By Nduke Udobong
Following the recent explanation by the Udom-led administration that the immediate-past administration of Godswill Obot Akpabio left behind a whooping N64.5b local debt, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Civil Society groups, prominent citizens of Akwa Ibom State have been questioning the justification for such huge debts.
The state government’s explanation came as a response to the public outcry against the planned conversion of the state’s debts owed to Commercial Banks into the Federal Government’s bond.
Udom Emmanuel had in a letter a fortnight ago, addressed to the State House of Assembly requested an approval for the debts to be converted into the Federal bond, a request which irked the APC and other citizens of the state.
Reacting to Udom’s request letter, the Akwa Ibom State chapter of the APC had through its Publicity Secretary, Ita Awak, questioned the rationale behind such conversion, saying that the move was to make innocent citizens of the state pay for a loan they did not benefit from.
He stated that much as a state could apply and obtain a loan facility, there was need for proper scrutiny in order to ascertain what such loan was used for.
On their part, Civil Society Organizations in the state also lent their support for the call for Udom-led government to explain to the people of the state what the loans were used for before thinking of converting same into the federal government bond.
In a joint press briefing held in Uyo on Thursday, August 27, 2015 the Activists maintained that a state like Akwa Ibom which received the highest federal allocations in the country running into trillions of Naira in the last eight years could not talk of owing Commercial Banks to the tune of N64.5b local debts.
The press briefing which was coordinated by the Acting convener of the Save Akwa Ibom Group (SAG) , Comrade Usoroh, I.S., also had in attendance the Coordinators and members of National Patriotic Movement (NPM), New Order Initiative (NOI), League of Akwa Ibom Unemployed Graduates (LAUG) and Indigenous Artisans Union (IAU).
Others were Change Nigeria Initiative (CNI), Anti-Corruption Crusaders, Foundation For Better Nigeria (FBN), amongst others. The Press briefing which was held in collaboration with Akwa Ibom Diaspora Network (AIDN), United Kingdom, also had in attendance Akwa Ibom indigenes from all walks of life.
In their separate speeches, the groups expressed their concerns in the said debts and its conversion and resolved to hit the streets of Uyo and its environs for protests should the Akwa Ibom State government failed to render account of what the said loans were used for.
Some of the texts of press briefing partly read: “…we are aware that Akwa Ibom State Government under the then Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio (CON) received over N3 trillion between 2007 and 2015 as Federal Allocations. This figure was supported by the then Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi – Okonjo Iweala in May, 2014 when she said that in 2013 alone, the then Governor Akpabio had collected from Federal Government, on behalf Akwa Ibom people, the sum of N260b (Two Hundred and sixty Billion Naira) with nothing to show for. This amount does not include the Ecological Fund, Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and other incomes accruable to the state.
“If you multiply this (N260b) by the eight years of his administration, you can guess how much the state earned under Godswill Akpabio. Now, the question is: At what point was the state bankrupt and why; that it could not foot its bill, thereby resorting to loaning from commercial banks with its attendant huge interest…?,” the convener, Save Akwa Ibom Group (SAG) Comrade Usoroh asked rhetorically.
While calling on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to expedite action on the probe of Godswill Akpabio’s administration, the representative of New Order Initiative (NOI), Comrade Effiong Tom, on his part said:
“A Governor cannot secure a loan for his personal business and bequeath same for the masses of Akwa Ibom State to pay for the next twenty years. We (the New Order Initiative) are saying that there was no justification for such loans and we reject whatever connivance with Mr. Udom Emmanuel and the Aniekan Uko-led State Assembly to cover Godswill Akpabio’s fraud for their selfish gains”.
Leaders of other groups who spoke at the press briefing also condemned the purported conversion of loan acquired by Akpabio “for his personal business” into federal bond arguing that if Governor Udom Emmanuel and the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly succeeded, would be paid by innocent citizens indirectly for the next twenty years.