Surprise, excitement, and expectation reigned over the Akpan Andem Market in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on Tuesday as Governor Udom Emmanuel paid an unscheduled visit to the market.
A governor or even ranking state official hardly visits any market in the state except during political campaigns.
Mr. Emmanuel’s visit was in the afternoon, at the peak of activities in the market. He was accompanied by security officials and some aides, including his Special Assistant on Youth Matters, Aniefiok Iwadudofia.
Mr. Emmanuel, wearing a yellow caftan and a black hat, walked through the muddy pathway inside the market. Some excited traders ran after him, shouting “Udom is right” – a popular slogan used by the governor during the 2015 governorship campaign.
Photos circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp by his media aides and supporters show the governor dipping his hand into a basin of garri and also bargaining for okra while holding a wad of naira notes.
One video captured the governor doling out money to excited traders.
A man in a black suit, apparently an aide to the governor, is seen in the video holding a bulky black bag containing wads of naira notes where Mr. Emmanuel pulled money from to distribute freely.
Mr. Emmanuel had earlier visited the Ibom Plaza, a popular recreation spot within the heart of the Uyo Capital City, where he was said to have also interacted freely and doled out money to people, mostly jobless residents.
“I want to thank the youth for maintaining peace in the state,” the governor said, amidst applause and cheering from a crowd that had suddenly gathered.
The governor promised to reinstall a giant television screen in the plaza for the people to watch football matches.
It is believed that Mr. Emmanuel’s surprise action was meant to douse the tension that is said to have gripped the city and the Government House after yesterday’s anti-government protest led by a Lagos-based right activist, Inibehe Effiong.
Some youth had joined Mr. Effiong, a lawyer, to march along major roads in Uyo to protest against the governor’s plan to build a new Akwa Ibom governor’s lodge in Lagos.
It was the first time residents would stage a protest against government policy or programme in the state.
Mr. Effiong, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, suggested the governor’s action was a clear response to the protest he (Mr. Effiong) led.
“It’s a desperate act,” he said. “It clearly shows how unpopular the governor is with the people.”
Mr. Effiong said the governor’s action also shows that his plan to build another governor’s lodge in Lagos was an unpopular decision.
“It’s unfortunate that we have a situation where majority of Akwa Ibom youths are unemployed, where there are no job opportunities, where people are dying of hunger, rather than creating jobs for the people, the governor is now embarking on throwing money on the streets,” he said, adding that, “This is highly condemnable, you cannot have this kind of arrangement in a civilized society.”
The governor’s supporters had planned to organise a counter-rally in the city on Tuesday but surprisingly canceled it, without giving reasons.
“A governor who’s doing the right thing is the one who’s visiting the ‘filthy’ Akpan Andem and promises complete development of the market with mouth watery empowerment to the traders,” one of the governor’s supporters wrote on Facebook about Mr. Emmanuel’s visit to the market.
Mr. Emmanuel’s Special Assistant on New Media, Meflyn Awana, was one of those who circulated on WhatsApp, the photos and news of the governor’s visit to the market.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mrs. Awana on the phone to find out what was the reason behind the governor’s action, her line went dead immediately the interview began.
An hour later, the reporter was able to reach her again on phone but she claimed she was in a meeting, as such couldn’t answer any question.
The governor’s aide on Youth Matters, Mr. Iwadudofia, told PREMIUM TIMES that it was impossible for the governor to embark on the visits as a reaction to yesterday’s protest.
“Never,” he said. “The governor has scheduled appointments to follow. He undertook a similar visit in the past to the market in Eket.”
Mr. Iwadudofia said the governor visited the market and plaza so as to connect with the ordinary people and to find out the challenges they were facing and how the government could help.
He said the governor donated N1.5 million to the crowd at the plaza.
It is unclear if Governor Emmanuel would still go ahead with the proposed new governor’s lodge, despite the controversy that has trailed it.