By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
IT was an uncommon vision by its leadership that propelled the once laidback state into a physical turnaround that has made its capital city the toast of many Nigerians. Uyo, the capital city of Akwa Ibom State, today, boasts of not just some of the best designed roads in the country, but also, a landscape that was transformed within the shortest possible time.
Akwa Ibom State was once famed for being the biggest depository for subservient houseboys and maids. The inclination of the large section of its people was for the preservation of the status quo. Not many people thought that the system and structure that had kept the people in primitive comfort should be altered. Then Mr. Godswill Akpabio, elected governor of the State in 2007 shook the psyche of the people.
Unlike contemporaries in some other States, he did not cover up the foundation he met. The first act was to open up the state to the rest of the world and handy to him were two legacy projects conceived by the preceding administration of which he was part of. The Uyo Airport was completed in record time and became an entry point for the rest of the world into Akwa Ibom, a development that was helped with the completion of the Le Meriden International Hotel. Not surprisingly, Nigerian professionals, lawyers, engineers and such who before only came to Akwa Ibom in search of houseboys were now happily visiting for conferences and holidays.
The Akpabio administration’s success in transformation of the road network is underpinned by the fact that most of the headquarters of the 31 local government areas in the state are connected by state of the art roads. All major roads into Uyo, the state capital, have been reconstructed into dual carriage ways.
Dwellers of Uyo who had before Akpabio never seen a flyover bridge have seen the emergence of three overhead bridges that have recast the image of the city. At least 320 asphalted roads spanning 1,300 kilometers have been constructed in the state. State officials who take pride in the sophistication of the road network in the state tell you that within minutes of any major rainfall in Uyo, that the streets are completely drained of the rains on account of the drainage system. Indeed, all the new roads constructed in the state capital come with covered drains linked to a N13.8 billion flood and erosion control scheme.
Governor Akpabio’s uncommon touch which has been well pronounced in the road network has lately been appreciated also in sports. The opening of the Uyo Stadium brought further admiration for the governor. The stadium which unarguably has the best aesthetics in the country marries the beauty of the South African National Stadium with the elegance and firmness of Allianz Arena, the base of Germany’s Bayern Munich FC. Three Presidents – Goodluck Jonathan, John Mahama of Ghana and Alassane Quattara of Ivory Coast – were at the 17 November commissioning of the facility.
Obong Akpabio’s power of vision is undoubtedly driven by a determination to relocate his people from the backwaters into the ease and sophistication of modern life. His drive for the modern life has sometimes been faulted by critics as a misplaced priority, but the man is unwavering in his drive.
Such critics point to the Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Center one of the legacy projects of the governor as an example of his desperation to forcefully force an opulent lifestyle on his citizens. The Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre, a leisure and business resort, is conceived in the image of the famous Disneyland in Orlando, Florida, USA.
It has a shopping mall with 59 standard shops, banks, a convention centre, a five-star hotel, a theme park with wet and dry rides and sits on a land space of 82 hectares. When in full operation, the center is expected to provide job opportunities to thousands of people.
The pursuit of infrastructure development has remarkably not deterred the administration of Governor Akpabio in the last seven years from the provision of social welfare schemes including free education and free health services to the populace. It has also not distracted him from playing a leading role in the politics of the country. When his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP seemed to lose bearing in coordinating its governors, Akpabio stepped into position as Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, giving coherence to the party’s governors.
Like him or hate him, Obong Akpabio has redesigned the physical landscape of his state in a way that anyone who passes through the state would bear notice of his imprint.