UDOM DOES NOT LISTEN
By: Edet Eyo Bassey
On Saturday, April 27th precisely between the hours of 10am and 12noon I listened to a life radio interview aired by one of the budding FM stations in Uyo. The anchor and programme presenter said it was a special interview being an uninterrupted session of two long hours in contrast with the normal 1hour. The studio guest was Barr. Inibehe Effiong, a populist lawyer, citizens activist and peoples advocate renowned for his defence of the weak and vulnerable. Inibehe is also reputed as a social critic and public affairs analyst with a knack for good governance, equitable and judicious distribution of state/national wealth and resources.
As expected, the interview was a delight, revealing and loaded with issues pertaining to governance and the administration of Deacon Udom Emmanuel. The radio anchor was at his best as he hard-pressed the guest with piercing questions that attracted penetrating response with in-depth analysis that exposed the weaknesses and under belly of Governor Emmanuel’s administration. At the end of the interview when asked to give his final thoughts on what he considered was the crux of the failure of the administration he summitted that; “Udom does not listen”. That Governor Udom Emmanuel does not listen to the people is what I came away with after the interview and that forms the premise of my essay.
Is it true that Udom does not listen to the people or anybody for that matter? If no, who does he listen to? Judging from antecedents in our polity, I am tempted to agree with Inibehe that Udom does not listen. A former governor of the state Obong Victor Attah is reputed to have been good at consultative engagements. He had the likes of General Akpan (rtd.), Prof. Akpan Ekpo, Chief Fidelis Etim and others who constituted members of his kitchen cabinet and whom he listened to. Chief Godswill Akpabio at inception of his administration is known to have listened to his godfather, Chief Michael Afangide and Obong Umana Okon Umana who was then Secretary to State Government (SSG). The latter part of his administration witnessed a great input and influence of his wife and family members suggesting that he listened to them. Besides his mentor and Great Teacher with whom he spared no time falling into contention and intractable differences, Deacon Emmanuel does seem not to have anyone in the public glare that he is known to listen to.
To listen is an art that elicits patience, tolerance, temperance and wisdom on the part of the listener. It is an essential ingredient and virtue of good leadership. For the government and the governed, listening promotes understanding, trust and confidence for both parties making room for a healthy, mutually respectful and rewarding relationship. In a democracy, government exist for the people and not the people for government. Put differently, government is expected to do the will of the people and not for the people to be subject to the will and fancy of government. Interestingly, instances are bound where this absurdity in government has been pertinently demonstrated under the watch of Governor Udom Emmanuel. Recall the peoples’ opposition to government’s decision to undertake the following projects; a new government lodge in Lagos, construction of a worship/ecumenical centre in Uyo, the 21storey building in Uyo, Ibom Air project and most recently the request to borrow N1,728,000,000 for the supply and installation of safe city surveillance monitoring and communication equipment in Uyo. Other than these turn-key projects expected to cost Akwa Ibom people billions of Naira arising from their poor conceptualization and considered not priority investments now, there are several other vexed issues such as non-implementation of government “white paper” on the Reigners Bible Church collapse, protracted delay in the payment of pensions and gratuities to which government has paid deaf ears.
Despite condemnation of these projects by majority of the people, Udom has proceeded with same deploying huge state funds to such investments not minding public out-cry and objection. Of great concern and a slap on the sensibility of discerning Akwa Ibomites is the most recent of Udom’s ill-conceived and misguided investment in the safe city surveillance monitoring and communication equipment for Uyo, the state capital. The project is estimated to cost N1.728billion for which the Governor recently requested for approval from the State House of Assembly to borrow from Zenith Bank to facilitate its execution.
As an Akwa Ibomite, I do not share the concept of development envisioned by Governor Emmanuel in his fancy albeit “signature projects” that stands logic and common sense on the head. It erodes every iota of the slogan “government for the people”. I was piqued and astonished when per chance I sighted a letter dated 31st January 2019 wherein the Governor conveyed his request to the House for a resolution approving a Bank facility in the sum of N1.728billion for execution of the Uyo safe city project. Most intriguing in the Governor’s letter was the revelation that contract for the job had earlier been awarded before he approached the House for consent to borrow. The letter read in part; “In furtherance of the State Government’s effort to maintain and sustain adequate security in the state and its environs, the State Government has awarded a contract to Mimshac Digital Ltd. (MIMSHAC) for the supply and installation of safe city surveillance Monitor and Communication Equipment in Uyo. The contract sum of this project is N1,728,000,000”. Going further, the Governor proffered 4 reasons as justification for the project and why it was necessary and important to the state. (1) It will make Uyo the safest city in Nigeria as it will be the first and the only state with this security surveillance system in Nigeria. (2) It will provide all time surveillance of the city and its environs day and night. (3) It will promote investment in the state as investors, both foreign and local will be attracted to the state. (4) Security of lives and properties will be enhanced and the economy of the state stimulated. It is not true that Akwa Ibom shall be the first to have such security apparatus. Lagos state and FCT, Abuja were the first to have it auspices of the Federal Government. Yet, it did not stop crime and criminality in both cities. What transpired and how the project in those two cities ended up is in the public domain.
I have thoughtfully reviewed Udom’s 4point justification for committing Akwa Ibom resources to that venture and I cannot find any kernel thereof sufficiently convincing as posited by the Governor. The state economy is yet toddling without the kind of insecurity and economic threat professed by the Governor necessitating such investment. Space will not permit me to dwell extensively on the necessity or otherwise of this investment. I will leave my readers to study the justification adduced by the Governor and decide for themselves considering same vis-à-vis the toddling state of our economy, the level of insecurity and threat posed to our economy as averred, alongside the pressing need to tackle lack, hunger and poverty to which such funds could best be applied. Quite frankly, what I see in all these is a Governor poised to engender personal or relationship interest, promote self and ego as first amongst equals in setting standards; not minding how erroneous and inconsiderate the project maybe even at the risk and detriment of his people.
In his prayer to the House, the Governor wrote; “In consideration of the socio-economic advantages of this project to the state, the Honourable House of Assembly is hereby requested to give a resolution backing the state government to obtain a bank facility of N1,728,000,000 from Zenith Bank Plc to finance the project”. Here, the Governor was clear and unambiguous; the money was to be borrowed from Zenith bank Plc, the “Reserve Bank of Akwa Ibom state”. It won’t be long, they will invent a slogan “Akwa Ibom is Zenith Bank, Zenith Bank is Akwa Ibom” as the one bank policy of Udom Emmanuel in Akwa Ibom state gets entrenched in the system. You may wish to see my previous article “Udom, Zenith Bank And Us” published sometime in June 2018. No doubt the loan from Zenith Bank shall be gotten “one hand” courtesy of Udom’s affinity with the bank. No mention was made of the conditions/interest attached to the loan so that Akwa Ibom people through their representatives in the House can determine its flexibility and fairness. As expected, the House of Assembly in its proceeding of Wednesday, March 13th, 2019 without more affixed its “IRON SEAL” of approval to the Governor’s request to borrow from Zenith Bank for the project.
This 6th House of Assembly has more often than not demonstrated near lack of commitment and indifference to the business of government as it affects the people they represent. Despite the peoples’ agitation over Governor Emmanuel’s unpopular projects, not a single House member has risen on the floor of the House on the side of the people to query Executive indiscretion and actions. I don’t mean unduly antagonizing the Executive, I mean genuinely probing government actions and inactions in the exercise of their over-sight functions. No member is bothered about how these unpopular projects not originally captured in the budget came about. Who initiated the memo for these Ad-hoc projects? Which government Ministry or department appraised, evaluated and recommended the project/contractor to government? I am talking about due process.
Akwa Ibomites expect their representatives to rise to protect and defend the abuse of their common trust embedded in the office of the Governor and stop Deacon Udom Emmanuel from fritting away state resources in misguided and unrewarding investments. If the House is truly representative of the people, Governor Udom’s obstinacy shall be curtailed and a cure found for the state’s ailing procurement and contract award process.