7 August 2004

Governor Obong Victor Attah: Akwa Ibom and Nigeria at Heart

SPONSOR WIRE

Uyo — Akwa Ibom is one of the six states of the South-South geo-political zone of Nigeria. It was created in 1987 by the military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.

Twelve years later, 65-year-old architect-turned politician, Obong Victor Bassey Attah was elected governor of the oil and culture-rich state, trading his T-square and pencils for an opportunity to sell his ideas of positive governance. He was elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which swept the polls in the general election of 1999, bringing President Olusegun Obasanjo to power. Last year, his national profile was raised when he was elected chairman of the Governors Forum representing the country's 36 states.

Before the PDP's founding, Attah was associated with its predecessor organization, the G-34, a group of Nigerians that battled the military to quicken the hand-over of power to civilians. He was reelected occupant of Government House in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom state capital, in 2003.

Attah says he opted to venture into politics out of a desire to reverse the many conditions that retarded the progress of a promising state. In a speech on the eve of his election, Attah said; "I have spent many years observing the painfully slow progress of my people in Akwa Ibom, which state of affairs is the cumulative effect of short-sighted, uninspiring leadership, too numerous missed and misapplied opportunities, distorted priorities, improper harnessing of manpower, small-dream phobia for risk taking; undue conservation, erroneous neglect of women as a valuable developmental resource, and the misguided marginalisation of the invigorating strength of youth".

The path to removing the impediments to development that the governor identified has not been smooth. The state, like the country, was plagued by two decades of deteriorating infrastructure and a culture of division and corruption that flourished under military rule. Civilian leadership at every level of government has confronted -- and sometimes reflected -- the pervasive legacies of that era.

Attah says he has had to work hard over the last five years at restoring the confidence of the Akwa Ibom people. His administration drew up both short and long-term development agendas for the state, aimed at transforming a "civil service state," where government existed for its own benefit, to an industry-based economy.

The projects the governor has either started or completed - those he has invited President Olusegun Obasanjo to Akwa Ibom to inspect and commission - are elements of the blueprint he envisioned to improve the state's socio-economic conditions. As the projects have taken shape, those ideas appear to be crystallizing.

Two years into his first tenure, Attah encountered a major stumbling block after a Supreme Court ruling in April 2002 resulted in a significant cut in the state's oil revenue. The judgment enshrined an onshore\offshore dichotomy, which meant that Akwa Ibom and other littoral states could not get commissions from crude oil exploited from the ocean off their coastlines. This pitched the concerned state governments against the federal government, when a bill seeking to abolish the dichotomy was tabled before the National Assembly. Although passed by the lawmakers, the President withheld assent.

Despite being a close political ally of President Obasanjo, the governor chose to side with sentiment among the people of the state. He became the rallying point for all states affected by the court ruling, as they mounted pressure on President Obasanjo to sign the bill into law.

Although his role caused a temporary rift in his close relationship with the president, Akwa Ibom rallied behind him, and Obasanjo assented to the bill in February 2004. Its passage is seen not just a victory for Akwa Ibom state but for the entire Niger Delta region, boosting Attah's influence and popularity in the South-South region of the country.

Born November 20, 1938 into a prominent family in Okop Ndua Erong, Asutan Ekpe in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom state, Victor Attah had the advantage of enlightened childhood upbringing that shaped his worldview and intellectual character. His father, having studied in the United States, was the second Nigerian to obtain a university degree in agriculture and the first to earn a Masters in the same discipline. His mother was a teacher and socio-political activist.

The future governor's primary education was at Native Authority School in Calabar, and he completed post-primary education at St. Patrick's College in 1956. The following year he earned a diploma from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and in 1965 earned a Postgraduate Diploma in Building Science at Liverpool University. He went on to receive a Master of Science degree in advanced Architectural Design and Planning from Columbia University in New York the following year.

Attah is a member or fellow of several professional bodies in Nigeria and overseas and has won acclaim for prominent architectural projects across Nigeria as well as in Trinidad and Tobago. He has served as president of the Nigeria Institute of Architects and a consultant to the British Overseas Development Agency, in charge of several development projects in Malawi, South Africa and the Caribbean.

"Come Let's Build It Together" has been Attah's mission statement, reflecting his background as an architect and builder. The president's visit to Akwa Ibom state is seen here as an endorsement of Attah's ability to implement the developmental designs he has drawn up.

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