THOUGH Akwa Ibom State was created over two decades ago, it barely came to national and international consciousness under former Governor Godswill Akpabio.
This was largely due to the fact that what many saw as disadvantages were several potentials to be tapped, thus, what was then required was the right leadership to lift it from a poor state to a level that its potentials could be fully tapped for the benefit of its people.
Recall that back then, many saw Akwa Ibomites as backward in view of its hundreds of exports to big cities, including Lagos and Abuja to work as house helps, especially cooks.
This was largely due to poverty, escalated by a large army of young people who never went to school.
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But this changed with the coming of former Governor Akpabio, who fought a major battle to realise his quest of becoming the governor of his state. Having been a major player in the government of his predecessor, Obong Victor Attah, Akpabio left no one in doubt that he could change the fortunes of Akwa Ibom and its people for the better. Less than two years down the line, the state once referred to as a haven of illiterates and cooks had shed that toga through conscious efforts. Akpabio did this by working meticulously with a master-plan that took into consideration the issues impeding the growth and development of the state and their solutions.
As somebody who had the benefit of experience, he used his wide contacts to change Akwa Ibom from a civil service state in no time. Not only did he build enduring structures urgently needed to change the narrative, he also got the right persons to deliver the goods no matter where they were. Across the three senatorial districts of the state, not only did he build solid classroom structures, he equally motivated teachers to give their best by re-training and motivating them. He equally partnered the House of Assembly to ensure that the monster called illiteracy was banished by enacting a law making education free and compulsory.
Consequently, it was mandatory for every child of school age in the state to be in school, even as there was stiff penalty for child-trading during school hours. Little did Akpabio know that this would have a multiplier effect as public schools received a major boost and many indigenes outside the state came back home to take advantage of the initiative.
Across critical sectors, Akpabio’s signature projects were evident -health, housing, transportation, sports, roads, tourism and more.
It was, therefore, little wonder that the civil service state of those days suddenly became a Mecca of sorts for people across the world.
Based on documented evidence, the Akpabio administration started and completed over 400 projects across the length and breadth of the state in a record eight years. These are enduring projects never seen in many parts of this country, especially, the South-South region of Nigeria. For instance, not a single of the hundreds of kilometers of roads awarded to reputable contractors, including Julius Berger has a single pot-hole after over ten years of construction. This is a credit to an administration, which gave tremendous attention to details in the award of contracts. The question many ask today is: Did Akpabio leave government business with his magic? This is no doubt a pertinent question in view of the rot that Akwa Ibom has suddenly descended into in the last three years.
Today, one does not need to be told that the “golden era” has suddenly disappeared into thin air under Governor Udom Emmanuel. This is evident in the fact that the state has been like a rudderless ship under Governor Emmanuel who took over from Akpabio. This was a man who received so much support from Akpabio, though created enemies for him within the PDP then.
No one could have ever imagined what we are today confronted with in view of Emmanuel’s impeccable credentials. This was a man who rose to the level of an Executive Director in a major bank before joining the government.
Like Akpabio, he had also been schooled at the highest level in handling of government business, having been a top official of the immediate past administration. Many also saw his age is an advantage as he is expected to have the energy to face the challenges of office. But what has been the scorecard of Governor Emmanuel as the helmsman of Akwa Ibom State three and half years after? Unfortunately, not only has he halted the achievements left by Akpabio, he has virtually put the state in reverse gear. Many citizens of the state are at a loss regarding the propaganda they are daily hearing from the government of the state for non-performance. Akwa Ibomites are confused over what to believe as excuses keep springing up on a daily basis.
For instance, Governor Emmanuel recently told the media that the reason for the failure of his government was largely due to recession. In another breath, he blamed it on the value of the naira, saying what his predecessor achieved with the naira then, can’t be achieved with the value of the currency today. The good thing however, is that the people are discerning and would therefore not fall for half-truth. At a time when the governor is busy churning out excuses, the governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu has done more projects, and both were sworn in at the same time. Curiously, Akwa Ibom collects far more than Abia from the Federal coffers, yet has not been able to live up to expectation under the governor. Even in neighbouring Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike has done so much within the last three and half years in terms of projects. So confident is Wike that he invited many former Heads of State and governors to commission projects in his state. The story is similar in Cross River State which has widened its industrialisation gap and even invited President Muhammadu Buhari to commission projects.
The question to ask therefore is: How were these governors able to do what they have been able to do while Governor Emmanuel has lived in an atmosphere of excuses for his failure? The answer simply is capacity. The capacity to harness human and material resources for the betterment of the people is simply lacking. Instead of finding ways and means of moving Akwa Ibom forward, blackmail of the Akpabio administration has suddenly become the stock-in-trade of this administration.
Was this what earned Akpabio the respect he commands both in and outside Akwa Ibom State today? This is a man who has demonstrated capacity at every given opportunity to the glory of God and humanity. As the Minority Leader of the Senate, his colleagues respected him each time he stood up to speak for the opposition in the hallowed chamber, and still do, despite moving to the APC. This was a man who was handling such position for the first time, and he showed dexterity. That is leadership. Ever since he started representing his senatorial district, his record in terms of deliverables is unprecedented.
- Umohinyang, a lawyer writes from Abuja.