Godswill Akpabio, Akwa Ibom State Governor
The Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Obot Akpabio, is a troubled man indeed. He is a man surrounded by enemies, powerful enemies. Those who hate his guts and those who love him. Those who hate him want him destroyed, but ironically, it seems that even those who love him are also working for the same goal. Somewhere, there is a wicked paradox at play.
In Nigeria, Akpabio easily fits among the top 10 performing governors. Even if you narrow the list to four, Akpabio’s name may not be missing. It is not just that he is possibly his own best salesman, a man anointed with a sleek tongue, waxing rhetoric of his own adulation at the slightest opportunity, it just happens, happily, that he indeed, has real achievements to sell—unlike so many governors who buy media space to advertise uncompleted projects.
I’ve been to his state on several occasions. Indeed, about four years ago, I was in a team of senior journalists that were taken on a guided tour of numerous projects—many road projects some of them in uncharted terrains, a massive underground drainage to deflood the state capital, the construction of the Uyo Airport started by his predecessor who left it at rudimentary level, the near completion of Ibom Meridian Hotel, touted as a five star hotel, where we lodged then, among other things. At that time, the governor was already working on the new state house complex, which I saw in a state of completion much later. And, it was a massive complex with ultra modern facilities that seem better than the state houses of some African countries. At the Nigerian Guild of Editors conference at Uyo two years ago, Akpabio had boastfully thrown a challenge that if anyone saw any pothole in any road within Uyo, the state capital, he would fix it within 24 hours.
Well, it was the Senate President David Mark, who was at the same event, that claimed that he spotted a pothole somewhere within the metropolis! On investigation, Akpabio sleekly declared, it was found out to be mere optical illusion, not real pothole! It might have passed off as a fancy joke of an incestuous political elite, but the fact that the joke was proposed at all is an indication of how far Akpabio had gone in providing infrastructure in the state, including overhead bridges and much more. How many governors in Nigeria dare throw such a challenge? As a matter of fact, some governors are not even sure that the roads to their state house are pothole-free! But make no mistake about it. Akwa Ibom receives massive federal allocation, one of the highest in the federation. During the crisis over President Umaru Yar’Adua’s sickness, Mike Awoyinfa and I had asked Akpabio why he and some of the key Niger Delta State Governors seemed lukewarm then towards supporting the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan becoming Acting President. “Switch off the tape,” Akpabio requested. Off the record, he made two points which with the passage of time, should no longer be so off the record. Some of the governors, not just the Niger Delta Governors, do not wish to push too hard and heat up the system to a breaking point which may invite the intervention of military adventurists. “Can you imagine what would happen if the military were to stage a come-back into power?” he asked, pointing out that such threat was not remote at all then.
He argued that the undue brinkmanship of the political class which Akpabio accused the media of fuelling over the Jonathan affair, could easily be exploited by military hawks hanging in the wings. If the military were to come, Akabio shuddered then, it was not only that the whole political class would be sacked, but also that the national and state revenue would be plundered without account. In a state like Akwa Ibom State, Akpabio noted as an example, that he had saved up N80 billion from the state’s accruals from excess crude account and others and this fund was to be dedicated for execution of special capital projects in the state. Because these savings came from outside the state’s regular allocations, all it would take for such fund to be siphoned is for a top military brass from Abuja to issue an order to the state’s military administrator to transfer the fund and that would be the end of the matter.
On the other hand, Akpabio and some of his colleagues from the Niger Delta region, wondered at Jonathan’s docile approach to power, arguing that you don’t just wait for power to drop into your laps. If he wanted power, what was he doing to get it besides leaving others to do the dirty job for him? We left the encounter sufficiently chastened and determined not to heat up the polity, if one of the collateral consequences includes even a remote possibility of a return of the military. But, of course, Akpabio had been accused of massive corruption and reckless waste of the state’s fund to the extent that some now nickname him as “Governor Donatus”. I’ve personally not read of any serious effort by Akpabio to put a lie to these allegations, probably because corruption in Nigeria has become such an endemic industry that the only person who really has a case to answer for corruption in Nigeria is anyone stupid enough to have his fingers caught in the cookie jar at the wrong time. As the sages might have said of Nigeria, “Thy name is corruption o Nigeria!” It can then not be gainsaid that despite Akpabio’s dark side, he certainly has done so well as a governor. Akpabio himself is his own greatest salesman and wastes no opportunity to advertise his achievements which truly are enormous and outstanding even for the blind to see. The last time I commended Akpabio, I had many attacks from folks in his state who suggested that the man had bought me over. I wish such “bribery” would magically transfer all those infrastructure from Akwa Ibom into my state, Abia State, while those of my state move to Akwa Ibom! Then the critics would understand what I am talking about. But that is the price you pay for public punditry in Nigeria. If then Akpabio has delivered, as we have noted and many objective commentators attest and Akpabio himself trumpets, is it not logical then that such good performance should be a stepping stone to a higher office? Given a slightly different setting or circumstance, even Akpabio would be the first to advertise his performance as a good qualification to a higher office in Nigeria. Instead, Akpabio is tamely and meekly seeking to contest a senate seat. Well, then, some people who may qualify for either friends or foe decided to put out the word that Akpabio is nursing a presidential dream—either as a presidential or a vice presidential candidate. In other climes, such aspiration, real or speculative, should have been no more than a logical progression.
It is not unusual that in our setting, a politician who nurses such an ambition starts by testing waters through flying a kite. In the case of Akpabio, such a kite has been flown, either by his friends or his enemies. But it seems flying such a kite by whosoever, has put Akpabio in deep trouble with President Goodluck Jonathan’s camp. Today, Akpabio seems to be fighting the battle of his life trying to foreswear any presidential dream. Looking over from Cross Rivers to River State, Akpabio could see how such dream—or the mere speculation of it—could turn into a murderous nightmare. Rivers State is now a testament to how deeply backwards our political evolution had remained. In democracy everywhere else, anybody could challenge the incumbent in any electoral political office. In Nigeria, such a challenge, real or imagined, is a heresy that must be exterminated. It is seen as a declaration of war that evokes fire and brimstone with bullets flying around. Rivers State is now a theatre of war with the bombing of two courts the other day and shooting of people at political rally, including Senator Magnus Abe who now lies critically injured in a London hospital. Since Akpabio was confronted at the presidency with the sin of presidential/vice presidential dream, Akpabio reading the handwriting on the wall, has decided that tepid denial was not enough. Instead, he opted to wage a full campaign of denial. He has put out several newspaper adverts denying such ambition in the strongest of terms. But the more he does so, the more he advertises our nation’s political absurdity. How can a simple matter of undeclared ambition for a political office generate so much drama and waste of public funds? One of Akpabio’s powerful statements of denial signed, not merely by media advisers or the regular information commissioner, but by the secretary to the state government, apparently to underscore the seriousness of the matter, could not have been stronger if he was accused of murder.
But, in this case, we are dealing with a case of thought-crime which reminds you of George Orwell’s famous book, 1984. The statement came down heavily on the “invidious campaign of calumny and blackmail” that Akpabio “has presidential or vice presidential ambition.” Pray, what is “invidious campaign of calumny and blackmail” in speculation of a mere ambition for a political office? I mean, it’s not like saying that Pope Francis is planning to marry a teenage wife! The statement added, rather comically, “This campaign of falsehood and blackmail by unscrupulous politicians who have no respect for truth underpins a conspiracy to misrepresent Governor Godswill Akpabio and overheat the polity.” Ironically for a man who has just been so unscrupulously blackmailed with an ambition, the statement didn’t forget to advertise Akpabio’s “uncommon transformation” before, for the “umpteenth time” wishing to “STATE AGAIN that Governor Godswill Akpabio has no PRESIDENTIAL or VICE PRESIDENTIAL AMBITION”. The President, First Lady, Governors Forum, the PDP Governors Forum, the PDP and Nigerians (note the order of importance, for instance!) were duly notified to “discountenance this evil conspiracy and campaign of lies and falsehood.” This is about the limit that any man can go in denying evil and we (the “people” who came last in Akpabio’s pecking order) are taking note.
It seems that Akpabio is afflicted with a beautiful problem that many people would rather pray for, so why is Akpabio so scared of the presidency?