Governor of old Cross River State (now Cross River and Akwa Ibom States). Etiebet pulled all the stops to ensure a good passage for his brother who had just gone to have a meeting with his ancestors and ancestress. The high and mighty and not so mighty all came to pay their last respects to this good man, mild-mannered, people loving and decent, who as Governor Udom Emmanuel pointed out in his funeral oration, played politics without bitterness.
I hope the bear hug between Don Etiebet and Godswill Akpabio was not for the cameras only and that they will go beyond this and build a decent relationship despite their political differences. Both of them have really nothing to fight each other for because each of them has had his day under the sun. Etiebet has been a successful private sector entrepreneur, minister of Petroleum, chairman of a party, Pro-Chancellor and chairman of council of the University of Jos.
Akpabio was a commissioner, Governor of Akwa Ibom State for two terms, chairman of the PDP Governors Forum and now Senator and Minority Leader of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Both of them have done well by helping to put Akwa Ibom State on an imposing place on the map of Nigeria.
However, I feel a sense of grief when I read some of the unprintable things that some citizens of the State have printed about Akpabio, a man for whom they should roll out the red carpet anywhere he goes in the state. Without any doubt, he has contributed to the development of the state much more than anyone before him. Maybe that is the reason for the attacks. Without doubt he as any human being, has made his own mistakes but on balance he has done much more than he can be rewarded for.
In terms of infrastructural development, he has tarred kilometers and kilometers of roads, built bridges, primary and secondary schools, hospitals, an airport, a stadium, a new governor’s office and residence, provided pipe borne water and electricity to various communities and done many more things. What impresses me in all of these is not just the quantity but the excellent quality of job delivery. To insist that jobs given must be delivered at a high level of excellence is a way of telling the Akwa Ibomites, without actually saying so, to aim high, to strive for excellence in whatever they do. They are taught by that example to work towards the ideal, to try to reach the top of the mountain. That is the unwritten lesson of doing projects excellently.
Some Akwa Ibomites have argued that the reason he was able to achieve as much as he did was because the State, being oil producer number one, had plenty of money. That is true. But he worked for the money. He fought pitched battles with the Rivers State to retrieve the 76 or so oil wells that were erroneously allocated to the Rivers State. Besides, you may have money but do not know exactly what to do with it or you may choose to build roads of inferior quality that are washed away by one heavy rainfall.
Some people accuse him of using mainly foreign contractors. In development politics you have two options: (a) Use inferior local contractors with low equipment and little experience and they will deliver poor quality jobs or they will just go away with the money and bring home a pretty young girl for a wife. If they get any contracts at all they will only get jobs that can meet their low equipment and competence level. This may not fetch them billions of naira which makes them unhappy and sets the governor up as an enemy. Option b is that you want high quality jobs so you find a contractor who fits the bill. In most cases, they happen to be foreign contractors with appropriate equipment and experience. They will deliver to specification and on schedule. It makes the losers in this contract competition unhappy and more often than not they are local contractors. So the governor is marked down as an enemy.
When Akpabio had an accident some weeks ago he had to be flown abroad for treatment. Some critics used the occasion to pooh-pooh the idea of a five-star referral hospital that Akpabio said he built and wondered why he was not treated in this hospital if it was such a wonder-working hospital. The truth is that the hospital exists and was being completed when Akpabio was handing over to Emmanuel. I spoke to the State Commissioner of Health, Dr. Dominic Ukpong, a man who worked for Mobil for many years. Ukpong, a first class doctor in knowledge and dedication to the art and science of patient care, said that the referral hospital will do what our teaching hospitals cannot. He says about 60 medical personnel have so far been recruited from Europe and Asia including Nigerians, who are happy to return home to work here with state of the art facilities that only exists elsewhere in the world.
Dr. Ukpong says the hospital is the best in Nigeria and possibly in Africa and will make Akwa Ibom replace India and Germany as the headquarters of medical tourism. Some of the experts have already started work while others are still being recruited. This hospital was Akpabio’s vision.
Akpabio’s other achievement that his critics choose to gloss over is free and compulsory education up to senior secondary school. As an education enthusiast this achievement excites me. I had suggested the idea of free education to three governments in the state, military and civilian, and they thought it was unrealisable. Seeing it happen in my lifetime excites me. And it is Akpabio who did it.
Obafemi Awolowo must have done a lot for the former Western Region when he was the Premier but what makes him an unforgettable icon today is his free education programme. The reason the South West is thousands of kilometers ahead of the rest of the country in every respect is the free education programme of his government. That is why he has a place of honour among the leadership deities in the South West today.
You would think that because of the relatively high poverty level in Akwa Ibom what Akpabio has done – free education – would earn him a place of eternal honour in the hearts of the people. Has he got his due in this area as Awo got? I doubt it but maybe I am misreading the missiles from the lynch mob and mistaking them for a lack of appreciation from the people. Education is a great emancipator, mental and spiritual emancipator, some kind of liberation ideology especially in a State such as ours that is still rooted in ancient customs and traditions and is only beginning to take some tentative steps on the route to modernity.
Here a lot of people who have diabetes and or high blood pressure blame it on witchcraft and think a spiritual church, not a hospital, is the key to their cure. It is probably not a scenario peculiar to Akwa Ibom but the level of its prevalence here gives room for concern. I think education will in due time come to the rescue of the people from the vice-grip of some of these archaic and outmoded customs. Maybe Akpabio will be fully appreciated then.
In the past, Akwa Ibomites never came out to demonstrate for or against anything. They were basically timid and lethargic. In 1975 when I was feature editor of the Nigerian Chronicle, my editor Nelson Etukudo, assigned me to go and do a feature article on the oil city of Eket and environs. What I saw within that community that is Mobil’s cash cow stunned me. The community was the headquarters of misery – no roads, no bridges, no water and no electricity. A few yards away was the Mobil quarters, sparkling clean with well-manicured lawns. There was uninterrupted electricity, water, swimming pool and champagne. I wrote a series of articles on the two communities, hell and heaven, which were published in the Chronicle.
I was very angry with what I saw. I went back the following week without the knowledge of my employers and met one Chief Ndarake and told him I wanted to organise the youths to demonstrate against the oil company. For the very first time a demonstration was mounted which took the company out of its nonchalance and it started providing amenities to the community. Ndarake saw me some years later and said that the community was offering me a chieftaincy title for what I did for them; I thanked him but declined the offer.
It was many years later when Obong Victor Attah became governor that I heard of demonstrations for resource control in Akwa Ibom State or for or against anything at all. I believe that both Attah and Akpabio had in different ways raised the consciousness and boosted the confidence of their people and deserve to be commended for the confidence that many of their people exhibit today.
However, I believe that Professor Ayandele, former Vice Chancellor of University of Calabar, who described the then Cross River State as “an atomistic society perpetually at war with itself’’ was partially right. The Akwa Ibom elite have since the onset of partisan politics, sought without knowing it, to justify Ayandele castigation. Akpabio’s sin seems to be his choice of Udom Emmanuel as his successor. But in our system, the selection process is leader-centred. Don Etiebet chose Victor Attah; Attah chose his son in law, Udoma Ekarika, but the people kicked; in Abia, Orji Kalu chose Theodore Orji, Duke chose Imoke (Cross River), Imoke chose Ayayi (Cross River), Obi chose Obiano (Anambra) etc.
In our system, most people choose their successor; some succeed, some do not. But the bottom line is that it is the electorate who make the final decision with their votes who will rule them.
When the Akwa Ibom stadium was named after Akpabio by Governor Emmanuel some critics said it was wrong because it should have been done only after his death. Awful argument! The Akwa Ibom Secretariat built by Idongesit Nkanga was named after him some years after leaving office. Yakubu Gowon now has the liberation stadium in Port Harcourt named after him. Olu Obasanjo has a road in Port Harcourt GRA named after him and they are all alive. The logic I consider acceptable is that the builder of a project should not do the naming of it after himself. For me it was correct to a T for the stadium to bear the name of its builder since he had left office.
I know that partisan politics is inherently conflict-ridden but still a sense of decency and a sense of appreciation will ennoble its practitioners. I am happy that the Mboho Mkparawa Ibibio, the foremost educated elite in Ibibio land, decided to honour Akpabio despite the carnivorous, lynch-mob publications from dyed-in-the-wool tribal, political partisans in the state. Political competition can still be done without the injection of poison into the blood stream of the state through reckless publications and utterances that cannot stand the test of critical analysis by fair-minded persons.