FOR almost eight years, the people of Akwa Ibom have been under the suffocating influence of Barrister Godswill Akpabio, the governor of the state, who, in active connivance of the federal might had subjugated the people to an unbearable level of mental and emotional torture, self doubt and humiliation in the name of governance.
They persevered, prayed and hoped that someday and somehow, and by some touch of providence, they will have a Daniel come to judgement and free them from the internal slavery which they are subjected.
The few daring ones who attempt to voice their concerns and raised a voice in protest are either in a permanent silent mode or have traumatic tales to tell. Make no mistake, Akpabio and his goons are no respecter of persons or institutions. Ask Obong Victor Attah, the former governor of the state, whose regime gave Akpabio the leeway to state and national limelight, and you would be regaled of what he went through in a state he can, at best, be referred to as one of the founding fathers.
Chief Don Etiebet, undoubtedly, a veritable face of the Akwa Ibom people, whose company offered Akpabio a job and was one of the referees for his march to governance as a state commissioner, has unpleasant tales to tell. For Obong Attah, I am sure he won’t forget in a hurry the humiliating experience he got while going to attend the burial ceremony of Chief Tony Emenyi, the pioneer State Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party.
If the people were frightened of untimely deaths, they were overwhelmed by the quantum of financial recklessness in the state. Apart from the published accruals to the state from the federal account, the income from internally generated revenues has always been, in the almost eight years of Akpabio’s reign, in the realm of speculation and gossip by the citizens of the state.
An insight into the way the administration spends the state funds could be gauged by the comment of the Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who, in a convocation speech at Babcock university, Ogun State, told an astonished audience that Akwa Ibom State had not spent up to 10 percent of its revenue from the Federation in the development of the state. Every Akwa Ibom person knows this truth to be absolute. For those who follow the uncommon transformation series on television across Nigeria, and who may have been hoodwinked by the aesthetics and colouring of that programme, you would have noticed that since 2009, you have been watching the same pictures with different narratives and from different angles.
You probably must have seen the concentric flyover, few kilometres of roads, e-library, underground water drainage (hmmm.. IBB road, Uyo and other places were flooded during the rain last week), Ibom Tropicana, completion of airport (started by the Attah administration), Ibom power plant which the previous administration had commissioned a section, etc.
These were projects you were seeing in the uncommon Transformation series since 2009. After that, the major project you will see would be the football stadium in Uyo, the one aptly tagged ‘The nest of Champions (really?) The ongoing project, I will like to add charitably, are the specialist hospital, which contractors have moved out of site for non payment, the Uyo – Ikot Ekpene highway, a less than 22 kilometre stretch. Decorations, roundabouts dots a few places. But, the most debilitating is the debt profile of the state, put conservatively at about N600b. Adams Oshiomhole, Edo State governor gave an insight some weeks ago on the state of debt and a state which is moving steadily to a debt slavery.
Social safety nets
In all these, the Akwa Ibom people have not seen any industry, even at cottage level which the administration has built. The few ones which late Dr Clement Isong, former governor of old Cross River State sited in now Akwa Ibom state such the Battery, Biscuit, Ceramic, Qua Steel mill, Paint Industry are moribund and we are told, have been sold out to the brothers and cronies of the state governor.
It is on record that in the eight years of the Akpabio administration, no economic enhancing projects have been initiating in the state to help the teeming population of university graduates who daily pound the streets of Uyo, with forlorn faces without any hope or access to social safety nets.
Rather, what we see are white elephant and entertainment spots like the Tropicana (a cinema house), an e-library which are not even equipped for the benefit of even those who need it. But, this is a state which earned more than five trillion naira from the federation account in the last eight years! This sum is almost equivalent to the revenue that accrues to all the five eastern states of Nigeria!
In Anambra State alone, we have seen a state that not only established Orient Petroleum but made the environment very conducive for one of the biggest brewing companies in the world to establish a plant! In the neighbouring Cross River State, big businesses are pouring in also, and thanks to the former governor Donald Duke, the world biggest electric company is building a plant there.
There are farm settlement and international processing plants everywhere. It is today the hub of fruit juice business in Nigeria today.
In Akwa Ibom state under this present regime, we have seen a state that drove away a refinery project, Amankpe Refinery. This a project that some well-meaning indigenes of the state put together in far-away United states of America and was frustrated from take off. This company should have delivered more than 5,000 direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs.
The full story of the botched Amankpe refinery would be told to the world sooner than later. Nigerians would be shocked to know how pettiness, selfishness in government drove away a multi billion dollar project and denied its citizens the opportunity to earn a living, and ultimately benefit from the value-chain the business would have provided.
Apart from the security and financial recklessness which the state witnessed, Akwa Ibom state suffered heavily from social cohesion and ethnic tension. In a state where everybody understands each other, except dialectical differences, the level of polarisation among the citizen is unprecedented, Today, ethnic tension in the state is palpable. You can feel it. The parasitic government and its agents exploit ethnic cleavages to advance their political and business interest. Today, the Ibibios, Annangs and the Oros are on each other’s throat. The present government has been inadvertently fanning the embers of ethnic rivalry.
The civil service, public offices and such other places are a hotbed of ethnic tension. There are germane reasons for the tension. The appointment of key offices in the state offices have anything but skewed towards a particular ethnic group. For instance, all the representatives of the state in the federal commissions are all from the ethnic group of the governor. Permanent secretaries in the state civil are appointed along the same ethnic imbalance and favourable to the governor’s ethnic stock.
Even the recent allocation of the Federal polytechnic, which was approved for Ibiono Ibom, an Ibibio enclave was appropriated by the governor to his village. Mutual distrust in the state is the unworthy legacy Governor Akpabio will bequeath to the incoming administration.
It is understandable why Barr. Akpabio could behave the way he did. He knows he owes the citizens no electoral debt. He was not voted by the people to rule over them in the two elections which brought him to the helms of the state governance. His only alliance is for people who helped him outwit his opponents in the previous elections.
Those boys who can snatch or sponsor ballot boxes theft; killed where necessary and instilled the needed fear into the citizenry; were those he owes electoral debts. And, he rewarded them appropriately with juicy appointments, some beyond their academic capacities. And that was the beginning of high calibre brigandage in the state. The boys have to continue to show loyalty and keep their jobs!
In all these, the innocent Akwa Ibom citizen was helpless. He hears about the stupendous wealth of the state by public gossips and occasional outburst on radio and television.
He also have a glance of the petrodollars by the lifestyles of the privileged few who are appointed or had walked the corridors of power. The sleek cars, overnight mansions, trips abroad, high calibre schools for their kids and new wardrobes for the nouveau rich , his wife and concubines. The situation is not helped by the sassy and naked boast of the governor.
He gives launch of one million (N1m) each to every delegate in a regional meeting of governors. He hosted hordes of clergymen, boys scouts and all manners of people. Of course, there would also be the usual PR. These are the stimulants for the resentment of the citizens
The helplessness of ‘citizen Akpan’ was not helped by the fact he had no idea how to change the situation. The electoral process, all along had been secured for the ruled. The man showed all confidence and played God. The climax was the PDP primaries in which the Group of 22 aspirants walked out of the venue after it was clear that he and his wife had handpicked not only the delegates but the aspirants.
He introduced a twist where he had to camp those delegates outside the state and only brought them to the venue of the delegates conference during the formal endorsement of his anointed ones. The now famous G-22 kicked and howled, the powers who supposed to checkmate and arrest the trend just wouldn’t be bothered.
Enters Professor Attahiru Jega and his innovative proposal to use the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and the card reading machines. And the promise of delivering a free, fair and credible elections.
Bedlam! You don’t ruffle feathers and attempt to drag somebody out of a beautiful revelry. They understandably kicked, blackmailed and threatened. But, trust the former ASUU president who led strikes even during the military era. He stood his grounds and reluctantly accepted a six weeks shift in the original polls plan.
That was when we saw Nigerian politicians campaigning for the first time. Some became frantic and clutched at all available straw to cajole, lie and hoodwink unsuspecting members of the public. In Akwa Ibom State, there is always room for beating the system, no matter how crude.
The first in the 2015 election , as we all know was farce.The boys were at work, shooting and snatching ballot boxes. Most polling units were not even served and some people even thought the elections were cancelled. Ibiono Ibom, Etinan, ukanafun, Ikot Ekpene, Ikono, among many others only heard of voted but never participated.
But not to worry, the operating environment is sure going to be different in the states elections. Like Maxim Gorky said ‘ the people who deserve freedom are those who fight for it,’ the Akwa Ibom man is willing to get his freedom and will fight for it.
Those who still snatch ballot boxes in this Jega’s time must be living in the past. Those who manufactured and signed incident form and get them thump printed will have to show evidence of their validity in the nearest future; those who filled form EC50B, the result sheet, thinking they will get away with it, will be pleasantly surprise on how the people are not ready to be cheated yet again. Most important, those who are still in revelry, thinking we are in the old order of grit have forgotten we are in an era of zero corruption. There shall surely be no protection from above.
By Uwem Ankak