By JOE INIODU
LEADERSHIP is a complex art that requires unique skills. The manifestations of its deposit in any individual are usually tested at periods of challenges. The tragic incident of the collapse of Reigners Bible Church International during the planned Bishopric Enthronement of Apostle Akan Weeks which led to scores of dead and injured people came as Governor Udom Emmanuel’s test as a leader. Suffice it to so that he has acquitted himself creditably in the way he has managed the unfortunate incident.
The governor who himself was in the building and narrowly escaped death was able to overcome the trauma of the near shave with death to continue his role of leadership. In such emotional and dark moments of gloom, many go blank and only depend on leaders who are still able to retain sanity and mental equanimity to think and reason rationally.
Emerging from the rubbles of a collapsed building with scores of dead and injured persons littering the precinct is enough to numb one into blankness. But not Governor Emmanuel who rose to the daunting demands of that dark hour.
Having escaped from the untoward incident, Governor Udom was rushed to Government House for procedural check up. Certified to have a clean bill of health, he changed his clothing and returned to the scene of the incident to supervise the rescue operations. It was Professor Warren G. Bennis who said that “Leaders are people who do the right thing: Managers are people who do things right” Acting therefore as both leader and manager, the governor had rallied all relevant agencies to the site of the incident to help in the rescuing of victims. From the various construction firms in the State to Fire Service, to Federal Road Safety Corp to medical personnel and other agencies related to emergency operations, all were aggregated into this critical cause of humanity. And as Dwight Eisenhower noted, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”. Governor Emmanuel, seems to have espoused this philosophy by galvanized the human sympathy in many persons and agencies for this cause of empathy.
As a strategic leader and manager, Governor Emmanuel saw the need to give hope to those who had become forlorn owing to the drought of information. First he gave eye witness account of the incident stating the facts as there were to douse speculations which were already rife. Again with the governor in his physical person addressing the press, rumours of his death or being critically injured were instantly laid to rest. And so the press briefing had multiple benefits; setting the records on the sad incident straight, validating the fact that he was hale and hearty, reassuring the people and briefing them on what government was doing in respect of the incident, calming the jarred nerves of people who were overwhelmed with fear and tension.
Upon completion of the evacuation, the governor embarked on sympathy visits to the hospitals. While other leaders would have feigned trauma and sought medical attention abroad, Governor Emmanuel stood by his people to offer the much needed compassion required by those in such travails. He went to Ibom Specialist Hospital where a large number of the victims in very critical conditions were rushed to. He also visited victims at the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital were many had also rushed their loved ones in equally critical conditions to. The governor’s visit was reassuring as he identified with them at such trying moment thus depicting our common humanity.
But the actions isolated above were not all Governor Emmanuel did to summarize himself as a great leader. His robust sense of empathy which compelled many significant actions that worked at ameliorating the burdens of the victims redefines him as a leader of worth. It is an adducible fact that compassion is an intrinsic part of leadership.
Governor Udom demonstrated this publicly with his actions this time in total opposition to his well known unobtrusive actions of kind gestures that are designed not to attract public attention.
However, this act of empathy to public cause could not go unnoticed in the handling of this sad incident. Firstly, he declared two days of mourning for victims of the misfortune.
He ordered for all flags to be flown at half mast to depict the mourning mood of the people of Akwa Ibom State. His administration also in the face of lean resources accepted to pick the hospital bills of all victims across the State. This is a commendable gesture. Perhaps the one most expressive of his management dexterity is Governor Emmanuel’s negotiation of an action plan that has yielded in the mobilization of experts like neuro-surgeons, orthopaedic surgeons and other medical experts from other States especially Lagos for the provision of the much needed medical emergencies. The governor had to charter aircrafts for these experts to be flown to the State. Neighboring States like Imo and Abia States were also contacted for medical support staff like nurses, lab technicians etc. He had earlier called on medical and paramedical officers in the State to move to their various service points to enable them attend to any emergency. It takes an astute leader to think on his feet and bring forth results at such trying moment.
It is a fact that in our country, we lack the wherewithal to grapple with emergencies including the provision of information. His State wide broadcast that night of the incident was a departure from what had since abnormally become normative. The broadcast was timely and soothing as it renewed hope and revamped psychologically survivors who may have earlier felt abandoned. With the knowledge that government is concerned about their predicament, many believe that healing is likely to come faster. With that broadcast, he was able to bridge the gap between government and a people in dire and trying time.
The consistent presence of the governor in public space with information on the incident illustrates him as sensitive and humane. Such traits when effectively expressed underscore our common humanity. For instance, while in Qua Iboe Church on Sunday, a day after the incident, he narrated his experience during the collapse of the building and how he escaped stating that he is a Covenant Child. Governor Emmanuel said he saw the big iron cascading towards him but God caused the metal to suspend mid air until he was clearly out of its area of impact. The governor said that anybody who sees the seat he sat on would not believe that he is alive. He further recalled how armed bandits intercepted his car with him as an occupant and spread it with bullets. Governor Emmanuel said that the car was only filled with fumes but not a single bullet penetrated it. He also narrated how an armed robber trained a gun at him and pressed the trigger but the gun refused to fire concluding that with the experiences, he can reiterate that he is indeed a Covenant Child.
Governor Emmanuel used the occasion of the thanksgiving that Sunday to advise Akwa Ibom people to always thank God in all things. He admonished them against being judgmental especially during incidents like the one on hand in order not to incur the wrath of God. He called on all to pray for the victims and quit speculating on the figures noting that even if it was one life that was lost, it would still be important. Revealing why he did not lose any member of his EXCO, he said when he constituted the new EXCO, the spirit of the Lord spoke strongly to him that he must dedicate his EXCO members. He said when he finished the swearing-in at 12 noon; he requested them to return at 5pm. Governor Emmanuel said every single EXCO member was dedicated noting that one of the prayers of the dedication was that he would not lose any EXCO member. The Governor said that it is why non of them can explain how he or she got out of the collapsed building. He said that with his strong covenant with God, he can say categorically that “affliction shall not arise a second time”.
The Reigners Church Building Collapse remains the single most devastating tragedy that has ever assailed the State. As at the time of filing this report, the death toll is still yet to be ascertained. But thank God for a proactive governor who was able rally together emergency complements that have saved several lives. We must also commend the former governor, His Excellency, Senator Godswill Akpabio for constructing the Ibom Specialist Hospital. Its value was strongly underscored in the tackling of the many emergencies that arose from that disaster. For the victims in the hospital, we bring the Heavens to accelerate and perfect your healings. For those who became victims by way of premature departure, may your souls find eternal repose. For the families that lost their loved ones, may you have the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Once again, let me join our Governor to say never again shall such affliction arise in our land. Please concur.
Joe Iniodu is a public affairs analyst