In the Eyes of Critics

Godswill Akpabio
Godswill Akpabio

Governor Godwill Akpabio gets a bad press for his recent acts of generosity but he dismisses the negative media reports on him as the handiwork of those who are uncomfortable with his achievements and rising profile

By Olu Ojewale  |  Apr. 15, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

AS a governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akapbio is never going to be forgotten in a hurry. He has, no doubt, assured of his place in the history of the state with his developmental efforts. Under his administration, the state boasts of more than 300 kilometres of new good and well-tarred roads; building of new and renovation of school buildings; free and compulsory education for children of school age; free medical facilities for pregnant women and children under the age of five; free medical facilities for senior citizens from the age of 65 and building of infrastructures in various fields of human endeavours.

Rotimi Amaechi
Rotimi Amaechi

Besides, Akpabio likes to give gifts to those he comes across in the cause of doing his job. In fact, some analysts argue that if there are two generous state governors in Nigeria today, Akpabio is more likely to be one of them. But since he emerged as chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Governors’ Forum, PDPGF, the generosity, which had hitherto been going on unnoticed, has brought him nothing but condemnation.

The governor was, last month, named chairman of the newly formed PDPGF, the creation of which was widely interpreted as a move to neutralise the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, chaired by Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State. President Goodluck Jonathan and some chieftains of the PDP were said to be uncomfortable with Amaechi’s leadership of the group.

Akpabio’s problem started when he announced a donation of a Toyota Prado, sport utility vehicle, SUV, to Innocent Idibia, a.k.a TuFace, and Anne, his new bride, who comes from Akwa Ibom State. In addition, the governor promised to sponsor 20 relations of the bride to the venue of the wedding in Dubai. Some media reports said the governor promised the couple two SUV cars, with a promise to sponsor 81 persons from the state to witness the wedding solemnisation in Dubai.

While the debate over the gift was going on, Akpabio caused another stir at the PDP reconciliation meeting held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, when he announced a donation of N1 million each to take care of the six state party chairmen from the South-South who were at the meeting. This was said to have made Amaechi, and Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta states, as well as some PDP dignitaries to leave the meeting venue abruptly. Although the two governors have said they left for different reasons, opponents of Amaechi would want people to believe otherwise.

While the dust over that was settling, Akpabio was again in the midst of yet another brouhaha, when he announced a donation of N230 million on behalf of the 23 PDP Governors’ Forum in support of the Saint Stephens Civic Centre, Otueke, Bayelsa State. Since there are 23 PDP governors, and Akpabio pledged N230 million, it was assumed that he pledged N10 million on behalf of each of his colleagues. But at the same function held at the Civic Centre on Victoria Island, Lagos, Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State, donated N100 million on behalf of the six South-South governors.

Interestingly, no PDP governor has publicly either supported or refuted the claim by their chairman that the donation was done on their behalf. It was said that the idea of the donation did not even feature at their last meeting in Abuja, on Monday, March 12. This has further given muscle to the critics to say Akpabio acted recklessly. Some ridiculed and called him ‘Donatus’, implying a free donor.

Writing in an online journal, Theophilus Ilevbare, said Akpabio was simply spendthrift. “Governor Akpabio must retrace his steps. It calls for serious concern from those connected to the state. It becomes more worrisome when the state house of assembly look the other way. The EFCC can’t come within touching distance of the governor either so long as he continues to harp on President Jonathan’s 2015 ambition from the roof top. The onus is now on the people of the state to call governor Akpabio to order,” Illevbare wrote on March 31.

Aniekan Umanah
Aniekan Umanah

Oscar Onwudiwe, publicity secretary, South-South Professionals of Nigeria, SESSPN, said Akpabio had been profligate in handling of state funds. He queried the rationale of giving state money to a newly-wed couple. “Will such largesse be extended to every newly-wed couple in the state and will that pass as the mean test for judicious management of limited resources?” Onwudiwe queried and warned: ”The frugal management of state resources are indispensable values necessary for the actualisation of our development plan, so we appeal to the state governors not to trifle with these essential requirements.”

Another critic is Gabriel Amalu. He said in a media contribution that Akpabio had probably violated the law with his act of generosity. “Unfortunately the Governor, who is a lawyer, has failed to ask himself, whether he has the constitutional powers to recklessly spend the resources of the state,” he said. According to him, the donations could not have been captured in the budget, thereby making them illegal. “The Governor therefore must pause to examine the provisions of section 120 of the 1999 constitution. Section 120(2) provides: ‘no moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the state except to meet expenditure that is charged upon the Fund by this constitution or where the issue of those moneys has been authorised by an Appropriation Law, Supplementary Appropriation Law or Law passed in pursuance of section 121 of this constitution.’

He also pointed to section 120(3), which states: ‘no moneys shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the state, other than the consolidated revenue fund of the state, unless the issue of those moneys has been authorised by a Law of the House of Assembly of the State.’ He said if all the constitutional conditions were observed, it would be pertinent to ask the governor on whose authority he has been making all the donations on behalf of the people of the state. But he regretted that, “Unfortunately, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, like most of their counterparts across the country, is too timid to ask the governor to give an account of these reckless donations in exercise of its powers in accordance with the constitution.”

But Ezekiel Nya-Etok, opponent of Akpabio for the office of the governor in 2006, sees the governor’s gift to the new couple in a different light. “Governor Akpabio took a decision that I agree with totally… Any citizen of the state that attains an outstanding position in life must be supported by the state to move to the next level in the larger interest of the state, and to be a source of inspiration to others. These people could be referred to ambassadors of the state…

“Herein is the wisdom: Governor Akpabio seized the moment! A big fish swims into the waters and a discerning fisherman didn’t spare the net. Today, on account of an SUV and N3 million sponsorship, Tuface is no longer just an in-law of Annie’s parents, but now adopted as an in-law of Akwa Ibom State… Again, nowhere in the world will an issue concerning the state be mentioned where TuFace is, that he will not feel a sense of commitment and responsibility to rise to the occasion. Smart move Governor,” Nya-Etok said.

Generous and caring, that is the way some indigenes of Akwa Ibom State would like to see their governor, and not as a spendthrift politician. “Governor Akpabio is a politician, but he means well. It takes a big heart to do what he is doing for the people. His primary healthcare is, perhaps, the best in the country. He deserves to be commended,” Emem Bassey, a gynaecology, said.

Besides, Akpabio is not just an ordinary member of the PDP. His profile has risen sharply in the last few weeks. Apart from being a governor on the platform of the party, and chairman of PDPGF, he has recently been made a member of the board of trustees of the party and also a member of the party’s national caucus. According to some analysts, these positions come with enormous responsibilities and it is incumbent on the governor to take care of some of the party’s needs.

President Jonathan
President Jonathan

Governor Akpabio sees the hand of opposition groups in the media campaign. Answering reporters’ questions recently in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom State, the governor insisted that he had not violated any law. “Anything connected with the governor’s donation is captured within the law of the state.  The budget is the law and there have been provisions that allow for grants, for donations and for hospitality as enshrined within the budget. If I make donation out of that subhead, it’s covered within the law. It means, I am acting within the ambit of the law. I have not gone outside the law,’’ he said.

Akpabio attributed the criticism of generous donations to the handiwork of politicians who are afraid of his recent emergence as the chairman of the PDPGF. “The reality is that having become the chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, people are frightened. Looking at it from the political angle, everything I do now is being politicised. Akwa Ibom people need to be aware of this,” he said. The governor called the attention of his critics to some of the donations and sponsorships in the past, which had not attracted such condemnations. For instance, he cited the sponsorship of Akwa Ibom indigenes to India for treatment of different ailments. “I have sponsored over 200 Akwa Ibom children to India for medical treatments – some for holes in their hearts; some for congenital kidney problems. Many of them, I don’t know. In fact, I can say that I don’t know 99 per cent of them.”

He wondered why the N50 million he donated to the victims of the Madala bomb blast was not given such a negative connotation.  “I want my people to disregard those things. They are all politically-motivated. That will not distract me from what I am doing. I would rather want people to do editorials, go to the social media, discuss the flyovers I am building. Discuss the brand new prison, discuss the roads that I am opening, discuss the international terminal building, discuss the maintenance, repairs and overhaul of the facilities we are building, discuss the brand new general hospitals, discuss even those projects we have completed…. Let’s discuss more about development and challenges in Akwa Ibom State, about development because this is one state that is showing direction to Nigeria,” Akpabio said.

Speaking in an interview with Realnews, Aniekan Umanah, commissioner of information, also said the media campaign over the governor’s donation was being sponsored by the opposition groups. He said when the state sponsored and hosted some professional organisations, including the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, in the recent past, there was no such condemnation.  He argued that Akwa Ibom was, perhaps, the only state in the federation which spends about 80 per cent of its budget on capital development. “The governor is not violating any law. These are all legitimate spendings,” Umanah said.

According to the commissioner the governor has earned a lot of accolades and awards for his achievements in the state, and these make him a target of envy. These, he said, include more than 320 new roads; four concentric flyovers; about 35 new bridges; five new general hospitals; an international specialist hospital; a completed international airport; and a 171-megawatt independent power project; a brand new state-of-the-art Governor’s Lodge, a fully digitalized Governor’s office and a banquet hall; a first-in-West-Africa’s e-library; a one-stop entertainment and resort centre, the Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre, a 15 storey, 250-room, five-star hotel; a first-in-Africa underground drainage project using the pipe-jacking technology; and over 4,000 other rural projects spread across the 31 local government areas in the state, among others.

Having done so much for his state, the fear being expressed in certain quarters is whether the political rivalry is succeeding in shifting attention from his achievements to mundane things. Who knows? But what is apparent is that history is not likely to judge Akpabio harshly.

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