Sampson Akpan, a media aide to Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State, stirred controversy during a radio programme in Uyo, April 21, when he said “Government says stay at home, please stay at home. They give you palliative, manage it. Don’t eat it as a glutton, some of you eat carelessly.”
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Akpan responds to the criticism that has trailed his comment.
PT: We listened to your radio programme yesterday, you said some people that are getting palliative from (Akwa Ibom) government are glutton. How did you mean?
AKPAN: No, no, that’s not true. People try to politicise everything, and that is why it was difficult for people to understand Jesus Christ. The issue is not the palliative. I told them, ‘come on, if you get the palliatives, just manage it’. This is not the time for us to eat like glutton. It was just an advice. …. Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and was able to defeat…. Even when Satan said turn this stone into bread, the man said no that ‘man shall not live by bread alone’.
This is not the time to punch the governor. After all, all that we have even taken in this state is grown in the state. Supposing the governor did not have the foresight to put all these rice mills and the rest of them and brought in investors to assist us, how would we have managed the road blockade, the lockdown, to get lorries (from other states) to bring us food. So what we need to do is to support the government.
PT: Do you really think people are politicising what you said?
AKPAN: Go and check those who are talking on Facebook. Some of them are pseudo Facebook operators. Let me tell you Cletus Ukpong, you won an award last year, do you think some of your colleagues are happy with you? When Jesus Christ was going about preaching and telling people the truth, didn’t you see them accepting the thief and asking that Jesus Christ be crucified? I am being crucified for telling Akwa Ibom people the truth that this is not the time for plenty, it is time we manage (whatever is given to us) with our neighbours. I sit on the radio and transfer my personal money to people. Even today, I have transferred money to over 10 people. I don’t need to blow my trumpet because I know the blessings that come forth.
PT: The dictionary meaning of the word ‘glutton’ is ‘an excessively greedy eater’?
AKPAN: Are you not aware that even when the palliatives were given, some people that are highly placed went away with them? Have you not heard? You are a journalist, you investigate. People should not be greedy over food, people should rather support others to eat. That’s what I mean.
PT: So, you were referring to people that took what belongs to others?
AKPAN: That is what I said, we should not be glutton. This is not a time for you to have three, four, five bags of rice and then some other person does not have even one cup, and you are happy with it. You see, the context in which I said it, it was on a lighter note, at least, for people to support their brothers and sisters who are, perhaps, not able to eat. If you go to Proverbs 25: 16, you’ll understand – ‘Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, that you not have it in excess and vomit it’. The issue is if I have one bag of rice and I will go gluttonously to get another two, and some other person is being deprived. Don’t deprive other people of eating.
PT: We learnt on Facebook that you have apologised (over this issue). Is it true?
AKPAN: I don’t owe apology on Facebook, I didn’t say what I said on Facebook. When I am on the radio tomorrow, I will let them understand what I actually meant.
PT: Is it true you have apologised?
AKPAN: Apologised on what? Those who are ranting on Facebook don’t event understand the context which I made that statement. Do they even know if I was talking in favour of the downtrodden? Should I be crucified for that, if they don’t understand the English? If I say ‘Cletus Ukpong, don’t be stupid’ it does not mean you are stupid. If I say we should not be gluttonous or we shouldn’t eat like one, it does not mean we are gluttonous. Is that the main issue now in Nigeria? Is that the main issue now in Akwa Ibom State? Why are you (people) picking on me, call me coconut head and all sort of things? Does that make sense? Does that stop me from being who I am? Does that stop somebody who graduated first class? Does that stop me from being somebody who has won award right from Lagos, then Obong Attah (former governor of Akwa Ibom State) could bring me back here to work? If I was incompetent, I wouldn’t have been brought here to work.
PT: You said you were talking on behalf of the downtrodden, that people shouldn’t be taking (away) what should go to the (ordinary) people. What you have said is an indictment on the (government) process of getting the palliative to the people?
AKPAN: The controversy came up and I decided to send my reporters to the villages like I did yesterday. Some of them reported from the palace of the village heads. We are going to ascertain the allegation that some people made away with the palliatives instead of giving it to the downtrodden. That is why we are going, village by village. Tomorrow if you listen to the programme, some of my men will be on hand in some of the villages. Yesterday, we had a successful story in Ibesikpo-Asutan Local Government Area, the community leader there told us how he shared the palliatives among the people. But you cannot because of the Ibesikpo-Asutan sample you go to sleep thinking that all is well, you have to also find out from other local government areas.
PT: We have seen information flying around social media quoting the SSG (the Secretary to the State Government) as saying the government is aware that some people diverted the relief materials. Did that actually come from the SSG?
AKPAN: The investigative journalism I am embarking on is to ascertain where it actually happened. The SSG must have gotten a security report that certain things are not going well in terms of sharing (of the palliatives). How can you have two meat in your soups and you still go ahead and take from someone who has only one meat? It’s unfair.
PT: That means you stand by what you said?
AKPAN: People misinterpreted me.
PT: Most of the governor’s media aides have been under attack of late. Why do you think this is happening?
AKPAN: If you put your crystal ball properly you will understand….. Those who are running around, disparaging and making all sorts of allegations against the media aides to the governor, perhaps, they want to work. I thank God for them. (But) You cannot build what you have destroyed. The media aides to the governors, out of their proficiency and professionalism, were given that responsibility to work. Look at how the commissioner for health was abused by being misunderstood. That man is a professional, he has worked with ExxonMobil for years. He said NCDC did not follow due process when they released the result (of the COVID-19 tests) in Akwa Ibom. People went on to say that the commissioner rejected the result. Can you imagine that?
The Commissioner for Information, Charles Udoh, cannot release his personal press release, it is government press release. The SSG cannot release his personal press release, it is government press release. But some people who want to be commissioner for information, some people who want to be governor’s media aide, some people who feel they are better than Charles Udoh, better than Sampson Akpan, would go on social media to make all sort of uncultured utterances. If they don’t do it themselves, they pay people to do it.
The people who are getting money from (Akwa Ibom) government are the same people who are trying to bring down the same government. Does that work? Government is the biggest enterprise in the world, you can’t fight government and succeed.
PT: You are an experienced media person, what are your suggestions, how can we get it right in terms of information management and dissemination in Akwa Ibom?
AKPAN: The only way we could have it right is for us to first of all express love. For instance, if you love your wife, whatever she tells you, you’ll take it. If you don’t love her, you won’t believe her. If you love your state and you want your state to grow, you will at all times protect your state, you will at all times believe in your state. I cannot believe Cletus Ukpong’s writing if I don’t love him. How many people in APC have ever said, ‘(Governor) Udom, you have done this one right?’ What we do (here), is that what we don’t like we destroy it. How many northerners write about Abba Kyari (the late chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari)? How many? They won’t talk about him, they know that ‘this is our son’. There was a time I was telling people if we bring down Senator Akpabio, who will speak for us when we need somebody like that?
PT: What is your assessment of media coverage of COVID-19 in Akwa Ibom so far?
AKPAN: I think they have tried their best. I follow PREMIUM TIMES, you guys are doing a great job. But generally in Akwa Ibom NUJ…. I saw their press release, it was not really palatable. But I think that has been settled. I trust in the capacity of the honourable commissioner and the chief press secretary to the governor, I think they have handled that professionally. And the issue of them participating in the daily press briefing on COVID-19 is beautiful. But they must also understand the fact that there must be social distancing.