By: Israel Umoh
Senator Godswill Akpabio is one politician fond of using jaw-breaking jokes. He is gifted in using anecdotes to bring about comic reliefs to his listeners. To him, every political soapbox is a pulpit to a politician to achieve such purpose.
The ex-Akwa Ibom governor at a political campaign grounds described Effiong Bob, a two-term Senator who represented Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District as ‘atama soup.’ ‘Atama’ leaf, a common feature in Akwa Ibom has tantalising scent and appetising smell. Akpabio likened Bob to ‘atama’ soup which if warmed regularly will bring out its best taste, saying the longer Bob stays in politics or a position, the more impact he will make or create.
True to it, Bob has had a successful stint with the local, state and national politics for decades now. Apart from achieving a lot, he mastered the ropes of governance. When some members of Conference of Online Publishers Akwa Ibom, (COOPA) interviewed him last week, the Senator bluntly remarked “Majority of councillors in Akwa Ibom are illiterates. Good and qualified people should be elected councillors. We should not bring sentiments into this.”
As an ex-councillor, local government chairman, and House of Assembly member, he knows their roles at the grassroots level. As a University of Lagos-trained lawyer, he knew the gravity of controversy and negative comments the statement would have elicited. So, he spoke and damned every consequence, considering the immutable words of William Shakespeare that “cowards die many times before their death, but valiant never taste of death but once.” Yet, his sagacious words were disdained by those who should listen and make amends. No one would wish away his pedigree in legislative and executive matters. The Senator used “majority” which was not generalisation to absolve some of them from illitocracy- my word.
In response to the interview, Bassey Etim, a legal practitioner and chairman of Akwa Ibom Councillors’ Forum, said “In strict terms, Councillors in Akwa Ibom State are very educated. All the 329 Councillors are literates. Perhaps, our Distinguished Senator might not have been in touch with the realities at the grassroots.”
Come to think of it: who is illiterate? Are illiterates, people with no certificate? Are literates those with Massachusetts certificates or Harvard-trained graduates? Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, is a Harvard drop-out. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is Harvard dropout. Are they illiterates? Illiteracy is not necessarily the non-possession of certificates but the poverty of mind and unproductive works. Visit universities in Nigeria and elsewhere. How many professors have found solutions to some societal or personal problems? How many are in sync with the contemporary issues in the country and in the global space?
For instance, an elected Nigerian President was a Grade Two Teacher. Another held G-4 but with more in-service training and courses. Even one Governor in the 80s exhibited all signs of illiteracy that he was turned to “Zebrudayah” of Nigeria. From responses to press interviews, it was clear that man was inflicted with academic kwashiorkor. Were they failures?
“By thy fruits, ye shall know them,” so says the Bible. The learned Chairman (or is it man as a lawyer is addressed?) erred seriously on the point of logic. How can a lawyer say that all Akwa Ibom councillors are very educated? Even if they can read and write, are all of them holding the same qualifications or educated in the true sense of it? Does being educated means holding big or small certificates? Entangled in the generalisation web, the chairman could not acquit himself of sound learning at first instance to prove the Senator wrong.
Again, the chairman’s press release was an apology. As the head, one would have expected him to issue a well-written release without grammatical blunders. But it was not so. “If the foundation is faulty, what can the righteous do?” the Bible asks. No one doubts the academic standing of the chairman, but his first public outing left much to be desired. Yes, some of them are holders of Ph.ds, Master’s degree or first degree. Others have diplomas or Senior Secondary School Certificate.
Stunned Ekemini Simon, an online publisher, writes in his Facebook page “When I read this defence, I wondered whether the Chairman hasn’t read the book Idiots With B.SC by Collins Oscar. This is not to say that I see our dear Councilors as idiots. Nonetheless, the fact remains that if the Chairman had read that book, perhaps he would never have dared to use that pedestrian argument as a line of defence.”
He observes “On the other aspects of illiteracy- writing, anyone who has read the recent press statement by Ika legislative Council will clearly understand the condition of our dear councillors. The grammatical affliction in that statement signed by the leader of the Legislature reflects the scabby condition of all Councillors in Ika. How sad!
“Needless to dwell much on the grammatical blunders saturating the Statement by the Chairman of Akwa Ibom State Councillors Forum which we believe was read and endorsed by all Councillors in the State before coming public. In sympathy, we would rather wish to inform him that in the Third Paragraph, instead of writing “Except our Senator “have” proof, it should have been “has” proof.
“In Paragraph 3, line 6, instead of using “Prove” in that context, it should have been “proof.” I am only bringing these blunders to his attention so that he can correct them fast before it circulates widely and the public will now be persuaded to believe the statement by the Senator was an understatement and that in reality, all our councillors are illiterates. God forbid! That would be a slap to the State.”
Moreover, the online publishers quoted Etim saying, “The Local Government Laws of Akwa Ibom 2007, doesn’t give powers to the councillors to impeach Executive Chairman.” This is another disturbing statement by the ‘learned’ chairman. It appears the chairman as a lawyer does not read or is not familiar with the provisions of the 2017 Local Government Administration of Akwa Ibom State. In the Act, the functions and powers of Legislative Council are contained in Part 11 Section 28 sub-section 1 (d), one of which states “Impeaching the Chairman or Vice-Chairman;”
Do a mental detour of the 2017 Local Government Administration of Akwa Ibom State. Check the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). How many councillors have these most vital bibles in their bookshelves to work with? How many of them read them, recite with ease and apply such as pomade in the administration of the local government in their areas? How many of them know their rights and privileges? How many of them can look into the eyes of their chairmen or governor and tell nothing, but the truth about the proper appropriation of their funds and malfeasance in the system? How many of them are conversant with legislative processes? How many have sponsored motions before or pass Bye-laws of the Council?
“Certainly, if the majority of our councillors were able to read, they would have been abreast with information about the demands of their office that they are supposed to make Bye-laws and carry out oversight functions. But how would they know their functions if they cannot and do not read? Let our councillors prove the Senator wrong by mentioning any byelaw they have made since assumption of office. Isn’t it sad that the only time our councillors are heard is when they wrestle with council Chairmen over their allowances among other entitlements? Simply personal interest! Yet, you are paid with taxpayers’ money,” Simon writes. Moreover, Atuekong Paul, a blogger, writes, “That is why most of them behave like puppies, infants and are used like 10/11 spanner by greedy and selfish politicians to create a lacuna between the legislature and the executive, the chairman in particular.”
One may excuse the Councillors because of the way and manner they were ‘recruited’ into the local government system. Most of them never tasted any government appointment nor worked in any other private sector to acquire professional skills and competence to prepare them for the legislative task. Some are rookies from the minted unemployment factory. From the secondary school or tertiary institution to the councillorship position. Majority of them (if not all) were handpicked or sponsored by their political masters in Uyo or other cities, not their constituents at home. Elections were carry-go, definitely not based on one-man-one-vote. So, councillors are turned to beasts of burden and they have to succumb to the antics of their “boss” or “oga.”
Beyond inanity, illiterates can also be seen as people who are unable to decipher lies from truth. They are those who accept any novel idea without questioning or arguing with their bosses because they want favour. They swallow hook, line and sinker like a captured fish. Cavin Nascimento writes “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, those who cannot unlearn the many lies that they have been conditioned to believe, and seek out the hidden knowledge that they have been conditioned to reject.” This is more worrisome because many ‘educated’ are fallen prey to this. The Councillors are not spared from this contagious virus crippling many.
As the councillors in the state face the illiteracy challenge, they must sit up in the performance of their onerous tasks and discharge their duty responsibly instead of passing the buck. Let the venerable words of Will.i.am “You can rule the ignorance; you can manipulate the illiterate; you can whatever you want when a people are uneducated so that goes in line with corrupt business and corrupt politics,” sink deeper into their nagging minds. Tomorrow, the society will remember, whether for good or bad, those who held positions of trust and earned taxpayers’ money without paying back to society. Councillors would not be an exception.