By Ekerete Udoh
Let me start first by apologizing for the unavoidable absence of this column last week.It was due to circumstances beyond my control. A big thank you to all those who sent me text messages and e-mails asking to know if I was fine. Thanks again for the love. Really appreciate it!
For the past two weeks, the Nigerian mainstream and social media space has been inundated by what is decidedly an organized attack or a manufactured righteous indignation by a section of the media. At issue is the donation of a Prado truck (jeep) and cash gift by Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State to Nigeria’s newest power couple, Innocent (Tuface) Idibia and his delectable wife, Annie Macauley-Idibia during the couple’s traditional wedding event held in Eket; the sponsorship of a few people to the couple’s white wedding in Dubai, the governor’s donation of over two hundred million naira on behalf of the PDP Governors’ Forum of which he is the chairman and the donation of six million to buy snacks at a PDP event.
Those of you who are ardent readers of this column will know that I have a soft spot for Governor Akpabio and my admiration for him is not based on any pecuniary incentives, but based purely on his superlative stewardship on behalf of the good people of Akwa Ibom State, of which I am proud to be counted as an indigene. My support of the governor is also in line with what obtains here in the United States, where journalists and the punditry class, dispassionate and neutral as they are supposed to be, usually betray their admiration for particular political or public officials and thus, tout their achievements and also put their feet on fire when they veer off-course.
A few examples will suffice here: In 2004, after then Senate candidate for the state of Illinois Barack Hussein Obama gave a keynote speech that changed American politics and social layers forever at the Boston, Massachusetts Democratic Convention where then Presidential candidate and Secretary of State today, John Kerry, was formally adopted as the Democratic Presidential Candidate, American media instantly adopted Obama as the a potential president of the United States. His speech was so electrifying, so ideologically and racially neutral and he was seen as an agent for change in an America that was groaning under the constitutional abuse and unilateralism of President George W. Bush whose administration had exploited the September 11, 2010 terrorist attacks on America’s homeland.
I can recall vividly the great moderator of “Meet the Press” and by far one of the most consequential American TV personalities, the late Tim Russert, stating emphatically: “we may have just been introduced to the man who may be the first African-American president of the United States.” The media after that speech, adopted Obama, and in spite of the near total stranglehold of the Democratic structure by the Clintons, Obama was to demystify that hold four years later and aided by a fawning media who treated him like a Teflon king - dusting and cleaning off all dirt and darts thrown his way - defied odds and became the Democratic flag bearer at the 2008 Presidential elections, of which he won.
The media’s support for Obama was not based on pecuniary considerations. No, it was motivated by what the journalists felt was their social responsibility to rescue America from the rot that the Republicans had put the nation through. Obama, today, still enjoys a near-mythical admiration by the mainstream media to the eternal chagrin of the conservative media.
Senator John McCain also used to enjoy such level of admiration by the media who had dubbed him the maverick, until in his quest for the 2008 presidential ticket, he tacked to the right of his party and jettisoned his moderate to conservative positions on a number of issues. As the 2016 Presidential elections begin to gather some steam, the media has already made it clear whom they wish to run on the Democratic platform - former Secretary of State, Senator Hilary Clinton is the preferred candidate of the establishment media, and it would be exceedingly impossible for any other aspirants to convince the media to look elsewhere.
I have provided the above background to justify my admiration for Governor Akpabio because of his level of performance, the generational statement he has made for the people of Akwa Ibom State and the possibilities that exist for Nigeria if we can identify certain political figures across the spectrum and instead of attacking them, pillorying them and embarking on a vendetta-fueled, blackmail-induced subterfuge, celebrate these leaders as prime examples of what good governance should be, as American journalists and punditry class has done over the decades.
As an indigene of Akwa Ibom state who has been blessed to be around the media circle for close to 30 years, and had been privileged to be around certain people of power and influence, I am acutely aware of the manner the people of Akwa Ibom state were defined, treated and regarded within the larger Nigerian project. We were the people that were supposed to man the gates of the palatial homes of the politically- and economically-privileged class; we were supposed to cook all the delicious delicacies that our part of the world is known for, and we were supposed to take care of the home front while the favoured class go about amassing more wealth and power.
Our people, for lack of an effective and galvanizing force had internalized some of these definitions and accepted it as fait-accompli. We were content with being at the periphery of the Nigerian corporate boardroom, to come in later and clear the mess after the lords had had their fill, and important decisions that will affect him adversely may have been taken. We had our voices, but we couldn’t raise it a decibel higher because our opinion did not count. Our past leaders did not see anything humiliatingly insulting with this definition. As Americans would always say, you are what you eat. We got the leadership we deserved then, and we had to live with that psychological diminution.
All that changed when Governor Godswill Akpabio came on the scene in 2007. Motivated by the force of anger which most consequential leaders who changed the direction of their countries or areas of influence were propelled by - people like Andrew Jackson who changed forever the power and influence of American presidency, that presidents before him had felt content to keeping the status-quo, Deng Xiaoping who was mad enough at the impoverished state of the Chinese people, or Barack Obama who in his second term is determined to create a more equitable society - Akpabio felt Akwa Ibom State needed to change from bottom up, and he has done so superlatively.
Today, the people of Akwa Ibom State are no longer at the bottomless pit of our collective national aspiration. They are now as aspirational, as mentally and psychologically-prepared to give their best in ourmarch to self-sufficiency. Akpabio has challenged the people of the state to take off the garb of complacency, of the feeling that there is a glass ceiling that an Akwa Ibom man or woman cannot exceed.
He has provided the infrastructural amenities that are comparable to any you would find in advanced societies. Education, as the platform for knowledge and self-sufficiency has been made free; health, being wealth, is being seriously tackled with free medical services, and in a policy thrust that mirrors what President Eisenhower did in the ‘50s during his presidency, which was the expansion of American road networks, with the view to linking the vast continent to spur economic growth, Governor Akpabio has done what posterity will later thank him for, by linking the state through enduring or built-to-last road networks. This single-minded concentration of a key aspect of development is true mark of a prepared leader. American leaders - from municipal to state and federal - are usually not all over the place on development. Each, usually comes in with a single policy thrust, get it over with and move on to the next. Obama in his first term was determined to pass the Healthcare Reform Bill. He got it done, in spite of the outcry over his lack of attention to other pressing issues such as growing the economy. In his second term, he is prepared to grow the economy and the signs are beginning to manifest. Those who say Akpabio has spent more efforts and resources on road construction don’t seem to understand certain elements of governance.
With the foundation and level of development Governor Akpabio has put in place for Akwa Ibom people, the state can never be the same again, as the citizens will insist on future leaders who will continue with the developmental strides already in place. My admiration for the governor, therefore, is based on what he has done for the state and when he is mindlessly attacked, people like me who are believers of his brand of governance, cannot fold our arms and allow falsehood to reign and develop wings to fly.
Was Governor Akpabio right in presenting gifts to the Idibias? Absolutely! Governor Akpabio was the special guest of honour at the wedding. Where in African or Western culture would you find a special guest at a wedding not presenting gifts to newly-wed couple? I have attended weddings all over the United States - inter-racial and ethnic-based. The special guest of honour usually presents the couple with keys to a mortgage–free homes, car keys or a honeymoon at the couple’s resort of choice. This is a standard practice. Where did Governor Akpabio go wrong here? Should he have made some flowery speech, and then sat down and left without giving the couple a wedding gift? Wouldn’t that have attracted snide remarks and bewilderment? Why this manufactured concern then? I am totally lost!
Another outcry has been the donation of over two hundred million Naira by Governor Akpabio on behalf of the PDP Governors Forum of which he is the chairman. Those who have made an issue out of this have been intellectually dishonest if not lazy. The said amount was only presented by Governor Akpabio, not from the coffers of the Akwa Ibom State, but as the agreed to, and individually contributed funds, by the PDP governors. Governor Akpabio only made the announcement. Why didn’t the merchants of this manufactured anxiety ask a simple question, which would have elicited a proper answer? Was this amount contributed by Akwa Ibom State government or collectively contributed by all the PDP governors? I think the governor deserves an apology for this open thrashing of the truth to further an agenda. It is sad!
And, finally, what is so morally and fiscally revolting in a kind-hearted governor presenting a token for lunch for members of his party? Don’t we in our little capacities, go to restaurants and bars and buy drinks and meals for friends, acquaintances and the like? What this concocted righteous indignation has done by those who fanned it, is nothing but a glorification of puerility; in essence, signifying nothing and it is unfortunate that the media decided to give this non-issue another day in the media cycle. This should stop. Let us begin to seek, identify and celebrate leaders in our nascent democratic governance who will help engender new thinking or inject best practices in governance and applaud and shore them up, as American journalists have been doing. Descending to the level of mud is not doing us a world of good.