To say that the public is no longer comfortable with Governor Godswill Akpabio's somewhat obscene display of tax payers' money is alluding to the obvious, writes Shola Oyeyipo.
Amongst the governors who enjoy widespread acceptance in terms of performance in the country, the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, is certainly in the first five. This is on account of his array of developmental projects that have seen the administration as the toast of many.
Interestingly, his acceptance of goodwill is believed to have close ties with his generosity which, given the Nigerian political environment, has further endeared him to many than the substance of what he truly represents. However, with an unguarded giving spirit which is sometimes believed to constitute public nuisance, the people are now inclined to seeking answers to Akpabio's motive of lavish spending of public funds in the midst of squalid living.
The governor, who just acquired a $45 million dollar jet, was a few days ago reported as having splashed thousands of dollars on a Nigerian hip hop act, Innocent Ujah Idibia, popularly known as 2face, and his wife, Annie, at their wedding in Eket Local Government Area of the state. Apart from handing out a Toyota Prado Sports Utility Vehicle to the couple, the Governor has also elected to sponsor the delegates from the state to their Dubai wedding this weekend. And all the Governor had to say in defence of his gesture was that the gift was a compensation for Annie - who stood by 2face through their trying periods. Not long after that, Akpabio was again in the news for acquiring several bulletproof sprinter luxury vans from the United States-based Texas Armoring Corporation (TAC).
But more recently, Akapbio was shown on some local television stations, giving out N1m each to six state chairmen of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The news was not even that he gave out the cash donation, the manner in which he gave it out, describing the people as hungry, sculpted the image of a man arrogant with power on account of excessive and redundant funds.
Akpabio also caught negative media exposure when he donated the sum of N230m on behalf of other governors at the launch of St. Stephens Anglican Deanery and Youth Development Centre, Otuoke, Bayelsa State, home state of President Goodluck Jonathan. It was obvious that he did not consult with many of the other governors as he otherwise feigned before making the donation on their behalf. Indeed, some of them allegedly grumbled over the cash donation on the grounds that they were not in the know.
The governor, who last month became the chairman of the newly formed PDP Governors Forum, a body believed to have been formed, solely to whittle down the influence of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), chaired by the Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, however hinged his cash donation to the PDP chairmen in Paort Harcourt on an earlier call by his Delta State counterpart, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, on the need to empower the people as a way of keeping them in the party.
Hear him: "Well, my brother governor, Uduaghan said you are hungry. So, I will give the state chairmen from the six states N1 million per state for Mr. Biggs right now. All the state chairmen should see me immediately after my remarks so that at least I will drop N1 million each for Mr. Biggs' so that PDP can chart the course for empowerment."
Aside that, the PDP, through its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Olisa Metuh, had come out to defend Akpabio in a statement on Monday, saying: "The cost of the venue and other logistics were handled by the host governor (Amaechi of Rivers) and Governor Akpabio showed his commitment to party faithful by assisting them with transport allowance as well as assisting them with some welfare." Metuh contended that, "Politics all over the world is very expensive and any gesture towards accommodating the sacrifices of the ordinary PDP faithful is important."
Of course, the amount of resources sunk in some of the rather inconsequential ventures is staggering if not worrisome and had sparked public rage and condemnation. For instance, a body of the South-east and South-south Professionals of Nigeria (SESSPN) tagged the monetary and car gifts to Tuface and his wife, reckless.
SESSPN Publicity Secretary, Oscar Onwudiwe, said though Akpabio made impressive effort by completing his predecessor's projects and initiated new ones, some of which are already completed, the people were shocked by the way the governor spends money in recent times. "We are flabbergasted by the governor's recent show of financial indiscretion and recklessness in donating two SUVs to the musician, Tuface Idibia, and his wife, Annie Macauley, during their recent traditional marriage in Ibeno, Akwa Ibom. We are equally embarrassed that the governor also pledged to sponsor a delegation of 29 people to Dubai during the wedding of the couple and to dualise the road to Annie's home during their child dedication."
The group, however, underscored the palpable poverty among the people of Ibeno, the bad road and unresolved youth unemployment as requiring more urgent attention than the gifts. Indeed, efforts by the Commissioner for Information, Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Aniekan Umana, to dismiss some of the issues may not have sufficed. "Looking carefully at the surrounding events in perspective, Mrs. Annie Idibia, nee Macaulay is a daughter of Akwa Ibom State and the gift of a Prado SUV from her governor is only a gesture of love and goodwill. Her resolve to stand by her husband on his journey right from his days of youthful beginnings to stardom even in the face of challenges was commendable and a true attribute of the Akwa Ibom women.
"It is, however, unbecoming that mischief makers and enemies of progress have decided to inflame the social media with incongruous reports that the State Government is sponsoring an entourage of party supporters to the wedding in Dubai, when in fact the Government is only sponsoring the travel expenses of twenty of her family members at an estimated cost of roughly three Million Naira (N3,000,000.00) only.
"I wish to therefore urge members of the public to discountenance the misrepresentations made out of a well intentioned act of the governor," he said.
Good as the governor's intention might be in all of the cases, the question agitating the minds of the people is whether or not there are no better and people-oriented projects to invest the money in? Is it that he has finished developing the state? That an average Akwa Ibom indigene still seeks succour is niggling, much less that their Governor now goes on a spending spree, not bothered what they think.
Certainly, the general feeling is that while Akpabio might be trying to impress the president on the one hand, he is also trying to live up to his new status as chairman, PDPGF and at the same time, clearing the grounds for his party and President Jonathan in 2015.
Whatever the case, Akpabio must slow it down. With a high poverty level everywhere, such public perception of an otherwise performing governor does no good to his person, office and party. This is more so that many see his deportment as portraying corruption. Yet, he is believed to be brazen about such obscene display of tax payers' money because he is a friend of the president.
This, of course, is why Akpabio should watch and slow it down. The Nigerian history has recorded many people who were even closer with former presidents but ended up and or still serving jail term. The present cover he seems to enjoy cannot be permanent. There might come such a time when the Pharaoh in the saddle will not know his Joseph. That, pray not his lot, could mark a terrible point in his career. After all, the anti-graft agencies are watching.