There is virtually no street in the city of Uyo that doesn’t have a church. Some have as many as ten (10) different church denominations. So, places of worship are not in short supply in Akwa Ibom State, neither are crime, sin, immorality, wickedness, and corruption. But one thing that is on a steady increase in the state is unemployment. At 45.2%, Akwa Ibom State has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
But that is not the most nauseating thing about the 6.7billion naira proposed in the 2021 budget to build a worship centre. That the budget for education is less than 6.7billion is disappointing and unforgivable. More worrisome is the fact that in the face of a pandemic, over 45 primary and secondary healthcare centres (including 14 General Hospitals) are getting less than a single worship center (#4.576b). This is demonic and I’m sure God frowns at it too.
The questions on the lips of many Akwa Ibomites are; what is the importance of an international worship centre that will gulp billions to build and hundreds of millions to maintain annually? What happens to Ibom Hall? Can’t Akwa Abasi Ibom people worship their God in Ibom Hall? Is that not where the state usually starts its year with God in a solemn assembly? Come to think of it, how many times will the worship center be used in a year? These and many more questions are begging for honest answers. To call this project a misplaced priority is an understatement.
Speaking of priorities, if 10% of the budget of any state/federal government is spent on education, all you’ll get from the public is applause and applause. Do you know that 3billion Naira out of the 6.7b Naira can totally transform our technical education, make it attractive for parents to send their kids there, and position it to provide technical manpower to drive our industrialization agenda? In the 21st century where all that employers care to know is ‘what can you do’, the advantages of revamping and developing our technical colleges are numerous. To start with, graduates of these colleges will come out with self-sufficient skills with which they can earn money for themselves. In sectors like shipping, port services, oil and gas, manufacturing, etc, artisanal and craftsmanship skills like plumbing, fabrication, welding, carpentry, painting, mechanics, electrification and scaffolding are in high demand. These are ”life skills’ that a functional technical education can bequeath to our teeming youth. However, no parent who loves his/her child dearly can send him/her to a technical school today.
When Ibom deep seaport eventually comes to fruition, where will the manpower with requisite knowledge come from if we don’t develop our technical education? Very soon, the newly designated oil and gas free trade zone is expected to start bubbling with activities. I guess we are going to wait for the Yorubas and Igbos to take all the jobs so that we can start rueing, rumbling, and whining. Obviously, that will be the case if the government doesn’t become intentional about changing the narrative. The effect of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s extra investment in education in 1955 is evident till today. It won’t be out of place if the government of Akwa Ibom State borrows a leaf from the late sage by divesting from a worship centre and investing in educational institutions at all levels.
So, as much as Gov Udom Emmanuel is investing heavily in industrialization and the deep seaport, he needs to deliberately invest in developing manpower that will drive and power these industries.
One way he can do this is to discontinue the construction of the international worship centre and channel part of the money to education. If he conducts a referendum today whether to spend 6.7billion on a worship centre or not, I bet over 90 percent of his employers (The Akwa Ibom People) will vote against it. Don’t take my word for it, try it. It is not too late to abort this monumental waste of state resources on a project with no impact on Akwa Ibomites who are ‘Religious Christians’.
This is a call on the Governor to score a cheap penalty (political point) like United’s Bruno Fernandez. Akwa Ibomites have not recovered from the over 2billion Naira spent on building a Governor’s lodge in Lagos. A lodge that he has and will never spend a night in. This knack for mindless profligacy is becoming irritating. The Governor must realize that the people of Akwa Ibom entrust him with their patrimony and expect him to spend it wisely on things that have impact on Akwa Ibomites. I strongly advise this government in clear terms that it’s not too late to abort the construction of the international worship centre. The joy and applause that will follow the announcement will wow you.