As a chronicler of history, I have to testify that a man who became governor of Akwa Ibom State in 2007, Godswill Akpabio, did what many people who become governors in Nigeria don’t often do. He actually impacted on his environment and left a legacy for posterity.
The first time I went to Uyo, it immediately dawned on me that I would have to tell this story in the course of my duty as a reporter. I knew Godswill Akpabio way back when we were both students at the University of Calabar in the 80s. I recall he was studying to become a lawyer, and I was studying to become a grammarian in the Department of English and Literary Studies. Our paths never crossed but I knew I saw him once in a while in Malabo, the students’ hall of residence, always impeccably turned out then, very neat and organized. Since 2010 when I first visited, I have been a cheer leader of the diverse groups of Akpabio’s fan club spread all over Nigeria. The area that now comprises Akwa Ibom and Cross River used to be regarded as a backward state; chronically underdeveloped, laid back, lacking in rigour, and self-confidence.
A one time Vice Chancellor at the University of Calabar, Professor Emmanuel Ayandele, once made an infamous remark that Cross River State as it was then, was an atomistic society perpetually at war with itself.
Even though that statement rankled, it captured the salient truth of the state and its perennial problems with political squabbles and poor leadership.
In the University of Calabar, we had a running rivalry between National Association of Imo State Students (NAISS) and the National Association of Cross River State Students (NACRSS). There was among the Igbo students at the University, a certain arrogance, a superiority complex, a tendency to look down on Cross River State students on account of the backwardness of the state.
So to come from that background, the way Akwa Ibom has in a generation is really amazing. Nothing anybody can say or write can do justice to what Akpabio achieved in Akwa Ibom.
One needs to visit the state for an eye witness account. The roads are well paved, with new ones constructed not just in Uyo but also in various parts of the State. Akwa Ibom became the regional headquarters of Julius Berger. But one can see in the various parts of the state signs of greatness. The futuristic structures like the state of the art e-library etc point to a tomorrow that offers hope to millions of people within the state and beyond.
The stadium, the hospital, the Le Meridian Hotel which was initially built by Akpabio’s predecessor, former Governor Attah, but completed by Akpabio etc, have turned Akwa Ibom to a marvel.
In the course of assessing Akpabio, I have heard so many people challenge me with the fact that his successes were attainable because Akwa Ibom derived a lot of funds from the Federal Government. That does not tell the whole story and certainly does not do Akpabio justice.
Another Governor who is not given to excellence and who is not given to service may have utilized that money differently.
It is also possible as some of his critics have alleged, that he could have used that money more efficiently, I don’t know. But what I know is that what he achieved on ground is a monument for posterity. It cuts straight to the heart of the matter; the psyche of the people, their emotional and psychological being and their world view.
Time was when if you heard the name Akwa Ibom, the image that immediately came to the mind is the proverbial house boy or ‘okada’ rider, but not so anymore. In one generation, Akpabio has succeeded in recreating the Akwa Ibom personality and character and positioning it to be at the centre of a national re-awakening. You cannot but feel tall and proud if you are from Akwa Ibom State. I’m not from the state, I come from Abia. My home town Umuahia is close to Uyo.
When I go home and I need a rest, I drive straight to Uyo, and check into the Le Meridian hotel.
Godswill Akpabio has affected the lives of Akwa Ibom State indigenes for a generation. His achievements may not be without blemish, but he stands tall and proud, and it is my privilege to identify with him.
It is so sad that because of his own strategic limitations, his success did not achieve the national resonance it ought to have achieved. He got bogged down in the politicking of the era.
But the truth remains that in the governorship class of 2007 -2015, there is hardly anyone who can rival Godswill Akpabio. So much has been written and said about my former governor, Babatunde Fashola. But between him and Akpabio, with the evidence on the ground, Akpabio will take the top prize.
Fashola did well for Lagos and what he did not achieve in concrete terms, he achieved in his unique philosophy of leadership. But Akpabio belonged to a different class.