As Akwa Ibom State rolls out the drums to celebrate the milestone of attaining 35 years in existence, one resource stands out unmistakably. Although its silent and not tangible, it pervades everywhere in the state and shines through beckoning indigenes, non-indigenes and visitors alike to embrace and cherish it. That resource is what makes Okon Asuquo, a motorcycle driver in Ika to convey a passenger all the way to and from Abak daily and at anytime until his limbs become stiff and his eyes croggy from tiredness.
It is what makes Akparawa Udom Stephen, a Keke driver to ply every known route in the state capital till midnight when the fear of picking up ‘ghosts’ as passengers and his exhausted limbs signal him to go and rest. The Christian Churches are not left out – they now organize and host “tarry night’ programs until they have a leading by the “holy spirit” to close. And their Members return home, anytime – no matter how late at night or how early in the morning. Traders engage their customers in the various markets till sundown into the late evenings and supermarkets no longer hurry to close. Owners and those who run sit – outs, lounges, bars like ‘Afe Ndia’ and restaurants along the streets open for customers round the clock. Nobody now checks the time and people no longer look over their shoulders to ascertain who was behind. This resource, often not factored into reckoning as a critical achievement is the prevalence of peace in Akwa Ibom State. Make no mistake about it, a peaceful location or destination is one of the most sought-after resources by people, particularly investors.
In Akwa Ibom State, hoteliers now hum and those who can, sing the hallelujah chorus daily and go for Thanksgiving in places of worship every Sunday. They do this because business is good and thriving for them as visitors from nearby states fly in while others negotiate the poor road network of our neighborhoods to spend time, meet friends, relatives and business partners in Uyo. Every weekend, hotels in Uyo are filled with the Chimas, Ndukwes, Ogbonnayas, Otises, Okonkwos, Ikemefunas of this world. It’s easier for them to fly into Uyo from Lagos and meet their relatives, cut business deals, unwind, eat good food and return to their base without any fear. That circumstance is a far cry from assassinations, abductions, attacks by bandits, unknown gunmen, terrorists which bring, in their wake, so much anguish, emotional stress, pain and tears to families in other places because of the prevailing incidence of mindless violence in other destinations. In several parts of the country, it seems like Nigeria is at present a jungle which has relapsed into the state of nature where existence was “nasty, brutish and short”. The peace and calmness in Akwa Ibom has stimulated industrial activities as seen in investors who have trusted the state with manufacturing companies like the Automobile Assembly plant at Itam, Syringe, Electricity Meter firms, Kings flower Mill , Ibom Air and intellectual tourism with Uyo as a choice location for Conferences and other conclaves.
Even though a public commentator wrote recently in a social media outlet that “Hoodlums are gradually turning Uyo into an unsafe city.” According to him, “I heard last week that they pretend to be selling at traffic hold up in Uyo. When the light shows red, one will walk up to you in your car and get your attention then lift his shirt to reveal a gun strapped to his waist and tell that if you raise the alarm he will finish you there. While the others lurk around, the one who approached will rob you of your phone and other valuables knowing you can’t run away while the light is red. Uyo is no longer safe.”
He warned car owners to be watchful at traffic lights and wound up their window glass and lock their cars. “Don’t buy at traffic lights,” he advised. That reads like an advisory to first time visitors to Victoria station in London, Onitsha, Warri, Lagos or Kano City.
True, every city, in all parts of the world have these deviants constituting nuisance to the people, while acknowledging such activities of miscreants and low – lives who operate to steal sleep from people around Urua Ekpa/Itu road axis and are determined to disrupt the relative peace across the state, it is possible to checkmate them by beefing up security around the few flashpoints.
However, these isolated incidents cannot define Akwa Ibom State at this stage of its development. Such occurrences are rather symptomatic of urban centers and cities all over the world. No matter what any “wailer” would say to the contrary, Akwa Ibom State is safe, and is arguably an oasis of peace in the country. The peace that is enjoyed in these parts is simply beyond understanding when viewed against the daily orgy of violence in other parts of the country. This peaceful environment shows in the number of businesses sprouting up and consolidating their existence around the State. It explains why there is a rat race for real estate across the state, especially, in Uyo – the State capital. It is what accounts for the robust political rallies and engagements without molestation or fear of harassment. It is what has influenced the regular traffic by traders who commute from neighbouring states to venture into the beach markets at Issiet, Oron, Ebughu, Ibaka, Ibeno, Ikot Abasi for seafood stuffs where they buy in bulk by day and transport out at night knowing that all the roads were safe to ply no matter how late at night. This precious resource is a harvest from the leadership at any point in time.
There was a season in this state where Akwa Ibom people and those who lived in its boundaries went to sleep immediately after sundown. It was an era of self-imposed curfew and there was a population drift outside the State. It was a season where the question on the lips was ‘who has been kidnapped or killed today’? This writer is of the view that the era of Governor Udom Emmanuel can be described as an age of peace in the annals of the state.
Since he became Governor, Akwa Ibom has not featured in the regular diplomatic advisory issued regularly by foreign embassies to warn their nationals from venturing into unsafe localities in Nigeria. This should not be taken for granted because a peaceful destination attracts development as moths to light. Indeed, there is a perception factor in investment decisions. No investor would risk his capital by venturing into a violent and volatile environment. Planning and reasonable estimates can only be achieved where there is peace.
The provision of infrastructure in localities is possible in a society where there is absence of communal agitations and violence. Under his watch, Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration has engendered a peace that should become a model for leadership in Akwa Ibom State in the years ahead. In the words of Professor (Bishop) Ahaziah Umanah on the occasion of the presentation of his latest book “The People’s Right To Know” at Abak recently ‘even if he has not done anything and there are several accomplishments that one can credit to the Governor, he has created an environment of peace and peaceful co-existence in this state. Human society behaves like the chameleon which takes the colour of the foliage of its environment and just as the little reptile, a society adopts the predominant psychology, mentality, attitudes, character traits and method of operation of its leadership. Peace is a Godly and goodly attribute and Governor Udom Emmanuel is a God-centred leader, no doubt his era is markedly different on this critical score.
•Dr. UDEME NANA, an outstanding Media Scholar based in Akwa Ibom State is the Founder, Uyo Book Club and Progenitor of the Book Club initiative in Akwa Ibom State.