By Joe Iniodu
Akwa Ibom is agog with a potpourri of activities for a weeklong celebration to mark the state’s 30th anniversary. Apart from commemorating the day of the creation of the State; it is also expected to celebrate God’s faithfulness as the state has recorded giant leaps that have put her poles apart from her peers. When it debuted on September 23, 1987 as the 21st state in Nigeria, it bore little hope as even the capital as was announced was not more than a glorified local government headquarters. But today, the capital of the State stands shoulder to shoulder with major cities in the country like Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt while serving as exemplar to others that are still yet to brace the pulsating benchmark of a modern city.
The development status of the State can be attributed to the passion of the various leaders that have served the State at various times beginning from Tunde Ogbeha whose pioneering vision set the state forth to Mr. Udom Emmanuel whose determination to inscribe a unique signature on the governance of the State is already gaining significance. In between the two were leaders of note who in their own rights made distinguishable marks that recorded them as critical players in the Akwa Ibom we have today.
Colonel Tunde Ogheba, the pioneer governor had the onerous task of running a new state that was faced with a dearth of infrastructure and lack of logistical necessities. Interestingly, the euphoria of having a state paled these needs into insignificance. The long suffering people of the geographical space called Akwa Ibom were happy that a state which agitation remained arguably the longest in the country had finally come. As part of that appreciation, many donated their houses to be used as offices. Most of the workers who had to relocate from the then old Cross River State to the newly created Akwa Ibom State had to be commuting to work from their various villages to Uyo owing to the dearth of residential accommodation in the city. To ease their difficulty, the military administrator of the new State displayed skillful management of human resources as well as understanding by providing buses christened “Ogbeha” at subsidized cost to convey people from different local government areas to Uyo, the seat of government.
Godwin Abbe, who took over from Ogbeha as military administrator on July 31, 1988 was a genial fellow. He was reputed for his people’s skills and the warmth he radiated. A story is told of how he went on walk out with his Secretary to Government and Head of Service. Two teenagers who saw him went into an argument. One identified and asserted that he was the governor while the other insisted that the governor cannot be trekking. Abbe who overhead them asked his SSG for details of their conversation which the latter provided. The military administrator then called both of them and appreciated the one who identified him with a gift of money and chastised the other for not knowing the governor. Abbe’s argument was that the one who knew him stood a chance to protect him in event of an untoward incident. It is also on record that Abbe often visited markets disguising as an ordinary citizen just to have first hand knowledge of the conditions of the people
The posting of Idongesit Nkanga on September 5, 1990 a little less than three years after the State was created had some underlying implication that was unknown to the public. General Ibrahim Babangida in offering the appointment to Nkanga, a young Airforce officer who just returned from an exchange programme in Ghana had said to the latter, that he is sending him to his home State. He added that if he did well, the people would applaud him and he will always return home to be celebrated. But if he fails, he would enter into eternal damnation with his people and returning to live with them may be difficult. For Nkanga, that was the adrenalin that drove him to the many achievements he recorded in his about 17 months of occupation of the office as a military administrator. Suffice to say that one of his land mark achievements was the building of the Idongesit Nkanga Secretariat which today is one monument that testifies to his purposeful leadership. Today, Otuekong Idongesit Nkanga remains politically relevant and is seen as one of the most respectable leaders in the State because of the quality of leadership be bestowed on the State in his time.
The ascension into office of the democratically elected governor in the person of His Excellency, Obong Akpan Isemin in 1992 on the platform of National Republican Convention, NRC, gave vent to a new consciousness amongst Akwa Ibom people. The philosophy of that administration enjoined Akwa Ibom sons and daughters to dream big and cast away the mindset of tokenism. Apart from the conscious effort of bidding the people to jettison what then was widely described as “etok syndrome”, that administration tackled rural electrification, water scheme, health scheme and strove other public utilities that could improve life more meaningfully.
But military incursion once again disrupted that democratic process and forced the state’s development efforts into slow motion. Yakubu Bako, late Joseph Adeusi and John Ebiye, all military administrators who variously presided over the State between December 15, 1993 to May 29, 1999 made enormous contributions to the development of the State. Their emphasis may have been different but never compromised the fact that they all meant well for the State and did their utmost best despite being non indigenes.
The return to democratic governance on may 29, 1999 was to once again prove that the worst democracy is better than the most benevolent dictatorship. His Excellency, Arc. (Obong) Victor Attah, who was the forerunner in the democratic experience that subsists till date brought about a paradigm shift in governance. It is widely accepted that he laid the foundation for what is rightly referred to today as modern Akwa Ibom. Even though that administration was long on the drawing board, it conceived of novel and laudable projects that have today changed the narrative of the State. Obong Attah’s signature was perhaps more eloquent in his vociferous agitation for resource control. Leading the struggle, Attah demonstrated fearlessness, courage and self assertion that rubbed off on the collective psyche of Akwa Ibom people and made them proud From his time, the perception of Akwa Ibom people changed dramatically.
What happened between the Attah and Akpabio’s eras could be equated with the case of a good father handing over responsibility to a son and giving him the advantage of standing on his shoulder. The development frequency unleashed by the Akpabio administration was both revolutionary and legendary. In his period, Akwa Ibom did not only acquire a new physical visage, the people too consolidated on the gains of the gospel of structural mental adjustment initiated by Obong Akpan Isemin, practicalised by Obong Attah consummated by Godswill Akpabio. The State which hitherto served as a corridor of passage suddenly became a destination with national and global events held in the State. Within the period, the State was considered as one of the fastest in terms of development.
It is not a coincidence that Udom Emmanuel became governor from May 29, 2015. Every item of incident that related to the process that culminated in his emergence as governor bear the trappings of the perfect will of God. The christening of his campaign with the slogan, “Divine Mandate” can be said to have had deep prophetic undertone. From the campaigns to the election to the court cases, there is no dispute in the assertion that there was an unseen hand that is above all mortals. It is interesting to observe that the beneficiary, His Excellency, Mr. Udom Emmanuel is conscious of this divine power and is doing all within his ambits to govern with divine dictates. Emmanuel’s coming at the period of paucity of fund to celebrate 30 years epoch of the State with all the spiritual significance inherent in 30 suggests that God prepared him for this time.
The details of the celebration of Akwa Ibom at 30 reflect symbolically that Governor Emmanuel is on commission to take the only State named after God to a height that will glorify His name. To prepare for the event, an inter-denominational service was held to break a fast that the governor directed all Akwa Ibom sons and daughters even in the Diaspora to partake as a prelude to the celebration of the State at 30. Then came colour orange brand, the State colour which until recently was lost in significance and essence. Today, the colour seems like a redemptive symbol giving renewed vigour, value and worth to the state. Even though many who should know better have tried to trivialize the Colour Orange September with some going to the ridiculous extent of stating that the colour which they had since known while they served in government should be changed, the reality is that Orange September has given the State a new and fresh face. With the orange colour depicting warm, creative and friendly people, the State would remain a worthwhile destination.
This particular anniversary is unique in all trappings. Apart from its historical niche of being 30 years since the creation of the State, it is the first time the once insipid colour of the State has been revved and given essence. This anniversary with the theme “Arise and Shine …” has also acquired a generic name “Orange September” which is a juxtaposition of the month of birth of the state and the colour of the State.
To give the grandeur expected of this epoch celebration, spectacular events have been lined up to satiate the joy of Akwa Ibom people and friends of the State who have watched the State’s steady rise from a nondescript position to the cynosure it is today.
The programme commences with the Orange September carnival, a display of the colour of the state which has never before been so adulated and appreciated. There would also be sports events to add further pep to the celebration. Also, on cue are fashion parade, cultural displays, beauty pageant, comedy show, music, display of the various rich cuisines of the State, “dise” Akwa Ibom, a pictorial fair displaying the great cultural arts of the State, and many other shows. Different days have been allocated for the events beginning from September 16 to September 25, 2017. The high point of the event which is billed to have in attendance personalities of note from within and without would be the commissioning of the 400 million capacity syringe factory, the metering solution factory, the state of the art General Hospital, Etinan and other life touching projects, the Udom administration by the Vice President, professor Yemi Osinbanjo
The elaborate celebration of 30 years of the life of Akwa Ibom is befitting taking cognizance of the many recognizable milestones that put the state in a pole position against some of its peers including the ones created before her. The joy that rents the air and the display of the state’s tangible and intangible assets constitute a deliberate approach at repositioning the state to attain its optimum potential. With Udom Emmanuel setting new governance benchmarks, the State would have reasons to continue to celebrate even in the years ahead.
Joe Iniodu – Public affairs analyst