Loveday McJolly, Uyo.
It has been said that evidence terminates argument and you don’t tell a better swimmer by mere words argued on land, a better swimmer is known after a swimming contest in the river and the people chose who was better.
I was in SS I, a newbie in Chemistry whose teacher had told the father that “if your son continues this way in Chemistry, he will be the best there is”. Yes Chemistry was my favourite subject, still is.
I was selected to represent my school against Topfaith International School in the NNPC/MPN/STAN science quiz. That is, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation/Mobil Producing Nigeria/Science Teachers Association of Nigeria Science quiz.
The venue was Amazing Grace E-Centre at Obio Imo street. Later I got to know the ‘E’ stood for “event”. We were already jittery. Our school was good but Topfaith? The best school in the state then? Moreover it was located in Essien Udim where the governor came from. Yes we were scared.
The event started…fast forwards…
The then Commissioner of Education came in, very fine and exceptionally beautiful lady. Then as a student, if you didn’t know any Commissioner’s name, you’ll definitely know the Commissioner of Education’s name. Why? There were frequent commissioning of classroom blocks in school across the states. Her face was in calendars in the principals offices.
Mrs. Eunice Thomas. That was the BIG name. She arrived the venue attended by and flanked on both sides by police officers. Then, you could have thought a commissioner was a minister of the federal republic. Their poise, charisma, brilliance and appearance gave them that aura of prestige and relevance. They drove in convoys with policemen in very clean uniform, you couldn’t help but envy admiringly how graceful they look. Then she mounted the stage.
It was her time to speak on behalf of the governor, yes we knew our governor sometimes travel to China then to get contractors…lol. We can’t say if this was true, but we saw results when he returned.
She announced that the governor, Chief. Dr. Godswill Akpabio had sent her. The governor had asked the organisers to double the amount for the cash prizes for the winners. He also promised that all the quiz sessions would be broadcast live on Akbc and the recordings played every Wednesday and Friday evenings.
That was it. Yes the last sentence. As boys who love to talk so much about our giant strides, we became triggered. So our school would be mentioned on radio and our friends at home will hear our voices. Imagine the pride when we get back home to tell our friends that you’ll be heard on radio at a certain time, and it happened.
What effect did this have on us? it made us want to be the winners, so our voices would live forever on the repeated broadcast on Wednesdays and Fridays. Healthy academic competitions were revived. We researched, read and stayed up late so we won’t be evicted from the contest.
Did he keep his words. Yes, Akpabio kept his words. The prizes for the contest were doubled and all the quiz competitions were recorded and played on radio. It was done that way until the following year when the quiz would come up again for another set of students. The quiz was for JS3, SSI and SSII students only. If you were lucky like myself to attend the quiz from JS classes till your SS2, and your school was not eliminated from the contest early, it means you’ll enjoy the frenzy of being on radio at home for a long time. The joy knew no bounds. “My name is Loveday Mcjolly and the name of my school is…the answer to that question is…”. Hearing your voice on radio that way as you sit with your father and listen to the recording, seeing your father smile and priding in you, or hearing him tell his visiting friend that my son just finished a quiz on radio, that was everything for us, boys, in childhood.
Then, there were no private radio stations, only AKBC, and if any programme was broadcast there, it meant the world has heard it, the world hear may be taken for the whole Akwa Ibom State then. But where is the state sponsored quizzes today? Safely tucked in Ibeno beach.
If they told us that education had rewards, we would have believed them then. We saw the rewards before our very eyes and we knew how to get them; read, research and tell the quiz masters the right answers. Go home with the rewards. Now, if you tell our younger ones same, they may never take you seriously. I can’t recall the last time students went for state sponsored quizzes, where they don’t only participate but slept in the best hotels, ate the best food and even flew in planes. Those were the best of times.
Then came the first round of Red Roofs. 80% of public schools in Akwa Ibom took the new wrapper of red coloured roof and wore them with pride. Akpabio first rebuilt and reconstructed the schools, then he supplied the schools with school materials, desks, table, chairs. How did I know? My father was a head teacher and sometimes I visited the schools he headed. The offices were beautiful and well decorated.
Then there was a strict policy, no child of school age or student should be seen hawking in the street during school hours. Vigilante groups were set up, children, parents who flouted the policy were arrested. If you didn’t love school for the new buildings, serene environment and secure ambience, you’ll love school for fear of being arrested.
Literary rate was kicked up and people from other states came over to Akwa Ibom to attend school. Why?Education was free and our schools in terms of structure and teachers were the best. WAEC fees too were FREE. Our brothers and sisters in other states returned to Akwa Ibom to attend Free and Compulsory Education.
Then another set of red roof arrived, this time it was the courts. There was no court house in Akwa Ibom that didn’t wear this new look, even court land were fenced with the famous yellow fence with iron bars. Everything took a new look in court and people started taking cases from village heads houses to the district and magistrate courts close by. Court presidents were appointed and elderly men with sound wisdom took over.
The next was teachers and retired workers building big and fine houses. All that teachers had and were known for, were a big old motorcycle, a small detached house with some plastic seats and a very big library of books shared between the teacher’s children and cockroaches. But no, Akpabio changed that. Teachers were building houses then. Retired civil servants who had houses, bought cars. What was the secret? The people asked.
The governor had paid gratuity since 1999- 2013. Wow. Just wow. Was there money in the state? Yes. Was it used judiciously and relevantly? Yes. Did the governor steal some, as alleged by many then, and even now? I won’t know. What do I know? He did what the people wanted with a large chunk of the money.
Akpabio moved then to construct the popular E-library. Then, when a man said that a thing was the “first and best in the whole of West Africa”, we believed him. Prior to now, we never saw such a state of the art facility. It had all that was needed in a library. The main library itself, office spaces, standard book shelves, board rooms, and a conference hall.
If you were not attracted by the volumes of books, the beautiful structure would push you there. If the structure won’t, the powerful air conditioning system would beg you to come relax from the sun. But what has happened? The most active part of that structure is the conference hall. The library itself can go to hug transformer. That was the first library I read Dan Brown work. Those were the best of times.
He moved to construction of roads. Every local government area had a main road which connected it with the state capital. I mean every local government headquarters. Why did he do this? He wanted the rural people to be close to and have access to the seat of power. The flyovers emerged from the blues and punctuated the state capitals. They were not just built and left bland, Akpabio knew the ecosystem was dyīng, no not that way, the ecosystem was being ruiñed by man, yes, this way, he knew man had to revamp it. The streets were lined with trees. The flyovers were studded with beautiful lights, flowers, green grasses and trees. It took shape and had a sense of pure aesthetic.
He built the international stadium. He could have named it after himself. He called it Akwa Ibom International Stadium instead. What was his intention? He had already constructed and comissioned a five star hotel in Uruan, handled by Le Meridien then. How would people come and enjoy this world class hotel? He gave them a standard golf course, did he stop there? He built an international stadium that would bring star players to the state. He strategised right and it worked. Big matches have been played there and people who came to watch the matches have had time to tour and enjoy the state. People said the stadium is a useless monuments, but we also know the place meant for sports had been turned to a political campaign ground.
He didn’t stop. The 999 Carol Night came up every December. Guinness Book of Records couldn’t close their eyes. They called it the best. What was the essence? It encouraged religious tourism. It gave people the platform to showcase their singing talents. People who participated as choresters were paid. Guests and audience were thrilled to some excellent carol songs. These things are there to see. But those were the best of times.
He had a vision, people can’t trek to Uyo to see all these beautiful stuff. He went to the airport and took off the work that was there. Perhaps, if he stayed longer, he could have bought airplanes for the state or become high handed, we know power intoxicates. He didn’t stay longer, wasn’t intoxicated and he didn’t buy the planes. His successor did and we thank him for keeping to the dictum that government is in continuum.
Akpabio didn’t want power and relevance to be concentrated in Uyo. He built the Ikot Ekpene Three Star Hotels. Ikot Ekpene had raffia and tourists won’t know if they don’t visit there. What would take tourist there? If they go they and it’s late, where would they pass the night? Raffia would take them to the first local government in West Africa and The Three Star Hotels would be their home away from home. He had the answers. Did he furnish it before commissioning? I wouldn’t say. But a man had a vision and handed same to another to continue when his days were over.
The Specialist Hospital was condemned, they said there was no medical facilities in the structure, but the Covid-19 pandemic revealed that if the structure wasn’t there, perhaps something could have gone out of hand. The December church building collapse also bore witness to how many lives would have been lost if not for the hospital. Perhaps he didn’t do most of the things “they” said he didn’t do. Perhaps, there were no facilities in the three star hotel and general hospital.
Law and medical students were not an exception to this man good gestures. He paid grants of 200k to these law and medical students and even gave some of the students FREE laptops. Bursary was paid to the students in tertiary institutions across the state. Who wouldn’t learn satisfactorily with these conditions on ground? What happened to bursary today? When the students demand, they are told it’s not a right, their right.
His government was not a perfect one, but the people loved his administration. But would we deny his government wasn’t drought of its weaknessss? No, we won’t deny that. Was there political violence, kidnapping and arm robbery during his tenure? Of course, no government is infallible. Did the administration try to mask all of these? Yes, it did. Was there money laundering? Bribery? Theft? Controversies. There were accusations, there still exist. Some may have been factual, but to whom is fault free?
But the big question is, were the people happy? Yes. What percentage? A very large percentage of the people was happy. Until records with pictures and sufficient evidence beat these, Akpabio would be loved by those who love the truth, who embrace facts and who don’t speak from both sides of the mouth. You can mask the truth, but you can’t conceal it forever.
Now does it mean people who love be him should hate another? No. Does it mean they should insult the sitting governor? No, those who do that are cowards with no sense of value. What does it mean? It means we should give honour and respect to whom honour is due.
A popular lawyer says “History will vindicate the just”. I wait for history.