BY INI UMOH
These are political times, but more than political times, these are electioneering times. During elections, politicians, desperate for votes, induce or bribe the electorate with all manner of things, including money. These are also Ghana-Must-Go times. But the season is also a season of mischief.
This is because, being a Ghana-Must-Go season, the temptation is always there for the mischievous to attach monetary value to anything and everything. If you feel strong enough on a subject to venture an opinion, especially on someone in a position of authority, there is always the likelihood that someone will ask: how much were you paid? Meaning: you have been settled. So I write this, conscious that someone, not too intelligent, might place that tag on me. But, as we often say, when we get to the bridge, we will cross it.
So much is happening in our dear state now: politics, ethnic politics, intrigues, and ethnic intrigues. And in the same vein, so much is being written on Akwa Ibom by our people and outsiders alike. In fact, everyone is now an authority on the state, including even outsiders whose knowledge of Akwa Ibom does not go beyond what they have managed to glean from the news media. It is that bad.
And chief among what is published in the papers is the demonization of the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Obong Godswill Obot Akpabio. “Akpabio is a killer,” “Akpabio is bribing judges,” “He is the father of kidnappers” or “Akpabio wants to kill all his opponents” are some of the headlines the news media, infiltrated by desperate politicians, use to describe an otherwise decent gentleman.
This is one of the limitations of free speech in a democracy, especially in a culture long repressed by a succession of brutal dictatorships. Everybody is saying something: not because they have something to say, but because they have to say something. And then, of course, some people are saying or writing their stuff out of mischief.
The man himself may just laugh at some of these outrageous headlines or dismiss these as evil genius at its creative best, really for some of us who know Akpabio, even passingly, we worry that such perceptions, mass media-mediated as they are, may endure if not refuted; thus ruining the superlative work the Governor has done in the state and is poised to even better when re-elected.
Personally, I am at a loss as to why Akpabio has allowed the negative reports about him to go unchallenged. If he and his aides believe his action-packed stewardship or multi-faceted achievements will speak for him, they are greatly mistaken: for propagated falsehood, if left unchallenged, becomes the truth. Even for his friends and associates, I believe this is the time to speak up, and put to shame these agents of retrogression, intent on aborting our march to greatness. I repeat: The time to speak up is NOW. For as Martin Luther once said: “At the end of the day, we may forget the words of our enemies, but we will remember the silence of our friends”.
I feel compelled to get personal. In many states of the Federation, including Rivers, Cross River and Benue, the state governments had banned commercial motor-cyclists popularly known as Okada riders. The reason cited in all cases was that these Okada people were either conveying thieves, kidnappers and assassins around or, worse, they were themselves perpetrators of these nefarious activities. Since these crimes were rearing their ugly heads in the state, there was pressure on the Governor to, likewise, ban Okada operations.
But Akpabio is said to have resisted these pressures, some of them from people who are today leading the opposition movements; his constant argument being that the Okada people were not only contributing to the growth of the informal sector of the Akwa Ibom State economy, but were using their trade to eke out a living. To so rob them of their means of livelihood without an altenative might be politically expedient, even defensible, on grounds of security consciousness, but it was morally indefensible, or untenable, on grounds of humanitarian considerations, Akpabio is said to have argued.
But bowing to superior argument as a true democrat, he had agreed to a graduated phasing out of Okada business, and had accordingly purchased tricycles, popularly known as Keke NAPEP, to distribute to youths in the first phase of the exercise.
Why do I know all these? I do because my nephew, George Udoh Ubong, had sold his Jingcheng in anticipation of being given a Keke NAPEP. Now that hope is a mirage. I share in his pain and disappointment.
It is a supreme irony that in the recent fracas between loyalists of Gov. Akpabio, who flies the flag of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, who is the guber candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), these tricycles were all burnt. This is what destructive or desperation politics can do.
This is what a society gets when it scorns the concept of politics without bitterness. This is why it is important that we protect the Akwa Ibom youths from being misguided by desperate politicians who seek political power as an end in itself rather than as a vehicle for social transformation.
As a young man myself, I say to the Akwa Ibom youths: You have your future before you with all its possibilities: if you apply yourself to wisdom, only Providence knows what heights you can conquer and only Providence knows what feats you can achieve. Who says once Okada man, always Okada man?
The Okada man of today will not necessarily be an Okada man tomorrow. But you need to be alive to make it when tomorrow comes. So, my generation, do not allow anyone to truncate your dreams on the altar of over-ambition or cheap politics. I urge you to think before you vote in the remaining elections. One man is show-casing his tangible and verifiable multi-sectoral achievements; one man is bringing promises; whether he is genuine or not, we cannot tell.
Mr. Umoh, a commentator on national issues,wrote fromUyo,Akwa Ibom State.