I have resorted to this medium to share my thoughts with you about the gathering storm in the state and the need to take deliberate and urgent action to pull the state from toppling down the cliff ahead of 2023.
You should please forgive me for making this public, but the fact is that it is impossible for people like me to get access to meet you privately. Besides, I do not wish to be misconstrued by some of your aides, who tend to believe that coming close to you will endanger their jobs. I am writing this letter as a blue-blooded Akwa Ibom man and just like any other citizen with the right to hold and express opinion guaranteed under the law.
I, therefore, pray that this letter meets you well and that God would grant you the grace, wisdom and the presence of mind to accept this for what it is – an unflustered, patriotic and honest attempt at giving you a different perspective to handling the existential crisis facing the state and its people.
Your “sins” are still with you Mr. Emmanuel
Sir, on December 13, 2014, Thisday newspaper published an article, “The Sins of Udom Emmanuel.” I had written that piece, which was published by other mainstream media and online platforms not long after you won the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as gubernatorial candidate in the state for the 2015 general elections.
The article came out on the day one of the best academics from the state, Prof. Idorenyin Udo Esen Akpan was laid to rest in his village in Ini Local Government Area.
Prof Akpan, who was fondly called “Idy Akpan” was the dean, School of Art and Science, American University of Nigeria, Yola, in Adamawa State.
In that lighthearted article, I had attempted a deconstruction of your experience, growing up in the village under strict parents, who understood the essences of discipline, education and faith in child upbringing. I had also drawn some inverses between you and a typical politician and why you should act differently when you finally win the election that I knew you were going to win.
Kindly find time to read the article if your attention wasn’t drawn to it before now and you will understand why I am now speaking directly to you without using puns and metaphors.
It was during a long road trip to convey the remains of Prof. Akpan to his family in Akwa Ibom at a time the Federal Government had banned the flying of corpses as part of measures to stop the spread of the dreaded Ebola virus that I wrote that article. It was my considered opinion that you represented the best of Akwa Ibom dream and would not only change the way politics is played but also reorder the leadership recruitment processes in the state.
But, Sir, after the end of your first term and second year into your second and final term, many believe you have not done well and others think you can do better.
Your top aides, political leaders within your party and your friends may not tell you the truth even when they complain bitterly within their closets and are quietly compiling a list of your sins they will use against you at the appropriate time.
However, the same people do praise and worship for you and tell you, you are the best thing to happen to the state. Don’t be deceived by their praises. If you’re in doubt, ask Obong Victor Attah and your predecessor, GodswillAkpabio, about what they went through in the hands of their supposed aides, friends and political allies. You will not be an exception, Sir.
The problems in the state
My dear Governor, I sincerely plead with you to pardon me for being this blunt, but you need to hear me out because as they say, “Truth never damages a just cause.” I also want to add that truth does not lie or cover up. Only the truth will set Akwa Ibom and its people free.
I want to thank you most sincerely for finally commencing the payment of pension and gratuity to retired primary school teachers and their dependents. While part of the debt was not incurred by your administration, I believe you could have saved the retirees the pain and your administration the scathing attacks, if you had taken the decision to pay our senior citizens and their dependents long before now.
I want to also appreciate you for not going after your political opponents with the full force of violence that we witnessed in the past although the rights of many citizens have been breached under your watch. I believe you can do better in the area of the rule of law and respect for human rights.
But, Sir, Akwa Ibom people, both the young and the old, are suffering and crying and their voices are so loud and almost getting to frenzy. There is so much hunger and poverty that parents are increasingly becoming helpless.
While home in December, I saw something which shocked me to the bones along Edet Akpan Avenue close to the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in the evening of December 12, 2020.
A grandmother was searching through heaps of refuse and selecting partly rotten fruits, vegetables and pastries apparently discarded by a nearby supermarket into a nylon bag. When she found that I had stopped and was watching her, she walked away with her head bowed. Even when I called and sought to offer some help, she walked away with teary eyes. It broke my heart.
Apart from poverty and hunger in the land, the unemployment rate in the state is simply worrisome and should not be taken lightly. The NBS reports for three consecutive years have shown we are not doing well in job creation.
I am, however, aware of the various intervention measures your administration has initiated to engage our young people in gainful ventures but they are a far cry from addressing the hydra-headed problem.
We will not be able to check insecurity in Akwa Ibom State unless adequate, deliberate, and sustained steps are taken to develop desperately needed skills and expand the employment net for our people.
But it will be a near impossibility to develop the skill, shape the character and expand the sympathies of our youth given the dwindling moral values and abandonment of etiquette in our society.
It is only in a society where people have lost moral values and the sense of empathy, respect for the sanctity of life and dignity of labour that one finds a girl like Iniobong Umoren being murdered by a fellow youth while seeking a legitimate means of livelihood. It is only in a society where people want to make money by any means necessary and against the dictates of honesty, hard work and smart choices that you find the kind of atrocities being committed in the state.
But you can within the next two years change cause, reset your priorities, and charge your team to deliver on strategic commitments that will help you end stronger in 2023. You will, however, need a great deal of courage, grit and smart ideas.
A few quick wins
Although the United States Government did list the state as unsafe in its recent travel guide to its citizens, I believe it is the gruesome murder of Ini Umorenand the uproar that the issue generated both online and offline and the continued attacks on the police and their facilities that have done incalculable damage to the image of the state and you should not handle the issue with any level of indiscretion. Below are suggestions that can assist in tackling some of the problems at hand:
Fixing the compromised investigation of Iniobong Umoren’s murder
The expert analysis of the actions and inactions of the Akwa Ibom State Police command and the inconsistencies in the statement and action of the Chairman of Uruan Local Government Area and Kufre Effiong and the alleged threats to the family of the deceased show there are more to the issue than what the public is aware.
As a God-fearing leader and given the oath of office you took, you should please ensure that the investigation into the killing of Iniobong is done with utmost transparency and professionalism. You might have been aware that the Akwa Ibom State Police command had right from the outset, shown gross incompetence, outright negligence and deliberate unprofessionalism when it failed to act promptly when they got report that Iniobong was in distress, when they went to exhume the body of the lady and deposited it in the morgue without recourse to her devastated family members, and when they left the crime scene unprotected and allowed a mob to vandalise, remove and destroy sensitive evidence of the crime and other crimes committed by Uduak Akpanand his accomplices. The police had also refused to bring the suspect out as it is their usual practice, to speak to journalists after he was arrested.
Akwa Ibom people, Nigerians and indeed, the world is shocked by the action of the police and many do not have confidence they will carry out an investigation that will lead to diligent prosecution of the case. You should, therefore, ask for the removal of the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner of Police and his replacement with a more professional and diligent CP. You can also empanel a different team to conduct fresh investigation and explore the possibility of getting all the digital footprints and call download of those associated with the self-confessed rapist and murderer. .
We learnt that there are other human slaughterhouses where many have been killed and their parts harvested, particularly in Uyo, Ibiono, and Essien Udim. Only diligent investigation by the best team of investigators would uncover the crimes and many have said that the DPO, Itam Division, can handle such sensitive assignment if given the opportunity.
Restoration of moral values and etiquette
To address the flagging moral values in our society, there is urgent need to initiate a mechanism for restoration using the media, schools, and faith-based organisations. Our people, both the young and the old, must learn anew, values like honesty, loyalty, respect, self-reliance, self-discipline, patience, kindness, gratitude, forgiveness, personal responsibility, and courtesy. The state Ethical Reorientation and Mobilisation Agency must be reorganised and empowered to run a vigorous campaign to restore moral values in our society.
Handling insecurity and restiveness
The level of insecurity in the state is worrisome and needs more than a casual response. It is sad that the South-south governors unlike their counterparts in other parts of the country have failed to create their own security outfit to supplement the existing national security architecture. However, understanding the nexus between security, peace and development, the government can proactively set up a quasi-security outfit to, among other things, gather intelligence, carry out surveillance operations, analyze data, prevent and bust crimes in the state. The outfit would deploy advanced technological tools in its operations and can in collaboration with existing security agencies keep Akwa Ibom and its people safe. It is important to say that such a move will not only help secure the state but will also generate needed jobs for youth. But there is a caveat: no one with a criminal record or affiliation with a known cult group or fraternity should be enlisted in the outfit. Benue State Government has established a similar outfit and has also rallied the people to rise and defend themselves.
Majority of youth, especially those living in the rural areas, are unaware of the new job opportunities emerging in fields such as electronics, telecom, agriculture, online retail, healthcare, tourism and hospitality. They also lack appropriate training due to the misplaced priority in Nigeria’s formal education which unduly places emphasis on certificate rather than skill.
But our youth need opportunities to discover their capabilities and an encouraging environment to grow and innovate. For this reason, the government needs to develop initiatives to train and retrain the youth and create awareness about new and emerging fields of entrepreneurship. As AI, machine learning and IoT dominate the job market; the government must deliberately develop the skills of our youth to respond to these changes in a positive and productive way.
My findings show that a large percentage of our youth population will miss the opportunity to reach their full potential unless the government makes concerted effort to leverage its human capital and transform Akwa Ibom into the workforce supplier of the country and sub-region.
But this cannot be done unless the government is able to generate empirical data about the unemployed in the state. On this, we have suggestions on how data can be generated for every known economic and demographic composition in the state and such data could be generated organically within four to six months.
In the wake of rising unemployment and lack of required skills amongst new graduates and school leavers, the government could consider creating a ministry or directorate of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, with a clear mandate to provide the required skills and capacity as well as create strategic hubs to drive job creation, innovation and productivity.
Such job creation platforms may include but not restricted to Digital Akwa Ibom, StartUp Akwa Ibom, Agro-Pro Akwa Ibom. If properly funded and well-managed, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship can generate no fewer than 30, 000 direct and indirect jobs within two years. The core areas of operations would be agriculture value chain, ICT, creativity and innovation.
With the above, the state would become Nigeria’s StartUp and Innovation Hub and would attract investment and patronage across the world, including top-tech brands.
The idea is to equip the youth with the right skills and opportunities by generating a productive workforce capable of meeting the demands of local, national and global industries. Already huge gaps exist between the industry requirements and the level of skills of our school leavers and graduates. The reasons include incorrect mix of skills and education, outdated curricula, inadequate training infrastructures, limited industry interfaces, poor standards, etc.
The government can, therefore, start by making skill training mandatory in schools and other training institutions and it should be viewed as a complementary part of mainstream education.
As I end this letter, I wish to restate my total confidence in the Akwa Ibom dream and my commitment to the processes of making our state attain the full potential of its calling and heritage.
I pray that God would grant you immense wisdom and power to take the right decisions that will deliver peace, unity and progress to our people.
Kindly accept Sir, the assurances of my warm regards and sincere consideration.