By Haniel Ukpaukure
Dele Momodu’s open letter to Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, with the above title, which was published on the back page of THISDAY of Saturday, August 17, made quite an interesting reading. Without prejudice to whatever reaction the governor’s media office might be considering, I feel compelled to join issues with Momodu, not necessarily because Akpabio is my state governor, but because in recent times, the man has been the object of unfair and unwarranted attacks from different quarters, including a national newspaper whose editorial board members, supposed professionals, sat down a few weeks ago, “brainstormed” (as editorial meetings are wont to do), and decided to write an editorial that called the man all sorts of names for no reason whatsoever – a case of an overzealous piper going outside the norms of civilized behaviour to please the man that pays for the tune. Such was the bad taste of the editorial that it elicited a response from the state government, as well as negative reactions from some concerned members of the public.
One must appreciate Momodu’s kind comments and his candid assessment of Akpabio’s performance in the last six years or so, which has attracted widespread commendation and applause from people and institutions that appreciate performance that can be described as nothing other than superlative. I note that, like many others, including my humble self, Momodu believes that the governor’s performance qualifies him for a role higher than that of a state governor. I share his view that in societies where merit is the sole determinant for eligibility for the highest office in the land, Akpabio would have no difficulty assuming office as the president of this country. Indeed, I hold the view that in Nigeria today, nobody is better qualified for the nation’s top job than Akpabio, on account of what he has done in Akwa Ibom State.
In just six years, Akpabio has been able to prove that something good can, indeed, come out of Nazareth. He has pulled Akwa Ibom from the backwaters of underdevelopment, illiteracy, ignorance and disease, to a state that is now the cynosure of all eyes. No state in the federation has in the last three years hosted an equal number of national conferences, seminars and workshops by professional, political and religious bodies, including even the military, as Akwa Ibom. Everybody wants to go and have a feel of the infrastructure revolution that the governor has wrought on the state.
It bears mentioning here that none other than the government of the United States has described Akpabio as a future Nigerian leader to watch out for. This revelation came through Wikileaks, Julian Assange’s internet whistle-blowing site. But unfortunately, Akpabio may never be able to replicate, at the national level, what he has done in Akwa Ibom, due mainly to the forces that Momodu duly mentioned in his article, and the zoning arrangement that seeks to promote mediocrity above anything else.
Momodu’s grouse with Akpabio is that, in his thinking, the governor has left his job as Akwa Ibom State governor to run errands for the federal government. These errands include a purported scheme to impeach Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Momodu is sufficiently enlightened enough to know that government’s machinery is programmed to work with functionaries, with the governor merely as a leader. The numerous projects that are being commissioned every day in the state, even in the governor’s absence, bear testimony to this.
The point must be made that Akpabio is, unapologetically, a loyal and committed party man. He is not a man that would speak about party loyalty in one breath, and in another, say he has a right to act according to the dictates of his conscience, depending on which action best serves his personal interest. He is not one of those that rise to prominence on the platform of a party and turn round to fight the party. If the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took a common position on the choice of chairman for the NGF, as all the parties in Nigeria do, even on issues of national interest, Akpabio could not have been expected to do otherwise, especially considering his position as chairman of the PDP Governors Forum.
Apart from being a journalist, Momodu is a politician who actually ran for election into the office of president of Nigeria in 2011. He should therefore understand the meaning of party loyalty. In all the hoopla that has been the fallout of the botched election that produced two factions of the NGF, nobody has been able to show how Akpabio stands to benefit, or lose, personally, from a Jonah Jang or Amaechi chairmanship of the Forum. His crime has been his dogged pursuit of the party’s interest.
Momodu has, quite regrettably, joined the small band of self-appointed critics who see Akpabio’s hand in the current crisis in Rivers State. I believe he is better placed to answer his question as to what Amaechi’s impeachment would add to Akpabio’s credentials. It is also difficult to understand the grounds on which the Akwa Ibom State governor would see his Rivers State counterpart as an arch rival. What are they supposed to be competing for?
While Amaechi has remained non-categorical about his rumoured vice presidential ambition, Akpabio has let it be known that he will seek election into the Senate, come 2015. So, where do they meet? Or rather, how do their interests clash? If Akpabio supports President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid, as he is likely to do if the latter announces interest in a second term, can he possibly emerge the vice president, from the same geo-political zone with the president?
Akpabio has never hidden his unalloyed loyalty to, and unflinching support for, President Jonathan, not only because he is the party leader, but also because he is the president of the country of which he, Akpabio, is a state governor. But this would not make him dabble into a crisis in another state, involving two principal actors who have told the public the genesis of the problem, namely, Amaechi and Dame Patience Jonathan. To Momodu and others like him who apparently applaud Amaechi from the sidelines, I ask this question – which of the South-West governors would fight Bola Tinubu the way Amaechi is fighting Jonathan? Which of the northern governors would fight a sitting president of northern extraction? If Amaechi chooses to be a hero abroad and a villain at home, how should that be Akpabio’s business?
Momodu’s reference to the fate that befell some state governors during the era of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, is untenable here. The dynamics are different. In any case, it was possible to use and dump the governors Momodu mentioned in his article, perhaps because of their ambitions, and the role they were expected to play in the agenda of those that used them. If there is anybody that runs the risk of being dumped in the refuse bin of history, that person is Amaechi, not Akpabio. South-West governors hail him as a hero because of the damage he is doing to his party. The five rebellious northern governors on the platform of PDP promote him as a defender of democracy because of the damage he is doing to the second term ambition of his kinsman. In the end, how would he benefit from an All Peoples Congress (APC) presidency? In what way would he benefit, in the event that a PDP government, with the five governors in the helm of affairs, comes on board in 2015.
Momodu thinks Akpabio should outgrow Nigerian politics and establish himself on the world stage either as a statesman or a paid public speaker. One is at a loss to see how Akwa Ibom and Nigeria would benefit from this kind of enterprise. For a man that is so passionate about the development of his country, doesn’t it make sense to go to where he can still influence developments in the country in general and his state in particular, rather than traverse the world earning money from speaking engagements?
In 2010, during a state visit to Akwa Ibom, President Jonathan asked other state governors to visit the state and see how money is spent for the betterment of the lives of the people. The president made the call in the presence of all the South-South governors, as well as some from the South-East and South-West, who were on his entourage. That call, as innocuous as it seemed then, ignited envy and petty jealousy from some of Akpabio’s colleagues, including some from his geo-political zone. It doesn’t help matters that the governor has, in recognition of his achievements, been a recipient of several awards within and outside the country, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. The result is the current efforts by some governors, including some from the South-South, to seek a re-introduction of the onshore-offshore dichotomy, which would effectively erode Akwa Ibom State’s financial base, considering that the state’s oil deposits are about 98 per cent offshore. The aim is to humiliate Akpabio and destroy Akwa Ibom, so there would be no basis to continue to compare their ineptitude and lacklustre performance with that of one man that is attracting international attention.
If Akpabio’s sin is his unrelenting support for his party and the president of his country, I guess he is not the only sinner in Nigeria.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Haniel Ukpaukure