Mr. Akan Okon served under the immediate past administration as Commissioner for Finance, and he has retained the same position under Governor Udom Emmanuel. Recently, the media has been abuzz with reports that he leaked sensitive documents of alleged misappropriation of the state’s funds to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in order to implicate immediate past Governor, Senator Godswill Akpabio. In this interview on a local radio station in the state, the former CBN staff said he has a good relationship with Senator Akpabio, reiterating that he never leaked any information to the anti-graft agency. He also spoke on other sundry issues including his rumoured rift with Senator Bassey Albert. Excerpts:
When people hear Mr. Akan Okon, the Commissioner for Finance, they say you are very humble, people say you are God-fearing. What informed you of this character? Is it your upbringing?
Yea, it is basically from my upbringing. I was made to understand that as a human being there is nothing that you can do for yourself or by yourself except God allows you to do it. So, having that at the back of my mind, I believe that to have the fear of God you have to be humble, you don’t look down on people. I believe we were all created by God to be equal. We are all equal and there should be mutual respect for everyone.
Let me first of all congratulate you on the increase in Internally Generated Revenue in the state. How did you get it done?
Well, like the last time that I came here I said that the volume of revenue collectable at any given time is a function of the number of individuals and organizations that are in the tax net. So, basically what we are doing is trying to make sure that we increase the number of individuals and organizations that are in the tax net. We are also engaging the informal sector with the view of bringing them into the tax net. I believe we have not arrived yet. Because working closely with the State House of Assembly, there are certain enabling laws that are being put in place. I believe that by the time this is done this will significantly increase the revenue that is being collected for Akwa Ibom State.
Your loyalty and popularity the in financial sector and even in the political terrain seems to pose a lot of threats. Who is afraid of Akan Okon?
Well, it goes back to my upbringing. By my training as a banker, before I was engaged to work in the Central Bank of Nigeria, after the interview and during the orientation we were made to pass through finger print examination at the state CID in Lagos. We were also conducted through the Kirikiri Prison to see how people live there and why they live there. And when you have that at the back of your mind, you know that you must do things right. Integrity is not something that you can buy, you have to inculcate that habit. I believe that throughout my career, when it comes to loyalty I have never failed. This I mean, being faithful and devoted to what you are doing. That is why today, all the Managing Directors of all the various banks that I have worked with before we are in talking terms, we relate with each other. So, I believe that it is natural, and over time that has been part of me to be faithful and to be loyal. And that is the same thing I’m doing to the government of Akwa Ibom State today as headed by His Excellency, Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel. I believe that anybody who is sincere and who by the grace of God finds himself in government would have no choice than to be loyal to that government and make sure he does everything that would help government to improve standard of living of our state. Of course, that is why you were appointed in the first place. We are over 6 million people in the state, so if by the grace of God you find yourself in the position of authority, you have to use that position for the good of everyone and ensure that you work to support the governor to ensure that all the good programmes he has for this state are achieved.
Apart from this present governor being a banker, what really attracted you to him because last time you said that God had pre-destined Akwa Ibom State to have this kind of man as governor?
There is nothing that happens by accident. It is by the grace of God that God prepared Governor Udom Emmanuel to be at the helms of affairs of Akwa Ibom State at this very critical point in time where there is need for prudent management of resources. You are talking about what endeared me to the governor. The governor is providing value-driven leadership and for you to be able to provide value-driven leadership, you must have integrity. Governor Udom Emmanuel has integrity and has shown leadership since he mounted the saddle as the governor of this state. He is doing what is right. He is honest and trustworthy. He does not listen to gossip. He speaks against what is wrong. And he’s working tirelessly to ensure that the promises he made to the people of Akwa Ibom State during the electioneering campaign are fulfilled. He has done this in the various sectors of the state’s economy. Are you talking of the health sector? He has intervened in various hospitals with a view to bringing them up to standard that can provide the needed health services to the people of Akwa Ibom State. Are you talking about the area of infrastructure? The governor is very passionate and sincere about the development of the state that is why if there is any issue, the governor does not waste time, he promptly intervenes. So, I believe that he is a man that was sent by God to the people of Akwa Ibom State at this point in time so that he can take us to where we are supposed to be.
You are the financial egghead of this state. But even with the paucity of funds, the current administration is still going ahead with the Inter-Ministerial Direct Labour Projects. How many projects have you been able to touch?
In fact, the number of projects are so numerous because there have been various interventions in the primary and secondary schools in the state in terms of providing accommodation, classrooms, reading desks and the rest of them. Even in the area of sports, there is the on-going development of various sports centres in the state. The governor believes that sports could be a way of generating revenue and engaging our youths positively. And that is why notwithstanding that the resources that we have are very limited but he has brought to bear his experience in the financial world by prioritizing what he’s doing. The test of a good manager of resources is not what you do in the period of plenty but what you are able to do in time of scarcity. The governor has shown that he has the capacity, the knowledge and the know-how to navigate this state through this very challenging times. The position we find ourselves today is not going to be here forever but I believe we have some lessons to learn that when we are able to come out of this we will begin to do things the way they are supposed to be done. So, the governor of Akwa Ibom State is showing the right leadership which I believe will take us out of this turbulent time.
It was reported in the media that the hatchery in Uruan is a scam. What is your take on that?
What I have observed over time on the issue of negative reporting, blackmails and others have taken over the landscape of our state. I want to appeal to our people, because every Akwa Ibom person is very happy to come from here and is very proud of this state. But even amongst the disciples of Jesus Christ it is not everybody that was in support of Jesus. There was Judas. I want to appeal to all these people that are involved in this act of wickedness. It is pure wickedness. I want to refer them to the Bible – If you go to Psalm 5, there are rewards for everything that you do. If you read through verse 4-6, you will find out that God doesn’t take pleasure in wickedness. And that all these people who are workers of iniquities God has a reward for them and that is He will destroy people who are involved in falsehood. The fact that we have many media houses, many newspapers in the state should be an advantage to help inform the people of our state of what government is doing. I’m not saying you should not criticize. If you have criticism it should be positive because it will add value and help in the development of our state. For example, I will be asking a question, what are we going to leave for our children of tomorrow if we continue every time to duel on those negative things instead of coming up with things that can help develop our society. I believe this is the way to go. The only thing that is constant is change. The things that we used to do 5 or 6 years ago are not the things we are doing today. If we change from this kind of lifestyle and move forward to a more positive thinking that can move our society forward because I’m quite sure all these people who write these things want to grow. The government also wants them to grow. I want them to start reporting what is the right thing. The hatchery you are talking about is not a scam. People are coming to buy day-old chicks. I believe our people should do more of investigative journalism. For example, if someone has problem with Sampson (the interviewer), they believe they will go and hide under one faceless group that has no address or the address is by river and write all manners of things. I believe that anybody who has issues with any other person, or any contributions you want to make there are better medium to get them through. I’m very certain the governor of Akwa Ibom State is open to suggestions and ways that can help develop the state. So we should stop these distractions.
There have been media reports that you leaked sensitive documents to EFCC in order to nail former Governor Godswill Akpabio. What is your reaction to this?
From my upbringing and even in the places that I’ve worked, I have had good relationship with the leadership. I have a very good relationship with the former governor now Senate Minority Leader, Senator Akpabio. In life, there are some people who because of low self esteem they cannot function or achieve anything directly where things are working properly, so they will always want to create confusion and knock two heads together with a view to benefiting from it. There have been instances whereby people show disloyalty to their benefactors, they are not committed to what they are doing and at the end of the day they find themselves in positions of authority both in the state and federal level courtesy of blackmails. They think that what they used to do in the past they can continue to do today. I want to send this word according to Abraham Lincoln “you can fool some of the people some of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”. People have been doing this in the past. Akwa Ibom people are very enlightened, they are very educated and they know the truth. I want to suggest to people who believe that it is only by causing confusion and by blackmailing people that they can ride to achieve whatever they want to achieve. My relationship with the former governor, Senator Akpabio is intact. And let me put it on record, when you are talking about issue of giving information to EFCC, Akan Okon – the Commissioner for Finance has never been invited to EFCC since he resumed office. So, at what point did I release information to EFCC?
…some say you might have called them on phone
Will you call somebody you don’t know? Does EFCC take information by phone? So I feel the issue of who gave this information rest on those who have been invited by the EFCC. I have never been invited by EFCC, so where and when did I release information to them? I want Akwa Ibom people to understand that this is the work of people who believe they can cause trouble and confusion in order for them to benefit from it. You can go to EFCC and check. I can come back to this station by tomorrow. I’m on air now, I challenge whoever said that I release information to come on air, and bring out the information he said I gave to EFCC. Me giving information to EFCC might have been in the dream of such person who speculated the rumour because I have never been to EFCC’s office. I have not gone there; I haven’t given any information neither have I spoken to anybody from EFCC.
What is your relationship with Senator Bassey Albert who is your predecessor in the Finance Ministry?
Honestly, I don’t have any problem with Bassey. I have known Bassey more than many of you in Akwa Ibom. He used to work with me in Lagos. I encouraged him, in fact I was instrumental and I posted him to come and work in Akwa Ibom. I have a good relationship with him. Even while we were in Lagos, he was always with me on Saturdays and Sundays. We do not have a rift. It baffles me when people just wake up and start writing all manners of things. I can tell you that I don’t have any problem with him.
People say you are becoming very popular, don’t you think this can attract some level of hatred somewhere?
I don’t think I have ever come to this station (Planet FM) to announce that I want to be popular. I am doing the work that I was mandated to do in Akwa Ibom State. I am committed and devoted to ensuring that I do all what I’m expected to do to ensure the success of the government of Akwa Ibom State under His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel for the good of Akwa Ibom people.
People say you are very close to His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel and that perhaps he is using you to fight the former administration.
Let me tell you, I have said before that Governor Udom Emmanuel is a God-fearing person and he will be the last person to want to fight anybody. I am saying this based on my knowledge of him. I have known him for over 3 decades. He has integrity, he is very committed in anything he wants to do and I will tell you he has no plan and he will never fight Akpabio. He is very thankful to God for using His Excellency, the former Governor Akpabio to be an instrument for which he is the governor today. He appreciates it. All what you are hearing is a figment of the imagination of mischief makers. I have said before, the fact that somebody who was with the former governor for several years has shown some level of disloyalty, you cannot generalize it. I like to judge people based on what they do but I don’t do generalization. I don’t think that simply because Mr A did this and Mr B did the same thing that Mr C will do it. Governor Udom Emmanuel is committed to deliver the democratic dividends to the people of Akwa Ibom State by ensuring he remains focused and give respect to all, both young, old and the elderly.
Publications in the media have suggested that you and Senator Bassey Albert are having problems.
In life someone may have problems with you and you don’t know except it is brought to your knowledge. As far as I’m concerned I don’t have problems whatsoever with Bassey. It is not just me, anybody that is from our federal constituency you see all manners of publications against them. Bad things are being written against Dr. Iniobong Essien.
Are you the engine room of this government?
Under this circumstance, I don’t know what an engine room could be. The government has many departments and every department is working towards the same objective. Every department is an engine room. There is no particular unit that can be said to be an engine room. You need cooperation and synergy between all the departments in order for government activities to be successful.
Salaries are now paid as at when due. What is the secret?
I think this is one thing the Governor should be commended. In Nigeria of today, there are many states of the federation where workers’ salaries have not been paid for about 9 – 10 months. But it is on record that in Akwa Ibom State, the salaries of workers is a first-line charge, he doesn’t play with it because he believes that there is no reason why you should work and not get paid at the end of the month. He knows how to manage the little that we have in order to ensure that salaries of workers are paid promptly.
You are the treasurer of the state. Should we have hope that some arrears, pensions and gratuities the governor promised to assist the LGAs in paying will be paid very soon?
We are all living witnesses to what is happening? Just like I said earlier the circumstances that we find ourselves today is not permanent. It will change over time. The governor is a very humane person. He is god-fearing and like I said he keeps to his words. I’m very certain that with the way things are going within a very short time when there is an improvement all these things will be taken care of. But given what is available now, we are putting the resources into judicious use to balance the difference sectors of the state economy and ensure that the government keeps on going.
1800 people are independently employed through AKEES. But people are still saying it is a scam. What is your take on that?
Everything that is successful here becomes a scam. I have to thank His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel for approving the AKEES program. Just like you have rightly said, a lot of jobs have been created as a result of this program.
You seem to have a lot of supporters, may be that is why you are blackmailed
I am here to render service to the people of Akwa Ibom State and I will continue to do it. No amount of blackmail will stop me or change me from the way I’m used to living i.e being close to people and being accommodating. I think it is the grace of God not my doing.
People say that Governor Udom Emmanuel is not paying the minimum wage. Is this true?
Akwa Ibom State pays the minimum wage and we pay it promptly.
What happened to workers’ promotion arrears?
The last time I came here for interview, I said it would have been the wish of the governor to pay all arrears. But you know that in life you have supply and demand. The demand for money is more than the money we have now. So we have to prioritize what we do. In the first place, it is one thing for someone to owe you an obligation. Promotion arrears will be looked at but under this present circumstance, the priority is to pay salaries on a monthly basis. I believe that overtime when the economy of Nigeria and the world improves these issues will be looked into, but for now I don’t think it will make sense to start paying promotion arrears when what you have now can only take care of salaries. It will come at the right time.
Why can’t Governor Udom be invited by President Buhari to help in managing the country’s economy?
Well, I guess you are aware that Governor Udom Emmanuel is a member of the National Economic Council which is made up of all the state governors and he makes contributions. And from time to time the President invites him to rub minds. I want to tell you that he is contributing and he is giving his advice and he will continue to do it.
AKEES and the Directorate of Marketing and Branding seem to do the same thing. Please clarify
The Directorate of Branding is different from AKEES. AKEES is the Akwa Ibom Enterprise and Employment Scheme that is intended to create employment for artisans while the Directorate of Branding is to project and give good image of government programs and activities. They are not doing the same thing.
Have you forgiven you detractors?
Yes, I have forgiven them. If you have the fear of God you don’t have to hold anything against anybody that offends you. Even when we offend God He forgives us but on one condition that we have to change because we cannot continue to do the same thing all the time. I have forgiven those people that went to the pages of newspapers to attack me and those of them that are trying to cause problem with Senator Akpabio, I have forgiven them.
Have you spoken to Senator Akpabio, telling him that you have not given any document to EFCC?
Yes, I spoke with him last Tuesday. I want to warn these people. If you used to benefit from confusion, the era has changed. You have to devise legitimate ways of getting upliftment in whatever you do. Let us let go the life we have planned for ourselves so as to accept the one that is waiting for us from God. No matter what we do as individuals, it is the will of God that will prevail in our lives. It is only God who knows the end from the beginning. I believe that some of these people who engage in this act (of blackmail) don’t know God. Instead of spending our time trying to pull down one another, let us sacrifice our today so that our children can have a better tomorrow by engaging in constructive activities that will lead to our development as a state. I forgive them and I pray God to also forgive and change them.