On Wednesday, March 14, 2019, during the plenary session of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Governor Udom Emmanuel’s letter requesting for parliamentary approval to obtain a loan facility of N1.728 billion for the purpose of installing Closed Circuit Television cameras (CCTV) in Uyo metropolis was granted acceleratory approval by the Assemblymen as usual.
I should not be misconstrued. I have no issue whatsoever with the government collecting loan facilities, if such, will be used for people’s-oriented projects and job creation for our unemployed youth in the State.
Here, I am, however, disturbed that the current facility of over N1.7b which the governor sought the lawmakers’ consent is for the purchase and installation of CCTV cameras within the Uyo metropolis. Fantastic idea! But wrong timing.
For me, borrowed monies should be better used for projects that will in turn, generate revenue for government to be able to pay back the loan within a reasonable time frame.
At the moment, the present debt profile of the State is kept in top secrecy by relevant government ministries. I have made repeated efforts as a concerned citizen in recent times to obtain the data of the State debt profile from officials of government but, no result was yielded. Maybe I need to be told if I am wrong to find out how much my State is owing and for what project. I thought it is the duty of government to volunteer information to its citizens especially when it touches the collective patrimony of the State. My unanswered question remains; ‘how much is Akwa Ibom State indebted to and for which project(s)?’
The last time I heard our debt profile was three years ago. Yes! And this wasn’t an easy task. It came after several speculated figures were trending in the media from people in the opposition political parties and then came a lot of criticisms of the slow pace of performance of the administration which the government had always blamed it on the huge debt inherited from the previous government.
I remember during a conversation with members of the Independent Newspaper Publishers Association (INPA) in Uyo, on Wednesday, April 30, 2016, the Commissioner for Finance, Mr Akan Okon, as he then was, had to disclose that N64.5billion was the State’s debt profile (3years ago).
In the past three years, the Akwa Ibom State monthly revenue from the federation account stands a little above N17billion. With this huge revenue coming monthly to my State couple with our internally generated revenue (IGR), I am tempted to believe that the N64.5Billion this government inherited have been cleared before going into another loan facility. I stand corrected, I do not think the government even needs the loan facility if the monthly revenue is properly utilized.
It is more worrisome to think that government needs this particular loan to install CCTV cameras in Uyo, when government has had it difficult to maintain our street lightening within the same metropolis. Government has not deemed it necessary to even replace the fallen poles of our street lights in major streets of the metropolis, thus, leaving it in darkness at night. As a journalist, I work mostly into late night, so I can attest to the fact that majority of the street lightening are not functional. It therefore, begs the question ‘how the CCTV cameras can capture images and record crime scenes in a dark environment like ours?’ I leave that for the technology experts to figure out, since I am not one.
Before the just concluded general elections, Akwa Ibom State was adjudged one of the most peaceful in the country. This is one applause everyone has given to the current administration.
Elections are over. Whatever must have led to the State been named among the security flashpoints, must have also gone with the waves of the elections. Normalcy had since returned. Akwa Ibom has returned to its place of a peaceful State in the South-South region. Hence, I think putting N1.7billion into security features that will not cover the entire State other than Uyo metropolis, for me, is a misplaced priority!
Is it not disturbing either, that Akwa Ibom is now the State with the highest number of persons living with Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus and Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) in Nigeria? Simply put, Akwa Ibom is now the headquarters of HIV/AIDS prevalence in Nigeria. This was contained in the Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS), 2018 Report officially launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja last week Friday.
If this N1.7b loan were to be used in the fight against this scaring deadly scourge in our State, I am sure Akwa Ibomites would not raise any eyebrow against it, and I would have gladly endorse it. But No!
Research has shown a correlation between poverty, high rate of secondary/tertiary school dropouts, poor performance in WAEC/NECO examinations (due to insufficient funding of educational system), and the high rate of prevalence of the disease in any society.
If the loan must be collected at all! It should be used to provide better learning infrastructure in our educational system.
I advise that the government should rather declare ‘a state of emergency’ in our education and health sectors, as a matter of urgent public importance.
Government cannot talk about CCTV cameras for now! But when we have functional street lightening; when we have steady power supply; when the government has created employment opportunities and empower our unemployed youth, that would be the appropriate time to talk about CCTV cameras in Uyo metropolis.
*Franklyn Isong is a public affairs commentator and conscience of the society