At the twilight of the administration of His Excellency Mr. Donald Duke as Governor of Cross River State, I was appointed into the Executive Council as the Special Adviser to the Governor on Legislative Affair. I served for just eleven (11) months before the end of that administration in 2007. Instructively, Mr. Duke met me for the first time at the swearing in ceremony that fateful morning. I never knew it was possible to be appointed into a State Executive Council without the necessary ‘connect’with the powers that be. The transition to a new government was meant to be seamless, so I had no qualms of a reappointment as I was assured of my placement in the new administration. Those were the days of continuity as Imoke’s regime was more or less a carry over or a fac simile of Duke’s administration. Indeed, the Chief of Staff, the very irrepressible Rt. Hon. Allex Agbona barely graduated from being Duke’s Deputy Chief of Staff to Liyel’s Chief of Staff. So I stepped in from Special Adviser of Duke to Liyel’s Deputy Chief of Staff. I never envisaged my placement as the Deputy Chief of Staff, a position which I was made to understand was reserved for members of the inner circle, the privileged few considered very close to the Governor, some sort of kitchen cabinet.
His Excellency, Senator Liyel Imoke like Duke barely knew me. That is the story of a detribalised Nigerian whose yardstick for an appointment was capacity, competence and credibility. He believed in giving everyone equal opportunity irrespective of tribe, tongue or sex; a man who would patiently give you the proverbial long rope to draw, retrace your steps or make amends mutatis mutandis. I had served in that capacity for five years. During this period, Imoke demonstrated class, dexterity and experience. He seemed to me that he knew everything because I was awed by his deep knowledge and experience. He proved to be a father, mentor and a very understanding boss who would do everything possible to encourage his subjects to achieve their personal goals.
At the launch of my book, IMMUNITY OF PUBLIC OFFICERS UNDER THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION in 2009, he shelved every other official engagements to travel from Abuja to grace the occasion in Calabar. Indeed he requested the event be stepped down or delayed as he came straight from the Airport. I was really overwhelmed especially with the encomiums he showered on me that day. Imoke made me look like a superstar. Here is a man who being aware of your deficiencies would do all within his wisdom and power to support you and possibly bail you out.
Perhaps my real knowledge of the man was while serving as Special Adviser, Intergovernmental Affairs and Liaison, Abuja. He said my schedule was to serve as the State’s Ambassador, coordinate the Governor’s official engagements and preside over his official and domestic affairs while in Abuja. He would be the first to address me as ‘Your Excellency’, an epithet reserved for those on diplomatic mission. I really enjoyed the attention of being the State’s representative and especially the rare privilege of seeing the Governor up-close and personally. I had the first hand knowledge of being with this meticulous workaholic, politician and technocrat who was as hard working at night as in the day. Imoke hardly sleeps. He is as nocturnal as a bat. I also got an insight into the fact that he was clearly misunderstood, underrated and very undermined, but that whatever the situation, he would come out unscathed, victorious and indeed better off. Imoke will laugh last.
Imoke is a very jovial gentleman who would crack your ribs and make you shed tears of laughter. His quietude is a bit exaggerated because when in his elements, he would engage you in an endless chat and banter especially where the topic is interesting and bothers on politics and political issues. Indeed, you wont want to leave. He is a repository of Nigeria’s political history and development.
In Abuja, we would spend time, even after hours playing host to political heavyweights and associates especially of the PDP extraction. In times like these, you could get anything from Imoke. He is compassionate and generous to a fault especially on matters that affects health and well being. I fondly remember how I would climb the Aircraft taking him back to Calabar to squeeze some ‘welfare’ from him. He was always ready to give even when he was being inconvenienced.
I wouldn’t know how impressed he was with my duties in Abuja but when the opportunity came, I was saddled with the additional responsibility of serving as Desk Officer and Coordinator of the Sister State project between Cross River State and the State of Maryland in the United States of America. I knew instantly that his reward for hard, work was more work. A clearly astute and thoroughbred personality, an avid listener with the patience of Job, Imoke’s humility is legendary. A very knowledgeable and deliberate planner and a stickler for excellence. Though he does not engage in any conventional sports, yet he is a great sportsman. Happy diamond birthday boss, may you live long to make us drink from your wealth of experience and goofwill.
Ntufam Dr. Joe Edet, Acting Dean of Law/Deputy Vice Chancellor, Arthur Jarvis University