Mr Okon Okon, Executive Chairman, Akwa Ibom State Internal Revenue Service.

Substance Udo-Nature

From available record, between 1987 when Akwa Ibom was created and 2016, the highest Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) turnover in a given fiscal year the State had ever generated was N14billion. But from 2016 onwards, the State entered a phenomenal era of astronomical and geometric increase in revenue turnovers that saw her became a force to reckon with and an emerging competitor in subnational discourse. That watershed occurred in the era of Mr. Okon Okon as the pragmatic and result-oriented pioneer Executive Chairman of the Akwa Ibom State Internal Revenue Service (AKIRS) in the days of immediate past governor of the State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel.

Today, the former governor certainly would take a long pause for smile of satisfaction whenever the name Okon Okon crosses his mind, relishing the huge contributions AKIRS made to the success of his administration.
Memorably, listening to the citation of Mr. Okon Okon before announcing him as Chairman of AKIRS on April 17, 2017, an excited Udom was quoted to have said: ‘This is indeed a thoroughbred professional and a round peg in a round hole. Expectations of Akwa Ibom people are high’.

The confidence Udom Emmanuel had in Okon Okon’s personal integrity and testimonial ability to turn things around at AKIRS, no matter how discouraging the past must have looked, was such that he didn’t delay taking the bold step of doing what no governor in the State before him never had the trust in anybody to do. What was that? He gave autonomy to AKIRS and thus made Okon Okon the first Executive Chairman of the Board, the 14th in ascendancy, since Chief Ita Enobong in 1987.

The governor didn’t allow politics and sentiments dictate for him but instead, insisted on excellence and pragmatics. The inspiration was that Okon Okon had in superfluous abundance what it will take to widen the coast and open fresh frontiers for the State’s income nets, becoming a catalyst to the tall dreams and sustenance of both the Divine Mandate and Completion of the Udom era.

Barely a year following his appointment, Okon stole the thunder by not only vindicating the governor’s hiring acumen and incipient and abiding trust in him but further proving that the governor’s choice was a clairvoyant step taken in absolute confidence in possibilities. The Magnus Opus was the State’s 2019 turnover. That year AKIRS generated N32.3billion, a record that saw Akwa Ibom grouped amongst the first 10 States with the highest IGR in the country by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
That report also placed the State in the 7th position in the entire country, 5th in the whole South, and 3rd in the South-South geo-political zone respectively.

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We recall that , according to BudgIT in its “2020 State of States’ Report and Financial Viability of Nigerian States”, Akwa Ibom took the 5th position under the “Year-On-Year Most Improved States in IGR” in the country. For the first time since the State’s creation, the spectacular report also launched her amongst the first 10 Most Economically Vibrant States in the country. As at 2015, Akwa Ibom was occupying the 18th position in national standing.

Leapfrogging from N24.21billion in 2018 to N32.29bn in 2019 saw an increase of 33.37%, with a cumulative growth ratio of 105.98% from 2014 to 2020. The immediate impact was seen in the sea of investors that flooded the State, seeing it as a destination of choice. Highlights of other years’ report of IGR indicated the following: 2017 (15.9billion); 2020 (30.6billion); and 2021 (31.3billion).

The secret was that, with Okon Okon, AKIRS took on a new service philosophy, staff orientation and motivation template, sense of direction and target-consciousness, aggregate outcome of which saw Akwa Ibom aggressively repositioned herself as a rising force and daring competitor in the narrative of tax administration in the Nigeria.

Modestly, Okon Okon justified beyond expectations the tall order placed on his shoulders. From the day he mounted the saddle, there has been no fiscal circle AKIRS had not overshot targets and caused upsets in comparative analyses of IGR of States in the country. The catalyst was the peculiar corporate transformation instrument Okon developed, codenamed REVITA (Revenue and Institutional Transformation Agenda), to serve as a compass to the zenith.

A strategist and dependable team-player, Okon Okon’s omnibus suffices. Trained as an economist but a banker and investment expert by profession, Mr. Okon Okon has over 34 years of industry experience in both private and corporate sectors. Of the 34 years, 21 were in senior management positions including 3 years as the pioneer MD/CEO of Omegabank Savings & Loans Ltd (Mortgage Bankers) and over 10 years as General Manager across 2 major commercial banks including Wema Bank Plc, from where he joined public service of Akwa Ibom State. For his Midas touch, the State Government in January 2021 appointed him into the Board of Directors of Akwa Savings and Loans Ltd.

Besides his flourishing career in banking, with a first degree in Economics (2ND Class Upper) and Masters Degree in Economics and an MBA, Okon Okon has attended several high ranking executive courses in many leading Business Schools of international renown, including the prestigious Harvard Business School, Boston, USA; Wharton Business School, Pennsylvania, USA; Columbia Business School, New York, USA; Euromoney, London; IDI Dublin and Lagos Business School, Nigeria; etc.

The commonplace attitude amongst many is to blow trumpets about their strides on treetops and street corners, to possibly curry cheap public praise or attract the favour of the governor in their desperate desire for higher offices. To the contrary, focused and cool-headed as ever, Okon has piloted affairs in AKIRS as if he was not there, avoiding publicity as much as it is his character, but allowing only his performance to do the talking for his loyalty and commitment to stewardship.

For the cherished rare privileges I have had to chat with this charismatic gentleman, what has pleased me most about him have been his consistency of character, tenacity of purpose, meticulousness, innovative acumen, dynamism, untiring spirit, untainted professionalism, and unassuming ability to deliver on targets without excuses. He makes it truer that great achievers naturally do not gloat successes but look forward to more accomplishments to concertize gains already made.

The Akwa Ibom Internal Revenue Service was established in 1999 through a law enacted on April 23, 1999, which came into effect in December 2000. However, the Akwa Ibom State Government revised the 2000 Law that gave effect to the present Akwa Ibom Revenue Administration Law of June 30, 2016. This law gave autonomy to the board and made provisions for a five-member board and seven ex-officio members, headed by the executive chairman.

Mr. Okon has blown life into the once weak bones of AKIRS and brought to essence its Vision Statement: “To be the leading State internal revenue service provider in Nigeria”. In him, there is no monotony. In him the Law of Diminishing Returns is null and void. There is no doubt that Gov. Umo Eno, who once served as Commissioner knew and heard of Okon Okon’s trailblazing impact in AKIRS that reinforced the State’s financial fortunes and national status.
It is my cherished opinion that the governor would love to see a sustenance of the Okon Okon magic that potentially shall add special effects to the Arise Agenda.

Indeed, if AKIRS could achieve what it has achieved in the trying period of foundation-laying and realignment, even during COVID’19 and devastating recessions, then Pastor Umo Eno can have greater expectations in the imminent rain of better harvests from the potent seeds already sown by this quiet achiever, strategist and team-player.