Akwa Ibom Child is an Emerging Tiger - Akpabio
26 Mar 2010: Kenny Ashaka
Akwa Ibom State governor, Barrister Godswill Akpabio has given a graphic account of his challenges in the last two and half years, and how he has been able to surmount them. He spoke to Daily Sun in Abuja and gave thanks to God and the people for the giant strides.
What I’m trying to do is to lay the right foundation for the industrial growth of the state. There was something the 16th President of United States said. At the stage he met the American economy, he said I will study politics and war so that my people, my children will have the freedom to engage in industry and commerce. And he said my children will engage in industry and commerce, so that their children will have the prosperity to engage in literature and arts.
So, I met a state where as a Governor, I needed to study a lot of politics and war, so that my people will now have that freedom to engage in industry and commerce, and the moment my children engage in industry and commerce, my grand children will have the prosperity to engage in literature and arts. So, in a nutshell, we are studying war against poverty; war against decaying infrastructure; war against decayed healthcare facilities; war against hunger; war against marginalisation; war against illiteracy and very recently, war against kidnapping and militancy. That is the situation that I find myself.
Therefore, I have to lay the right foundation for the state to get to the next level of engaging in industry and commerce. So, I started with massive infrastructural development. I will invite you, Bureau Chiefs to take a trip to Akwa Ibom and see things for yourself. I really want to welcome you in my state even for a weekend. I will arrange for the Commissioner to take you around so that you can judge how far we have gone.
How can I change the status quo?
Before I became a Governor, the prevailing stories in the Niger Delta was so much money going into the region and so little was seen on the ground. But under two and half years, to the glory of God, the story has changed. People are now saying that this governor that is taking on so much, where will he get the money to pay for them? So, the story has changed because out of over 3,000 people-oriented projects, we have commissioned more than 1,400. My people in the diaspora did not believe this.
So, I said put them on the internet, so that as they are writing their letters to the editor and their petitions to the EFCC, they can also see that their communities are changing. I started in 2007 with over 168 urban roads. Today, my people can confirm that more than 160 of them are completed. At a local government like Eket, you will see over 49 urban roads completed by my administration. I’m proud to say so. In another local government called Ikot Ekpene, more than 26 roads are completed with trees and pavements for you to see. It will be wonderful for you to come and see these things.
So, we have been able to address some years of injustices and marginalization. Some communities never had a single road for 39 years. Nobody could access just one-kilometre road from one end to the other. So, a lot of plantains were planted in the center of the road. And guess what? The road was named after the first Catholic bishop in West Africa, called Cardinal Ekandem Road. The day I commissioned that road, the Catholic Church had to do a high mass with over 160 priests before the commissioning ceremony. It was a delight to watch. Some communities like where the Deputy Inspector-General of Police comes from, never had roads for over 40 years. One of their local governments was cut off from civilization for at least 10 years.
The local government headquarters was overgrown with weeds. But under two and half years, they have a 56-kilometer road completed. When I passed through that road recently and saw the situation, I said so government can work. When I celebrated the first year anniversary of free and compulsory education, I also said the same thing. I said so government can work? We have put in so much in rehabilitating schools which you need to come and see.
I don’t want to boast about it, because we are talking in Abuja. If we were at home, I will not speak. I will take you round to see for yourself because seeing is believing. The essence of all these stories I’m telling you is that the story is changing for the better. Democracy is thriving in my state and my people are happy for it. We are giving hope to the hopeless, which is what government should do. We have been able to address the wrong syndromes that Nigerians used to have, particularly in folktales and plays that it’s only in Akwa Ibom that you can have a gateman or you can have a house girl. In every play in Nigeria, Ekaettes used to be house helps. Now, Ekaettes are now ministers.
I sent a bill to the House of Assembly and we proposed a Child’s Right Law and when they brought it, I signed it into law to protect the rights of a child. Whether you are an orphan, you are destitute or you have no home, government has given you hope through that law. Nobody can stigmatize a child by calling the child witch. Nobody can stop a child from having education. Education is a right enshrined in the law and I’ve declared free and compulsory education from primary school level to senior secondary school and I’m paying NECO and WAEC fees. It is now a criminal offense for a parent or guardian that has a child of school age, not to allow that child to be in school.
The unique feature of it, different from what was practised in Western Nigeria is that to avoid illegal fees, I pay parents/ teachers association levy and paying N100 per child per term to the school headmaster for logistics, and I’m paying N300 per child per term to the school principal for logistics in secondary school. So, there will be no excuse and I insist that every child has a right to education. My belief is that our children may not be born with the same talents, but they must be given equal opportunity, whether they have parents or not. And it is working. We have a high number of school enrolments.
Now, I’m building over 1,000 schools across the entire state and I’m doing that with a lot of happiness. Some schools are overblown. They are doing two sessions in some of the schools in the urban sector. The first is in the morning and the second one is in the evening. Even if they have to sit down on the floor, let them have education. The difference between that driver and the man at the back of the car is education. I had to dedicate the award that was given to me by ThisDay to the Akwa Ibom child as the emerging tiger because with education, the future is bright. It is not Godswill Akpabio that is the emerging Tiger.
It’s that child that has no hope; that orphan that had nobody to send him to school. The 650 Akwa-Ibom children that returned from Gabon and other places in Lagos heard about free and compulsory education and they came back. Unfortunately, some of them came back with challenges. You see a child of 11 years with a 7-month old child, because they were exposed to child prostitution. But that is the child that is now the emerging tiger because with education in her hand, she is now sure of her future tomorrow.
Revamping the health sector
In the area of healthcare delivery, we are building five brand new hospitals in the state and rehabilitating the existing ones. As I speak now, I decided to solve a major problem and that is what we call infant mortality, which is the mortality that occurs during pregnancies. We’ve had a lot of what I may call eccentric ideas. When you have a woman that has obstructive labour and goes to a church instead of a hospital and they are doing prayers, and the woman eventually dies with pregnancy, they say it’s because she has committed adultery; sometimes, they don’t have money for registration and they don’t go to the hospital.
They go to mosques and churches or they go to native house to go and deliver children. So, in order to reduce mortality rate in our pregnant women, I declared free medical services for all pregnant women in Akwa Ibom State. During my campaign, I saw a family of six and five of them were crippled as a result of polio and the man was complaining that they gave him only 3 wheelchairs. He has five children who needed wheelchairs. But I know that if the children had received the right vaccination, he wouldn’t need a single wheelchair. So, I had to declare that every child from year one to five years must have free medical treatment, to ensure that all our children are vaccinated and immunization is carried out to the fullest. The idea is to reduce the number of physically challenged children in my state. These tactical decisions of government that had to do with the human factor. Of course, I also ensured that our elders from 65 years old are now given free medical treatment in our hospitals.
To ensure that this is really carried out, I brought back all Akwa-Ibom people who had worked as consultants in hospitals but who have retired. I gave them brand new cars and employed them as consultants in order to train our younger doctors. I made sure that every medical doctor employed by the government has a brand new car, because it’s important for me to make sure that even the doctors that are taking care of these patients are also happy. These are some of the things that we have had to do in order to touch directly on the lives of the populace.
There is no local community in Akwa Ibom that cannot boast of 70 to 80 small projects. I met a state with about 2,700 villages and only 1,100 were connected to the national grid. But in less than two and half years, 480 communities have been given electricity. Right now, I have given out contract for 862 communities to be given electricity.
I met an ongoing Independent Power Plant and we have completed it now. There are so many other things. Are you going to mention the brand new governor’s residence, which I completed in one year and four months and I’m living there now?
Our major challenges
We also have our challenges and that is in the area of security. Yes, you hear about kidnapping which is of global concern. Sometimes, even ships are being hijacked by pirates. Some states that you do not have such things like Kaduna and Lagos, you hear about kidnapping and all that. We were the sacred state in the Niger Delta, but we have also been penetrated by few kidnappers and we are working hard to ensure that we eliminate the scourge. For this, we call on the media and every concerned citizen to give us information, so that we can wipe out kidnapping in our state, because I think kidnapping does not have any correlation. Crime is crime.
Crime has no boundary. We also had a lot of inter-border crimes as spill over effects of what is happening in the states around us. So, we are battling with security challenges. But I know that with your co-operation and the security agencies rising to the occasion, we shall overcome and Nigerians shall overcome. We are hoping to produce a modest democracy for Nigerians to emulate. May God assist us in Jesus name.
The support of my people
No government can have 100 percent support at any point in time. So, I believe I have more than 97 percent support of Akwa Ibom people for what I’m doing. Conflicts must always be there, but sometimes, you don’t look at it from the conflict point of view. You look at it from the area those things present challenges.
I was lucky not to have encumbrances when I came up as governor and I didn’t have political strains or political damage. Let me say that my election was the decision of the Akwa Ibom people. The PDP attempted to engage all the wards in the country in the selection of governors.
They said 25 delegates per ward or thereabout. We have 329 wards and there were almost 8,000 to 9,000 delegates that came out. So, it was difficult for one single individual to install one person. The number of aspirants that came out was about 58 in number and I was probably one of the smallest. So, it wasn’t because of money. My people saw through my heart that I could be trusted. So, my people came out and insisted that it must be me. At the end of the primaries, I emerged.
There were lots of power blocks in the State. One of them was the outgoing governor. So, even the power of incumbency could not work because of the people’s resolve and the people’s will. So, when I emerged, we believed strongly that it was the will of God because as a Christian, we believe that every authority comes from God and God gives it to whom He pleases.
Maybe it wasn’t pleasing to God that the incumbent governor at the time should produce his son in-law as his successor. So, all efforts failed and the people’s will was sustained with me. It was a coincidence that when God’s will was done, Godswill was then the God’s will. So, we really have no excuse not to work for the people because there is nothing like godfather, godson, goddaughter, godmother or god-uncle. The only uncle we have and the only father we have is God Almighty. So, I’m accountable to God and the people of Akwa Ibom State and that’s why you see the progress