience. It was an extremely busy day for the Governor. I saw first hand how he worked round the clock late into the early hours of the morning with his Honourable Commissioner for Health, Dr Dominic Ukpong to save as many lives as possible from that sad incident. I had a good impression of the Health Commissioner therefrom and heard many eyewitnesses sing his praise and laud his medical expertise.

On 13th December, I led the team to visit the Ibom Specialty Hospital. The man that received us was Dr Aniekeme Uwah. I don’t exactly recall his designation then. But, when I put a call through to him, informing him that,, the CGTN Crew would like to see a few patient’s and possibly assess their situation, as well as have a word with them, he obliged.

With utmost transparency, he conducted us around the hospital and the world class treatment the injured survivors were receiving at government expense. It left a great ‘taste’ of what an astute professional and dedicated medic he is. I gave the foregoing to state that, the trio of Governor Emmanuel, Dr Ukpong and Dr Uwah have worked hard for this state, to save lives, before the unfortunate advent of COVID-19.

Fast forward to the current saga. On April 26,
Dr Aniekeme Uwah, was redeployed from office as the State’s Epidemiologist for alleged insurbordination to the Commissioner for Health, Dr Ukpong. His{Uwah’s] sympathizers however purport, he was removed for refusing to manipulate COVID-19 Tests in the State.

In between, politics beclouded and further complicated the matter. One of the news headlines on the ensuing saga read, ‘COVID-19: Udom Emmanuel sacks State Epidemiologist.’ A subtle blackmail and brazen attempt to drag the governor’s name into what was quickly becoming a mud fight.
Another came as indicting the State Government with the tar of subterfuge. It read, ‘ Nigerian State Sacks epidemiologist for allegedly refusing to manipulate test figures’

Sad to note, the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Akwa Ibom State Chapter will not help matters. Speaking through her Public Relations Officer, Dr Emmanuel John, the body took the State Health Commissioner to the cleaners. He sounded more like one who had taken sides with one party in the ‘dispute’ against the other. Eloquent? He was. Howbeit, he only muddled up the issue, making the NMA look partisan.

Precisely a month earlier, on March 25, 2020
Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Udoh accused the Dr Nyoyoko led NMA of politicising the war against Covid-19 in Akwa Ibom. In a rapid rebuttal, Dr John, the NMA PRO insisted the State Government, and not NMA, is politicizing the war against Covid-19 citing lapses in the system.
From then, things happened fast. On March 27, 2020
Health Professionals staged a walk-out at a meeting with Health Commissioner over his assumed failure/refusal to invite NMA to the meeting. They Called for resignation of Health Commissioner. The rift was widening.

To calm the storm, the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem who also heads the COVID-19 Action Committee in the state met with Health Professionals on March 28 to broker peace. The next day, March 29, Governor Emmanuel met with the leadership of the conglomeration of Health Workers Union in the State at the Hilltop Mansion, Government House, Uyo. All was for peace.

With the recent events, I doubt the gladiators in this duel imbibed the terms of truce initiated by the Governor. As the crisis unfolded, it became obvious, the internal Politics of the NMA, (I understand they are in the heat of an electioneering campaign, with votes casting for a new State Executive weeks away) has unfortunately, infiltrated the COVID-19 standoff with the Health Commissioner.
Interestingly, Dr Ukpong was a one-time Chairman of the NMA and Dr Uwah, her immediate past Chairman who performed very well.

Those who are abusing the Health Commissioner or the Governor for Dr Uwah are doing him no good. Indeed, I refuse to believe he endorses the campaign to vilify his employers. First, he is an avid Udom Emmanuel supporter and led the Doctors for Udom Emmanuel in the build up to the hotly contested 2019 Governorship Elections.

Secondly, he is a civil servant and knows the rules of engagement. It is routinely granted that, he can be deployed/redeployed, promoted/demoted, honoured/queried, depending on the intervening circumstances. In the Civil Service, offices are privileges not a right. It is often held at the discretional prerogative of the whoever is the boss at any point in time. So, the hullabaloo over his redeployment was not helpful either.

The worst turn was the comparative essays on Dr Uwah’s resume to that of his boss, Dr Ukpong. That was clearly irritating and an overreach by those who conjured that to the media space. It gave a wrong signal. But for the fact that, we all know Dr Uwah to be a thoroughbred professional, one would have thought, he was behind a plot to present him as superior in knowledge and practice to his boss. But. It may well be the scheme of his rivals who want to unhorse and blackmail him to it.

That said, it is wholly unintelligent and spurious to drag the Governor’s name and office into the internal matter of a Ministry where he has appointed a Commissioner to oversee. It would be wrong for him to interfere in such matter as redeployment of Staff. To be fair to the Governor, all he wants from his appointee’s is result. The Governor cannot afford to be seen as interfering with his Commissioner’s decision on his team or staff make-up.

My late Secondary School Principal, Elder S. P. Ukekpe used to tell us that, any Prefect, is a representative of his and the Governing Board of the School. He explained that, any act of insolence or rebellion to the Prefect’s is tantamount to an insult on the Principal and entire Governing Board. Mehink, it is in this light, that some commentators alleged that, Dr Uwah was guilty of defying directive’s from the Governor. Some say, Uwah ‘banged(sic) the phone on the Governor’, in apparent reference of a purported abrupt end of a phone interaction with the Commissioner.

In all of this, we should shun political biases and spare Governor Emmanuel the needless smear campaign.
He is doing his best to manage the State through this pandemic. The worst we can do is to distract him. For those of us who feel they’re fighting for Dr Uwah, I plead that we sheath our sword. This young man has a brilliant future ahead. His time is coming. Until then, he should continue to serve with passion, humility and excellence as he has always done even on the international stage.

For Dr Ukpong, it’s indeed a difficult time to be a Commissioner working tirelessly to serve the people. I refuse to join the mob against him because, the NMA made it look like they had a personal score to settle with him. I chose therefore to be careful with any cry of ‘wolf’ in their faceoff. It may look like a thankless job for Dr Ukpong supervising thecHealth Ministry. Do your best anyway and leave the rest to God and posterity.

For Akwa Ibom State, I remain optimistic, these unnecessary and unfortunate negative vibes do not boomerang to scare much needed investors and investment in the State.
The whirlwind rumour making the rounds currently is that, about 9 Commissioners in the Akwa Ibom State Executive Council who work with the Governor and an unnamed First Lady have tested positive to COVID-19 and are being secretly treated in their residences. The crude blackmail of the State and her Government has gone full circle and the orchestrators have run amock. What they hope to achieve, nobody can fathom. But, o guess, the game is: Just make Governor Ufom Emmanuel look incompetent, insincere with the COVID-19 battle and incite the people in panicky rebellion against his administration. Senile isn’t it? This is a lie from the pit of Hell. Believe me. The State Exco on Friday April 17, held an emergency meeting which all of them without exception attended. What a ‘deaf Pen’ spin!

Let’s play down on the politics of negativity, cynicism and blind opposition. It didn’t help in the past, wouldn’t help now or in the future. As the Governor said, this isn’t time for political scheming but a time to unite and defeat COVID-19. That’s where I stand. On this matter. The common good first above family, friendship, partisan or any other pedestrian interest.

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