BY JOE INIODU
Pundits believe that leaders are born. This postulation manifests explicitly in the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio, CON, who has all his life been thrust into leadership roles. From Secondary School to date, providence has always provided him a role to serve and he has continued to do so diligently and with consuming passion and devotion.
As two terms governor of Akwa Ibom State, Akpabio redefined leadership and upped the ante of governance, turning the once pedestrian State into a cynosure and a destination. The State transformed under him from a state of squalid infrastructure to a glittering space that today testifies to modernity. This was indisputably the result of courage and vision. Akpabio did not only envision a State with modern infrastructure, he found the courage to tread the path others feared to trod. For instance, he operated a budget of 80% capital and 20% recurrent for 8 years. He also had the courage to award construction jobs to construction giants like Julius Berger, CCECC, etc for the assurance of quality and enduring infrastructure, despite what many saw as prohibitive cost.
Akpabio’s courage manifested with a note of daring when he wanted to build the Government House, which is christened HILLTOP MANSION. The then existing Government House was old, dilapidated and in need of renovation or demolition. Many opted for renovation in the belief that it would save cost. Since the matter was in public domain, arguments weighed more in favour of renovation. But Akpabio saw beyond a mere renovated Government House. He wanted something that would stand the test of time and serve as a pride to the State. So despite the loud criticism then, Akpabio proceeded to demolish the old structure and construct a brand new Government House. Government House, Uyo is today adjudged as one of the best in the country. That decision remains a testimony to vision, courage and leadership.
The recent action of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs who heads the Ministry that is supervising the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), in the matter concerning the ultimatum by High Chief Government Oweizide EKpemupolo, aka Tompolo, that NDDC Board be constituted within the stipulated period and threatening dire consequences for non-compliance is another manifestation of courage and political sagacity. To many, the ultimatum had set the stage for a showdown and this fear was further accentuated with frenzied protest at the premises of NDDC at Aba Road and Eastern Bypass, which forced workers to vacate the offices. There was mounting tension with means of resolving the impasse becoming increasingly dim, in the face of other splinter youth groups in the Niger Delta, who pledged their loyalty and support to Tompolo. As those who preach the Scripture would say, When God chooses, he qualifies. God who thrusts Akpabio with leadership responsibilities, usually has a way of granting him uncanny wisdom to navigate out of difficult situations or culs-de-sac.
The Minister in handling the matter of the ultimatum, showed tact laced with humility and understanding. Akpabio sought audience with Tompolo and other stakeholders and travelled to the creeks to meet with them on Thursday June 3, 2021 at the traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Oporoza Town. Akpabio in the midst of prevailing security challenges across the length and breadth of the Country, took a risk, boarded a boat and travelled through the waters to meet and engage in dialogue with stakeholders in the region. Dialogue as we all know, is the grundnorm of democracy. But occupants of high offices do not choose the option of dialogue or embrace it. They are usually obsessed with power to the point of viewing the humility associated with dialogue, as vitiation of the power resident in their office. But not Akpabio, who understands that power belongs to the people, and one must consult and dialogue with them constantly to have a peaceful society which is a sine-qua-non for development. This is the mark of a statesman and that is the stuff Akpabio is made of.
Many have said that the Honourable Minister took a monumental risk by travelling to the creeks. But leadership embodies risk, especially when embedded in altruism and sincerity of purpose. These core values have always stuck out in Akpabio’s leadership drive. His quest to make a difference has remained his article of faith and creed. It is the creed that emboldened and took him to the creeks in the midst of public apprehension. The outcome of that effort is already in public space. The question is, could we have achieved the truce without the dialogue, knowing how adamant and intractable, the position of the ultimatum appeared? Of course the answer is NO! Perhaps the recourse would have been the use of force, with attendant Pyrrhic cost.
High Chief Ekpemupolo in his statement, has shown understanding and yielded more time for the constitution of the Board. He said, he came into the matter because of his love for the region and Nigeria. I believe, he and the Honourable Minister share this ideal as patriots. I urge him to continue to allow this patriotism to drive his actions. Niger Deltans who also love the region passionately, are thankful to the minister and Tompolo for finding a way out of what seemed like a flaming fire, that was set to consume the region nay Nigeria. We call on the people of the region to continue to subscribe their support to the Minister, as he has already demonstrated in words and in deeds that he means well for the region and Nigeria.
Iniodu Is A Public Affairs Analyst.