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Isemin: A Philosopher Politician, (1939 – 2009)
15 Aug 2009: Nnamso Umoren

Some people might have known this, but many might not have known that Obong Akpan Isemin, first civilian Governor of Akwa Ibom State, was a philosopher politician and an astute negotiator.  On becoming Governor, Obong Isemin in his philosophical bent of mind christened his Government as the Biblical “Noah’s Ark” (Ubom Noah, in Ibibio).  It was his own way of expressing and capturing the all-inclusiveness of his administration.  Also on becoming Governor, he found that the promises he made from outside, on the campaign soap box would be an uphill challenge to redeem as the fiscal resource this would depend sat far beneath the requirement to scale the height of mounting public expectations.
In his philosophical disposition, he perceived the situation as one in which he was called upon to share a tiny cake to a multitude and resolved to approach it through what he called, the “concept of politics of cake baking before politics of cake sharing.”  He explained this to imply that the cake of Akwa Ibom State needed to be baked to prosper in its sufficiency for equitable sharing to all the people to avoid rancor and acrimony.  “Politics of cake baking,” he further explained “is a strategy that evolved out of our realization that the purse of government as we met it, on its own, cannot cope with our promises and the aspirations and rising expectations of our people.  It therefore became necessary to tackle the need to control costs and to bring about more funds into the pursuit of the programs of the State.”
Against the background of his serving a State that was, in his words “massively rural and massively poor, he made Rural Development the main plank of his development programmes.  A key need he desired to assuage for the rural communities was to provide 815 boreholes.  To bake this cake therefore Obong Isemin used his contacts in the private sector and on the international scene to look for and attract foreign funds for rural development schemes.
His successful sourcing of the $73million Us dollars loan for urban water scheme from the African Development Bank (ADB) and the N100 million NEXIM bank loan to fund development initiatives were to him the necessary efforts at baking the Cake of rural development to be able to share to many.  His further foreign investment drives were thwarted by the nation’s political instability that frightened willing foreign investors into applying the brakes.
As a skillful intellectual fighter, strategist and an experienced boardroom politician and negotiator, Obong Isemin took on tasks at revenue improvement which fitted into challenging the impossible.  This was the battle to move the federal government, a military dictatorship at the time, to repent of the injustice inflicted by it, through decree No.9 of 1970 which established a dichotomy between on-shore and off-shore oil proceeds for purposes of sharing between States and the federal government.
Obong Akpan Isemin being a believer in the concept of evolution of the impossible to the possible and one sworn to a mission to make the seemingly impossible totally possible, used his short tenure of one year, ten months and seventeen days as Governor to persuade the federal government and other privileged beneficiaries off the unjust oil dichotomy policy to redress the injustice.
He therefore succeeded to bake fat, the Akwa Ibom State federally allocated derivation revenue cake resulting in the State earning N11.2million from this source as against mere N350,000 or less per month previous to the enactment of decree 23 of 1992 at his instance.  Thus he kept his promise to make the seemingly impossible, possible.  This effort brought Akwa Ibom for the first time into the million naira earning bracket under the 1% (one percent) derivation based on the revocation of on-shore-off- shore policy. It also improved Akwa Ibom State’s benefits from OMPADEC projects which had been negligible.
Another seemingly impossible challenge which Obong Isemin achieved for Akwa Ibom State was his use of his boardroom negotiation skills to win the favour of the NRC party government at the Federal level to concede the office of Petroleum Minister to Akwa Ibom State for the first time. 
This is what Obong Isemin said of the battles he fought and won:  “the fights seemed impossible tasks, but our faith in justice strengthened our will to go on.”
Yet, he was most misunderstood, vilified, abused and belittled...  On this experience Obong Isemin had this to say: “It was sad that, apart from daunting opposition of outside interests, the struggle exposed me to the pains of mischief, the insolence of the ignorant and dangerous campaigns of the vicious at home.”
When it became clear that the people whose interest he starved-off self comfort to protect were the ones that mounted so much negative campaign that nearly truncated the implementation of the oil dichotomy abrogation law, Isemin became more convinced that deliberate propagation of his philosophy of Structural Mental Adjustment programme would redress the mentality. But the military said no.
By the selflessness with which he pursued matters of State interest and by his commitment to service, if he had served a four or eight year tenure, Akwa Ibom State would have been greater.  So the loss of Obong Akpan Isemin, captain of Ubom Noah, strategist, skillful negotiator and philosopher is not just at his death.  Akwa Ibom lost him when his tenure was abruptly terminated by the military.

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