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1999-2015: Akpabio As Best Governor

Akpabio has presided over a tenure that will endure as the most distinguished in the history of state administration in Nigeria. Now, everyone can appreciate how he confounded the pundits and turned hitherto dangerous proclivities into harmless channels

Dan Amor

One major sign of the growing sophistication of Athenian society in the Golden Age was the rise of history as a critical record of the nation’s past. As myth gave way to more accurate chronicling and prose replaced verse as the medium for preserving fact, the fifth century Greeks came closer to the scientific spirit of free inquiry in modern times. In fact, it was then that Plato declared that a life not examined is a life not worth living! Memories are made of these. Yet, nothing seems more characteristic of the present age than the homogeneity of of its world view. We may frown at its developmental smugness but we must admire its optimism, its cosmopolitanism, its intellectual refinements, its spirit of true enlightenment and the critical engagement with which it examines the world and its leaders.

For, it is always instructive for the serious student of history to start by trying to determine what an age thought of itself. Such an investigation is made the easier by studying the lives and times of the important men and women that shaped the age with their actions. In documenting the life and times of a towering personality, exciting experiences are selected, which present emotional and spiritual values, to interpret the tale as it is rehearsed in imagination or told to an admiring listener or hearer.

As a faithful servant, a dedicated realist and reformer, who bridged all gulfs, leveled all mountains and put a lamp in every tunnel, as exemplified by his selfless stewardship to the people of Akwa Ibom State since the past eight years, Obong (Senator) Godswill Akpabio CON, the immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom State, has undoubtedly come to be seen as a modern day phenomenon whose corpus requires a large canvas. So many commentators have said a lot about Akpabio’s looming achievement as governor for eight years, just as so many have also said a lot about other governors’ startling achievements in their respective states.

Yet the reader might wonder why the sudden conclusion announcing Akpabio as the best amongst Nigeria’s several governors in all the 36 states since the current political dispensation began from May 1999 to May 2015 ( sixteen years). With much respect and humility, this writer had sat on the editorial boards of two major national publications for at least five years before the emergence of the current civilian dispensation after sixteen unbroken years (1983-1999) of military gangsterism, rapacity and greed.

Ever since the evolution of the present political era in 1999, yours sincerely has also sat on the editorial board of one of the major daily national publications for at least 10 consecutive years. And if you have ever done a little investigation into the workings of the editorial board of an average national newspaper, especially the broad-based editorial board in which both ivory tower and newspaper intellectuals gather at least weekly to pontificate on every issue under the sun, you would appreciate my point of departure.

Again, in 2001, following the heat and critical suffocation the then two year old administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo suffered in the hands of the independent media, a motion was moved at a meeting of the National Council of Information in Port Harcourt on the need for a national media tour to ostensibly assess the performances of state governors across the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja. Yours sincerely was one of the 50 editors selected from among the media houses ( newspaper, radio and television ) who embarked on that tour which was led by the then Minister of Information and National Orientation, Prof. Jerry Gana.

Although the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) controlled Federal Government upturned the verdict of that exercise and mischievously crowned Dr. Peter Odili, then Governor of Rivers State as the “Golden Governor” instead of Prince Abubakar Audu then Governor of Kogi State who rightly deserved the diadem, the lesson was not lost on us, the journalists who superintended the exercise. My colleague, Ebere Wabara and I, and a few other participants wrote our independent reports.

But two years was too short a period for state governors who operated under different circumstances to prove their mettle. It was, indeed, this experience which propelled me to do an independent assessment of Nigeria’s State Governors between 1999 and 2015. This piece is just an extract from my research, and it is imperative now, especially as the period between 1999 and 2015 not only epitomizes the era of the reign of the Peoples Democratic Party but also the longest period of uninterrupted civil rule in the history of our country.

Indeed, during this transitional period, despite the failure of the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) to meet the expectations of Nigerians at the federal level, many state governors really worked hard enough to bring dividends of democracy to the people. Of course, the variables or templates used in assessing and evaluating the performances of the governors during the period under review were varied and convincing to match intentional best practices.

They include: opening the democratic space; infrastructure development; education/human capital development; employment generation; citizen’s access to (free) healthcare; industrial development; skill acquisition/empowerment; poverty eradication; open interviews with Nigerians across the country; random sampling on Face Book, etcetera. At the end of the day, the investigation threw up the following as the best 25 governors who made remarkable progress in their respective states since the current civilian political dispensation (1999-2015), sixteen years.

The order in which their names appear here is of no consequence: Bola Tinubu, Donald Duke, Peter Obi, James Ibori, Babatubde Fashola, Rabiu Kwakwanso, Orji Uzor Kalu, Danjuma Goje, Adams Oshiomhole, Chris Ngige, Liyel Imoke, Peter Odili, Sam Egwu, Emmanuel Uduaghan, Ibikunle Amosun, Sullivan Chime, Bukola Saraki, George Akume, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Olusegun Mimiko, Ibrahim Dankwanbo, Abubakar Audu, Ibrahim Shema, Willie Obiano, and Godswill Akpabio.

Amongst these 25 former state governors who were penciled down by respondents as torchbearers of democracy dividends during the period under review, almost all of them won accolades from civil society organizations, the Central Bank of Nigeria, Student Bodies, Professional Organisations, or even media houses as their “Man of the Year”, for excellent performances. Yet, amidst these recognitions which will be given elaborate publicity as we progress, many Nigerians believe that Akpabio dwarfs all superlatives. You may have your reservation over this judgement. But that would be a matter of personal conjectures.

One of the attributes of a hero is that he quits the stage when the ovation is loudest. As a true hero who mounted the leadership podium of his much abused and derogated state with palpable anger to put a smile on the faces of his people, Akpabio quit the stage when the ovation was loudest having commissioned about 165 projects in the last week of his departure from Government House as his parting gift to his people. Because he had an idea of what he wanted to do when he came into office, Akpabio did just that: he revolutionized governance.

Of course, his mastery of political mood-music is not to be sniffed at. After the sense of drift that was the lot of Akwa Ibom State in the past, Akpabio brought a refreshing change to the oil producing Niger Delta state and ran a government which inspired widespread confidence across Nigeria and even beyond. Like Liyel Imoke of Cross River state and Babatunde Fashola of Lagos state, to mention just a few, Akpabio had managed simultaneously to accept much of the legacy of his predecessor, Obong Victor Attah, while creating public excitement about the idea of positive change. We all know how Akpabio emerged as governor of the state against all odds.

It was just the will of God that Godswill should lead the state. Now, it is quite clear that he was divinely anointed amidst the brutal euphoria and skepticism from political opponents. Yet, Akpabio has presided over a tenure that will endure as the most distinguished in the history of state administration in Nigeria. Now, everyone can appreciate how he confounded the pundits and turned hitherto dangerous proclivities into harmless channels. To middlemen of ideas, after eight years in the saddle, Akpabio remains an utter riddle, a study in ironic metaphor.

Hence, the local and international media, and even institutions,have given him the most sweeping commendations and awards ever accorded a public officer in recent times. In the past eight years, Akpabio had not known any personal unpopularity, nor did his government see anything but success.

All said, he stood above all political frays despite occasional hysteria sponsored by his adversaries and the seeming simple political catches being dropped by those who envied his exalted office. Besides asphalting a network of about 1,500 kilometre well-developed, closely knit roads and about ten (flyover) bridges across the state, and completing an international airport, an international specialist hospital, a world standard stadium, an all encompassing police community, his government excelled in education, power, transport and employment generation. Again, it is true that Akpabio is far from being a saint.

Nobody is! But how he came to be so in tune with the unwavering tenacity and metropolitan mores of a Bill Clinton, is a true mystery left for historians to unravel. Although we cannot disparage the value of general notions about the climate of opinion in a given period and the unsavoury inquisitions of political enemies; we cannot as well deny the fact that Akpabio has infused Akwa Ibom State with some benevolent antidotes that will be difficult to surpass. His unparalleled achievement should spur the new governors into action because the day of reckoning will surely come. But the big question then is: with such a man as Akpabio now in the Senate, what next?

•Amor, journalist and public policy analyst, lives in Abuja. Tel: 08063246289, Email: danamor98@gmail.com

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