By: Israel Umoh
Akwa Ibom State in the South-south region of Nigeria featured prominently on Wednesday, April 1 and other days in the traditional and social media at the state and national levels for the wrong reason. The state government expected to play a pacesetting role in all aspects of human endeavours naively entered the black book of Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control over its poor response to the agency’s publication of coronavirus cases in the state.
Unlike other states that have been hearing and accepting NCDC’s report in good faith only to explore ways to stem the dreaded virus capable of annihilating the human race, Akwa Ibom Ministry of Health acted anti-clockwise. The issue was slender that a mere telephone call to the Director-General of NCDC would have solved the problem. NCDC had March 31 published that the state has five coronavirus cases. But, Dr. Dominic Ukpong, the Health commissioner thought a press release to disclaim the centre’s report was a well-thought idea. And this action eventually boomeranged and brought him huge condemnations and criticisms.
This one action by the Health Commissioner brought to the fore, the eccentric ways some public servants hold their offices in the state.
However, the Oath of Office for political public office holders entrenched in the seventh schedule of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) is clear on what they are expected to do and what they have to forgo because of the constitutional obligation.
The schedule stipulates “…I will discharge my duties to the best of my ability, faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being, and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria …”
“…that I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions; …”
“…I will do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill – will; …”
“…and that I will devote myself to the service and well-being of the people of Nigeria. So help me God.”
From the above, the recent chain of events coming out of Akwa Ibom State has clearly shown that our public office holders hold the oath in contempt.
Are the public officer holders aware that every decision they make while discharging their responsibility requires value judgment? Are they aware that different decisions bring different results? Are they aware that decisions have consequences- direct and indirect, intended and unintended, short term and long term? Are they and their principal fair, unbiased and detribalised in the discharge of their official duty?
Since the advent of this administration from 2015 till now, the occupants of some ministries-Work, Health and Information and Strategy Ministries- through their actions and services as vital machinery of government leaves much to be desired. In short, they have ceaselessly generated controversies to the extent of attracting opprobrium to the government.
For example, the Works Commissioner told the public that the state government collected N20 billion refunds on the Federal roads constructed by the immediate past administration in the state, but the Commissioner for Finance mentioned N17 billion. Was the disclosure of the amount the duty of the Works Commissioner or the Finance Commissioner?
These set of government handlers lack capacity in crisis situations. Following the December 10, 2016 Reigners Bible Church Bishopric investiture fiasco, as the building collapsed on the worshippers, the casualty and death toll was shrouded in controversy. Official statements were issued but scarcely found acceptance with the general population who knew things differently, as some had to fend for their wounded or dead relatives. The two ministries were culpable in issuing misleading but conflicting information on the number of people who perished in the tragedy.
The controversial importation of nearly 40 nos. 40ft container loads of hospital and medical equipments in 2017 from an American/Canadian NGO, without any competent bureaucrat from the health ministry except the Commissioner seeing the equipments before shipment, was avoidable. The officials in the ministry had to do a backward calculation to arrive at a budget for custom clearing even when the physical facilities were not ready.
That questionable procurement process has not been properly addressed. The procurement process to engage core investors for the running of the now controversial Akwa Ibom Specialist Hospital, Uyo had numerous questions to answer, little wonder why it failed to meet the expectation of the people. The so-called Canadian group, to whom the procurement process was wired, failed because of lack of sincerity on the part of those who midwifed the process.
During the concluded 2019 general elections, the Information Commissioner told Akwa Ibom populace that the state government had built 15 industries but latter scaled up the number to 17. Up till now, the industries remain a pipe dream of the present administration.
The same commissioner on Wednesday, April 1 (in a manner reminiscent of April Fool) had the gut of telling the public that Akwa Ibom Specialist Hospital, Uyo constructed by Chief Godswill Akpabio administration was unroofed. He forgot easily that during the Reigners Bible Church’s mishap in which he was fatally wounded, he was medically treated in that unroofed (?) hospital.
Now, entered the COVID-19 controversy. While other states were proactive in designing containment plans to check the pandemic, Akwa Ibom chose to play politics with the process to the extent of denigrating people with useful information to defeating the pandemic. Four health professional bodies at loggerheads with the administration were bashed by the state Image Maker for being politically sponsored to rubbish the effort of the government. Those who ought to know better were playing the ostrich. Church leaders were encouraged by state functionaries to organise prayers, whether the prayers were confronting Satan or seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness for the state, God answers as He commanded in Jer. 33:3 saying, “Call unto me and I will answer, and show you great and mighty things that you know not.
They believe quite naively that by trying to mimic Joseph Goebbels, a German Nazi politician whose public enlightenment had an unstated goal, which was to present to outsiders the impression that they in government had the full and enthusiastic backing of the entire population.
So is Akwa Ibom State, religious people, led by a gentleman Deacon of the United Evangelical Mission (Qua Iboe) Church, with a glowing slogan of Only God as Governor. His courtiers have taken the docility of the people occasioned by the preponderance of church pews of different hues in many communities to be acceptability of the mediocre service that they offer contrary to their oath of office.
Today, God has answered Akwa Ibom people by showing them five fingers. Yes, Akwa Ibom is the only state with five index cases in its first instance. When God spoke through a hand in Babylon, it was a call to judgment. Let the people mend their ways. Let the public office holders see their position as an article of trust. Breach of trust is anathema to public office.