Akwa Ibom Media Interaction: Unresolved Matters

Gov Udom Emmanuel straightnews
Gov Udom Emmanuel

By: Israel Umoh

The interactive parley between Governor Udom Emmanuel and members of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Akwa Ibom State on Monday, December 21, was long expected. There were many gray areas, journalists and the public with baited breath wanted to hear from him as the chief servant of the state, to help in restoring hope and building confidence in his administration.

The public indeed journalists expected the governor to clear the foul air surrounding the extra-budgetary expenditure contained in the state Accountant-General’s annual report and audited financial statements for 2019. They expected the governor to freshen them up on the published allegations of several questionable and extra-budgetary expenses in 2019 by the offices of the State Governor and the Secretary to the State Government. It was alleged that the bizarre expenses spent on cars, aircraft maintenance, fuel, government special projects and governor’s hospitality exceeded N10 billion.

It was also reported that the office of the SSG purchased 15 new Toyota Prado Jeeps (TXL) for N4.864 billion, though the approved budget for that item was N738 million. So, an extra N4.126 billion was posted for the purchase of these cars. The figures in the financial report implied that the unit cost for one Toyota Prado Jeep (TXL) is more than N324 million.

Another scandal was the maintenance of the state aircraft under the recurrent expenditure item under the SSG’s office. The House of Assembly was said to have approved N2.5 billion for this item in 2019 but the SSG’s office spent N5.04 billion on the maintenance of one aircraft, a Bombardier Global 5000, which is used exclusively by the governor and the first family.

The public and journalists wanted the governor to throw lights on the halted payment of gratuity since March 2016 and delayed payment of pension arrears to the state public servants. It was not to be a long speech but an action to be taken to alleviate the agony of distraught pensioners.

The state Nigeria Labour Congress had complained “In the local government administration, since 2010, it has not been paid to teachers; since 2012, it has not been paid to the local government workers. Therefore, 10 years after retirement, you cannot collect your gratuity. So, workers are not happy.

“What is burning at the moment is the non-implementation of promotion to Akwa Ibom workers. You have the letter, but it is not implemented.

“We are getting very uncomfortable about it. If the strike proceeds as planned, those are some of the things we may have to ask the State government to address before we go back to work. If the strike is allowed, then Akwa Ibom state government must solve our problems.”

The public and journalists wanted to hear good news have hope on the resurgence of cult-related war threatening the peaceful disposition of the state, modalities for the employment of proposed 1,000 teachers in the secondary schools, the current but secret employment of people into the state civil service without public advertisement, delayed completion of road and other infrastructures.

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However, the governor did not want to address those issues, which would have tingled many ears and soothed many depressed lives. He knew why he shoved aside the tottering issues.

The befuddling issue he mentioned was that the village heads and others poured juju otherwise known as mbiam in our local parlance on the much-hyped coconut plantation in Mkpat Enin Local Government Area. It would be foolhardy to dismiss the existence of mbiam. Coming from a state governor made it shocking. It is always reasoned that no juju or evil power has invincible power to kill any government. Why has Akwa Ibom government not towered above this elementary power such that governor claimed its power is thwarting a project sponsored by public funds. If the mbiam has power to hinder the project, it is hoped it would have power too on those who might have directly or indirectly benefited from proceeds of the project.

However, why would the diabolical power be the main source in causing the coconut trees to be stunted? For more than five years, the government has embarked on the project, why is it in a state of asphyxiation? Expert opinion differs from the mbiam saga. Did the government employ experts to conduct soil test and use the proper species of the coconut trees in the soil? Was the plantation done under good climatic conditions? Were they regularly maintained? It is not rocket science to plant and reap good yield fromcoconut. Over the years, the governor has been sermonising on the revenue that would accrue to the government as soon as the project began yielding. When some people reported that the coconut trees were not growing, some yes men and mindless aides dismissed the peddlers of the story as liars. Udom has no excuse but to fulfil his promise in using the coconut to rake in revenue, though he has few years to wind up.

Another curious issue the governor failed to properly address was the employment of state salary consultant in the state public service. NLC alleged that from 2016 to 2019, the Office of the state Accountant-General spent N1.3 billion on the training of accountants. It also alleged that during the same period, the government spent N1.5 billion on the software for the implementation of IPSAS. With these spendings, what is the rationale of appointing a state salary consultant? What are the roles of payroll staffers and of course the accountants? In the public service, there are many ICAN-trained staffers, why is the government not employing their services to handle the salary? Why does payment of salary look like a rocket science? In fact, the governor’s explanations on the issue fell on ears like water on the back of a duck.

On the completion of Ikot Oku Ikono flyover, the governor went too technical. He reeled out the engineering technicalities behind the delay in completing the flyover, a job that should be done by the contractor or the state Ministry of Works. The question: was the job properly advertised, bidded and tendered for by many companies? What were the items in the bill of quantities? Were the cost and payments of the project properly determined? How much has been paid, so far? What was the duration for completion of the job? Why didn’t the government ask Julius Berger to provide an alternative route or diversion while the flyover was ongoing? Why were heavy duty trucks and other vehicles to diverted to Trunk C roads, especially Ikono Uyo-Midim Abak Road and Oboyo Ikot Ita-Etinan Road, which are in deplorable state?

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There are road and major projects, which the governor usually blames on insufficient of funds. Money, as the governor rightly pointed out, is a coward. If the governor wants to have much money to complete his signature projects, then he should know it would be  mission impossible and he may not forgive himself in failing to tidy the jobs after his eight-year rule. Forget about money, form a solid team to supervise and execute the projects. Do not borrow again. Rely on the monthly takes form the Federation account.

The governor is applauded for obtaining approval for the Ibom Deep Seaport. Let approval applause end. Let him stop fanning himself as the project is the only major achievement. This project was initiated by Victor Attah, executed by Godswill Akpabio. Though Federal Government approved and gazetted it, the execution may outlast this administration. It is a long-term project. The major investor having 60 per cent shares will determine the commencement and completion dates of the project depending on the level cash showered on it, not necessarily the state government which is entitled to 20 per cent shares.

Our problem in Akwa Ibom is that we politicise every issue. Why can’t Akwa Ibom people bury parties’ differences and come together under one umbrella to appraise the development and performance of every state administration? Where courageous and firm men  to ask questions on allocations and reasons for delayed and abandoned projects littering the state? Are some governor’s aides not bold to tell the governor the truth for fear of losing out of “what will the children eat” also known as stomach infrastructure package? Or, do some governor’s close friends and relations and aides feel he is omniscient and they cannot tell him the other side of the story? Ideally, a leader should be amenable to suggestions and superior ideas. If the governor does not want to succumb to truth, he will not be able to successfully execute and complete some major projects. Let the Governor hearken to progress-minded men and women of impeccable character to enable him to leave lasting legacies.