Christmas Gift for Workers on May Day? Ask Ekong Sampson

By Ubong Sampson

On the eve of this year’s International Workers’ Day, workers in Akwa Ibom gathered at Watbridge Hotels in Uyo for a symposium organized by the ministry of Economic Development, Labour and Manpower Planning on the theme: The Akwa Ibom Worker in the Emerging Age: Harnessing Value and Opportunity. I was invited by the commissioner in charge of the organizing ministry for media related purposes, and because there is always a lot of knowledge to gain in a gathering of that nature, I stayed put with the participating workers for the intellectual benefits. The event was power packed in terms of knowledge and intellectual engagements, with notable scholars like Prof. Peter Essoh, Dr. Aniekan Brown, etc. It was indeed worth the time, such that I could only realize how long I had spent there after about four hours. As I took a walk out of the hall for the first time since entering, I noticed the hall was still as filled as it was when I arrived, while the outside premises of the hall had more crowd of the workers than I had met earlier when I arrived.

This was no political rally that money is often shared at the end, so what interesting thing could have kept the workers since morning till about an hour to evening? All I knew that was shared and would ever be shared in that hall was knowledge from the lecturers and discussants, what could the organizers have done that kept the participants and their patience that long? From the backdrop that was placed behind the stage, I could read that the organizers had boldly introduced the event as first of its kind in the state. Perhaps, the idea of initiating something different from the convention is what triggered their interest, because for once, they were being engaged differently from what the case had been in the past years.

Of course that was largely the aim of the initiator, Barr. Ekong Sampson who is the commissioner in charge of the Labour ministry. I can recall he had expressed that in his keynote address, where he stressed that the forum was necessary for the cross-fertilization of ideas, considering the struggles and successes that have characterized labour matters vis a vis workers’ welfare. For the commissioner, it is high time the workers were brought to the consciousness that they are partners with the government in state and economic building. For him also, the relationship cum benefits accruing from the engagements between the Government and Labour must be mutual, because the productive world has moved from pity to value. Hence, Nigerian workers must be ready to add value to the system and willing to utilize opportunities and support the system.

From the lectures and discussions held and the interest in participation, the imperatives of intellectual engagements like this, considering the present world of innovation, have been exposed without much emphasis. Having laid the foundation with this initiative, the organizers have raised the consciousness of the labour authorities to the fact that a roundtable as such will bring together experts from diverse fields in an interactive setting that encourages dialogue and discussion around current issues facing economy and development, as well as explore best practices and innovative ideas which to help employees better understand their rights and obligations. With this imperatives, it would be right to advise that the labour leadership in the state should take steps towards institutionalizing this to be an annual activity in the May Day celebration package.

A little analysis on one of the lectures, I will take that of Prof. Essoh who gave a highlight of work, “working and the worker in the pre- and post-industrial societies”, and further took to addressing the topic in what he described as “four thematic areas”, namely: utilizing emerging economic opportunities; Labour and social justice; work ad values; and dignity of Labour. On the first, he presented the state (Akwa Ibom) as an emerging economy that has seen a remarkable economic and political reforms, development strides, especially in the chase for its natural resources which have combined to ignite unprecedented growth, while stressing that the need to develop the state’s economy through manufacturing offers lucrative potential returns. Further giving Agriculture as an alternate mainstay of the economy based on given statistics that 70% of Nigerians are not only rural based but engaged in Agriculture, the Professor was hopeful that the governor will use the bureaucratic channel to enforce some of the tools used for his reelection campaign in the agricultural sector in the ensuing years to stem the tide of unemployment, food scarcity, et al.

Also unbundling the social justice area, the Professor of Political/Development Sociology stressed that factors like Intensification of Management Prerogative to Enforce Numerical and Functional Flexibility, Hostility to Trade Unions, Breaking Institutionalized Links Binding the Workforce, etc., which labour hitherto referred to as “oppressive and unequal relationship between itself and its employers”, have overtime undergone cursory analysis and review that have brought reforms that could breed friendly labour-management relationship as a step towards attaining social justice.

What I have captured so far is only but a tip of the sturdily loaded lecture by the Professor, not even attempting the other discussions by the other scholars that revealed knowledge in the most secret of places. For the knowledge imparted, whatever changes it will effect in the mindset of the participants and their attitude to work, the consequential positive strides and reform, as well the boost in productivity level, there will sure be much credit for the Labour Commissioner and his ministry for ever thinking in this line. This perhaps explains why an Abuja based lawyer from Oyo state, Barr. Abiade Olaniyi once said that the intelligence of Barr. Ekong Sampson is an emotional one. Whoever has a fair knowledge about emotional intelligence, especially its five components/features, will understand the value of his kind of motivating spirit.

Often times, we have seen leaders who were once known to be very sound and famous in one leadership positions suddenly diminish soon after being sent to another designation. This does not necessarily mean their soundness was diminished, but apparently due to the fact the new designation had presented them with greater tasks and challenges. Such leaders, Travis Bradbery and Jean Greaves would say, lack emotional intelligence. This is so because leaders who have emotional intelligence do not function and stand out only in familiar terrains. They rather look up to getting out of their comfort zones to solve more difficult problems of life. They are simply motivators who will enter a new terrain full of challenges, motivate the people there who hitherto saw these challenges as insurmountable and get them to see the possibility of tackling the problems to a successful end.

The Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Ekong Sampson is one leader that can pass as one of such leaders from this part of the world. From his days in the Mkpat Enin council, where he served as chairman to his lawmaking days in the state legislature from where he proceeded to the state executive council, serving till date, he is always having one innovation or the other to leave behind – such innovations produced by thinking out of the box and stepping out of the conventional bounds. For instance, he was chairman of council at a time when highly placed public officers were too conscious of their security and consequently felt that keeping an arm’s length distance from the people or being surrounded with a thick crowd of security agents was safest for them. Rather than join the convention, the Mkpat Enin born lawyer was of the thinking that no sane human will harm his friend or brother. Hence, took the option of settling in the area where he could easily access the people and vice versa, thereby making himself to be seen as a brother and friend to his people.

As a lawmaker representing the same people, one thing considered very outstanding which he did was building a secondary school with boarding facilities which he made tuition free for indigenes of the area. Despite being aware that his contemporaries were building schools as their private profit making businesses, he chose to make his a legacy project. You can imagine the financial burden of having to pay teaching and non-teaching staff regularly to keep them in classes and respective duty posts to guarantee the enrolled students quality education.

Shortly after handing over the legislative office to his successor, he was appointed into the state executive council to serve in the then fresh administration of Udom Emmanuel. Subsequently assigned to run the rural development ministry usually referred to as a ‘dead’ ministry, Sampson rather saw in the ‘dead’ ministry a portfolio that had so much ideas undiscovered. In his usual way of thinking outside the triangle, he was able to help the government realize that getting government, governance and the benefits closer to the rurals can be easier with less spending and more impacts if there is a master plan. Today, the government can boast of a well-designed master plan that provides it with available information about the interiors, helping it set its priorities right as regards rural development, as well as target its funds according to the order of priority.

In the Political and Legislative Affairs Bureau where he left the rural development business for, Sampson’s vibrancy gave his boss, the governor a better understanding of what a political adviser should be like. On the legislative aspect, he took up the liaison job with so much ease. This was no surprise to all who knew him, as he brought all his legislative knowledge and experience to bear in strengthening the bond between the executive and legislative arms of government to advance productivity in governance for the benefit of the citizenry. Of course, he was known to be one of the very few pillars of the 4th and 5th assemblies where he served, hence, he had grounded knowledge of the workings of government as it concerns both arms. Politically, he stood well as a bridge between the governor and the people and spared no opportunity to use the airwaves and media spaces to sensitize the public on their roles and rights as citizens, as well as the need to participate fully in governance.

Now in the duty of managing the labourers and planning for economic development and manpower – where most people in his shoes will feel so unfortunate to be, but the innovative mind of Ekong Sampson is already creating something out of it, putting the ministry in the full beam of public light. And who knows? There could be something more to come before the current administration serves out, even with the less than one month deadline.

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