Akpabio at 51: His style and legacy

By The Rainbow

THE 51st birthday of Chief Godswill Akpabio last week provided Akwa Ibom people with an opportunity to review his conduct in office as the third democratically elected governor of the state and preview his legacy at the end of his tenure. Unlike his golden jubilee last year when the people trooped out to celebrate with him and his family, the crowd this year was far less enthusiastic. There was motley crowd of women to sing the governor's praise at the Uyo township football stadium.  The women had earlier marched through a major road in the state capital, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with his picture. Akpabio is facing a challenging phase of his political life and a dwindling influence on the politics of the state. A few days to the birthday, the Secretary to the State Government attended a public lecture organised by Mboho Mkparawa Ibibio, a socio-cultural group, in Uyo and requested the people to 'support the governor to the very end'. For a governor who is about completing eight-year tenure, the people's support should come naturally if he had been governing well.

Chief Akpabio himself has also been shopping for acceptance. At a retreat in Abuja for members of the state executive council early this month, he warned them against rebellion. The governor referred to the close of his administration as political end-time and asked the exco members to swallow their pride and 'remain focused to avoid the same mistake Moses made when he was entering the Promised Land'. He knows that his henchmen are either changing camps or are of doubtful loyalty. The crux of the matter is his politics and personal style.  At the core of Akpabio's challenges is his succession plan. The governor's intention to zone the governorship position to Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District (known as  Eket Senatorial District), is opposed by the people of Uyo senatorial district, the most populous segment of the state. Many key political figures from other parts of the states also believe that the governor's intention is a decoy to foist a particular aspirant on the state. But the governor appears to achieve that goal.

A few weeks ago, the governor's wife, Unoma said that Akwa Ibom people are ungrateful to her husband despite his achievements in office, especially construction of roads. She wondered why the people are not in support of the governor's zoning policy. It was at a child-dedication service for the son of Mr. Anietie Ukpe, the governor's press secretary. The congregation was stunned with such insensitive remarks. Embarrassed, the President of Akwa Ibom chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Bishop Cletus Bassey, said that God has his agenda for the state in the choice of a new leader.

Early this year, Mrs. Akpabio warned that 'Deputy Governors are nothing but spare tires.' Observers are quick to point out that although the governor and his wife are wont to flaunt the achievements of his administration, the Akpabio administration has so far earned about two trillion naira in total revenue from all sources. In fact, what the Akpabio administration has earned in its first 30 months is greater than what the Victor Attah administration earned in all of its eight years. Similarly, Akpabio's total income in its first four years is greater than the total income earned by all the previous administrations of the state since its creation in 1987, discounting for inflation.

The citizens are sensitive to the excessive costs of projects in the state and are quick to point out that other governors are building the same projects at lower costs and with little or no fanfare.  Sokoto State government, for instance, has just commissioned a very beautifully built state-owned university, while Bauchi is building an airport. Delta State has already completed an airport, a lot better than the one in Akwa Ibom State. Many other governors are working silently. Another issue is the manner the administration is managing the state's resources. Since its inception in May 2007, the Akpabio administration has earned two trillion naira (N2tr), the second highest in the federation - second only to Lagos state. Yet the government has so far borrowed N70 billion from the banks and owes contractors over N300 billion. Despite these, our state has the highest unemployment figure in the sub region. Although we earn the highest oil revenue in the country, our IGR is the least, or at best second lowest, indicating zero multiplier effects from the oil windfall. As soon as the government pays the foreign construction companies that build the projects, they repatriate the funds overseas with very little or no impact on the local economy. The governor has failed in his promise, during the campaigns for his re-election in 2011, to facilitate the establishment of one manufacturing business in each local government area.

There is hunger in the state. The projects are too costly. Even with such a hefty revenue profile and excruciating debt overhang, many of the Akpabio projects are not yet completed with only 17 months to the end of his tenure. It is worrisome that most of the loans recently incurred were taken not for investments, but for consumption purposes like donations, purchases of cars, sponsorship of seminars, foreign travels, etc. Uncompleted projects include the entertainment centre, hospital, airport terminal and roads. Soon after he was elected in 2007, Akpabio caused a stir when he announced that the state was broke because the previous governor, Obong Victor Attah, left a N17 billion debt. If N17 billion could make a state broke, then N300 billion will probably cause riots in the streets.

Akpabio is the only governor in the federation with an anthem that is played at public events soon after the national anthem. The Senate President, Senator David Mark, on hearing the lyrics in one of his visits to Uyo remarked rather sarcastically that this Akwa Ibom is, indeed, an uncommon state, with an anthem solely composed for the governor. Akpabio is different from other governors in the length of his convoy and outriders. In the last several weeks, some socio-political groups in the state have taken to newspaper pages to vent their anger with the governor. Oron Solidarity Movement has been particularly trenchant in outlining the governor's alleged bias in his political appointments and in his conduct of governance. The group recently published a two-page advertorial in some national newspapers to paint a vivid picture of the lopsidedness in civil service appointments and political appointments in the state. It is a surprise that a government that is ever so concerned about its image has not bothered to respond to the publications. With a few months left to its terminal date, Akpabio's style and conduct will continue to be a source of animated discussions among the people. However, the governor's legacy would be soiled if he does not manage his succession programme well, and leaves behind a huge debt profile, uncompleted projects and a disenchanted populace.

• Mfon is a post-graduate student of the University of Ibadan.