By Akanimo Sampson
Akwa Ibom State’s domestic debt of N214.61 billion which accounts for 4.8% of the total states’ domestic debt obligations is currently a major source of worry for some concerned 2023 governorship aspirants.
Nigeria’s Debt Management Office (DMO) says the state’s debt stock as of December 2021 stood at that huge figure.
The aspirants who participated in an on-line debate organized by the Diaspora community in the United States all agreed that the state’s rising debt profile despite its huge oil revenue is an issue that deserves another critical look.
One of the governorship aspirants even described the high debt profile of the state as, “phantom-utopian Island of investment.”
Another burning issue was that of corruption as one of the aspirants vowed to lock up corrupt appointees in prison, although he did not give details on how he was going to prosecute the fight.
“I will jail any corrupt commissioner in my cabinet,” Mr. Ezekiel Nya-Etok, one of the seven debaters, vowed during the crossfire.
The debate was meant for aspirants from various political parties running for the 2023 Akwa Ibom gubernatorial nomination.
Those who appeared on the Tuesday event for the first phase of debate moderated by Prof Kevin Ita, were Ezekiel Nya-Etok, Akan Okon, Onofiok Luke, Sampson Akpan, and Ide Owodiong. Others were Ita Enang and James Iniama.
Prof Ita is a US based professor of pharmaceutics.
Akwa Ibom appears the first in Nigeria to organize an online debate for aspirants in a country where the electoral law precludes its citizens in Diaspora from voting or being voted for.
About 300 participants either listened in or viewed the debate via zoom. Other aspirants who responded to the question on the issue of corruption in the state civil service, including Onofiok Luke, stressed on leadership by example.
Over the years, aspirants have tabled corruption as the bane of the economy and the country’s development. But years on, it has not abated.
Roundly praised as a good beginning in the dialogue with political office aspirants, the debate received mixed reactions from viewers and listeners in the Diaspora, who posted their views repeatedly in the debate chat room.
Reactions included dissatisfaction with aspirants that some viewers and listeners felt did not offer a convincing response to questions. Viewers also expressed their displeasure with incessant audio and video problems.
But if the objective was for an opportunity for the aspirants to share their background of experience and policy proposal for governing the state as successor to Mr. Udom Emmanuel, the incumbent, each of the participants showed that they came well prepared.
Those who followed the debate inferred that the aspirants acquitted themselves creditably despite observations that some of the responses were not persuasive or convincing. The aspirants offered their views on their plan to address the pressing socio-economic problems facing the State, notably corruption, public debt and waste in government. Other issues are accumulated pension arrears and how to improve the well-being of rural folks, including extending and expanding digital infrastructure.
Overall, the debate was a success given the volume of real time exchanges in the zoom chat room, which, however, did not detract from areas for improvement and takeaways that the moderator expectedly noted.
The idea of the aspirants questioning each other was not well received and was roundly rebuffed.