The ENDSARS protest threw up a huge test for leadership, bringing into context the influence of leaders in their various communities and states. In Akwa Ibom State, Akpabio’s influential leadership came full cycle as he went around the state, addressing an amalgam of stakeholders; Youths, Elders, Women and bipartisan political class, on the need to embrace peace and support the administration of President Muhamadu Buhari to bring the needed reforms that would make life more meaningful for the people.
The Federal Executive Council with Mr. President in council, had directed ministers to return to their respective states and work in conjunction with their governors to stem the ENDSARS protest which was raging with the introduction of hooliganism into the struggle by miscreants who turned the exercise to a looting spree. They complemented the vagaries with arson, rape, killing and other wanton conducts. As a strategy to contain the social unrest, members of the Federal Executive Council and other appointees of the Federal Government were given a marching order to go and initiate conversations that would halt the social drift and return the nation again to a mood of peace.
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, being a member of the Federal Executive Council and a former governor whose love for the State nay the Niger Delta region, is eloquent in the difference he wrought in the eight years of his reign in Akwa Ibom State and the milestones he is recording in the Niger Delta as a minister, arrived the State for that onerous assignment of joining cause to bring peace to the State and indeed the Region .
Senator Akpabio who arrived on Thursday evening to the welcome of a State imposed curfew that covered Friday to 7am of Saturday, had to alter his timetable which had scheduled a press conference with journalists and stakeholders on Friday. According to him, it would be tantamount to undermining the authority of the State Government, if he proceeded to hold the Press Conference or Stakeholders Meeting as the case may be, amidst the State Government ordered curfew. The Minister who addressed journalists that besieged his Ewet Housing Estate residence on Friday evening, pleaded that he would address them on Saturday at 9am, since the curfew was billed to be lifted by 7am. The sense of proportion in that decision is not only definitional, it is a testimony of political maturity and the ascension to the pantheon of true statesmen.
By Saturday morning, Lagos Street, Ewet Housing Estate in Uyo Capital City which houses Majesty Realm Hotels, the venue of the press briefing and meeting with stakeholders across the State had more vehicular traffic than it could bargain for. The hospitality facility which has a generous parking lot could not cope with the number of vehicles. The entire stretch of the two sides of Lagos Street was turned into parking lot, constricting vehicular movement to only one on the wide road that was reduced to a narrow passage. It was evident that the man of the people was in town and the people of Akwa Ibom were anxious to listen to him.
At the meeting with bipartisan stakeholders and journalists, Senator Akpabio appealed to the people of the Niger Delta region to maintain peace in the region in the aftermath of the ENDSARS protest. He said that the economic importance of the region as the economic livewire of the nation cannot be overemphasized, pointing out that prolonged unrest and destruction of lives and property would be adverse to the development of the region and Nigeria. The Minister urged the protesters to give peace a chance so that the Federal Government can commence the reforms demanded by the progenitors of the ENDSARS protest. He noted that President Muhammadu Buhari has good intentions for Nigeria and indeed the Niger Delta, citing the mobilization to site of sections 1-4 of East/West Road which he assured would be completed by December, 2021.
Senator Akpabio also commended the State Government for the swift reaction and response to curb the activities of hoodlums who turned the peaceful protest into crises. The Minister said that the case in Akwa Ibom is already made easy by the proactive steps of the State Government to restore peace and order, reassuring that the President’s pronouncement would not go down in vain. He called for governance devoid of partisanship in Akwa Ibom, noting that it would breed peaceful co-existence in the State.
The gathering of the stakeholders of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District the next day being Sunday, equally drew a mammoth crowd. The Godswill Akpabio Unity Hall located at the Council Secretariat Headquarters of Essien Udim Local Government Area which was the venue of the meeting, however, complied strictly with the COVID-19 prescribed protocols. The Minister called on the youths to leverage on the sincerity of President Muhammadu Buhari in meeting their demands and embrace peace. He also said that the Niger Delta region occupies a special interest in the President’s heart as witnessed by projects executed by his ministry citing the East/West Road, the completion of NDDC Headquarters and Second Niger Bridge which is a flagship project of the administration. He urged the people to continue to support the President to bring the needed reforms to the Nation.
Akpabio’s leadership style can best be described as exemplary. He embodies the sterling qualities usual in great leaders. He is compassionate, empathetic, humble, visionary with the fear of God as a complement. It is why it was strange when a few disgruntled and self acclaimed youths of Niger Delta accused the Minister of shunning them recently. Latching on this unverifiable claim, the said youths also called for the relocation of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to the Region. This kind of request requires a thorough rethink to appreciate the merits and demerits of such decision. It must be understood that the dynamics and inter- play in superintending over a ministry is far above the parochial consideration of proximity. We must be more circumspect in our demands especially when done in the heat of passion otherwise we may just be cutting our nose to spite our face.
Joe Iniodu is a public affairs analyst