By Imo Owo
On September 28, 1987, an Army Colonel, Jonathan Tunde Ogbeha, arrived Uyo to take the reins as the inaugural administrator of AKWA IBOM – Nigeria’s 21st state – created only five days earlier, by General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria’s head of state at the time. Babangida foresaw the human and material resource endowments therein and yielded to an almost 10-decade-old ‘genuine, consistent and lawful’ agitation, urging the people of the new state to make her a model for others to emulate.
Today – thirty-five years after that historical event – Akwa Ibom is steadily metamorphosing into the envisioned model state.
During the celebration of Akwa Ibom’s 30th Anniversary five years ago, several former administrators of the state testified to Akwa Ibom’s extraordinary evolution. The state was affirmed to be “way ahead of so many of the older states” by Godwin Abbe, who governed the state between 1988 and 1990.
Others who corroborated Abbe’s position included John Ebiye, who observed that the growth rate of Akwa Ibom is one of the fastest in the country. Yakubu Bako was less conservative with his view that, “if the country was improving at the rate Akwa Ibom was improving, we would have a far better country.” This viewpoint was echoed by Idongesit Nkanga – the now deceased first indigene to govern the state – with his submission that, “the rate of development in Akwa Ibom has been faster than Nigeria’s.” Evidence suggests these were not mere postulations.
Akwa Ibom, which took off on a 10-Local Government geo-political structure, has more than tripled that number to 31 today – as has her population. Previously accessible only by land (and perhaps water) transport, the state, which was one of the first to float a state road transport service, has today distinguished herself as the first and only state in Nigeria to float an airline.
Akwa Ibom also presented as a model for the evolution of mobile communication in Nigeria, being among the states where GSM first rolled out. Today, she is one of the most vibrant in Nigeria’s telecommunications and cyberspace. Infrastructural development in the past three decades of her existence has made the state a reference point for quality and (to a greater extent) network of roads, while the power sector has recorded over 87% electricity coverage in the state.
These have significantly boosted Akwa Ibom’s socio-economic and commercial landscape, especially in recent times. The state now boasts several industries while her immensely gifted, hardworking and intelligent people have been caught up in an entrepreneurial wave cutting across manufacturing and construction, oil and gas, ICT, telecoms, hospitality, event management, beauty care, fashion, and culinary services, amongst many other sectors.
Health and Education have also taken the front row in Akwa Ibom’s 35-year evolution. From about 26 health facilities at creation, Akwa Ibom today has a state-of-the-art Specialist Hospital, a University Teaching Hospital as well as innumerable primary and secondary healthcare facilities. The state has sustained her top placement amongst the country’s educational elite, evident in the now well over 1700 primary schools, 500 Secondary and Technical Colleges and 10 Tertiary Institutions – both public and private. Housing in the state has also seen a massive expansion with an aerial landscape of rusty corrugated roofs progressively giving way to scenic architectural masterpieces owing to the proliferation of residential estates and modern housing units.
As one of the regions of the country’s most significant historical, socio-cultural and political progression, Akwa Ibom has in these three decades evolved naturally to become a tourist’s haven, housing several topographic, as well as national and international relics of historical significance. The icing is that Akwa Ibom has been consistently adjudged ‘the most peaceful state in the Niger-Delta’.
These, coupled with being the epitome of hospitality, have made the state the preferred destination for holidays, national and international events, meetings and conferences. It also became the home of the men’s senior national football team, the Super Eagles.
It is amply evident, therefore, that from 1987, Akwa Ibom state has moved progressively forward as each administration has contributed its quota to the attainment of a model state. From Tunde Ogbeha’s laying of a foundational administrative structure to Godwin Abbe’s opening up of new centres of development, and on to Idongesit Nkanga’s infrastructural facelift of the emerging state, Akwa Ibom – in her infancy, then – crawled gradually to economic and human capacity development under Obong Akpan Isemin (now of blessed memory).
Yakubu Bako’s predilection for improved health services and (late) Joseph Adeusi’s emphasis on accountability and effective resource management saw the growing state rise to walk; even as John Ebiye anchored the return from military to civil democratic governance.
Akwa Ibom grew stronger and began to run with Victor Attah’s exceptional vision which laid the foundation for infrastructural growth in power, telecommunications, aviation and housing, further strengthened thereafter, by Godswill Akpabio’s ‘uncommon’ infrastructural renaissance and Udom Emmanuel’s industrialization and reorientation agenda.
Today, her forebears will have cause to smile from the great beyond. They will have seen that in thirty-five years of crawling, walking and running, their struggle for a promised land has been justified, Akwa Ibom having successfully taken off into flight, on the continuous journey to her predestined status as a model state.
Imo Owo, contributed this piece from Abuja..