Akwa Ibom and the agony of tomfoolery – Edo Ukpong
In the era when the ‘uncommon transformer’ held sway as the governor–or executive governor as was his decreed preference–of Akwa Ibom, there was a buzz around the country about how he had transformed the state to an Eldorado.
The overwhelming response in private discussions and to my articles critical of the Squandermania that defined the era was usually that of consternation. I still remember the questions often asked: ‘Edo, what has Akpabio done to you?’ ‘How can you be the only one who doesn’t appreciate his good works?’ etc.
Perhaps because of his reputation as a ‘generous’ man, some more cynical people thought I was looking for ‘settlement’ and in fact, a mutual friend offered to take me to meet Akpabio so that, in his words, ‘we can settle this matter once and for all’.
But I declined all the overtures because it was nothing personal even if I personally felt the agony my people were going through as a result of wanton corruption and maladministration despite all manner of awards, including ‘best governor in Africa’, that came the way of Akpabio.
In reality, most of the highly touted projects (’world class’ as he often boasted) like the Ibom Tropicana entertainment complex, the 5* Uyo Hilton hotel, the 4* Ikot-Ekpene Sheraton just to name a few are now abandoned after several billions have been committed! Billions that, in many instances, came from interest bearing commercial bank facilities; billions, that should have been applied more sustainably, towards, among others, creating ‘world class’ educational institutions and training ‘world class’ teachers!
The question as to why the then richest state in Africa should resort to bank loans for vanity projects is an open one but closed to public debate because the finances of Akwa Ibom belong to the realm of Abracadabra: the more you look, the less you see! But since Akpabio has been out of Akwa Ibom for over two years, I should perhaps focus on the present. That is true, but focus on the present makes more sense especially for the future when situated in the previous because continuity is key to good governance.
I was very vocal about my reservations on the last election cycle in Akwa Ibom. At the time, I concluded that a process lacking in the free participation of the people is devoid of legitimacy since whoever is declared winner under such arrangement will not be answerable to the people. I have been proved right even though that is a matter for another day.
Meanwhile, my misgivings about Akpabio’s government were so deep that I dismissed all the noise about the establishment of the ‘world class’ specialist hospital or Quaternary hospital as it was described, as usual grandiose deceptive boastfulness. Providentially, the driver of the project and its Managing Director was a secondary school senior.
Notwithstanding his reputation as an honest man and excellent doctor, I harassed him at every opportunity that he was facilitating the looting of my state’s money through what I and many believed was a bogus project. Irritated by my cynicism, the Managing Director challenged me to come and see things for myself.
On the appointed day, he painstakingly took me on a guided tour of the facilities, explaining the various impressive looking pieces of equipment. I also got to interact with the mostly Asian doctors and nurses and being the free treatment week, they all looked happy to be putting some of the equipment and their expertise to use. Everything looked so promising even though I expressed my sadness at the near total absence of Nigerian doctors and nurses.
I proudly took so many photographs, which I later posted on Whatsapp groups to eat my words and to show evidence that there indeed was a hospital with ‘world class’ equipment in Uyo and only 15 minutes’ drive from Ndiya, my hometown! Thereafter, every time I drove past the hospital, especially at night, I would stop and proudly take pictures of the brightly lit edifice and post to friends.
Unfortunately, the last few times I have driven past the hospital building have been very agonizing. In the daytime, it is now a picture of desolation with only dusty unmanned ambulances parked within the premises. At night, it is total darkness! My heart bleeds because the talk in town is that the hospital ‘has closed’ due to paucity of funds. Yet this paucity of funds did not affect the state government from prioritizing the construction of a new governor’s lodge in Ikoyi Lagos!
It is my strongly held view that this is symptomatic of how tomfoolery has taken the place of proper governance. There is no legitimate government exercising powers in the general interest of the people that will abandon a hospital project that has reportedly gulped 41 Billion Naira! There is simply no logical explanation for that!
There is no doubt that Akwa Ibom has witnessed some level of development under successive governments especially in terms of the road network and an ‘empowered’ political class that has beautified the state with new hotels and ‘world class’ residential buildings. There is also no doubt that there is only little evidence of people oriented developmental initiatives to justify the huge resources available to the people. That is essentially because the electoral process in Akwa Ibom is notorious for subjugating and hijacking the sovereign rights of the people to elect its leaders.
Such a dysfunctional process, no matter the personalities involved, will only result in serious mis-governance, the consequences of which we the people have to suffer. The way it works is simple: governments are only accountable to those who elect them. On the other hand, the people are entitled to a government accountable to its needs but this will only happen when the people collectively come to this realization and exercise its people’s power.
All said, we cannot rely on the conscience or godliness of individual politicians to govern right and neither should we invest any hope that the complicit elite will rearrange its selfish interests and side with the people. The evident transition from squandermania to egomania is not our destiny and we must redirect our journey to a destination of sustainable development. It will not be an easy task but it is one that must be done. And it will, in due season.
Ukpong is a Lagos-based legal practitioner