Governor Akpabio And The Limits Of Buffoonery
Some stories are best told straight. The circumstances surrounding Akpabio’s controversial donations may not exactly fit into illegality; they nevertheless leave much to be desired in terms of public morality and accountability. Despite the condemnations that have trailed the donations, the fact that the ruling PDP defended the donation of N1 million each to the six PDP state party chairmen from the South-South region; ostensibly to give “lunch” to some 1000 delegates, typifies a classical official endorsement of public officers’ abuse of their offices and the trust reposed on them by ordinary citizens.
Without any doubt, the governor is constitutionally mandated to discretionarily dispense public goodwill. Fair enough! Akpabio’s apostates rose in stout defence of his controversial wedding gifts to hip pop musician, Tuface Idibia. The governor was heavily criticized after he announced a gift of a brand new Toyota Prado SUV to Tuface and his wife; as a gesture to reward the musician’s wife (a daughter of Akwa Ibom) for standing by her husband in the face of difficulties. He also promised to bankroll an all-expense paid trip for 20 guests to attend the couple’s white wedding in Dubai. After hosting a lavish state dinner in honor of the couple, he pledged to rehabilitate the Eket-Ibeno Road ahead of the child dedication of Tuface and Annie.
From the public debate his donations have generated, Nigerians are not challenging the constitutional right of Mr. Governor to feed the hungry of his party or display his magnanimous eccentricity. Far from it! The concern, instead, seems to be that there should be some decorum and decency in the exercise of constitutional powers. The main grouse, and validly so, therefore, remains that since these ridiculous donations have no redeeming value to the people of Akwa Ibom State, they are clearly an abuse of office by the governor; and an affront on the collective sensibility of Nigerians, who ultimately have to bear the brunt of Akpabio’s leadership ineptitude and lack of moral character.
That the governor would deem donating an SUV and sponsoring the wedding of a celebrity musician the most appropriate way to showcase the resilient spirit of the Akwa Ibom woman is indeed very strange. It is an act of financial recklessness at a time a majority of his fellow citizens are struggling to survive. How would the wedding help reduce poverty in Akwa Ibom? Predictably, Akpabio came under a hailstorm of condemnation, and no one seems impressed by his explanations. If governance is about acting in the people’s interest; how does squandering public resources enhance that purpose and the interest of the ordinary Akwa Ibom citizen, on whose behalf the governor claimed he was making the donation?
A recent report on poverty in Akwa Ibom based on a state-wide household survey commissioned by the State government found out that despite all the media hype about achievements by Akpabio, 57% of the people in Akwa Ibom State are living below the poverty line and cannot afford the basic need of food, clothes and shelter. The report by the University of Uyo also linked the rapid deforestation and biodiversity loss; especially the decline of mangrove in some part of the State to poverty.
Amongst the most egregious instances of Akpabio’s needless extravagance include N50 million award for the best actor and actress in Nollywood; N10 million to the Golden Eaglets just for winning the first leg final round qualifiers of the 2013 African Youth Championship; N35 million to the Education Foundation of late Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto; N230 million on behalf of the newly-formed PDP Governors Forum to President Jonathan’s hometown church; N50 million to the victims of the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church bombing in Madalla, Niger State; over N50 million to the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star (Olumbah Olumbah Obu) for special prayers; $45 million to purchase a new private jet, and the list continues. It probably did not help Akpabio’s tattered image when video footage emerged showing him boasting how he rigged the PDP Senatorial primaries.
These unedifying statistics are indeed outrageous, considering not only that Akwa Ibom still gets 13% of oil income from the derivation principle, but also that there has been little or nothing to show for the huge allocation in terms of developmental projects that directly impact the people. The sum total of all donations Akpabio has made in the last 12 months amounts to about N5 billion. Can anyone outside a mental asylum see any value in this kind of needless extravagance? Akpabio and his sycophants can quote the law that suits them but what is at stake here, is the perpetration of the culture of waste that has become the hallmark of governance in the State. In these instances, the governor has displayed an absolute insensitivity to the priorities of Akwa Ibom, while demonstrating fiscal imprudence in the face of more pressing beneficial projects to improve the lot of residents socially and economically.
Whereas almost two out of three Akwa Ibom citizens are starving, Akpabio is show-casing white elephant projects on the State government website; which he passes off for achievements. These include the state-of-the-art Akwa Ibom International airport; the ultra-modern Ibom Golf Resort “adjudged the best in Africa by the world’s leading golf magazine, Golf Week”; the ongoing construction of a 250-room 5-star hotel as part of the “Tropicana Entertainment Complex for tourism high fliers.” Then, there is the ridiculous ego-tripping Akwa Ibom 9,999 strong Christmas carol choir; which holds the dubious distinction of the world’s largest choir. Akpabio’s cumulation of managerial ineptitude and outright pillaging of the State has fostered a culture of recklessness whereby accruals from oil are yet to impact the socio-economic life of Akwa Ibom citizens into any level beyond mere subsistence.
Against the backdrop of general poverty in the State, these donations are scandalous. They project the governor as a spendthrift, reckless with public funds. How are the livelihoods and capabilities of the poor and hungry in Akwa Ibom, enhanced when their governor donates over N5 billion on frivolous things that catch his fancy? This is income lost to Akwa Ibom and it can only happen in Nigeria.
Akpabio’s leadership failure has put Akwa Ibom on the Debt Management Office, (DMO) list of states where debt accumulation has reached a scandalous level, necessitating a special warning by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) against continuous lending to the State because of the risk implications. The CBN message is that Akwa Ibom is broke, and any bank entering into further credit transactions with the State does so at its own risks. This may sound alarmist, but the CBN was right to draw public attention to this ugly trend that needs to be redressed before Akwa Ibom goes bankrupt.
Akpabio’s situation may be particularly brazen but it is hardly unique. The flagrant impunities and imperiousness that reign in governance in Nigeria is driven by a conquest mentality on the part of elected officials. This, sadly, is the story of Nigerians in the hands of their governors. It illustrates the disrespect with which governors treat their electorate and shows their predilection to turn their states into private estates. Having “won” the office, the people stay conquered as governors serve themselves and their cronies.
There is an urgent need for President Jonathan to put an end to Akpabio’s excesses which have been taken to ridiculous levels of absurdity. The governor’s actions have indeed challenged sundry observers to query the meaning of politics in Nigeria. The Nigerian democratic process has been debased enough and the President cannot continue looking the other way in the face of this national embarrassment that is Akpabio. Governance is about the people and not about the privileges and personal preferences of public officials. This should be the agenda of politicians who truly intend to transform Nigeria.