The popular narrative has been that Nigeria’s 36 states are broke and can no longer pay N18, 000 minimum wage to their civil servants. The Nigeria Governors’ Forum said so on Thursday. And the state chief executives were requesting a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, perhaps to ask for another round of bailout funds.
But it’s not true that no state can pay its workers the minimum wage any longer. I know at least one state that has never worried about the minimum wage and is not asking for a bailout now like most other states. It is also one of the few states that do not owe workers’ salaries or allowances. So, what’s its secret?
Since Governor Udom Emmanuel is one of the few governors that have refused to accept a bailout fund from the federal government, one could be forgiven to think that Akwa Ibom State is a land overflowing with milk and honey. At the end of each monthly allocation of federal revenues in Nigeria’s capital city, the representative of the state often goes home with the largest share or one of the largest shares among the nation’s 36 states.
The seeming deep pocket of Akwa Ibom notwithstanding, all doesn’t seem to be well with the state. Akwa-Ibomites, like their compatriots in other states, are feeling the pinch of economic downturn occasioned by the fall in the price of crude oil, Nigeria’s main revenue earner. As the governor explained penultimate week, at a town hall meeting attended by stakeholders and journalists, he took the decision to reject a bailout so as to not mortgage the future of Akwa Ibom people.
President Muhammadu Buhari granted the bailout fund totalling more than N380billion to 30 states that were unable to pay workers’ salaries. But it comes at a cost: it is not interest-free and must be repaid within a number of years.
Heading off a huge debt burden, as Governor Emmanuel has done, is one of the finest indicators of patriotism. Despite paucity of funds everywhere in the country, he has, after 170 days in office, several achievements to point to. Topmost on the list is peace. And then jobs: To create jobs, he has made moves to revive hitherto moribund industries and establish new ones in the state. Peacock Paints at Etinam is back. Itu has received an automobile assembly plant. A LED factory is work in progress. Shoprite has berthed in Uyo, as has Africa Independent Television at Abak. Many Ibomites have been sent abroad to gather skills in ICT and agriculture.
All these say nothing of the many urban and rural roads being reconstructed or dualised. Hospitals have been redeveloped. Uyo, the state capital, is returning to its preeminent status as one of the most beautiful cities in Nigeria.
Why then, one may ask, has the state inundated the world with the slogan “Dakkada” in recent times? “Dakkada”, meaning “Rise up”, was an initiative Governor Emmanuel launched during the celebration of the state’s 28th birth anniversary a few weeks ago. Does it suggest that the state was lying prostrate and therefore needed to rise up?
Akwa Ibom may not need a bailout, partly because its governor has been very frugal with the state’s resources. That’s why political opponents appeared stupid when they accused Emmanuel of wasting money on the celebration of the state’s 28th anniversary and the “Dakkada” campaign. Rather than spend N3.7billion as the detractors claimed, the governor said he did not spend even up to half a billion. “The money was not there. For the first time, we did anniversary without a state banquet in the evening because we were moving with the times,” he stated. “If I had N3.7 billion, I would use it to flood the state with industries.”
A few have raised issues of transparency and accountability in the government of Emmanuel, signifying that he has, perhaps, not courted the media enough. There have been misrepresentations at times and strange polls conducted in opponents’ bedrooms. All the same, he pleads with the media to “applaud government when they do good and constructively criticize when they veer off the course”. “We welcome constructive criticism – criticism that is done without malice,” said the governor.
However, most of his critics are politicians who have transferred anger directed at other politicians. Chief Don Etiebet, for instance, is riled by the violation of a 1999 agreement among stakeholders to rotate the governorship among the state’s tribes and senatorial districts. According to him, after Obong Victor Attah (Ibibio, Uyo) and Godswill Akpabio (Annang, Ikot Ekpene), the next governor should have been an Oron person from Eket senatorial district.
Any wrong done could not be traceable to the current governor, of course. But just as he could have benefitted from other people’s alleged mistake, he has also become a victim of transferred aggression. Likely, this is at the root of claims of alleged violence during the April 11 contest that produced the governor. The Election Petition Tribunal has delivered its judgement, but it was not satisfying to both the defendant and the plaintiff. The tribunal ordered a rerun in 18 out of 31 local government areas of the state. The APC candidate, Umana Okon Umana, wants the entire poll cancelled. Governor Emmanuel does not want a rerun in any LGA.
Whatever the outcome of the litigation at the courts, it is not likely that the candidate of a party other than the PDP will win a governorship contest in Akwa Ibom anytime soon. Controversy will, however, not fade away. Even when the Department of State Services (DSS) allegedly raided a guest house located within the premises of the Akwa Ibom State Government House, there were Ibomites that spoke in favour of the raid. Governor Emmanuel’s appeal has been: “Let us start a new narrative of constructive engagement devoid of the negative impulse to pull each other down; for when we pull our people down, we invariably pull ourselves down.”
His call to “Dakkada” seems to be getting louder. Will it succeed in waking up the majority of Ibomites who have become unconcerned about politics and politicians? Only 42 months are left in this dispensation.
— By ANIEBO NWAMU