The other day, this writer ran into a government staff and in the usual small talk one asked about how the present government fares. The response was, “Its not good” and when one sought to know why it was not good, the response was that “money was not flowing as before”!
That feeling has permeated all strata of society; most civil and public servants, traders , students , contractors , “youths” and politicians at all levels say the same thing but in different ways. This view is against the background of the immediate past government style which was at best a bazzar.
Then, it was normal for the Governor to stop by at a marriage, a funeral or at Ibom plaza, order for the boot of a car to be open and dole out cash in millions to the hosts and celebrators. The crowd around such places were not left out as fresh wads of naira would be thrown in the air for them to struggle for a part even if a torn note.
That was an era where the Governor would gleefully donate a brand new car to a one year old baby on her first birthday. It was an era where politicians saw raw cash, where approvals for government services and errands were in multi millions and the easiest way to lose out or be denied an approval for any assignment was if such a job did not sum up to millions or billions. If it wasn’t in that range, it wasn’t a big deal or important.
In that era, young men and girls did not have to work to make money. All that was needed was to become a Member of an approved Group and escort the Leader to and from the airport or other official engagements and look forward to payment in cash at the end of any event. A musician who married an Akwa Ibom girl got his wedding bankrolled by government and their honeymoon in Dubai fully sponsored.
Councillors, Council Supervisors, Chairmen of Local Government Councils, Personal and Senior Aides, Legislators, Directors in Government, Permanent Secretaries and Commissioners became multi millionaires and billionaires as if their parents owned oil wells. Weekly thanksgiving to celebrate the love, grace and blessings of God became a culture and at such occasions, millions flowed to spiritual leaders who, for once, never sought to know the source of the blessings. Their concern was to be partakers in the windfall. Among men and women of God, it became a badge of honour to boast publicly, “don’t you know that I am the one praying for this and that”!
Newspaper correspondents, their Editors, Columnists and Publishers, Radio and Television Talk show hosts and Anchors around the country received monthly alerts as if they were staff of the government in Uyo. Foreigners and non indigenes were not left out. All they needed was rent a flowing babariga, tie a turban, show up and you and the team would live happily forever after a trip to and from the Government House in Uyo.
Cash donations to top party officials became the habit. Uyo, once a sleepy city became the first choice destination, not for trade and business delegations, but for workshops, conferences by all and sundry for the simple reason that there was a ready and willing father Christmas to pick the bills. Money in cash was so easy to come by and it became a normal paradigm. Work culture died as top directors, permanent secretaries and commissioners abandoned their offices and set up in their homes and hotels.
Enter Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, an Accountant/Auditor as Governor and that is “how the cookie crumbled”! Where his predecessor was celebrated as a “people’s politician” not minding whether his style was in line with acceptable global best practice, Governor Emmanuel, greatly influenced by his background, professional training and work experience, in shifting the paradigm, has drawn the ire of beneficiaries of the ancient regime.
Journalists are watchdogs of the society and in democracies, the professionals who pride themselves as Members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm after the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary Arms who must hold the other three arms accountable on behalf of the general public.
The profession exists to tell the truth, carry out advocacy and hold public officials and citizens to acceptable standards in the society. This is the rationale for this topic this week.
The Governor is grappling with several challenges from many fronts and cannot possibly be an attention seeking showboy who doesn’t know the difference between private and public funds. Nevertheless, the governor hasn’t been able to cover himself in glory in the area of making critical appointments and that has drawn negative flacks from a lot of people. Several people who had great expectations that they would find accommodation in his government having lost out, feel unhappy and unappreciated. Someone wrote “the governor claims he is taking the state on industrial drive. But for whatever reasons, he has intentionally refused to balance that drive with developing and empowering the people. In brutal frankness, the industrialization claims bandied about by the governor and his privileged few remains a ruse. Five years after, the gains haven’t been felt. The impact hasn’t been seen. It’s only been loud noises. A vast majority of stakeholders who risked their political future in 2019 to ensure the re-election of the governor have been left in a state of neglect or oblivion.” Consequently, these category of people cannot make rewards available to their loyal troops who gave their all for the victory of the PDP. With no political accommodation and means of empowerment, there is widespread hunger across the state. Everybody is pointing accusing fingers at the governor.
Another citizen identified “poor infrastructure” observing that “the government prides itself as having constructed that highest number of roads in Akwa Ibom since 1999. Yet strangely, nobody can point to its signature project. It is already documented that the Udom Emmanuel administration is the worst in terms of roads. The many substandard and poorly built roads across the state give credibility to this assertion,” he noted. But perhaps that commentator has not travelled from Uyo through Nsit Ibom and Etinan to Onna, Mkpat Enin to link up with the East-West road that leads to Port Harcourt in Rivers State. The talk about infrastructure is pooh-poohed by the glittering 21-storey office complex built by the administration in the Banking District in Uyo.
Another accusation is “Rigidity”. According to Mr Okon Ukpa, a public intellectual, “The governor is generally considered as a man who is almost absolutely rigid on matters of governance. It is said by sources that he only listens to himself and mostly discards suggestions and advice no matter how beautiful such are. There is the allegation that the governor is not accessible to the general public apart from select stakeholders and methinks it is vital for the Governor to look beyond party elders and few party chieftains and find time to interact with his people. He wasn’t elected to serve the selfish interests of few people who have aggregated their self interests as the interests of the collective. There should be an open day for the Governor to meet with different segments of the people. Not really much to ask for in a democracy.
Now those are some of the issues, but one believes that the present Governor has captained Akwa Ibom State away from what a Journalist, Solomon Johnny of The Global Concord fame aptly describes as “a point and kill era”. Human life did not mean much then.
Governor Udom Emmanuel might not be a charismatic, populist crowd pleaser but a pragmatic bureaucratic leader who, according to Henry Kissinger, “relies on efficiency rather than evocation and passion.
As a people, Akwa Ibom citizens tend to be forgetful; here is a state that went to sleep from 6pm daily because of insecurity of lives.
Gov Udom Emmanuel is not popular but that is the character of every transitional government. He has reclaimed the state from a dark era, engendered investor confidence and workers in the state are happier. If he succeeds in handing over to another God – centred leader to consolidate on his new direction, then his popularity would open up like a beautiful flower hitherto locked inside a bud.