Interview with the Secretary to the Cross River State Government, Prof. Anthony Owan Enoh

Jul 27, 2023 - 15:32
Jul 27, 2023 - 15:34
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Interview with the Secretary to the Cross River State Government, Prof. Anthony Owan Enoh
Prof Anthony Owan-Enoh, Secretary to the State Government of Cross RIver

Given the role of the SSG as the engine room of the government, the appointment of a renowned academic in the mould of Professor Anthony Owan-Enoh as the Secretary to the State Government is widely perceived as a stabilizing force to set the tone for the “People First” agenda of the new administration. Such postulation is predicated on the impressive resume of the Professor of Education, erudite scholar, and prolific writer. Before his recent appointment, the seasoned technocrat presided over the affairs of the College of Education Akamkpa and the Cross River State University of Technology, (CRUTECH now UNICROSS) where his achievements are yet to be rivalled. The Beagle News cornered the vocal bureaucrat on salient and trending issues and his responses are enchanting.

Recently you attended the inauguration of Mr. Peter Okim Abang as IPMAN Chairman, Calabar Unit. What is government's interest in IPMAN, knowing that Robert Obi is still sitting as Chairman following e recent court declaration?

T

he former Chairman, Robert Obi, was he acting as substantive chairman? And from when? Find out the length of his tenure. When was he elected and when was his tenure supposed to expire? Was there supposed to be an election of any new leadership?

Okay, we also understand that government is interested in the current leadership situation in the State College of Education (COE), Akamkpa?

There is no leadership crisis in COE Akamkpa. There is a sitting provost in the college whose tenure elapses July 31, 2023. What happened was that the council sat and agreed that the provost proceeds on terminal leave, while the deputy provost was now given the office of acting provost. And the issue was very simple. The Vice Chancellor of the University has a full tenure of five years. Professors. James Epoke, Zana Akpagu and myself spent five years as Vice Chancellors of the University of Calabar and University of Cross River State, then Cross River University of Technology, CRUTECH, respectively. So the issue of an acting provost in the college sent some suspicion. Whereas it is good to be formal, I believe certain things could also be done informally if it solves the problem. I heard of the Council meeting to appoint Dr. Ugbong as Acting Provost. I called him and said what you are about to do is not right. He should allow the person there to complete his tenure. I told him not to be in a hurry. Because the Council Chairman who is to pronounce him Acting Provost is from Obudu, himself (Ugbong) is from Obudu. You do not make it look as if there is something you are trying to cover. It is not right. We agreed they were to come to my house with the provost. They eventually came without the provost, with the excuse that the provost was not accessible as at the time of coming. To me, that was cock and bull story.

Well, they had a meeting and there was an Acting Provost. He was supposed to report to assume office few days after the present governor, Sen. Bassey Otu had taken over as governor. And I called him after he had been so appointed and said Dr. Ugbong, I did not tell you everything about my caution. There are certain things you do that raise suspicion no matter how good intentioned you may be. I asked him "how would you feel as a governor that somebody is coming to assume office as provost in his tenure without his input?" Caution needs to be applied. He said he wanted to be provost. If he wanted it so, he should have advertised for the position three months to the end of tenure and the then governor Ben Ayade would have supervised the interview and appointed a provost. It would have been more difficult for the new governor to upturn. He confessed that he was instrumental to the college not advertising for the post of provost for some reasons. But he shot himself on the foot. If you did not do it then, it is not right to do it now. I also told him how he had recruited 40 staff surreptitiously without the knowledge of stakeholders in the college. Out of the 40 staff, about 17 or 20 are from Obudu LGA alone. Odukpani, Calabar Municipality, Ikom LGAs had one each. Most LGAs did not even have any. In a federation of 18 LGAs, one local government had 17-20. And I asked him "how does it sound?" Is there any element of equity and justice in that kind of distribution? I was in that college and had two recruitment exercises. I insisted that Akamkpa, and not Etung LGA where I come from, should be the dominant group in the exercise. And I know why. I asked Ugbong again, if you were from Akamkpa, how would you feel?

I have very personal connection with whoever I work with. Whether UNICROSS or COE Akamkpa, because when I serve, I do so with passion. I call COE Akamkpa my college not because it is Owan Enoh's college. If you want to excel in an office, you must personalise your service. You eat, drink, think of that office. That is the way I work. Every day of the week I am there. And that was why I achieved a lot in my stint in the college.

So, when he became Acting Provost and I the SSG, I said right remains right and wrong remains wrong. I now insisted that the man they sent away was wrongly done and must return back to his seat as provost. And then the issue of employment came out, with 17-20 out of 40 people from Obudu, signed and given appointment letters. They hurriedly came to do documentation. I said it cannot work. The governor approved that those 40 names were not ratified by him and so they should leave, while the ousted provost be reinstated. So to the best of my knowledge, there is no leadership crisis in COE Akamkpa. We only did the right thing by bringing back the provost to complete his tenure.

What do you make of the governor's stand on equity, justice and fairness in relation to his leadership of the state?

If you want to be a leader who commands respect and public confidence, there could be few aberrations, but generally, you must be seen to be fair, just and allow the masses to feel that the field is even for everyone. My first meeting with the College of Permanent Secretaries, I told them very clearly that I have heard that they are certain people who are due for retirement as directors but appointed permanent secretaries. That is not right. I also brought to their notice the issue of extension of service to people at the expiration of their service years on grounds that they are no competent people in those department to succeed them. And I said, it is the fault of such staff that he did not train people under him/her. You must leave the system for the young ones in the service to grow. The system can never collapse. I said it openly without mincing words. It is easy for everybody to talk about absolute equality almost immediately, but we should know where we are coming from. We are coming from a system where there was nothing at all. We are trying to correct the system. We are trying to make even what was hitherto uneven. And if an SSG can come out boldly to say we want fairness, equity and justice, let people feel that not because they have governor, chief of staff, SSG, minister or whoever, therefore they have leverage. No. It kills enthusiasm. So what the present administration is doing is to return some degree of fairness to the system so that the people can feel like they are Cross Riverians and proud to identify with the state. For me, it is just the way it should be.

 

The Otu-led administration took over at a time when things are tough for not just the state but the entire nation. How does the government intends to operate in such circumstances?

 

You see, I will tell you one thing: "where there is a will, there must be a way." The first thing about governance is knowing that you are there to serve to the best of your ability and available resources. If the resources are not there, it is a different thing entirely. But you must create an element of creativity and bring on board the best hands who are willing to give the best of their abilities to bring maximum returns for the good of the people. We are not promising heaven. We are promising an upliftment of the present situation. We are only promising sincerity of purpose and open hearts to Cross Riverians that we ploughed our resources prudently for the good of the society. And it is very deliberate. I can assure you that Governor Bassey Otu, from his background of a free giver and an empowerment guru; he did not do those things expecting to be governor one day. His governorship only came as a reward for what is actually part of him. He never dreamed when he started proving his mettle as House of Representatives member, he was going to be governor someday. People felt that for a man who has been so good at an individual level should replicate same at the state level. We are here to demonstrate to the people of Cross River State the meaning of leadership, prudent management of resources, equity, fairness and justice. We are here to define development as not just roads, houses and bridges, but development of the mind and the fact that we can turn our disadvantages to advantages.

At the national level, Cross River State appears to be a low-ranking player. That should not continue. We should be able to bring people together who can bring the state to a level where Cross Riverians can be proud of everywhere. If that is done, the young man who is leaving the University would have a great level of confidence and be proud of the state. You see, once the mind is defeated, the body surrenders first. But when the mind is revived, the body takes cue immediately.

So, leadership is not only what you do, but a matter of inspiration. If you are inspired, you can fight with your bare hands. It is about the mind that the battle can be surmounted. And we will all tackle it as a leadership.

You talked about reviewing appointments of permanent secretaries in the state recently. How have you followed up that pronouncement?

I tell you what. After that pronouncement, all the permanent secretaries were called upon to face a committee to follow their records of when they were employed, record of service, procedural progression of years per rank, up to when you became a director and how long one served as a director to qualify to become permanent secretary. If that is not followed up, then I do not know what following up means. We did not just make a pronouncement. We follow up with action. Some of the permanent secretaries who came for the verification were jittery, already feeling that the game was up. You were employed on level 14, two years after you become level 17 and permanent secretary. Others have been there for God knows when, following due process. Some stayed as directors for over 10 years. You came and overtook them and became permanent secretary. So by the time you sanitise the service, you are building confidence in the system, letting people know that government is not for or against anyone, but for the rules to be followed. That in itself brings about confidence building in the system. And because justice is being put to the fore, I can now feel that hard work, and through hard work alone can take you to the top. If you work in that kind of a system, you will feel that rather than cutting corners, you would put in your best, be evaluated and promoted. That is what we are looking at.

Has the review committee submitted its report?

Government has its bureaucracies. We just started the process last week. Circulars had to be raised for anything to commence. In fact, some of the permanent secretaries did not believe anything would come out of it. But I can assure you that the way you are watching as press, same way the society is watching. And when things are done right, defaulting cannot endure forever. Those who are due for promotion deserve it, even if it is for a day they retire as permanent secretary. It is the result of hard work. They deserved and earned it rightly.

Do you believe that by the end of this year, the civil service would virtually be empty?

Well, that matter came up in a meeting we had recently and the impression they gave me is that it would not be empty. If you know me, I am not given to this terrain. I am a man of academic background. Our rules there are different. Different in the sense that we follow procedures. If you go for what you don’t not merit, there will be instant protest. I want to bring that background to bear in my own service here. The civil service is not the only area of government that needs rejig and development. But I assure you that  there will be remarkable definition of the problem and solution to the problems.

Looking at this administration, what is its focus?

The governor's definition of focus is "The People First." The People First is simply an emphasis - any idea, plan, project to be executed by this administration must have the benefit of the people. Speaking philosophically, it is like saying the greatest good for the greatest number. The good of the people must always be the defining factor in our consideration.