Abasifreke Effiong

There has been a big fuss in the last five days over the proposed governor’s lodge contemplated by the Akwa Ibom State Government.

Anyone who is on social media platforms, specifically facebook, and whatsApp groups administered by some newspaper publishers and bloggers in the State, must by now have his brain heavy with the incomprehensible cacophony centered on this issue. There are contentions over the proposal. A section of the populace are opposed to the plan by government to build a new lodge for the governor in Lagos. Their reasons are; one. Akwa Ibom State doesn’t need a second lodge in Lagos. Two, it will be sheer waste of resources to undertake such project in straitened times like this. Three, based on priority needs assessment, the lodge goes lagging.

On the other hand, those in support of the project have marshal the following reasons. One, Lagos is the nation’s economic nerve centre, thus Akwa Ibom State must have a lodge where the governor can meet with investors. Two, the existing lodge is old and doesn’t reflect the image of the State. Three, Akwa Ibom, however must have a befitting lodge for the governor in Lagos.

The arguments for and against have snowballed into a protest. A protest against the project was held yesterday in front of the State liaison office in Lagos. A similar protest will be held in Uyo, on Monday, according to a statement issued by Inibehe Effiong, convener of the conscience group.

Conversely, youths of the PDP, governor Udom Emmanuel’s party have also planned a counter march to the protest for early next month.

This raging controversy was sparked off on facebook by a false report that the State government has budgeted N9.1 billion in the 2017 revised fiscal law for the building a new governor’s lodge in Lagos. The figure in that report was inaccurate.

However, government’s versions of the report was disheartening. First, an aide to the governor, Mr. Joseph Okon, gave justification to the project at the time the report on N9.1billion was published. Okon, by implication created an impression that the proposal for the project was as reported. 24hours later, Barr. Emmanuel Enoidem, a former commissioner in Udom Emmanuel’s administration who claimed the project was his brainchild under Akpabio’s regime said the project was budgeted at N2billion.

Furthermore, in a press release, the commissioner for information and strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh, corroborated the figure given by Emmanuel Enoidem. Just as the masses were trying to reconcile the two figures, chairman, committee on appropriations and finance of the House of Assembly, Usoro Akpanusoh, came up with N1.2billion, the correct approved sum for the project in the 2017 revised  budget of the State.

With these conflicting figures, the government obviously showed that it does not know her budget, notwithstanding, the budget was published online. The sheer laziness on the part of government information managers largely sold the government out on this. If the man who speaks for the government can outrightly dish out a wrong figure to the public, and days after the piece of information he gave turned out to be inaccurate, he has not given an apology for that, then I think the masses had had a better option on this count to protest.

Whatever fate the State and her people has/will suffer(ed), it is the “mischief” of one person that has created this tension. Knocking about of different figures by government aggravated it. This is not the era where the government should think that the masses are scared of figures.

If I were the governor I would listen to the people. I would listen to this message from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai.  “The government works for the people, achieves its objectives through the people and measures its success through their satisfaction. The government is an authority, but it is an authority at the service of the people and not an authority over them. It’s mission is to please them”. Sheikh Rashid’s thought is a typical democratic ideology that should distinguish well educated leaders from others.

Public opinion should be a resource every leader, organisation, and government “should burn the midnight oil”, searching. Unfortunately it is not so here. The government and the governed have divided themselves along party lines, sensu stricto. The government doesnot think rightly and highly of public opinion. Nevertheless, one person must listen. One person must be more responsive.  And I think the government should listen.

Let me point out a few things here. I have diagnosed the agitations on this project with a number of journalists and friends, including those who are ardent supporters of the governor, till last night. At the risk of repetition, those aversed to the project are not strictly those sympathetic to the APC as some lieutenants of the governor would coax him into believing. The sum of their opinions is that the government should not go on with that project.

I wish to address the governor directly here. Your Excellency sir, I should tell you in utmost humility that uncensored public opinion is against that project. Someone sent in a message on a radio programme on Inspiration FM yesterday when the suspended protest was discussed. The message as read out by the anchor of the programme went thus, “continue with the project, kiss 2019 goodbye”.

I do not intend to challenge the authority of government to take on this project. I wish the governor should note that every government has an authority to conceive, introduce, and undertake programmes and projects. But that authority resides with the people.

I need not begin to rack my brain about which group will mobilise the largest crowd on this issue. I will not be moved by the antics of those youths in your party who will be marching early next month to counter the protest against this project. Their marching is as would be expected. They had marched along the streets of Uyo in solidarity of your achievements months ago. If they decide to march each time some indigenes of the State disagree with a decision of government, will it really “make sense”?.

Your Excellency, if I were you. I would have come out personally to address the protesters on Monday. I wish those narrow-minded folks around you who shout “opposition, opposition” will allow you to sit down and think about the great experience and advantage it would be to talk one-on-one with Barr. Inibehe Effiong and others whom many of your lieutenants dread. If I were you, I’ll be waiting at the gate of governemnt house for them. I won’t keep them waiting. I shake hands with as many as the protesters as possible, I won’t allow my security details and aides to restrict me from taking photos with them. If I were you, I will give them water. They are your subjects. There is no need for unnecessary trepidation.

Much of the personality and perception problems we have as a people can be surmounted, if we concur self-inflicted fears and those nudged to our heart by friends and associates. I am an Akwa Ibomite. I believe in Akwa Ibom State. I believe that whatever stand I take on issues should not becloud my perception of my brothers and sisters.

I believe in doing the right thing. We can, together do the right thing! The mission of government is to please the people.

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