AKPABIO: THE MAN WHO REDEFINED GOVERNANCE
He may not be a revolutionary in the mould of a Karl Marx or a super inventor in the class of a Steve Jobs, the late legendary co-founder of Apple. But he is, no doubt, a revolutionary of a different hue. Following in the words of Marx, he sought to change his society; he was 'crazy enough' to think he could change the world he met. And he's doing just that! His name: Godswill Obot Akpabio, the executive governor of Akwa Ibom State, South-South Nigeria.
Call him a revolutionary of infrastructural development or the man who has tried to redefine governance in this clime, leaving in his trail, giant footsteps of positive transformation in the lives of his people, and you would have hit the nail right on its head. He has, undoubtedly, been the standard bearer of leadership of service; governance of social relevance.
The year 2011, like the years before, was simply the year of Akpabio. Like the octopus, the man dominated the news. He turned a once immobile state into a bustling hub of social and economic activities. He made Uyo, Akwa Ibom's capital city , Nigeria's destination point: the place to be. The land to see. The city to visit. And love!
From the political groups to economic/financial czars; from the clergy to professional bodies; sports community to tourism buffs; Nollywood practitioners to the ordinary Nigerian just seeking a city that works, everyone somehow found a home in Uyo. Thanks to the developmental revolution of the Akpabio government.
In considering nominees for our prestigious Man of the Year award for 2011, Akpabio stood head and shoulder above others. Two exceptional leadership qualities set him apart from the pack: the infrastructure revolution which he has embarked on with the unusual combination of the prophetic zeal of an Old Testament prophet and the aggression of a modern day evangelist. Since he assumed office May 29, 2007, and the restoration of dignity and pride to a people(state) once derisively dubbed 'factory of houseboys and girls in Nigeria.' Not anymore. Not since the coming to power of Akpabio.
For these and more, the Board of Editors of The Sun Publishing Limited, chose Governor Godswill Akpabio, winner of The Sun Man of the Year 2011. He follows in the illustrious footsteps of other proud winners, who have equally been pacesetters and revolutionaries in their different callings: Dr. Mike Adenuga, 2003; Professor Charles Soludo, 2004; Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, 2005; Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, 2006; Govs. Peter Obi/Rotimi Amaechi, 2007; Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, 2008; Gov. Babatunde Raji Fashola/ Olutayo Aderinokun, 2009; Gov. Mohammed Danjuma Goje/ Alhaji Aliko Dangote, 2010.
Indeed, when he mounted the saddle of leadership in 2007, Uyo, nay many parts of Akwa Ibom State, was a sleepy, pedestrian city, which people passed through to its then more fortunate and bustling neighbour, Calabar, Cross River State. Even though there were pockets of ongoing projects here and there, they hadn't quite taken off to significant dimensions to attract national attention.
Then he swept in, like a hurricane, taking the people of the state and Nigerians by storm. He rolled up his sleeves and rolled out the bulldozers, turning the whole landscape into a large construction site: opened up major/access roads, ran tars over them complete with modern drainage systems, built flyovers, fixed dilapidated schools and made education free and compulsory for all children of school age up to the senior secondary level; tackled the infrastructural decay in hospitals and other health care centres, providing free medical services to mothers and children in his drive to wipe out maternal and infant mortality issues; built an airport of international standard, complemented with a functional five-star hotel to boost the state's tourism potentials. In a nutshell, Akpabio opened up the state to his people and other Nigerians.
For Akwa Ibomites and other citizens, it is certainly in the area of his road transformation agenda that Gov. Akpabio is most celebrated. The Akpabio administration is credited with the constructing of over 205 roads (covering over 600 kilometers) in the first four years of his coming to power, including the provision of dual carriage ways for all roads leading to Uyo; completion of three concentric flyovers at Itam Junction, Uyo; installation of street/traffic lights; underground drainage for flood and erosion control; distribution of 400 vehicles for the Uyo intra-city mass transit programme for commuter transportation; procurement of 15 luxury intercity buses for urban transportation, among others. Hundreds of brand new vehicles have equally been rolled into the streets to beef up the township taxi needs.
Akpabio has also impacted significantly in the education sector of the state, totally reengineering the manpower capabilities, and enhancing human capital development. His free and compulsory education policy which he kicked off in 2007 has yielded a shocking but positive result. From 751, 018 enrolment in the public primary school, the figure has hit an amazing 1, 396, 878 in 2010, just as student enrolment in public secondary school shot up to 318, 000 from the 159, 280 it was in 2007. This is in addition to the construction of over 2,500 school buildings, provision of science and laboratory equipment, construction of hostels and provision of furniture to the schools.
Akpabio's strategy has been simple: he provides irresistible incentives to the teachers, pupils, and students to create a win-win scenario. To the teachers, the state pays a monthly subvention of N100 per primary school pupil and N300 per secondary school student to cater for child administration and other logistics. He has also implemented the 27.5 percent new Teachers Salary Scale, TSS.
For the pupils, the state provides a meal per child in the schools. Since the inception of his government, the Akpabio administration has continually paid the SSCE fees for all students in public secondary schools; NABTEB fees for all students in technical colleges; grants to law students, pre-medical and medical students. The administration is also currently constructing an innovative e-library to serve as research reference centre.
In the power sector, the administration has given fillip to the famous Ibom Power Plant kick-started by Obong Victor Attah, his predecessor. In 2001, he signed a 20-year agreement with the Nigeria Gas Company, for the supply of gas to power the plant which at full capacity is expected to generate 685 megawatts. The plant is also expected to enhance power generation in the South-South region.
Significantly, the Akpabio administration, in the last four years, has completed the electrification of over 1, 400 communities which has raised electricity coverage in the state to 85 percent, beating the African and Nigerian average of 5 and 17 percents respectively. Apart from linking these communities to the national grid, transformers were also installed to service them through the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN.
In the areas of health care delivery, water supply, agriculture, commerce and industry, culture and tourism, housing and urban renewal, among others, the Akpabio government has not only recorded giant strides, it leaves residents in no doubt that government can effectively multi-task once it remains focused and purposeful.
In the health care sector, the administration is credited with the building of the first oxygen plant at the Ikot Ekpene General Hospital; the construction of a Specialist Hospital at Ekim Itam; construction of five cottage hospitals in Essien Udim, Ibeno, Ukanafun, Eastern Obolo and Ika; provision of 159 utility vehicles to doctors as motivation to medical practitioners in the government service; construction of modern primary health centres in the three senatorial districts of the State; implementation of free medical services and treatment for children under five years, pregnant women, and the elderly; building of a Dialysis Centre and donation of 17 brand new dialysis machines for kidney treatment; the building of a paediatrics block at the University of Uyo and donation of a N50million as interventionist grant, among other initiatives.
Water is life, so the saying goes. To have abundant life, the provision of clean, portable, pipe-borne water has been the preoccupation of the Akpabio government since it took off. Through the Akwa Ibom Water Company Limited, the Akwa Ibom Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency, the Inter-Ministerial Direct Labour Coordinating Committee and the Ministry of Rural Development, the State government effectively sustained a 70 percent water demand needs of residents in Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, and Eket Senatorial districts; laid 600kilometres pipelines in Uyo and seven other cities; provided 60 water dispensing kiosks in semi-urban centres to reduce wastage; executed 200 mini-water projects in the first and second phases of water projects commissioning as well as, additional 124 mini-water projects in different communities under the third phase.
Realising the prime position of agriculture in the food security challenge of his state and the nation, the Akpabio government has embarked on the following pro-people projects: the training and empowerment of over 3000 youths with N500, 000 each under the Integrated Farmers Scheme, IFS; Procurement and distribution of fertilizer at 60 percent subsidy to farmers; Acquisition of 72 tractors for use by Akwa Ibom farmers; Generation of 4,000 jobs for Akwa Ibom people under the commercial agriculture programme and additional 1, 500 direct employment opportunities; partnering the Federal Government in the construction of 25, 000 metric tonnes grains silo at Okobo in Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area; Investing the sum of N2bn in the acquisition of silos and critical facilities for the State Strategic Food Reserve Project; Signing of Memorandum of Understanding, MOU with a Vietnam company(Agutech) for 25 years to cultivate 10,000 hectares of rice for domestic and export purposes.
Towards diversifying the economy of the state and in full realisation of the potentials of the tourism subsector in an emerging democracy, the leadership of Akpabio has continued to fast track development and growth in that sector. He has aggressively pursued expansion works at the prestigious and functional Le Meridien Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort; the construction of the Tropicana Entertainment Centre complete with Cineplex, galleria, malls, day and wet parks, hotel and convention centre etc; provided enabling environment for the private ownership of hotels in Uyo and other major cities, amongst other initiatives.
For example, the Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre initiative was designed by the Akpabio administration with a twin-agenda in mind: breath social life into Uyo and energise the tourism potentials of the state by erecting a multipurpose centre for tourists and residents. The complex, on completion, will encompass a 18-storey 250-bedroom five-star hotel; 10,000 capacity dome; a shopping mall, a theme park, mini-storey car park etc. The idea is to create in the Ibom Tropicana a replica of the enchanting Disneyland in Florida, United States of America or a South African Sun City.
In the housing sector, the Akpabio government has also fared well. Since assumption of office, he has constructed over 10, 000 modern and affordable houses for the Akwa Ibom people; constructed security villages all over the 31 local government areas with each consisting of prime unit, mini-estates of 10 houses for local government chieftains; a state library complex; police college and mobile police units in Essien Udim local government area; 800 new shops at the Akpan Andem modern market phase 11 and the reconstruction of the Ikot Ekpene prisons commissioned by Vice-President Nnamadi Sambo.
Of course, the construction of a magnificent governor's lodge in Uyo befitting the status of a modern state in tune with the digital age is considered one of the architectural miracles of the Akpabio administration.
The challenge of human capital development has not been left unattended, as this is seen as a critical complement to the ongoing infrastructural revolution. Since its inception, the government has put in place the following incentive packages: in-service training with emoluments for over 20 medical doctors locally and abroad; in service training and salaries for 70 nurses within and outside Nigeria; training of 150 education officers; training of court registrars; training of over 200 civil servants on grades 01-06 at the Civil Service Training Centre; training of 24 Agric officers in Agric Extension, Agric Engineering, Animal Science, Fisheries Technology and Rural Sociology and the training of an administrative staff at the Royal Institute of Public Administration, London, in Job Evaluation and Work Force Development; provision of luxury buses to civil servants to ease their transportation to and from work and the increase in the amount of housing loans to civil servants to facilitate house ownership.
There is also the famous 13th month salary payment enjoyed by all civil servants in Akwa Ibom State flowing from Governor Akpabio's milk of human kindness aptly tagged: 'Akpabio-mber!'
It is stating the obvious to say that without paying attention to the state's security challenges, Akpabio wouldn't have achieved the laudable projects he is credited with. In the recent past, Akwa Ibom used to be in the news for all the wrong reasons: kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism and the like. But not anymore. This has been made possible through a proactive and strategic security initiative put in place by the government through the support of the police and the security agencies. The administration has purchased over 100 Hilux buses for the joint Security Task Force equipped with modern security gadgets; provided Armoured Personnel Carriers, APCs, and also, significantly, embarked on the aggressive mobilisation of traditional rulers as security custodians of their domains. Of course, the men behind the AK47s and gadgets have to be motivated to bring out their optimum performance. The result has been the low crime rate pervading the state.
Even at that, Gov. Akpabio believes the opposition has been behind the uncharitable branding of his administration as the brain behind the kidnappings and other crimes in the state. He told The Sun in an interview published October 8, 2011: 'It is the most idiotic thing for anyone to say that I am behind the crime in the state or that any official of government is involved. To gain what? How can I do what will destabilise my own government? Does it make sense? I read an analysis by a national newspaper on kidnappings in 2009. There were more kidnappings in other states than Akwa Ibom. You can not compare what happens in other neighbouring states, in terms of kidnapping, with Akwa Ibom, but nobody accuses the governors of those states. In Akwa Ibom, the thing there is that the opposition is a strong, vocal group that has nothing to campaign with. They realise that they cannot fault the governor on performance, neither can they fault him on management of resources of the state, nor can they fault him on achievements. So, they now turn to the only thing they believe they can fight with. Any single case of insecurity is blown out of proportion for political gains in order to create the impression that the government is not doing well. But they are a confused people!'
He also debunks the notion that he is performing because the state he superintends over is a 'super-rich, oil state.' Commitment and passion for service, he submits, are the key drivers of leadership performance.
'First, I must be honest with you. You need resources to do a lot of things. But at the same time, you need the commitment, you need the dedication, the passion and the political will. Sometimes, resources alone cannot do everything for you. People don't even understand that with N5m – N10m, you can change the health of a community. A community that has been drinking water from a stream, in this stream they wash clothes, they defecate and the children also drink from it. As soon as you sink a borehole with just N5m, you can stop water-borne diseases from breaking out in that community. Therefore, their lives can never remain the same again because they will stop visiting pharmacies and hospitals, and cholera will reduce. So, it is not much a function of money as being able to have the vision and being able to show love for your people and be interested in changing their lives!
'Before I became governor, people said so much money goes to Niger-Delta, but so little is seen on the ground. I was determined to change that. I said I must reverse the trend and let them say so much work is being done in Niger-Delta and so little money is going in. Three years after I became governor, people started getting amazed and they said, 'how can a state do so much. Is it because they have money to pay? It is no longer the other way round. It is not so much about the money.'
He is also thrilled by the standard of the Akwa Ibom International Airport. 'For the first time in 50 years, my people can now fly in and out, and don't forget if we didn't do it, it could have become an abandoned project because it was an empty field. That is the simple truth. We had a place that was earmarked for airport and yet there was no airport. There was no single building. They had cleared a part of it which was the intended runway, they had not even cleared all; a part of it was still bushy. That was all. I took it from there and today, we have one of the longest runways completed. Then, we have three flights in and out of the state daily. And we are carrying thousands of passengers from that airport. To the glory of God.'
Akpabio is not one of those who became governor by accident. He had the dream of leading his people even as a youngster. 'Yes, I planned to be a governor,' he says. 'It didn't just happen. Actually, when I was in the secondary school, I recalled when a teacher asked us what plans we had for the future, I said I was going to govern my people. I didn't know how it was going to happen, but that was what I had in mind. Again, when I met my wife, I introduced myself to her as the future governor of my state. Well, I used to say those things as a joke, but really in terms of service, I had the mind that I would become governor purposely to serve my people.'
He achieved his goal many years later, after making a distinction in his school certificate, bagging a law degree from the University of Calabar and being called to bar at the Nigerian Law School. Akpabio also served for five years as a commissioner under the Obong Victor Attah administration before trouncing over 60 other contestants in a rigorous primary to emerge the flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and eventually governor of the state in 2007. And since then, there has been no looking back for him except at mountains of superlative achievements, which has continued to be the envy of his many admirers, and of course, his adversaries.
Akpabio, 49, married to Ekaette Unoma Akpabio, is blessed with three daughters and a son, and has garnered several awards in leadership and exemplary public service over the years, including Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) 2011; the Congressional Certificate of Recognition by the Congress of United States (2011); the Gold Humanitarian Service Award of Republic of Niger (2008); Best Governor, Infrastructure Development by Ben TV London (2008); Man of the Year 2010 (National Daily newspapers); Governor of the Year 2010 (Nigerian Tribune newspapers); Award of Excellence for Outstanding Performance 2010(Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ); Nigeria's Emerging Tiger 2009 (Thisday newspapers); Man of the Year 2009 (Daily Independent); Best Governor, Infrastructure 2009(Encomium magazine), among many others.
He has also been variously honoured by reputable academic institutions with their doctorate awards Honoris Causa. They include: Doctor of Management Sciences, Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna; Doctor of Law, University of Nigeria, Nsukka: Doctor of Law, University of Calabar; Doctor of Law, University of Uyo; Doctor of Public Administration, Nnamdi Azikiwe University; Doctor of Management Sciences, Federal University of Technology, Owerri, as well as the fellowship of the Kazaure Polytechnic, Jigawa State, among several others.
Recipient of several chieftaincy titles across Akwa Ibom and other parts of the country, Akpabio is hailed variously by his people as 'the uncommon transformer,' and 'the promise keeper' for his landmark transformation of the Akwa Ibom landscape. He is also called 'the unifier' on account of his role in uniting the disparate ethnic groups in the state since his ascension to power and the even spread of developmental projects in the three senatorial districts.
A man of simplicity and collective leadership, Akpabio would take no personal credit for the acclaimed transformation of his state. He dedicates whatever achievements he has recorded to the resilience, commitment and faith of the people. His words: 'What we have done in the last four years has been labelled, 'Uncommon Transformation.' But the missing part in this description is that it (Uncommon Transformation) was borne out of uncommon faith in a man by an uncommon people who have an uncommon destiny.' Indeed!