WHEN A TACITURN PRESIDENT SPOKE IN AKWA IBOM
Not many citizens of a country can be close to their president, even though he is an elected leader. Forget it, there is nothing like 'military president.' What with the security, the protocol, that would at times enslave a leader of that caliber to walking mostly 'alone'?
Not being close to such a personality, the citizenry can hardly know him. And so, not many Nigerians may know much about their president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ).
However, two things, by and large, many Nigerians watching the man from the political sidelines would say, define the man's persona: taciturnity and humility; which is not to downgrade his patience, which some say is a function of his being married to a lady called Patience. Mr. President talks so little that even when some are already raving over his purported presidential ambition, arguing that if he should contest the presidency next year, the ever-atomistic Nigeria will explode and implode in the Nagasaki and Hiroshima fashion, the man does not say a word. Even those who insist he must run and the heavens will not fall do not seem to have much attaboy goading from the man: his mien says as little as his mouth does.
If anything, he simply told his aides not to behave as people under angel dust since he has not as yet told them he is contesting. To this later group, the President seems to be disagreeing with Clement Attlee (1883-1967), the British Labour statesman and Prime Minister, who once told another politician, 'If the King asks you to form a Government you say 'Yes' or 'No', not 'I'll let you know later!.'' Atlee did not know about what the combination of taciturnity, humility and patience could do for a former university don on the Nigerian political turf! He did not know that when people of few words speak, they do so from the depth of their souls, and not even a potentate's directive could keep them from waitng to speak later.
Speaking so few words at a time makes it difficult to understand GEJ. Some Nigerians would say that the man takes so much time to ponder over what to say the little he does, and that just not to make avoidable mistakes. He thus refuses to follow the typical politicians' trademark (ever so goliath in speech, but Lilliputian in action), leaving one to wonder if the academic in GEJ is more than the politician in him, even though he has left the former for years now.
Perhaps this is why he would tell Atiku Abubakar who went to tell him of his ambition to run for presidency next year that he (GEJ) wished him well; and would not be bothered that Atiku has chosen a Bayelsan as one of his campaign co-coordinators! But it was a different GEJ when he visited Akwa Ibom 15-16th July. Shortly before the working visit, supporters of Governor Akpabio had boasted that two days would be too few for the President to commission projects in the state.
They would want some seven days or more. It turned out that they were right.
The President ended up commissioning fewer projects than were originally scheduled, because the time he had for this was just too short. The disappointment though, was that opposition elements, who, just hours to the visit had said that the President had cancelled the visit, had nothing to explain why the visit still held.
Arriving Akwa Ibom to a tumultuous welcome, Mr. President was, as expected busy throughout his stay; and so were the about ten governors who came to the state to receive him and rejoice with the host governor, Godswill Akpabio. As he arrived at the Airport, Mr. President went straight to work, commissioning the Ibom airport Phase 1 and groundbreaking of the main terminal. He moved from there to commission several other projects like the E-library, the first in the country; fly-over 1 and 11; Waste Management Maintenance Equipment and Workshop, the 21km Ekid Itam-Idoro-Ekom Iman dual carriage way, Phase 1; Nung Udo Itak-Okoita-Use Ikot Amama-Ibiaku road; 25km Abak-Ikot Ekpene dual carriage way; 56 km Afaha Obong Etim Ekpo-Iwukem road. He also switched on of the Ikot Abasi IPP, etc.
So, after all the pomp and ceremony, what did Mr. President see in Akwa Ibom State? What were his remarks on what he saw? Did he remain his usual reticent self? The president was so impressed that out of the abundance of his heart, his mouth said, 'One of the projects that was quite interesting to me is the drainage system. I think this is the first time I have seen that kind of drainage system. And I believe it must be one of the first in the whole continent of Africa.'
The President was right; and he added that the projects he saw were meaningful ones. Governor Akpabio said he borrowed the idea from outside Africa. Who says Peer Review Mechanism is for local adaptation and emulation only?
The other thing Mr. President said about his visit was as disconcerting as it was encouraging. Disconcerting for the 'share the money and let the people go to blazes politicians', who may have thought they had held Akpabio in a full nelson grab; but encouraging for the 'Let's build a greater Akwa Ibom Team.' GEJ said, 'What I can request from all of us from Akwa Ibom State; from our traditionalrulers, our political leaders, our opinion leaders, our women and youths is for us to encourage the Governor. The traditional rulers have said it all when they received me. They handed over the Governor to me, that we should work together
and that they have given their blessings to their governor and I am indeed happy that you are working with the governor.' What else could one add, except that 'where the word of the king is, there is power.' With team work, we could say, 'together each achieves more.' But anything contrary would be a deal: 'divided each achieves less.' Akwa Ibom needs the former badly. The President's encouraging words should cushion the governor's mind to do more. It is in the interest of our people to key into the development drive Akpabio is leading.
With God's help, better days lie ahead of our people.
•Antai writes from Abuja.