By Ofofon Michael
“BE not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio was not born great. He also did not have greatness thrusted upon him. But he has achieved greatness. From very little beginning, when he suffered deprivation, poverty and pain; read under a table, and also watched his mother struggle to tie up loose ends and see him through primary school while managing the leaking roofs of a thatched mud home, he has steadily and stubbornly worked his way up the ladder to become one of the best things to have happened to Akwa Ibom state since creation on September 23, 1987. His story is summed up in the words of Mario Puzo when he says in his work “The Godfather”, that “great men are not born great, they grow great.”
Looking back, the people of Akwa Ibom certainly were right in their decision to pick him, from the pack, and make him their governor in the year 2007. That investment paid off. From Tunde Ogbeha through Godwin Abbe, Idongesit Nkanga, Akpan Isemin, Yakubu Bako, Joseph Adewusi, John Ebiye and Victor Attah, Akpabio appears as the only governor that radically changed the landscape and face of Akwa Ibom state and firmly placed it on the map of fastest developing states in Nigeria. Indeed, that is the reference point in history!
Though his predecessors did their level best, Akpabio appeared on the horizon with a certain anger. He was angry that despite the limitless ability of the human mind, his home state had remained on the lower rungs on the development index. That spurred an inner rebellion in which he refused to accept what be inherited . He rather decided that it was time to change the tide. And he did. He left lasting impressions on the state.
In eight years, Akpabio turned Akwa Ibom from a desolate swamp to a destination in Nigeria. Hardly there was a professional association in Nigeria that did not visit Akwa Ibom for one general conference or the other since 2007. Hardly, also, a state governor that did not navigate to Uyo. Businesses sought for space in Uyo.
The youths got an ear. Women won a heart. Citizens welfare got the necessary boost and Akpabio became a reference point in the urbanization of a village town in Nigeria.
In stepping out to be counted as the most impactful of the class of 2007-2015 set of governors, Akpabio borrowed from the best institutions abroad and worked to replicate the best infrastructure he enjoyed in Europe and America back home. He once told a set of journalists, at an interactive session, that he was at difficulties figuring out why it was difficult to replicate, in the various states, what is seen, and enjoyed abroad. He noted that he was always motivated to replicate, in Akwa Ibom, any facility he enjoyed abroad. This view was responsible for relocation of several multi-national construction firms to Uyo. And the effects are glaring.
His years as governor could be summed up as revolutionary. They were years that marked him for greatness. No wonder his choice as Minority leader of the Senate of the Federal Republic was without contest. He has attended that office with some panache giving it verve that never was. He stands among his peers, in the Senate, with eloquent erudition and deeper understanding of his role as leader of the People’s Democratic Party Caucus of the Senate.
Akpabio makes life worth living. His simplicity is encapsulated in the views of Coco Chanel, a French fashion designer of women’s clothes and founder of the Chanel brand when she said “simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance”. Though Akpabio worked tirelessly to deliver to Akwa Ibom people infrastructures that showed that their lives matter, and also endure the test of time, he also guided them towards electing a worthy and equally visionary successor. Despite this, he remains simply himself.
His simplicity, broad-mindedness and conviviality set him apart as every person’s man, an this attracts a large followership, not of hero-worshippers, but of people who are deeply appreciative of the gift of him to them. He shows, by his actions, that indeed, public office is service not to self, but to the people. By serving the people of Akwa Ibom state for eight years as governor, he changed perceptions about leadership. By guiding them towards electing Udom Emmanuel, he proves that a great leader must have worthy successors who also believe in his visions and dreams and are humble enough to learn, and be guided, to deliver for the sake of the people. Udom, without mincing words is right.
Prior to Akpabio’s foray into politics, many people had a negative perception about Akwa Ibom. Children from the state were seen as better house maids and gardeners. That must have irked him. His decision, therefore, to ensure free and compulsory education for all Akwa Ibom children was deliberate and visionary. With that, he was able to rescue the children and changed that perception. Today, the state is better for it. That is the stuff great leaders are made of.
In advancing the course of Akwa Ibom, Akpabio faced stiff opposition from his own people. Opposition is one factor that crowns the great. Albert Einsten says, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” Akpabio has a great spirit. And he conquered an opposition, which sought to undo his works. In tagging along with Akpabio, despite the blackmail and criticisms, Emmanuel brought to life the words of American author and humorist, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, where he said “keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions.
Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great”. Udom identified Akpabio as a great guy. Akpabio also saw in him the hunger to become great too. Seeing Udom through the governorship petitions and appeals, was a great act for which Akwa Ibom state is a sole beneficiary.
Michael writes from Lagos.