When he was born in Awa Iman, a quiet community in Onna Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State on July 11, 1966, his parents did not throw a sumptuous party to welcome him. They did not buy some of the luxurious infant products of the time to indulge him; neither did they feed him with the proverbial silver spoon. His family could not afford any of these but they had something more precious and in vast supply – LOVE – and they lavished it on him.
Of course, nobody could have expected a local preacher and head-teacher with a paltry salary to kill a cow to celebrate the birth of a child. Even if he had a vault filled with money, it was still unthinkable he would declare a lavish feast because his wife delivered a handsome baby boy with a round face, red lips and glistering eyes. He loved his young son so much, but would never indulge him. He was more interested in inculcating in his children, the enduring values of moderation, forthrightness and selflessness. And they did.
While the thought of indulging his children never crossed his mind, the local preacher and his beautiful wife were in the business of helping indigent families within and outside their community; sometimes at the risk of starving themselves and their kids. Just like many teachers at that time who combined teaching jobs at mission schools with preaching, his father gave equal devotion to his job as headmaster in the various mission schools he was posted and also preached in the church. It is an extraordinary story of a man who served two masters and did that without offending either. With this, he taught his children the high prize of dignity of labour.
As a teacher and preacher who knew that charity can only be charity when it begins at home, he laid the foundation of discipline not only for his glistering-eyed son but also for all his children right from the crib. To every single child that crossed his path, either in the church or school, he was the quintessence of humility, hard work, honesty, and integrity and above all, the fear of God. In dealing with the little ones, he neither cuddled nor abused the cane.
This is the story of a man who exhibited the heart of humanity and emblazoned the spirit and soul of greatness – the story of Gabriel Emmanuel Nkanang, the father of Udom, the former secretary to the Government of Akwa Ibom State and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the February 28, gubernatorial election.
But this is not all about Teacher Nkanang. Of course, the old teacher ran an amazing race, won astonishing prizes, and raised generations of heroes, heroines and champions before handing over the baton in retirement. Another race is just about to begin and his son is in it.
I had carefully presented the story of Mr. Nkanang, to demonstrate the richness of Mr. Udom Emmanuel’s character, the compelling evidence of his shrewd upbringing and the profundity of his humanness. You can, therefore, agree that a lion does not give birth to a monkey neither does a farmer harvest wild cassava from a well-tended sweet potato farm. I can hear a lot of readers chorusing, impossible! And I agree with all of you.
Those who sat in the same classroom with him in primary school including my colleague Ekerete Udo, and many others will tell you he is a great guy you would always love to meet. But they won’t tell you he fought for one day in school or stole a ball pen or groundnut or sweet which was and is still common among pupils.
Children, whose parents combined teaching with preaching in those days, needed nobody to advise them to live right because of the consequences of being caught on the other side of discipline. And such consequences came in torrents. Therefore, it was not surprising that as a young boy, Mr. Emmanuel trekked with other kids to school, cut grass at the school field, cultivated the school farm and did everything every pupil did even when his father was head teacher.
Apart from being a very visible figure in school back in the day, Mr. Emmanuel also featured prominently in the church – first as a Sunday pupil and later as a Sunday school teacher. A close family relation, Mary said Mr. Emmanuel was not given to childhood pranks but had a healthy sense of humour and would always smile away annoying situations.
“I remember vividly, having been privileged to be with Udom in primary school in the 70s,” said Ekerete Udo, a United States-based journalist.
“Udom was Mathematics’ whiz-kid and his sense of altruism and brotherliness manifested back then when he offered to mentor and teach some of us who were mathematically challenged. I remember getting scared going to our Mathematics class because of my manifest deficiencies in that subject, and having been blessed to have my seat next to him, he would always reassure me that everything would be fine, that mathematics was not that confounding, all I needed to do was to understand the concepts and apply them.” And that was just what my colleague, Ekerete did.
In the face of daunting challenges Ekerete and his friends faced, Mr. Emmanuel responded with love and shared with his colleagues; the wealth of his character, the depth of his generosity and the nobility his intellect.
This does not mean Mr. Emmanuel is a saint. Of course, he is not and nobody is either. He made some of the mistakes young people make but would not give in to things that could tarnish his reputation and that of his family. Perhaps, that was why he was able to rise to become a consummate banker; keeping billions for people, corporate bodies, multinationals, international agencies and governments without ever dipping his hands into the till. And you think such a person doesn’t deserve to be given greater responsibilities?
Far from his home in Awa Clan, Mr. Emmanuel has traversed the world acquiring knowledge, developing skills and cultivating sympathies. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from the University of Lagos and has attended professional courses in some of the best institutions in the world. A chartered accountant with career stint at the Price Waterhouse Coopers, Mr. Emmanuel had an uncanny anointing for planting and growing banks. He developed the Zenith Bank in United Kingdom; Zenith Bank – Gambia; Zenith Bank – Sierra Leone; Zenith Insurance; Zenith Pensions and Custodian; Zenith Securities; Zenith Trustees and Zenith Registrars. He would have developed a Zenith Church if the management of the bank was interested in running a mega ministry. He wasn’t just a good banker; he is also a Christian to the core.
Apart from planting and growing banks and making billions of profit for shareholders, Mr. Emmanuel also held top positions in some of the best financial bodies within and outside the African continent. He was a non-executive director, African Finance Corporation, AFC, director, Nigerian Interbank Settlement Systems, NIBBS, non-executive director, Zenith Bank, United Kingdom; Zenith Bank Gambia; Zenith Bank, Sierra Leone; Zenith Insurance; Zenith Pensions and Custodian, Zenith Securities; Zenith Trustees and Zenith Registrars.
After 23 years of an accomplished career which culminated in his being appointed executive director, Corporate Finance and Advisory Services, Research and Strategy/Financial Control, Telecoms of Zenith Bank Plc, Mr. Emmanuel got a call from Uyo. And he didn’t hesitate to return to the land of his birth to help make it a truly great place.
I have a lot of things against Governor Godswill Akpabio who demolished my dream but I can’t help but stand with him and those who support Mr. Emmanuel for the governorship of the state come February 28. Mr. Akpabio is right on point this time around.
You want to know why it is imperative for Akwa Ibom people to burry whatever misgivings they might have had against the emergence of Mr. Emmanuel as candidate for the election?
Firstly, he is a blue-blooded indigene of Akwa Ibom State and a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and is entitled to the same rights and privileges as any other Nigerian, including the right to vie for any office in the land. Secondly, he has not violated any known law or done anything wrong to warrant his being disqualified from any elective position. Thirdly, he has the qualification and experience to run the economy of the state; after all, the former Governor of the then Cross River State, Clement Isong, who wasn’t a regular politician but had a great career in the banking sector didn’t disappoint. Fourthly, he is the only gubernatorial candidate standing election in Akwa Ibom State today who has not been a part of the odds and ends of the dangerous political manoeuvrings that polarised our state and destroyed our bond of brotherliness, our common pride and our hopes.
While it is normal to disagree, we must not be distracted by the petty and trivial notions that amplify persons, zones and political parties over the qualification, credibility, integrity and capacity of the individuals vying for various public offices.
For those who love the state as much as I do, we must roll up our sleeves and work to ensure that only the best candidates emerge during the forthcoming elections and that involves making very hard choices.
As citizens – men, women, parents and children- we must begin to accept responsibility in the little opportunities and bigger tasks that time and chance avail us. We must begin to instil the values of hard work and an ethic of achievement in our children and our youth. We must be apt to support credible candidates who will strengthen our communities, send our children back to school, generate jobs, encourage industrialisation and create limitless opportunities for our dreams and aspirations to flourish and blossom into great fields of accomplishments.
These are what every Akwa Ibom man, woman and young adult of voting age should know before dipping his or her thump in the ink and placing it on a ballot paper. May God give us honest, decent, generous, compassionate and patriotic leaders under which we will be united not only by our.