Is Akwa Ibom Really OK? - By UDEME I. UDEME

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Propaganda is a funny business; it can make you to believe a barefaced lie except, of course, you are very sure of your facts. Were I not to be an Akwa Ibomite resident in Akwa Ibom, I would have been fooled into believing the propaganda being dished out by the Akwa Ibom State Government and its agents, who would want the world to believe that all is well with the state. This is being done through the ongoing “Akwa Ibom is OK” campaign by the state government, which it likens to the Rebranding Nigeria initiative

As an eyewitness to the truth, however, I consider it necessary to present the other side of the coin so as to enable Nigerians to be in a better position to draw their own conclusions.

Ordinarily, this should be the best of times in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria's twenty-first state which is also known as the land of promise or the Promised Land. The state is quite compact as anyone can reach the state capital, Uyo, within one hour from any part of the state. The state has vast economic potentials in all the sectors, the state has a teeming population comprising well-educated men and women. And to cap it all, the state is one of the largest oil producing states in the country-thanks to the abrogation of the on-shore-off shore oil dichotomy. However, the reality is that it is the worst of times in a state that showed so much promise in the past.

Truly, things have fallen apart and the center can no longer hold. A deliberate effort is now being made, through billboards mounted at strategic locations across the state to persuade the people to keep saying and to keep believing a lie captured in the slogan that “Akwa Ibom is OK” in the hope that a barefaced lie repeated often would serve for truth.

As an Akwa Ibomite living in Akwa Ibom, one can say without fear of contradiction and contrary to what we are told to believe that Akwa Ibom is not OK. What are the facts? In less than two years, the state government has received more than N186 billion from the federation account, as against N86 billion received in the first four years of the Obong Attah administration but there is so much anxiety about where the huge income has been invested. Though there are signs of the N1 billion per kilometre roads handled by the likes of Julius Berger, Stemco, and Setraco. Akwa Ibom State is in a pathetic situation, a basket case as some economic analysts would say. It would be sad if Nigerians swallowed the propaganda about the commissioning of almost 1000 projects in the present government's almost two years in office as most of those projects were fully completed by the previous administration. Indeed, the present Secretary to the State Government, if he were honest, can testify because he served as the Commissioner for Finance and Chairman of the Interministerial Direct Labour Agency, which saw to the execution of those projects, then.

The present administration in Akwa Ibom State believes that governance is a road-show hence the attempt to conscript the masses through propaganda that Akwa Ibom is Ok when it is not even near the mark. This reminds one of the late Okokon Ndem's wartime sloganeering that the weaverbird was roasting while others thought it was alive.

Perhaps the best sign that Akwa Ibom is not OK is in the Military/Mobile Police roadblocks at every half a kilometer across the state. Today, life stops in Uyo at seven o'clock in the evening as the people of the state have, for fear of kidnappers and rapists, imposed a curfew on themselves.

The state governor is supposed to be a celebrated legal luminary and soon after he got into office, he decided to probe several contracts awarded by the previous administration including the Airport project. As one writes, several months later, the panel headed by the governor's distinguished jurist is still sitting but His Excellency has cancelled the original contract under probe and awarded another brand new juicy contract for the construction of the airport. Is it not intriguing to know that what Dyncorp, the original facilitator of the Airport project needed to bring the entire project, including the MRO, to completion is far less than the cost of the new contract for much less work? Must the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) wait for a petition to investigate this obvious case?

Akwa Ibom people are told to believe that the land of promise is OK but why is Exxon Mobil, perhaps the only giant corporate citizen in Akwa Ibom relocating to Lagos with the resultant losses in jobs and contracts which accrued to the people of the state. Exxon Mobil's relocation represents the daily egress of people and businesses out of Akwa Ibom simply because Akwa Ibom State is no longer at ease and safe to live and do business. It is instructive to note that, while Governor Fashola of Lagos State has redeemed Lagos, Akwa Ibom, hitherto a safe heaven is now best known as a den of kidnappers. One has lost count of the number of professionals, expatriates, politicians, business men/women and even children kidnapped across the state. The other day, a top woman politician, Mrs. Maria Ikpe, was brutally murdered after being kidnapped. And yet there are road blocks in all nooks and crannies of the state as if Akwa Ibom was in a state of war.

Is it not a failure of governance that a state that did not experience any incidence of kidnapping between 1999 – May 2007 has become such a sorry location? Or is kidnapping now a state policy to cow opponents and muffle opposition against a very poor rule? Yes, we must have roads, culverts, boreholes, renovated classroom blocks just as we must expect salaries of civil servants and teachers to be paid. These are vital basic necessities which any run-of-the-mill leader must provide. But what else? Where are the projects driven by big and transformative ideas that set a society apart? Governor Attah initiated the Independent Power Plant project, the maintenance, repairs, overhaul (MRO) International Airport project, the Science Park project, the Le Meridien Hotel and Golf Resort, The University of Technology including several hospitals, roads, water, electricity projects, drainage schemes as well as completing the magnificent Idongesit Nkanga Secretariat complex, and a good number of these were actually put to use in his time. He also brought the Nigerian Stock Exchange facility to the State as a means of mobilising the people of the State to embrace opportunities offered by the capital market.

Now, we should celebrate because soon, the people of Akwa Ibom will behold a “fly-over”. Not for its functionality but just a sight. This, according to Governor Akpabio, is to enable Akwa Ibom people who have never seen one to have a chance of seeing what a fly-over looks like. Sounds ridiculous? Our well traveled and widely exposed governor should not stop there but should as well build the Statue of Liberty, The Big Ben, London Eye, and The Eiffel Tower in Akwa Ibom so the people can behold these wonders of the world in their backyard. One believes that if we had these sights to see locally, one Mr. Akpabio from Akwa Ibom would not have needed to apply for a visa to travel abroad. As it is, in the process, that Mr. Akpabio is said to have been caught with a paltry one billion Naira in one of his accounts after minding his Governor for just over a year as Personal Assistant. Are we still searching for where the billions are going?

Akwa Ibom is OK, that's why we need the N33 billion Galleria and Cinema even though a bigger facility complete with a golf course in the Federal Capital Territory is to cost only N7 billion. The promoters of the Galleria must be very smart businessmen. They foresaw the economic meltdown and also knew that money was flowing out of Akwa Ibom. They had to come to Akwa Ibom to get a bail out even as the People's Democratic Party (PDP) is still struggling with the question of what to do with Tinapa next door.

The land of promise shall indeed be OK when the will of the Almighty God is truly done. Meanwhile, as the year of reckoning approaches, Akwa Ibom people should wake up, gird their loins, shine their eyes, clear the cobwebs on their path and re-examine the sweet talk about a God'swill in their State. The present circumstances of the State suggest that the ongoing circus show was not the will of the Almighty God after all but that of the lesser god of Otta.

*Udeme I. Udeme is a good governance advocate in Eket, Akwa Ibom State.

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