Despite pressure and threats from persons suspected to be agents of the Akwa Ibom State government, the Lagos-based rights activist, Inibehe Effiong, successfully mobilised people into the streets of Uyo on Monday to protest against Governor Udom Emmanuel’s plan to build a new governor’s lodge in Lagos.
Akwa Ibom State already has a governor’s lodge in Lagos.
But the state government is saying that the lodge is too old and dilapidated and that there is a need for a new one that could host potential foreign investors who may wish to meet with Mr. Emmanuel in Lagos.
Those who oppose the building of a new lodge argue that the government could renovate the old one and use the remaining money to tackle hunger and poverty back home, as well as the infrastructure deficit in the state.
In addition, they argue that with an international airport in Uyo, potential investors could fly into Akwa Ibom for a business meeting or go to the nation’s capital, Abuja, where the state has a state-of- the arts governor’s lodge.
The previous attempt by Mr. Effiong, a lawyer, to hold the protest in Lagos, in front of the Akwa Ibom Governor’s Lodge, was frustrated by thugs said to have been hired by the state government.
The thugs allegedly flew in from Uyo to Lagos at the expense of the government and molested Mr. Effiong and other protesters before TV cameramen and other journalists.
The Uyo protest saw a handful of young people defying the heavy downpour to march from the Four Town Secondary School, Abak Road, to Wellington Bassey Way which is about four killometres.
“We are not myopic. N1.2 billion is not paltry”, “Our schools are dilapidated”, “Gov Udom, please what is your meaning of paltry” were some of the inscriptions on the cardboards.
A little but dangerous drama occurred before the march began. Some persons suspected to have been sponsored by the state government had infiltrated the protesting group.
They infiltrators snatched the group’s banner and ran into the bush with it as soon as the group was set to march into the road, causing uproar and commotion.
But that did not stop the march from taking place.
The protesters, protected by the police, were orderly and peaceful. They marched in the rain and into the city.
At Wellington Bassey Way, few metres away from Government House, they stopped to listen to Mr. Effiong who addressed them and others who had joined the march midway.
“Mr. Governor, on the 29 of May 2015, you took an oath of office as the governor of Akwa Ibom State. You did not take an oath of office as the governor of Lagos State,” Mr. Effiong said to the crowd.
“You took an oath of office to protect Akwa Ibom people, not Lagos State.
“Mr. Governor, you do not need another lodge in Lagos!”
After Mr. Effiong’s address, the march continued into Dominic Utuk Avenue and moved towards the State House of Assembly Complex, Udo Udoma Avenue.
It was the first time in the state that residents would pour out into the streets to protest against an alleged unpopular policy or programme of the state government.
“Nothing of the sort has ever been done in Akwa Ibom before now. It’s always been a regime of rabid sycophancy in Akwa Ibom,” Fidel Albert, a lawyer from the state, wrote on Facebook. “This is history.”
Mr. Albert said, “The danger of even remotely thinking that you can bring today’s protesters to harm, whether by violence or a threat of it, is that a floodgate would be open to other protesters.
“Kill Inibehe Effiong today and many more will arise tomorrow. You will have a thousand more of such characters to deal with by day break.
“The era of holding (the) government to account, both at state and federal level is upon us. May God help Nigeria (to) arise from its ashes,” he said.
It is yet unclear how much is the actual amount budgeted for the project. The opposition says it is about N9 billion, while the government officials give conflicting figures.
The Commissioner for Information, Charles Udoh, said it was N2 billion, while Governor Emmanuel said there was no such provision for a new governor’s lodge in the state supplementary budget.
The Speaker, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Onofiok Luke, said there was provision and that the amount was N1.2 billion. The governor later backtracked and admitted that a “paltry” N1.2 billion was budgeted for the lodge.
Akwa Ibom State, rich in oil and gas deposits, is among Nigeria’s richest states.
But poverty and unemployment levels in the state are amongst the highest in Nigeria.