By Adekunle Adekoya
Governor Godswill Akpabio is the governor ofÂ Akwa Ibom State. In this interview he spokeÂ on his government in the last three years, his achievements, his relationship with former governor Victor Attah whom he described as father to all,Â 2011 elections and PDP. Excerpts:
Is it true you have decided on a media black_out for now?
The truth is there is time to work and time to play or talk. We do have a Commissioner for Information and Orientation who can speak for the government. There is also a Chief Press Secretary in the Governorâ€™s Office. All the ministries and agencies have competent information managers. Why must you always insist on speaking with the governor? I am simply the leader of a dynamic team and you should lay greater emphasis on Team Akwa Ibom.
The entire state is working as a forward-looking family desirous of peaceful progress, sustainable development and socio_economic growth.. I was elected to work so I must devote a lot more time to work than to talking. What I expect journalists to do is go round the state and check what you see against the published monthly and annual updates done by our various teams.
Do they measure up? Do they exceed expectations? If I were a journalist, I would go round unannounced and see if Akwa Ibom State functions well. Do we truly have free, functional, qualitative education at all the levels we claim to have? Are the other institutions, be they educational, health or administrative, adequately empowered to deliver the dividends of democracy? Are certain previously non_motorable roads now passable?
Have we achieved the promise to ensure that all our citizens in all corners of the state can get to Uyo within an hour and get around the state with ease? Talk to people across board. If you go round and find certain areas wanting, speak with the relevant supervising ministry, agency, local government or other institution. We run an open, accountable and transparent state and the government is a reflection of the honest, hard working, forward looking people of our great state.
You seem to have so much confidence in your aides. How come?
I run an open_door policy, like I did as Commissioner when I worked with elder statesman former governor Obong Victor Attah who led our people for eight memorable years. I still maintain an open_door policy, but I must work and consult other segments of our society as well. People love attention, which I admit is a dividend of democracy. Everybody wants access to the governor. The same people must remember that they elected us to work and work very hard too. And there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve the Akwa Ibom of our collective dreams.
How do you keep in touch with the ordinary people?
This is the IT and Information Age and you can actually get information through lots of reliable channels. We have a website. I am on Face Book too. Yes, I can see the surprise on your face. So it is easy for anyone who wants to contact me to do so or for me if I want to get any information.
Your administration seems to have done so much across the state. From Abak, Eket, Ikot Ekpene and in Uyo, there seems to be so much work in progress, HowÂ do you managedÂ to construct the e_library?
I am glad to hear you went round a few towns. Please go round all the Senatorial Zones and see if we are achieving the aim of developing the entire state at equal pace, irrespective of clan or political consideration. Now, why we are building an e_library? I am sure you know of the Silicon Valley in the USA . You know that India is a major force in the world because of its proficiency in IT.
Indeed, Bollywood, its film industry is huge largely because India â€™s institutions turn out thousands of IT experts who can run the entire production process at home and abroad. Our e_library is part of an integrated process which is currently ensuring that educational institutions are being prepared to make our Ibom Valley the African equivalent of Silicon Valley. You will appreciate the fact that curriculum development takes a bit longer than merely placing the computers in schools across the state. Teachers are being trained and retrained at home and abroad. Some of the worldâ€™s leading brains in IT and other fields ar
e from Akwa Ibom.
Would you say your investment in the tourism sector is paying off?
This administration is essentially a catalyst. We are putting in place the requisite infrastructure and gradually effecting the needed re-orientation of people for the rapid development we are capable of here. We now have what has been described as a lovely and safe airport. That is just phase one. Some day, the airport will provide maintenance facilities for even the largest aircraft.
That will bring in lots of revenue. Investors, including our people abroad, can now fly in to do business. Our own people can move around faster since time is a critical factor and the soul of business. Tourism and holiday visitors to Destination Akwa Ibom have been on the increase since the first flight into Uyo last year. Donâ€™t forget that the 5-Star Ibom Meridien Hotel and Golf Resort is the leading golf course in Nigeria and golf competitions and private golfing visits help to keep the hotel busy all year round. The airport has boosted these and other events, conferences and conventions being held here. Arik used to fly her Dana Air has daily flights from different parts of the country to Uyo. I hear some older states or states the same age as ours have not even started planning to build their first airport in spite of the tremendous demand for airports for passenger and freight traffic.
Why is road construction so important to your administration?
The people are the corner stone of all we do, the reason we are working.
Roads are central to our development and with the better road system, farmers can now get perishable,Â much needed food and other economic products to a waiting market. This invariably helps to keep prices affordable in theseÂ times that are globally acknowledged as being tough.
Nigerians are always on the move, for work, leisure, educational, health-care and several other reasons. Good roads are invaluable and must be built, or government will be partly culpable in the daily and largely preventable death and grievous injury of her citizens commuting on dilapidated, pot_holed â€˜death trapsâ€™. Millions if not billions of naira are also lost nationwide daily when tankers, trailers, haulage vans and other large vehicles and transport crash. Imagine the multiplier effect. This isÂ why our government is rebuilding orÂ repairing even federal roads since the roads impact directly on our fellow citizens of Akwa Ibom.
How would you say you have fared in three years as governor?
As to how I have fared, Obong Attah himself has commended our work. Donâ€™t forget he is a father to all and many of us cut our teeth on his beat. Indeed he encouraged me to leave a very lucrative business and practice in Lagos to serve as Commissioner back home here and at the onset, actually looked forward to my stepping into his shoes as governor.
I am glad I did step into his shoes and I am glad he acknowledges the fact that we have gone on to finish his noble projects and start our people_oriented work, many of whichÂ we are already completing in just 3 years. Some others are obviously longer_term and will take more time. But I will not assess myself. Let others do the assessment. We appreciate enlightened opinions and feedback which are extremely useful for ensuring we deliver the desired results. We do have our own mechanisms for this of course.
I actually quietly go round the state from time to time and get to feel the pulse of my fellow citizens. I am humbly gratified to hear many say they are glad that a home_grown, boy of equally humble origins, has gone to Government House and is determined to make that critical difference in the lives of both big and small, rich and poor, able_ bodied and physically challenged. The key is team work. Put together a good team and empower the members to work optimally.
Are the numerous awards you have receive reflective of your achievements or are they sponsored to massage your ego?
Do I come across as having an ego? I am indeed sorry to hear that. I find I am very sensitive to the plights of others and want to listen and help where possible. That has always made me accessible. That was the reason I practiced and still maintain an open_door policy. Unknown to many people, I have always used Godâ€™s abundantly gracious love and gifts to my family and I, for others.
I believe God blesses and enriches you so you can help those slightly less advantaged or handicapped. I even offered pro bono legal services. You can see the work my wife, Mrs. Ekaette Akpabio does in the service of widows, orphans, the oppressed, the physically challenged and less privileged. She has a great team too and simply complements rather than compete with the various government agencies and non_governmental organizations. We are all essentially catalysts in the service of a great state and our brilliant, resourceful, truly remarkable, indefatigable and admirable people.
Invariably, many people will want to say thank you. Africans and Nigerians are generally cultured people who show appreciation, even if in modest token ways. It is the misunderstood western attitude that has misguided some into thinking it is hip or tough to disrespect others, whether young or old. Disrespect is not an African way of life. We are naturally grateful people which is why God continually blesses us all.
Is this the reason for the increasing calls for you to continue in office for four more years?
You say you like what you have seen. If as a visitor, you liked what you saw and you said people told you they felt an improvement in their own welfare and sense of well_being, do you blame them for saying â€˜One Good Term Deserves Anotherâ€™? Why then want to accuse me of instigating my people to want their condition to get even better, when it is their right? They pay their taxes.
They work hard. They are increasingly law abiding which is why ours is considered one of the most peaceful and secure states in Nigeria. If people feel this team needs more time to do even more, it is not a personal choice. I am grateful for the resounding vote of confidence, no doubt. I am a community servant_leader in the real sense of the word. I go where our people want me to go, as long as it is the wish of the majority and will further the welfare of the largest number.
A leader knows that his team is as strong as the weakest link in a chain. If the leader is that weak link, disaster is inevitable. I thank God I have played my role as effectively as the deputy governor, Engineer Patrick Ekpotu, Umanah Umanah, our indefatigable Secretary to the State Government, the legislature, judiciary, civil servants, business men and women, students and others working across the state and even beyond are doing. Like I said, there is still a lot of work to be done and this administration declared from the beginning that it was in a hurry to do as much as possible in the little time available. Development must be devoid of political considerations and must be across board. Equity and justice must be the guiding principles at all times.
Your party, the PDP has been in crisis recently, will the death of former president Umar Yarâ€™Adua not further polarize the party?
I wept when I received news of Mallam Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s transition. His sweet soul will rest in peace eternal, for he was fair to all and loved his neighbours as himself, in line with the teaching of all great religions. He was truly a man of God. As you know, he was a great teacher and inspired people with his integrity, vision, discipline, commitment to and love for Nigeria and our citizens.
He was a listening servant_leader, who tried to be fair by weighing all sides before taking decisions, which was what was mistaken for slowness. His health was obviously a major personal challenge and it is sad he lost the battle. He ended the Niger Delta War and started critical and timely electoral reform which he will be remembered for. Fortunately, President Goodluck Jonathan is also deeply intellectual, reflective, visionary, democratic in practice, decisive and a man of integrity who will run a transparent, accountable and focused administration. We must sincerely support the noble work he has embarked on, especially governors and legislators who must let the federal system work optimally.
What about the PDP, Sir?
Briefly, I shall note that the Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party is a vibrant, democratic and dynamic institution. As the largest party on the African continent, it will certainly face challenges. The PDP has an excellent constitution drafted by some of the most brilliant minds to have come out of Africa. The PDP has also developed commendable mechanisms for internal dispute or conflict resolution. This cup too shall pass away. Human beings are innately ambitious and political.
It is the reason the world has made giant strides. You must accept the fact that ambitious men and women in our party, working within the framework of the constitution, have helped and will continue to help move our great nation forward.
The PDP is certainly not about to collapse. Indeed, those unable to join or remain relevant in the partyâ€™s scheme of affairs may hope for and promote the erroneous belief that the party will fall apart. I am a lawyer and believe in and promote the rule of law. I would never join or remain in a lawless organiza
tion or party, for the law protects us all. The PDP has a magic touch and always resolves internal problems amicably.