I have been inundated with calls and enquiries from many Akwa Ibom people, especially those in Diaspora, who are asking why Gov. Udom Emmanuel is planning to build a new governor’s lodge in Lagos and spend more billions on the Sheraton Hotel, Ikot Ekpene. In these very challenging times, many people argue that it is unconscionable for the governor, who incessantly complains of low oil revenue, to contemplate such dubious expenditures. I recall that former governor Akpabio had commissioned the hotel a few days before he left office, and had announced that the construction of the 17-storey edifice was complete and all the furnishings and equipment had been ordered and paid for. Early this year, a former commissioner who was involved in the project corroborated this point and wondered why the Udom administration is delaying its take-off. Other former senior officials of the Akpabio government had publicly made the same claim, with one indicating that the delay in opening the hotel for business was because the soft furnishings were being branded overseas by the SPG group, the hotel chain in which Sheraton belongs. This was like over a year ago. I do not work for the state government, but like all other responsible and educated citizens, I am interested in the manner the governor is conducting the affairs of his government, especially issues of good governance, transparency and value-for-money expenses. I have confirmed that the governor has proposed N9.6 billion to the Ministry of Special Duties, of the N114.5 billion supplementary budget just approved by the House of Assembly. Special Duties has always been responsible for building all big-ticket projects like the stadium, Ibom Specialist Hospital, airport, etc. The N9.6 billion, I understand, will fund the new lodge in Lagos and the Ikot Ekpene hotel. But it is not clear why the governor is still pumping money into the hotel project that has since been completed. A little over a year ago, the governor spent N1.6 billion to renovate the lodge in Abuja. Clearly, in this austere season, this governor has no retrain when it comes to luxury expenses. But in the interest of millions of Akwa Ibom families who are struggling to make ends meet, I hereby call on Deacon Udom Emmnuel to discontinue his plans to build another governor’s lodge in Lagos. It is wasteful, superfluous and unnecessary. We don’t need it. In fact, many people I have spoken to believe that the motive for such a project is less than honest, especially since the figure is so curiously similar to the N10 billion recently paid to the state by the federal government as the second instalment of the Paris Club refund, and the supplementary budget was rushed to the House just about when the refund was paid.
Less than two years ago, I had written an article in The Guardian newspaper with the same title as this bemoaning financial recklessness of the new administration. This is an excerpt: ‘On Wednesday 23rd September, the Akwa Ibom State government rolled out the drums to celebrate the 28th anniversary of the creation of the state in a very lavish and ostentatious event that defied logic and common sense and ran contrary to the mood of the nation. It cost N3.75 billion, an amount far more than what many state governments receive in a month. Akwa Ibom people are shocked that Governor Udom Emmanuel is continuing in the wastefulness of the Godswill Akpabio era. Oil price is going southwards every day, hovering around $40 per barrel as at today in late September. Analysts have confirmed that the trend will continue several months or years down the road, and the CBN has even warned that the Nigerian economy will go into a recession next year. Akwa Ibom is among the heavily indebted states in the federation, owing over N500 billion to both the banks and contractors. Recently, Gov Udom, taking advantage of President Buhari’s bailout program, has restructured the commercial bank debts into federal government bonds just because we could not service them. This means that the repayment of these debts, incurred through the profligacy of the Akpabio administration, is now the responsibility of our grandchildren. The relief has drastically reduced the state’s debt repayment burden from over N3 billion to less than N400 million a month; thus offering Mr Udom Emmanuel a false sense of liquidity. Equally pathetic is that despite its unparalleled oil wealth that rolled in for about decade, Akwa Ibom does not have a single kobo in any form of savings against the rainy day. And the rains are here! Rather, we are so neck deep in debt that we have shamelessly and irresponsibly shifted the responsibility for repayment to the future generation.
The mood in the nation now is that of sobriety, level headedness and maturity. Many state governments cannot meet their basic obligations to their workers, families are in dire straits and poverty is both endemic and pervasive. The economy is contracting steadily and insecurity is not abating. To stay afloat, states like Kaduna are cutting down on wastages by discontinuing wasteful pastimes like sponsorship of people on pilgrimage. If Udom Emmnuel could restructure our debts so that our grandchildren will pay, why does he have the conscience to blow away a whooping N3.7 billion on anniversary celebration? The bulk of the money went into media campaign that lasted for weeks, including billboards, press, radio and TV advertising; Production of branded T-shirts, artistes and entertainers’ fees, Travels, hotels and accommodations to guests & pastors & former governors, Foods & drinks, Mobilization of women form the LGAs, Live TV coverage, decorations, etc.
Katsina State, which was created on the same day with Akwa Ibom, acknowledges the mood of the nation, and is not even celebrating. The Federal Government is spending only N70m to celebrate the nation’s 55th Anniversary next week. Reports say that President Buhari reluctantly gave approval to this relatively meagre sum. So why is Udom blowing away N3.7 billion so effortlessly in these very hard times when prudence, cost cutting and austerity should be the watchwords in public finance management? What a gross act of irresponsibility! Just imagine a tenant who cannot pay his rent; goes to beg his landlord for more time, but returns to his apartment to hold a big owmabe party.’
There are many important things we could spend this money on. There is no general hospital in the whole of Uyo metropolis, a city of over two million people. Why can’t the governor provide one? Our kids perform very poorly in all national exams. In this year’s WASCE, we are at number 17 of the 36 states, the worst performance in recent years. Many kids in public schools sit on the floor because there are no desks. Why can’t we overhaul our educational system? Tricycles are choking up Uyo streets. Of 10 vehicles on the road, keke are seven. Why can’t the government think of a metro bus system under PPP and expand the city further with the fourth ring road? Ukanafun, Etim Ekpo and indeed the whole of Abak 5 has very bad road networks in the state. Can’t the government help them? There are so many things for the governor to do with money. We can’t afford further wastes and extravaganza.
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