Engr Ekpenyong Ekpenyong is one of Nigeria’s most vibrant young leaders. A civil Engineer by profession, he is the President of one of the budding Pan Akwa Ibom socio-political organizations, New Breed. In this Interview with EMMANUEL NICHOLAS and ANIEKEME FINBARR the Ukanafun born pavement Engineer opens up on his political career, New Breed, his assessment of the Akpabio administration and why he is mobilizing support for Udom Emmanuel to emerge Governor of Akwa Ibom State come 2015. Excerpts:
Tell us about yourself?
My Name is Engr. Ekpenyong Ekpenyong. I am from Ukanafun Local Government, a civil engineer by profession and by the grace of God, one of the pavement engineers in Nigeria. We happen to go into terrains where people hardly venture in engineering. I am a second son of a wonderful father and we believe in Akwa Ibom State as a cause.
How was your growing up like?
I was brought up by a disciplinarian by name Hon. Udo Ekpenyong. He taught us value for life. He taught us that there is nothing as important as the name. We tried as much as possible to ensure that whatever we do, we don’t get mixed up in the crowd but we stand out so our generation can benefit.
Why did you decide to follow the footsteps of your father?
Well, leadership is a calingl. In a family where there is a leader, someone will always follow his footsteps if he did well. When we were growing up, we noticed that my father will always do things to favour the community and I saw that as leadership. So I followed his footsteps when I got into the University I realized that Akwa Ibom students were not united so I got into students politics. I did not join students’ politics because my father was a politician but because I wanted Akwa Ibom students to stand out in the land of Owerri and we achieved it. Since then the roots of NAAKIS in FUTO has been very strong.
Tell us how you really started politics and why you stepped up to the macro level?
What made me got involved was that a particular day in my year one, a certain man walked up to me, his name was Kufre Akpan and he was in his final year. He told me that a woman stood up and said that there is no reasonable Akwa Ibom student in FUTO. I asked why the woman said such a thing and he told me that a woman can not threaten a whole state. So I decided to get involved. We started mobilizing students and getting them involved in elections and NANS and getting them, to go for parliaments. We also encouraged our students to study. We got the bright ones to form a tutorial class free of charge courtesy NAKISS and we brought those ones from year one to prepare them and ensure that they stand out. Today, many of them are doing very well because we did politics and took the academics very serious.
What is New Breed all about and why the name?
I am a Christian and I believe in the Godfather. Sometime last year, God spoke to me and said the “New Breed” and I wondered what the New Breed meant. The first thing He said was 2015 and suddenly, one day I heard him clearly after a church service telling me to resign and I resigned. When I came back to Akwa Ibom I had my company, so I was working from my house. One day He again confronted me about the “New Breed” and God started revealing to me that it is a group. That He wants me to bring young professionals together; people of like minds so that he can move Akwa Ibom to the next level. While I was trying to put this thing together, I came to understand that I was looking at the future. Suddenly, a man appeared. The man was sworn-in as SSG and people started saying that he wants to vie for the governorship. I wasn’t interested because I didn’t hear my God speak yet. I started asking my dad about the man and he told me I should not worry that we will find out.
Suddenly, I heard God said he’s the man. I have a friend who is a prophet from Ghana who came to our church for a programme and I was the head of protocol then. While I was working with him, he asked me what I want him to do for me and I said, man of God don’t prophesy for me. Tell me only one thing; I want to know who is going to be the next governor of Akwa Ibom State because I have a job to do and he said he will talk to me. Two weeks after he left, he sent me an SMS and said the man he saw is a light from Eket Senatorial district and the name starts with U and that the recently came into government. He asked me, do you know this man? I said he is Udom Emmanuel and he said I should follow him because that is the man. The name of the prophet is Godwin Simon. When I prayed to God and asked why Udom Emmanuel, He said I should check the , that out of all the men that are billed to contest in the governorship, that none of them is a new breed. As far as this political system is concerned, none of them is a new breed. There is none of them that is not corrupt. There is none of them that will take Akwa Ibom to the level that God wants it. His Excellency, Governor Godswill Akpabio has laid the foundation; infrastructural foundation but we need to go to the next level.
Why the choice of Udom?
First, because he is a new breed. Second, because of his credentials. After I got that message, the next thing I did was to discover the man Udom. When I sat back and checked his qualities, I saw what he got. In the course of me working with South Africans and most of these African Development Banks, I came to understand what investors need and I know that Udom is the kind of person they want.
How do you intend to ‘Udomesticate’ Akwa Ibom?
When we talk about professionals, it cuts across every sector of life, so we started by mobilizing professionals from all the areas. When the campaigns start, the materials we are going to walk with extend to everybody. Our mobilization strategy is that we are going to gather young men from all the 31 local governments. Already, our 31 chapter coordinators are on ground. We have ward and unit coordinators in the local governments. We have over 180 volunteers who are going to do the door to door contact. So, we are going to have the door to door campaign, the school campaign, local government and federal constituency rallies and senatorial district rallies. Our job is just to put Udom in the light and we are already doing that. The Udom project is one which everybody believes in because everybody wants Akwa Ibom to move to the next level. We don’t want a situation that when Governor Akpabio leaves, we stagnate or go down. That is why we are looking for this man. That is why people are accepting him. We don’t believe in violence. New Breed is not about cultists. We cant admit you if we know that you are a cultist. When you talk about new breed; you are talking about new specie different from the former specie.
Do you think Udom will make a good Governor?
Udom will always be a good Leader. Udom has been a good administrator. Udom has been a good manager. Udom has been a good economist. I worked in an environment where you have investors and a well organized system. Before you can go from the scratch to get to the managerial level and to the level of a director, you must be good. One man told me that when you access the policies in Zenith Bank that were made by Udom Emmanuel, you will know that he is intelligent.
There are insinuations that Udom is not a politician so he may not understand the terrain. What is your opinion?
Akpabio did not succeed in politics because he was a politician. It was his passion for Akwa Ibom State. What Akwa Ibom needs now is not just a politician. Who is a politician? Udom Emmanuel has been registered with the PDP for a very long time. So if he was not a politician, he wouldn’t have been recommended by the political system to even step into the shoes of the secretary to the state government. Udom Emmanuel is a Politian but a politician with a difference, a politician with a class, politician that will take us to the next level. The transformation of Akwa Ibom state is not because of politics but because of the passion for the development of our state. We don’t just want a politician but we want a man with passion. The man that understands what he needs to do to take us to the next level. When you talk about development, it is not just infrastructure but human capacity building and wealth creation. The new breed is not just a political association. New Breed will still exist even after the elections as an institution because presently, we are putting up what is called a youth empowerment blueprint. A government talks about youth empowerment but you will never see a government come out with a blueprint for youth empowerment. So we are working on a blueprint that will present to the government. If it is reasonable, the government will implement it. Groups like this need to come up because we need to support the government because we don’t just think of what the government can do for us but also what we can do for the government.
As a person, what do you think will be the projection of Udom Emmanuel?
Based on what we have seen, I believe Udom Emmanuel’s government will be an all inclusive government, that will create wealth for the people of Akwa Ibom State. A government that brings investors in and we will achieve His Excellency’s dream of 31 industries in the state. Also, the enabling environment for the private sector to excel will be created. I am sure Udom Emmanuel is coming to turn around the government of Akwa Ibom State. This is what I am sure Udom Emmanuel will come to do.
There are insinuations that groups like this are coming up because the governor wants to impose a successor. Are you one of the agents of imposition?
If you observed since I have been talking the only time I mentioned His Excellency, Governor Akpabio is when I talked about him laying the foundation. We have not received a dime from anybody in the government. We have not gone to the government to talk about the group. We don’t care about that. What we are trying to do is to bring people together. The New Breed exists to bring everybody including those who are not happy with this government together. It is not about Godswill Akpabio and not about the present arrangement. People say a lot of things. His Excellency, Governor Akpabio is the governor of Akwa Ibom State because God agreed; he came for a purpose and he is fulfilling that purpose and of the purpose is to bring Udom Emmanuel to the people of Akwa Ibom State.
Why do you mix religion with politics?
I do that because I acknowledge God in everything. Once he says yes, no man can say no. so I always reference Him because I know that power belongs to God. Only God can make one a governor.