By Osondu Ahirika
The Accidental Public Servant is the title of one of Nigeria’s most controversial books by current Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai. it is a story of Nigeria, told by an insider tinted according to his viewpoint.
After a successful career in the private sector, Nasir El-Rufai rose to the top ranks of Nigeria’s political hierarchy, serving first as the privatization czar at the Bureau for Public Enterprises and then as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja under former President Olusegun Obasanjo. I will not go beyond that to aver further credit to this self-styled tell-all memoir by El-Rufai. Howbeit it suits my purview into the person of Akwa Ibom’s Finance Commissioner, Mr Akan Okon.
Before I go any further though, let me just highlight a review of that book by a commentator, who wrote, “As the title suggests, the overall theme of the book revolves around the intriguing journey of an individual from very humble beginnings in an idyllic post-independence era, in a rural part of Katsina, northern Nigeria, to occupying one of the highest public offices in 21st century Nigeria. The reader glimpses into… El-Rufai’s fiercely independent, resolute, feisty and cerebral personality.”. For me, this is where the (di)similarity of Rufai and Akan Okon proceeds.
Born October 1, 1965, Akan Okon, from humble beginnings in an idylic post independence era, in Itu, a rural part of Akwa Ibom has risen to the top in his private and public life. He however strays from El Rufai’s self-assured independence, by been a great team player and connecting with people to achieve the common good. He does not have that fiesty arrogance of a Rufai, but he is as cerebral, resolute and perhaps, was reluctantly and unexpected conscripted by fate into the trenches of public service, and by extension, politics.
I do not intend to undertake his personality profile here, but to give some insight into unbundling the fecund mix Mr Okon is made of.
Sometime in 2002, I had my first glimpse of this finance expert, who was then serving as the Branch Manager in the defunct Standard Trust Bank. My elder sister, Mrs Chidi Aruno, peace on her ashes, was then a very close family friend of the Okon’s. Side by side with my sister, this great man, accomplished as he was far back then, was consistently seeking the face of God Almighty. He was never lacking in prayer and fasting. Solemn assemblies attracted him as bees to a honeycomb. He spared no effort in crafting time out of his strenuous work schedule to recharge the spirit man. It was back then that I analyzed what a wonderful and unassuming man, Mr Okon is.
With the passing of my sister to eternity sometime in 2003, I lost Mr Okon on my radar until he resurfaced as Commissioner for Economic Development and later, redeployed to Ministry of Finance as Honourable Commissioner in May 2014 by former Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio.
Replacing someone like Obong Bassey Albert who stamped his eccentric personality on that office, many never gave Mr Okon the chance to stand out. He stunned all by his carriage. Undiminished and never lurking under the shadow of OBA, Mr Okon soon made a distinct mark in office and made the people long for more of him. Of course, that joy was palpable when he was re-appointed Finance Commissioner by His Excellency, Mr Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, the incumbent governor. Nobody could fault the retention of Mr Okon.
From outside looking in, I have watched with awe how this professional has thrived in the murky and so oft, treacherous minefield of politics. What has worked for him can be surmised in one or two words. The virtue of character and consistency.
How do I mean?
Folks’, I must confess that, from the year 2002 when I first saw Mr Okon, up until date, he has not changed. Let me paint a portrait of this illustrious Itu Son as my sister argued more than a decade ago. Akan Okon has carefully cultivated a well-controlled nature to compliment his superior personality. His velvety soft voice finds utterance in slow and measured speech when he is in a conversation.
His pragmatism is belied by a cool composure that well amplifies the fact that, this man is an accidental exception in politics which is populated by boisterous and self-vaunting players. Mr Okon’s translucent sincerity gives armour to his rare humility. He exerts such mastery of his personality, exhibited with horned confidence in his abilities and talent, which is worth my envy. He does not flinch in his courtesies and his smiles are genuine Despite Akan Okon’s placid exterior, inside, he is as tough, determined, tenacious and focused on his duty. Reason, he excels as though effortlessly. Above all, he is fiercely loyal to friends, associates and in particular, his boss, Governor Emmanuel. Even in the thickest darkness, Mr Okon will not betray trust. I can bet my arm on that. Other traits that make him a splendid addition to our public discourse abound. His wise counsel and generousity. His gentle sympathy with the despairing and cool touch for the weary. His brilliant potential, which remains unvarnished by his easy- going nature. His piety and God-fearing candour. All these and more are packed with positive energy and gives him the leverage to soar beyond the limitations of political bigotry.
I must warn though, that, whereas Mr Akan Okon is your veritable Prince Charming in politics, never mistake that for weakness or naivety. He is a master of intellect and emotions and will ferret or sieve through the chaff of mediocrity, charlatanism, cynicism or sycophancy. He will not be soaked in by such cheap tantrums.
Can I therefore concur with my erudite friend, Aniekeme Finbar’s submissions that, “Mr Akan Okon is sympathetic, empathetic, steady, kind, assertive, proficient, efficient, competent, aggressive, experienced, intelligent, mature, humble, attentive, generous, God fearing, broken, educated, honest, trust worthy, loyal and modernized. He is well celebrated by his people and the many lives he has touched.
My subject also parades a rich profile. He holds a Masters degree in Business Management (MBA) in Banking and Finance from the University of Lagos and a first Degree in Business Administration from the University of Calabar. He has attended courses at the London School of corporate Finance, London (Euromoney October 2012), Project Finance: Energy and
infrastructure, Dubai (Euro money February 2012), Financing Energy projects: Oil, Gas and power, Montreal Canada (Euro money August 2011); Euro money corporate finance programme Wlaton House Dorking Uk, July 2008; International Capital Market Conference – Citibank New York – May 2007, Financial Engineering in Deal and Transaction Structuring Lagos – March 2007; Gilts Game (A Bonds Trading Course with simulation) August, 2006; Fixed Income Securities/internal process flow Training (NBS Assets Management LLC) London –
May 2006; Corporate & project Finance Course – DC Gardner UK July, 2004; The role of Financial Institution in the implementation of Cabotage. A core professional. A member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, Fellow, institute of Sales Management, Fellow, Chartered Institute of Leadership of Nigeria (CILN, member, Institute of Direct Marketing and member, Chattered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) and A Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International.
On this beat, I want to celebrate a man who has not allowed the perks and comforts of high office or privilege, suffocate and mortify his innate ideals and nobility of heart. Here we have another accidental public servant, who has gone ahead to distinguish himself in stewardship and he aligns his natal influences with the inevitable summon of destiny.