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Date Published: 05/14/10

AKWA IBOM AND POVERTY OF GOVERNANCE By Emem Idong

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Can Nigeria still boast of any servant-leader or are we afflicted with only Stalinist Leaders? Fundamentally, the problem with Stalinist leaders is that they neither understand, nor appreciate, the true purpose of governance in this day and age. This poverty of understanding, with which the government of Godswill Akpabio is so manifestly afflicted, is what makes the Stalinist approach to governance so prone to errors and assorted depravity. 

The Stalinist leader erroneously believes first and foremost, that government is all about those doing the governing rather than the governed. So, every move, policy or project must address the personal interests of those in government first, before (if at all) the interest of the public is put into contention. This jaundiced view of the true purpose of governance helps explain why one of the earliest acts of Godswill Akpabio in office was to pull down a perfectly good Governor’s Lodge and erect a multi-billion naira edifice in its place for his own personal comfort. As Mr. Larry Esin, the youthful national chairman of the Progressive Peoples’ Alliance (PPA) has had occasion to remark, only someone who has no understanding of what government is about would do a thing like that in Akwa Ibom; of all places.

We are speaking here of a state whose general population is in the tight grip of poverty – never mind the fancy mansions and flashy cars and huge unearned wealth of those in government. After attending to the personal need for a so-called state-of-the-art Governor’s Lodge, it then occurred to our governor, three years later, to start clearing a site for a general hospital for Uyo, the state capital. At the time Julius Berger started work on the new Governor’s Lodge, Uyo had no general hospital save for the federal government-owned teaching hospital. It did not even occur to His Excellency to properly refurbish the decrepit St. Luke’s Hospital inherited from the Catholic Church which has been doing duty as the only general hospital in Uyo for the last 50 years or so.  He had to first of all build a Governor’s Lodge worth many times, according to Larry Esin, the real estate value of the American White House. But then, so are prodigal ways of those to whom Joe Stalin is the model leader.

Notwithstanding that his stated reason for desecrating the Uyo landscape with tons of concrete in the name of ‘flyovers’, namely; “that Akwa Ibom people would not have to go to Lagos before they can see flyovers”, already sounds asinine and pedestrian enough, we know that the bridge project with bloated cost, is about him, and his personal aggrandizement. Uyo needs flyovers like a hole in the head. A small town in a small state, lying for the most part on a reasonably flat terrain with ring roads laid-out to ease an as yet non-existent traffic problem, Uyo is in urgent need of pipe-borne water. Yes, water before multi-billion bridges to nowhere. Even if you are thinking ahead to a mythical future when Uyo will have the traffic problems of Lagos , in cost-benefit terms and given the time value of the cost outlay of the flyovers today, you have to wonder at the mind that thought up such a mindless squandering of riches.

But Akwa Ibom people do not have to wonder much.  They know, in fact, why the flyovers have been inflicted upon them.  They know that the bigger the project, the costlier it is, the bigger the cut. Akwa Ibom people surely appreciate that it is all about filthy lucre and the corrupt siphoning of some into private pockets from the public till. In true Stalinist fashion, it is all about those governing rather than the governed.

So, relevance is dammed, as in the Ibom Tropicana entertainment complex. If the matter did not involve our collective existence, we would have to admire Godswill Akpabio and his cohorts for the sheer insane audacity of their conduct.  For, it takes a certain psychotic kind of boldness to look the over three million people of Akwa Ibom in the eye and promote the manifestly false idea that what is required to change their lives for the better is a N33 billion, multi-storey entertainment centre. But, it is our collective patrimony that is being squandered away, so we cannot commend such brigandage.  Our patriotic duty is clear. If the entertainment complex does get built, if our hard-won derivation funds are wasted on what is bound to be another white elephant, we shall at the end of the day, rename the ill-conceived project and make sure it wears the proper application; to wit, “Godswill Folly”. As a Stalinist, the man desires monuments to his ‘greatness’. We predict that the boondoggle of Tropicana Centre shall be one such monument; a veritable morality takes about the dangers of allowing a certain sort of people in power.

Again, the man on the street is not deceived.  The attraction of the Tropicana project to its promoters remains its mega size and bloated cost.  If a project is not big enough, how can billions be creamed off its purported costs? Akwa Ibom is now finding it difficult to get reimbursed the Akpabio’s claimed N81billion spent on federal roads within the state; the federal government has only refunded N2billion according to him. Why not; the federal government would not approve Akwa Ibom’s N1billion per kilometer road contracts. Stalinists speak glibly of development but do they really know what it means? To them development inheres in roads, bridges and tall buildings. However, if history teaches anything at all, it is that the content of development is as important as (if not more so than) its physical form. The point often eludes Stalinists who typically possess more animal cunning than any meaningful capacity for serious introspection.  Regardless of how broad the roads they build are; or how magnificent the palaces they erect turn out to be on the outside, the Stalinist approach to development frequently falls because it is typically driven by greed and corruption.

Godswill Akpabio’s administration may have embarked on the construction of roads, bridges and expensive buildings; but in the process, so much public wealth has been squandered and looted that the dream of every young man in Akwa Ibom is to float a political group or support those in power to make some, if not as much money as the privileged ones in government.  Constructive pursuits give way to political thuggery as a way of life and means of livelihood.  And, for those who cannot get to the honey-pot of government money – and most people can’t – readily turn to armed brigandage and kidnapping.  Thus the development they promote, if one can call it that, lacks the one essential ingredient of genuine progress which is sustainability.

And that is the fate of Akwa Ibom under Godswill Akpabio. 

Emem Idong (emem.idong@yahoo.com) writes in from Eket

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