Twenty-two days from now — precisely on 23 September 2021 — Akwa Ibom State will be 34 years. Before I go on, I just want to pause and pay tribute to the current and past leaders of our great State who have contributed their excellent contributions to get us to where we are at the moment. I say kudos to them. It is so far, so good albeit; there are thousands of rooms for improvement.
Thirty-four years down the line, however, with the south-south oil-rich state still appearing to be finding its feet in catering for and solving the problems of her citizens, it is pertinent that the leader who takes over from Governor Udom Emmanuel, whose second-term tenure winds down in less than 91 weeks, should know exactly where it pinches the people — an indigenous leader, not an outlier in the political equation of the state; a grassroots leader, not a makeshift politician.
“Leadership,” explains a UK-based expert who provides training and consultancy on governance “is rooted in individuals rather than in organisational structures. It cannot be written into procedures or job descriptions.”
“It refers to an ability to inspire others, to get others to take decisions or carry out work not because they have to but because they want to,” Sandy Adirondack adds.
With an array of aspirants jostling to succeed the incumbent governor, it is germane to mention that good leadership is not only about the individual qualities of the leader but also about how close that leader is to the very people he or she wants to lead. Jesus Christ put it best when He said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27 NIV).” Mr Emmanuel’s best replacement should know the people he or she wants to lead, and the people should also know and have access to him (or her).
I believe that any government, be it local, state or federal, is only as vibrant, effective and relevant as the people elected to run it. Therefore, ensuring that the next man (as I’m yet to see any female governorship aspirant for the 2023 polls) who would be making sweeping and far-reaching decisions that would affect the more than six (6) million people in the state, is personally aware of how his plans and policies would affect residents, is an important first step if we want a better Akwa Ibom.
He should be a leader who harps about an Akwa Ibom for all its citizens, not just for his local government area or certain groups whose support he courts. He should be a leader who knows all the detours and ‘bush tracks’ in Akwa Ibom (even if literally); one who has been part and parcel of the system.
Yet, as 2023 draws nearer, the handwriting on the wall suggests otherwise. It paints a stark and sobering picture: It seems as though a political accident is lurking about and waiting to happen in Akwa Ibom; where the people may not be given the chance to select who they want to occupy the Hilltop Mansion; where the nooks and crannies of Akwa Ibom are reverberating to the sound of candidates’ imposition against the will of the people. And worst, the people of Akwa Ibom appear not ready and waiting to take positive action; not ready to frown upon this grim development; not ready to take a stand and tell the authorities that things need to change, going forward.
As earlier stated, Governor Emmanuel’s eight-year reign will lapse in 2023. The 55-year-old former banker and deacon – who was elected under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – is yet to publicly queue behind any aspirant. Nevertheless, what appeal most to the Akwa Ibom people is for the emergence of an authentic grassroots leader who can engage and espouse clear principles and values that will further transform the state and lift the lives of the people.
Akwa Ibom people, who are more poised now than ever to get involved in the installation of their leaders, want a successor with a strong understanding of local issues – like the deep-seated unemployment level, cries of marginalisation among some ethnic minorities and pockets of unrest, clashes and disputes along border communities – and how these fit into the state and national picture.
The current political outlook in Akwa Ibom State is such that individuals, not systems or institutions, are most important in delivering the so much talked about dividends of democracy and getting the right person (in a free and credible process) to succeed the governor will pave the way for the people to heave a sigh of relief.
This can be achieved when political leaders, stakeholders and their parties – the PDP, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and others – allow their selection procedures more transparent and fair, particularly as regards zoning, an agelong concept in Akwa Ibom that has suddenly become a hot potato.
But regardless of some daft schemes by people who also needlessly attempt to tiptoe around the subject, it is generally believed that the governorship seat in Akwa Ibom come 2023 should be rotated to the Akwa Ibom North-East (Uyo) Senatorial District and further micro-zoned to the Itu/Ibiono Ibom federal constituency given that the other two constituencies – Etinan and Uyo – that make up the senatorial district have had a taste of power.
Lastly, given all the conversations lately about Governor Emmanuel’s succession plan, and to stand a reasonable chance of avoiding the worst, the only glimmer of hope offered is for Akwa Ibom people to throw their weight behind who they know and who knows them.
We can erase the handwriting on the wall, and must, or else.
Ita Abia writes from Etinan (ItaUtiohAbia@gmail.com)