The combination of his charisma, daring politics and visible uncommon transformation of infrastructure imbued the Akwa Ibom man, woman and child with a new sense of confidence.
It is an act of good fortune that this year’s birthday of Godswill Obot Akpabio, erstwhile governor of Akwa Ibom State, erstwhile Senate Minority Leader and Senator representing my senatorial district in the National Assembly falls on a Sunday. Good fortune because that provides an easy motif to anchor the story of a man who is easily one of Nigeria’s towering political figures. I am conscious that in times of political insanity like the run up to an election, it is near impossible to pay tribute to a political figure without attracting stray arrows and darts. However, it is in the nature of my calling not to duck in the face of those menacing projectiles.
Back to the Sunday. The holy book of Christians, who see today as a holy day, is the Bible. There is a Bible story, which aptly captures the Akpabio narrative and that is the story of Nehemiah who was a prince in a foreign land. When Nehemiah heard of the ruins of Jerusalem, he could no longer contain himself nor enjoy the pecks of his good fortune. There was no point of his position if the land of his birth laid desolate. He called himself to service and mobilised the Israelites to rebuild Jerusalem so that they would no longer be a reproach unto themselves. Three key points are significant in his story. One, he recognised the sorry state of his roots. Two, he did not wait to be called to serve; he called himself. Three, he rebuilt Jerusalem and made it a pride to the Jews.
For those familiar with the story of Akwa Ibom State and the uncommon transformation deeds of Akpabio who ruled the state between 2007 and 2015, one needs no further commentary to align the two narratives. For those who are not, a few words will do. Akwa Ibom State, though richly endowed, was a backwater of development. Despite being the highest oil producing state, it was getting nothing from its resources until Akpabio’s predecessor, Obong Victor Attah, fought for the abrogation of the onshore/ offshore dichotomy in the application of derivation in revenue sharing.
The story is told of how Stella Obasanjo, then first lady, left the state in the middle of the night for Calabar because the ceiling in the government guest house she was staying collapsed and fell on the bed. It had no airport, so the only air route to the state was through Calabar, an hour’s drive away. Even then, the part of the road that took you to Uyo, the state capital was hardly passable. At that time, the East West road from Port Harcourt was under construction. The roads from Aba and the one from Umuahia were more of dance tracks than vehicular highways.
Akpabio ‘called’ himself to challenge the state of his people. He mobilised Akwa Ibom people and went to work. By the time he was through, Uyo, the state capital, became a modern city. There was an airport to fly to Uyo. The roads were done. VIP visitors to Akwa Ibom State were so carried away they found every excuse to extend their stay. Akwa Ibom had one of the best stadia in sub Saharan African, it could boast of a government house complex and the most sophisticated hospital in Nigeria.
What Akpabio did for his people was beyond the physical infrastructure people can see. He signed the Child Rights Act and introduced free and compulsory education. This pulled our children away from menial jobs in households and hawking on the street. He put our children in school and gave them a future. No longer were we seen as the downtrodden of the earth, only good at providing houseboys and housegirls to others.
The combination of his charisma, daring politics and visible uncommon transformation of infrastructure imbued the Akwa Ibom man, woman and child with a new sense of confidence. Akpabio emboldened Akwa Ibom people to stand erect and speak like men whose testicles have not been cut by the oppressive fundamentals of a dysfunctional Nigerian nation.
Perhaps the best tribute to pay to him comes from the Akwa Ibom man who was at Uyo airport when someone called. He was asked: ‘where are you?’ His answer: ‘I am at Uyo airport. I am going to Nigeria.’ Akpabio had so transformed Uyo that it no longer looked like a place in Nigeria. I have nothing more to add.
Ekoriko, Senator Akpabio’s constituent, is the publisher of the London-based NewsAfrica Magazine
••• The man, Godswill Akpabio
Born on December 9, 1962, Godswill Obot Akpabio, CON, is a lawyer by profession and politician. He lost his father early in life and was raised by his mother.
He attended Methodist Primary School, Ukana, Essien Udim LGA, Akwa Ibom State; the Federal Government College, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and the University of Calabar, Cross River State. His leadership trait manifested at the Federal Government College, Port Harcourt, prompting the school authorities to appoint him Senior Prefect. At the University of Calabar, served as speaker of the parliamentary, having won the election to clinch the post.
Before venturing into politics, which gave him the opportunity to serve as commissioner and governor in Akwa Ibom State, Akpabio worked briefly as a teacher. He was associate partner, in a law firm, with Paul Usoro and Co. he also worked with EMIS Telecoms Limited, a wireless telecommunications company in Lagos, where he rose to the position of the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer in 2002.
Akpabio was appointed Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources by former Governor Obong Victor Attah in 2002. He was to also serve as commissioner in three key ministries: Petroleum and Natural Re- sources, Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, as well as Lands and Housing from 2002-2006.
He was elected governor in 2007 and served two terms, from 2007-2015. He was elected senator in 2015 to represent Akwa Ibom North West (Ikot Ekpene) Senatorial District, and went ahead to emerged as Majority Leader, even as a first time senator. He is seeking reelection to the Senate on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which he joined a few months ago.