By Emmanuel Aziken
IN the consideration of many, the hallmark of Governor Godswill Akpabio’s success in government is the physical transformation of Uyo, the once rustic capital city of Akwa Ibom State and neighbouring towns.
However, the governor’s perspective of transformation is surprisingly beyond the physical as he told a team of Vanguard editors and management. In the view of the governor, the intangible bit of transformation is of more value than the glittering material side that have been generally applauded as the uncommon transformation.
Indeed, not too long ago, Akwa Ibom had been generally known to provide the country’s largest pool of houseboys, maids and cooks. Nigerians from all sections of the country regularly flocked to the state to scout for houseboys, maids and cooks. But not anymore as the governor in a personal testimonial told the Vanguard delegation of the psychological bent of his transformation agenda.
“If somebody is telling you about uncommon transformation in Akwa Ibom State, you probably will think it is because of the 2,000 kilometres of dualised roads we have done which you drive without pot holes or the beauty of Uyo which we have turned into a small metropolis or the security network we have put in place or the hotels we are doing.
Anybody who knows the history of my people, my people were being used as sweepers and cleaners all over the country for years but this government brought an uncommon psychological change. To enable him redirect the mindset of the average Akwa Ibom citizen from menial jobs to skilful proficiency, the governor on assumption of office focused on education believing that “education makes a people easy to govern and difficult to colonise.”
Though his administration like some neighbouring administrations proclaimed education as free, the genre of free education in the state is one that frowns at indirect levies that inevitably impact against the real objectives of a free education policy. Primary and secondary education is completely free and compulsory for both indigenes and non indigenes in the state. Indeed, in Akwa Ibom State, it is an offence for a child of school age not to be in school and the governor has established mechanisms to enforce this policy with the appointment of five special assistants who monitor school attendance and the adherence of the school administrators to the government’s policies on education.
Noting the impact of education in redirecting the psychological reorientation of the citizenry during his time, the governor said: “You cannot get an Ekaette or Okon as your house girl or driver now, because they are all in school. We have more than tripled school enrolment (1.4 million are enjoying free education here) and we do something uncommon that other states are not aware of – We pay subvention of N100 per child per term to the school headmaster for logistics and N300 per child per term to the principal for logistics it is not done anywhere else.
The lady clapping there (Mrs. Christy Edward Akpan) is one of the special assistants to the governor on education monitoring, they go round the state to ensure that no child is left behind. We have made free education compulsory for the Nigerian child and it is a criminal offence not to allow a child of school age not to be in school.”
Weekly, school heads hold seminars to keep them in line with best practises and such seminars are replicated at the different schools with the head teachers passing on what they had learned at the state/local government level training.
Multiplication of school enrolment
As Akpabio leaves office in few months, the three fold multiplication of school enrolment arising from the incentives he introduced and the open door to non indigenes that has lured many from outside the state, could be a challenge for the next administration.
Towards boosting capacity, the Akpabio administration moved with passion to give shape to the state owned university in Mkpatenin earlier proclaimed into existence by the preceding administration. However, the shining light in the crystallisation of the new Akwa Ibom is the more than 130 roads – spanning 1,300 kilometres asphalted roads – put in place by the outgoing administration. That has been complemented with at least three new overhead bridges, the first of its kind in the state which are to many, the signature projects of the administration.
Akpabio’s vision on road infrastructure was pegged on a four point policy of Opening of new roads, Dualisation of roads, Rehabilitation of roads,Building of drainages. Reflective of that direction of giving Uyo, the capital city a cosmopolitan outlook, the governor ensured that all roads leading into the state capital are dualised. A year after he came into office, the governor launched a zero pothole policy in Uyo to the purpose that no pothole should exist in the capital city. It is a policy that the government has maintained since then even in the less fancied inter-city roads in Uyo.
As part of the efforts to maintain the roads, all the new roads constructed during the Akpabio era are matched with covered drains linked to a N13.8 billion flood erosion control scheme. State officials boast that within minutes of any heavy rain in the state capital, the roads are emptied of rain water.
In reorienting the psychological frame of the citizenry, the governor had the mindset of making available to his people the many social and infrastructure provisions available in the western world. That is one ambition that has brought the governor criticisms from foes who accuse him of wanting to force western culture on the citizenry. Such criticisms are fanned by the large scale effort in building from near scratch a leisure and hospitality industry as in the western world. Signature projects in the leisure industry include the Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre, a leisure and business resort conceived in the image of Disneyland in Orlando, Florida, USA.
Arguably, the most remarkable of the legacy projects in the leisure industry unveiled in the last eight years is the sports stadium built in Uyo which combines the splendour of the South African National Stadium in Johannesburg with the frame and firmness of the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany, the home of Bayern Munich FC. The commissioning of the stadium last November was with an uncommon touch as Governor Akpabio ferried in three presidents for the opening.
Present were Presidents Goodluck Jonathan, John Mahama of Ghana and Alassane Quattara of Ivory Coast. The stadium was last December, the venue for the assemblage of the largest choir ever in Nigeria which was also reckoned by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest choir ever assembled in the world. Governor Akpabio has also put spiritual meanings into his achievements asserting that his greatest attainment in office is in the sphere of the ecclesiastical.
Largest choiron planet earth
As he told Vanguard, “Our people believe that the greatest achievement of my administration is being able to take my people back to God. On daily basis we call on God in everything we do. We end the year by assembling the largest choir on planet earth to sing to the glory of God for preserving our lives. Every time we have a security infraction, we always ask, ‘what if we were not praying? Today, if you goggle www.guinnessbookofworldrecords you will see it there that Godswill Akpabio choir has broken the Guinness Book of World Records for 2013. We have now been noted for assembling the largest choir on planet earth. Never done before in the history of the world, 25,272 choristers singing. We are now in the Guinness Book of World Records for positive things.”
Governor Akpabio has equally improved the operational environment for government operations with the construction of a brand new Government House and a state of the art Governor’s Office. In his eight years of stewardship, Governor Akpabio has also increasingly projected himself to play a leading role in the affairs of the country.
As chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Governors Forum, PDP-GF, he has become a major sounding board for his party and other power and policy framers in the evolution of political policies and programmes. Governor Akpabio’s almost eight year stewardship of Akwa Ibom has been a monumental experience. His impact has touched on the heart of the people and redesigned the landscape in a way that would showcase him for many years to come.