What Gov. Udom Emmanuel told me about Akwa Ibom International Worship Centre.
I don’t fly the kite of hearsay. Am not one to jump on the bandwagon of naysayers without availing myself of the nuts and bolts of a matter.
When I do, I’m better placed to analyse or scrutinise an issue on its merit. This predilection led me into finding out why wide criticism has trailed the proposed Akwa Ibom International Worship Centre.
Critics say it’s not necessary as a worship centre is not one of the industries promised by the Udom Emmanuel administration during the campaigns. Others say it is waste of resources, not minding that the government has said that the project will be financed by NGOs, religious bodies, non-profit organisations and high spirited individuals.
My search for the reason behind this International worship centre in spite of the ubiquitous churches, prayer houses, miracle centres that dot our street corners, has taken me to several places. To the beer parlour, I’ve gone, pepper soup joints, barbing saloon, betting houses, even Ibom Plaza, yet I wasn’t convinced by the litany of arguments advanced by those I stumbled upon in each of the spots visited.
Those who should know also gave me conflicting narratives. To settle it all, I sought audience with Governor Udom Emmanuel, himself, the only governor in Nigeria that is equally a deacon.
Getting the attention of His Excellency was no easy task. Walls of protocols, overzealous stern looking security personnel with starched uniforms and the likes were major blockades. But I was determined to get to the root of this matter. That grit and steel eventually paid off!
And so yours truly is ushered into the governor’s cozy office. The office is spacious, crisp, icy and neat. It has all the trappings of a governor’s office. His Excellency is already seated, going through a backlog of files that lay on his expansive desk. I greet him, he answers with a winsome smile. He offers me a seat. Pleasantries exchanged, the meat of the matter began.
He looks at me from the top of his eyes as if to examine my face having adjusted his glasses. Anxiety creeps in. I try to suppress it – I succeeded. Clearing my throat, I fired the first question:
Your Excellency, so much criticism has trailed this proposed worship centre; aren’t you worried?
UDOM: My brother, thank you very much for that question. Let me reiterate here that Akwa Ibom State is the only state in Nigeria named after God. And what we are doing is to erect a worship centre where we will use as a people to pray, praise and honour the One whom our state is named after. Every policy is criticized by people, but my administration will continue to embark on those projects that will enhance the lives of citizens. They may not appreciate it today, but in the near future, they will thank God that a governor, deacon built the worship centre during his tenure. This is my own way of building a legacy that during the tenure of Mr. Udom Emmanuel, the state built an international worship centre, not just for Akwa Ibomites, but a place where people from all walks of life can use to worship the Maker of Heaven and earth.
Your Excellency, you said the project will be partly sponsored by NGOs, religious bodies etc; don’t you think that since the state is named after God, the government should have borne the whole cost of the project rather than bring external hands into it?
UDOM: Well, my brother, you know our people and the way they criticise especially when money is involved. They will never appreciate a lofty project except when it involves sharing of money. I have said it time without number that this administration will not share money. We are working on a tight budget in line with the country’s economy hence you don’t expect me to become a money sharing governor. I won’t do that. On the issue of NGOs sponsoring the project, I didn’t say they will provide all the money.
Government will support the project substantially. But we want every member of the society to have a share of this blessing by supporting the building of an altar for God. If you’re a Christian, you must have read how Noah built an ark for God. This centre will serve like that ark. It’ll shelter the people from forces of darkness. In Proverbs 18:10, the bible says “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe.” So, this worship centre will be a tower that will keep our people safe from all machinations from the pit of hell. In 2 Chronicles 14:7, the scripture says; “For he said to Judah, “Let us build these cities and surround them with walls and towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours because we have sought the LORD our God; we have sought Him, and He has given us rest on every side.” So they built and prospered.” Haggai 1:8, says; ”Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.”
This facility, needless to say, will bring prosperity to our state because we are honouring God.
Sir, it appears you’re really grounded in the scripture, could it be the motivation behind this project with the intention that the people should also become good bible students and citizens?
(Luaghs)…! Clears his troath. My brother, don’t forget that I am an ordained deacon of Qua Iboe Church. I was not ordained because I was a banker or I was going to be governor. No. As a child, my parents gave me a solid foundation as far as things pertaining to God were concerned. They encouraged me a lot. In fact, I was a Sunday school teacher as young as I was then. So, if I’m quoting the scripture, I’m doing so as a Christian who reads the bible daily and more so as a deacon. I want my people to love God more. When we all love God, we’ll do away with some behaviours that does not help us as a people. We must love ourselves and encourage people to lead good lives. Point of correction, that’s not the reason behind this proposed worship centre. I have already explained this in my last response.
Your Excellency, how about reports that some other religious groups like AMORC, African Traditional Religion, Eckankar, Islam etc under the auspices of “The Citizens Forum for Freedom of Worship” (CFFW) are angry that you’re “Christianising” the state without sparing a thought for them, arguing that they also deserve their own worship centres? What are you doing about this?
Udom: (laughs again) heartily. See, people making such comments do not really know me. How can I Christianise an already Christian populated state? Isn’t that laughable? On a serious note, people must understand the reason behind this worship centre. It is not meant to segregate or discriminate against any religion. This is a place where people of all religions are free to go and worship God so long as they don’t cause mayhem or destroy any of the facilities there. We are a very peaceful people and it’s in our character to welcome and accommodate visitors.
I want to encourage our people to pray for the successful completion of this project and not criticise it. This is the only thing we can do as a people to show that indeed, we are a state named after God. We respect adherents of other faiths, but they should rest assured that building a worship centre in the state will not preclude them from practicing their religion. So, there’s no cause for worry.
Sir, aren’t you worried that people are saying that you’re owing salaries and gratuities, neither have you created more industries that’ll employ our teeming youths, and yet you want to build a church?
Udom: listen to me, I promised to provide job for my people through the establishment of industries. That, I’ve done and I’ll continue to do. Even if I promised to build industries, does it mean I’ll channel all our resources into industries? Where has that happened before? We must balance this thing, my brother. There’s nothing wrong in building a place of worship for God who has been so faithful to us. Without Him, we won’t even have a state to call our own, so why are people so bitter about this worship centre? They should appreciate government’s effort at not only building industries, but building a place of worship where they can always go and thank God for His manifold blessings. In the aspect of salaries, gratuities and all that, this is the only state that is not owing workers in spite of our lean resources.
We have paid gratuities, pension to those that have followed the process we set up to ensure that those paid are real retired workers and not that thing people call ghost workers. Most of these comments are coming from those bent on causing disaffection in the state. Let me warn them like I did recently at the airport, that we will not fold our arms and watch people destroy our state through inciting statements. For once, our people should be gracious that they have a governor who is able to judiciously manage the little at his disposal to pay salaries promptly and also embark on infrastructural development.
Your Excellency, I think the reason people criticise this much is because they don’t really understand some government policies. In Imo State, the governor saw that the people were sad perhaps because of his numerous statues, he quickly created a ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment. Today, Imolites are happy as can be seen in the streets. Sir, how about creating a ministry of “Explanation and Understanding” so that when projects like this are mooted, the commissioner in charge of that ministry will explain things better to the understanding of the citizens knowing how curious they are?
Udom: (laughs)………boy, you must be a comedian. Ministry of Explanation and Understanding? (Laughs again). Listen to me, I don’t think I need to create such a ministry. It’s not necessary. While I know it’s important for the people to be well informed about projects like this, I won’t create a special ministry to do that. My commissioner of Information is there to deal with that. But let me say here that it’s not that people don’t understand why we do most of these things, it’s just that some people don’t just want you to succeed. And so, they resort to condemning everything you’re doing so that others may think you’re not doing anything.
But let me reassure Akwa Ibomites that this administration will continue to embark on life touching projects. Through our quest for creating employment for our people, we’ll not relent in building more industries in addition to the ones we already have like the Syringe industry, Metering company, Pencil factory, Paint and the rest. We’re focused and committed to the welfare of genuine workers and pensioners in the state. People must appreciate our efforts. Again, for that Explanation and……. emmmmm…….Understanding thing you suggested, I say thank you but I won’t waste our lean resources on such ministry. We don’t need it. If they don’t understand some policies, this centre, on completion, will serve as a veritable platform for people to visit and seek understanding from God on some government policies.
On the whole, Sir, do you think that building a worship centre is necessary given that churches can be found in virtually all streets in the state?
You’ve asked this question over and over again. Now, government often held interdenominational church service at Ibom Hall grounds. As a deacon turned governor, I don’t think that is proper. I always feel pity for our mothers when I see them sitting and standing in the sun while we sit under tents. As a father, I said no more to treating our people this way.
I’ll build a worship centre that will accommodate them so that not only will they sit comfortably to worship God, they’ll be kept fresh by the litany of air conditions that shall be planted in the auditorium. On the issue of many churches, it’s true that there are many of them, but none bears the name International worship centre. And, let me tell you, building a state worship centre is economically wise owing to the number of churches I visit in one month. You go to this church to worship, they ask you to donate towards one project or another. Even when there’s no ongoing project, they’ll manufacture one immediately on seeing the governor. So, this centre will bring an end to all that. Those monies usually donated to churches for phantom projects will now be used to augment the payment of salaries, pensions and all that. Don’t forget that I was a banker before becoming governor. Every kobo counts.
The other day, you were seen smiling and pumping fists with your predecessor, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who recently said that you’ve abandoned most his projects…is it that you have settled your rift with him?
Udom: rift? I had no rift with him. All those things you read on social media and newspapers were planted there by people who wanted to make a capital out of whatever happened. As my predecessor, and someone that loves the state, he was only airing his opinion on what bothered him. That does not mean we are quarrelling. And I’ve always maintained that he’s my mentor, and I won’t say anything more than that. All those perceived crises was media creations orchestrated by the opposition to cause confusion in the state. Senator Akpabio and I are best of friends. Whether he said all is not well and vice versa, I want to say here that he only bared his mind on issues concerning the state and his area just like many of us do. There’s no big deal in a former governor giving his opinion on issues that bother him. He is constitutionally entitled to do that. I wish to state here clearly that Akpabio and I are not fighting.
Finally, Sir, 2019 elections is around the corner, aren’t you worried about the seeming opposition against your reelection?
Udom: it’s too early to talk about elections now. We’re still on governance so I wouldn’t want to talk about politics. When we get to the river, we’ll cross it. But let me say here that Akwa Ibom people are solidly behind this administration because of our superlative outing hence they’ll vote massively for us when we come knocking. Meanwhile, let me say here that after my re-election, I’ll hold a thanksgiving service at that international worship centre after I must have commissioned it.
Thank you your Excellency for your time.
Udom: you’re welcome my son.
Interview over, I offered to say a short prayer for the governor given that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown; he obliged.
Your Excellency, I said, his head bowed, I pray fervently that God may give you the faith of Abraham, the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of Moses, the patience of Job and the innocence of Jesus to carry out your duties and responsibilities as governor effectively and satisfactorily now an forever more………he thunders in with a resounding “Amen.”
I stood up, the governor offered me a handshake of which I graciously extended my hands with a hint of alacrity. He praises my courage. Smiling with a tinge of shyness on my face. I was all ears for the ‘last paragraph’; he ‘landed’ when he said: “somebody will ‘see’ you at the corridor.” Hearty smile found expression on my elated face. I stepped out, got “something” from the “somebody” at the corridor as the governor had said. Sprinting forward, I shouted eureka only to be nudged by my brother who lay beside me in the bed on account of my scream! That’s when it dawned on me that it was all a dream! I was red faced!
Lastly, dear reader,
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Kenneth Jude is a Public Affairs Analyst and two-time AKS NUJ Best Columnist Of The Year