WOULD AKWA IBOM EVER RISE AGAIN?
By Sampson Sampson
At the twilight of Attah’s Administration, Akwa Ibom had begun to earn national attention. Former governor of Akwa Ibom State, His Excellency, Obong Victor Attah whose era defined the State in self-assertion took the combination of esteem and firmness to rewrite the narrative of the State. And he achieved a lot in these pursuits. He did not only become the Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, he mounted a vociferous advocacy for resource control in a manner that met the admiration of even his enemies.
If Obong Attah defined the perspective of the State in courage, his successor, Senator Godswill Akpabio built on that courage and advanced the State to a height never before envisioned. His era (2007 – 2015) can best be described as the golden era of Akwa Ibom State. A victim of ambition, former governor, Godswill Akpabio dreamed for the State the kind of dream Lee Kuan Yew had for Singapore and which is captured succinctly in the book, From Third World to First (The Singapore Story). No thanks to constitutional limitation to two tenures for a governor and the global economic recession that set in between 2013 – 2016, which witnessed a downturn in accruals to the federal government and consequently the States with attendant impact on the activities of government.
But before the oil prices shrunk and reduced public earnings, Akpabio had proven that governance may not be about the quantum of money received but about vision and political will to deliver those things that would make life more meaningful for the people. His approach created a marked difference with what happened in Borno State at the same period where the then governor ploughed that State’s receipt into savings with neither infrastructure nor social investments, producing the incendiary Boko Haram that is currently a national plague. Akpabio defined his governance style, set to work, accomplished a lot and left the State better than he met it.
Akapbio acknowledged that government is a continuum. He recognized that to abandon the projects conceived and started by his predecessor, at whatever level they were, was tantamount to waste of public fund and a disservice to the people. This conviction may have given verve to the completion of Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort which is reported to have had only 17 rooms at the time of Akpabio’s assumption of office; the Victor Attah International Airport which is also said to have been at 10% completion or mere site clearing level and the Ibom Power Plant, said to have reached 65% completion. Akpabio did not abandon these novel projects. Even though the contract terms were alleged to be shoddy, he weighed the benefits of the projects to the people, dusted the papers, rolled his sleeves and set to work. At completion, those projects were symbols of pride to our State until some began to wither owing to management challenges traceable to the doorsteps of the current administration.
By the turn of Akpabio’s first term, Akwa Ibom had become a touchstone of a working government and good governance. In the area of infrastructure, Akwa Ibom had converted to a construction site. Julius Berger, SETRACO, STEMCO and CCECC were common sights in most parts of the State, all of them with a charge to deliver quality infrastructure. NIGERPET was also on hand for the remodeling and beautification of the cities. The novel pipe jacking technology also worked at feverish pace to evacuate the flood that often then beset Uyo metropolis, especially the Itam area that currently has the flyovers. Today, nobody remembers the traffic gridlock that was a common feature in that area and sometimes the total inaccessibility that greeted vehicular movement. Like Lee Kuan Yew, Akpabio worked like a man on a mission, taking up ambitious projects and ensuring their completions. One recalls with nostalgia his joke, “If I cannot do anything else, I would confuse you with development”. By the time he finished with the flyovers and the roads around Itam from Ekom Iman through the road that empties into Calabar-Itu, his boast was made real. Many indigenes of Akwa Ibom who visited could not find roads to their houses without making enquiries. Indeed, Akwa Ibom earned the sobriquet of the fastest growing State in Nigeria from reputable assessors.
Akpabio took the State to the orbit of grandeur and glamour, attracting national and international events in a rash never before known outside Lagos and Abuja. Rejoicing over the divine change of the status of the State from pedestrian to destination, Akpabio himself, a big talker, is said to have christened the State as the Gilgal of Nigeria, recalling the story of how the children of Israel converged in Gilgal to renew their covenant with God. For a reasonable period, Akwa Ibom bore the name, the Gilgal of Nigeria to capture the surfeit of seminars, workshops and conferences that held in the State during the period. The free and compulsory education which the Akpabio Administration introduced and free healthcare for some segments of the society were some of the social investments that drew attention and endeared the administration to the people. One cannot forget “Akpabiomba” which was an additional one month salary during December period and the upscaled Carol Night to satiate Christian faithful. All these added up to make the government unique in its people oriented approach.
Of course the beautification, the functional traffic lights and the well-lit cities gave Akwa Ibom a needed air of modernity. No wonder indigenes of Akwa Ibom who lived in other lands were buffeted with counseling from kind hearted friends who enjoined them to return to their home State to prospect for the viable opportunities created by that administration. Akwa Ibom had become the new El Dorado and everybody craved to be there.
But all of these are in retreat now. We are gradually returning to the Akwa Ibom of yore, before the advocacy for shift in mental attitude was instituted. We are back to the era of darkness on major roads and cities; a passive economy that is only dependent on salaries of public/civil servants without inter-ministerial and contract jobs which used to boost the local economy. We are in the era of multiple taxation that have further weakened the meagre earnings of the people and exposed them to poverty. It is an era of harsh and unfriendly economic policies that have taken a toll on the domestic economy and consequently the wellbeing of the people. The much touted road projects of the State Government are either in a dismal state or outrightly abandoned with the people living with the plight of such action. Whereas Akpabio continued with Attah’s projects, Udom has wilfully abandoned the projects his predecessor initiated and even completed to score cheap political point. The Quatenary Hospital, the Four Point by Sheraton and even the Five Star Le Meridien and Golf Resort, where an inept management has been foisted by the Udom Administration, are today shadows of their old selves. The economic activities which these concerns would have generated for the benefit of Akwa Ibom people has been ignored by this administration. Indeed, Akwa Ibom is living the lyrics of Fela’s song, “Suffering and Smiling”. The government of the day has already railroaded the people into a state of nostalgia, forcing them to remember the pleasant yesterday with a feat of fear and a poignant question hanging on their lips, “Would Akwa Ibom ever rise again?”
Sampson Sampson hails from Akwa Ibom State