Okon Bassey in Uyo
Thousands of youths MondayÂ staged a peaceful demonstration in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, over plan by the state Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, to spend about N1.2 billion in building a new government lodge in Lagos State.
The youths, under the aegis of Akwa Ibom Conscience (AIC), defied the heavy rain in the morning to march along major streets in the state capital to the state government house along Wellington Bassey way, former Barracks road and to the state House of Assembly complex where they registered their complaints.
The protest was earlier scheduled to hold last Friday but was stopped by the state police command because another group of indigenes who supported the project had also planned to float similar rally at the same time and date in the state capital.
Despite the earlier explanations offered by the state governor that the planned governorâ€™s lodge was duly budgeted for and not N9.1billion as speculated, the youths said the project was not necessary especially when the citizens were passing through recession period.
The protesters led by human rights activist, Inibehe Effiong, claimed the government was insensitive to the plights of hundreds of youths without well-paid jobs in the state, describing the project as â€œa misplaced priorityâ€.
Similar protest was reportedly staged in Lagos State last Thursday by the youths to register the same grievance to the state government.
Some of the placards read: â€˜Governor Emmanuel, Stop wasting our money, No! to N9 billion, N2 billion or N1.2 billion New Governorâ€™s Lodge in Lagos, Where is our N14.5 billion, N10 billion Paris Club Refund? Pay our retired civil servants, pay our late retired Primary School teachers and where is the Industrialisation you promised Akwa Ibom State? Stop deceiving Akwa Ibom people with false projects, etc.â€
Addressing the youths near Government House, Uyo, Effiong, who is the spokesperson for the youths said they came to register their protest to the state government and not to fight government.
With suffering and poverty in the state, he said Akwa Ibom youths need employment and not a situation where government is siphoning the resources of the state through projects that do not benefit them.
Effiong queried the importance of the government lodge to be built in Lagos to the citizens for the governor to insist on embarking on it when the people are saying capital no to such a project.
According to him, â€˜â€˜You promised us industrialisation and you cannot fulfil it. That is why we are saying that, you should listen to us.
â€˜â€˜We are all here for the interest of the state because we are victims; everyone is affected by the wrong policies of your government.
â€˜â€˜N9 billion is not paltry, less than N1 billion would have settled the entitlement of next-of-kins of the late primary school teachers being owed from 1999 till date.
â€˜â€˜All we are saying is that, we are all victims of the collective enslavement of our people. Enough is enough, Akwa Ibom people are not slavesâ€™â€™, he stated.
Meanwhile, Governor Emmanuel had last week denied any plan to spend a N9.1 billion in the building of a new governorâ€™s lodge in Lagos.
According to the governor only N1.2 billion was allotted for the project in the budget wondering why the people should go about with mischief to discredit the state government.
â€œLet me say that the budget is a public document. It is only when people try to change what is in the public document; it is no more than mischief. What we have in the budget is a paltry N1.2 billion, paltry sum.
â€œLet me say, there can only be one governor at a time and God gives a right vision to a right leader at one point in time.
â€œI think at this moment I need to let people who may not know to know that as at today , Akwa Ibom has a lot of fine property in Lagos.
â€œLet me also say that you cannot have such asset and allow it to waste. Asset supposed to generate returns but there certain conditions you must put the asset into to get maximum returns.
â€œSome people misquoted the whole thing, saying have you finished building Akwa Ibom, why are you going to Lagosâ€™â€™.
â€œThose who are hiding behind the cloak of cheap propaganda and blackmail to deridet his administration, over building of a new governors lodge in Lagos have limited knowledge of economics and business,â€ he stated..
Emmanuel argued that high profile meetings with consular generals and international business executives cannot be held in the present governorâ€™s lodge of the state in Lagos which he described as a dilapidated building.
â€œThis is a government that is trying to drive investments all over the world. Will Akwa Ibom people feel proud for me to host so many Consular Generals and investors in that kind of dilapidated building, what will it speak of the state?â€
â€œSome people are saying that the investments should not be done anywhere outside Akwa Ibom State. So do we sell off those assets that can actually generate return?, he asked
He said it was so illogical to reason that investments should be restricted to the state, asking â€œare they telling me that Exxon Mobil should not have left America to come and invest in Akwa Ibom?