……….Akwa Ibom is a very wonderful place, a terrain that one needs carefulness and perhaps, divine direction to trade, lest you fall victim of innate dislike and sheer hatred. The most funny but worrisome part of the story is that people with very sincerely intentions often fall prey to what is gradually becoming a menace in our dear State. This, coupled with the upsurge in the number of self-acclaimed “activists” and “critics” is becoming a source of certain.

An issue with this crop of individuals- the ”Activists” and ”Critics”- is that they’re often fed with misinformation and moved by emotions, plus ‘blind praises’ from ‘co-activists.’ Often times too, their ego won’t allow them ask questions, get facts and enlighten their ignorance. Even when the facts are glaring, they remain adamant, ignoring the truths, just to show fake “doggedness” and “ruggedness”. With such display of silliness, these “activists”, who primarily want to please those fueling them, go out of their way to insult people and also mislead the public with vain imaginations and speculations.

This piece is borne out of the need to separate facts from falsehood, chiefly, to save the undiscerning public who have been continuously spoon-fed with pure lies and fictions from “activists”.

Just last week, the Special Assistant to the Governor on Students Matters, Comrade Otobong Akpan, popularly called ‘Aquilla’, moved to save some indigent Students of the University of Uyo from suspending studies, owing to incomplete tuition and inability to meet up with the initial 30th June, 2018 dateline, slated for closure of the Institution’s registration and fee payment portal.

The initiative, tagged “Udom’s Tuition Intervention Scheme”, made its debut on Thursday, June 28, 2018 at the school Students’ Union Government Secretariat popularly called “Community Centre” and ended on Friday, June 29, 2018, at the Institution’s New Education Block, with lots of students turning out for the programme. To benefit from the intervention programme, indigent students, especially, those in their final years, were expected to present at least, Ten Thousand Naira (N10,000) to have their fees balanced. It meant that a student with N21,750 (Twenty One Thousand, Seven Hundred and Fifty Naira), as tuition, automatically had N11,750 (Eleven Thousand, Seven Hundred and Fifty Naira) added to his or her N10,000 (Ten Thousand Naira). Such step was needful, owing to lean resources at the disposal of the Governor’s Aide.

Shortly after day one of the programme, false rumours and misleading information went on Social Media, that Aquilla extorted from each student, the sum of N10,000 (Ten Thousand Naira). The allegation was carefully crafted and spread across social media platforms. One could see clearly that it was coordinated and totally masterminded. The rumour mongers did not stop there, but went on to add, that the same Aquilla extorted between Two to Three Thousand Naira from each Student, before allowing them into the venue for the scheme. They also alleged that a whooping sum of N50,000,000 (Fifty Million Naira) was released for the scheme.

Much has been said, written and imagined already, but to let these allegations to rest, it is needful to present some truths. The Tuition Intervention Programme was initially targeted at very few students, but arising from information that most students had their fees unpaid, there was need to solicit for funds to help more students. Funding for the programme, although tagged to the State Chief Executive, was totally CONTRIBUTORY. Aquilla went out of her way to solicit for funds from government personalities, imply that there was no said sum from the State Government for the Programme. The need to help students before closure of portal was urgent and gave no room for a formal request for funds from the State Government.

It was a concise effort of Miss Otobong Akpan at helping indigent students and promoting her Boss at the same time, therefore, she also injected her personal funds, to cater for more students. It’s therefore baffling when questions like, “how much was disbursed by the State Government for the programme?” is asked. It leaves one to wonder if the critics do not understand the word “CONTRIBUTORY”. Please, who disbursed which money? Where? When? Apart from that, even if a particular sum was allocated for the programme perhaps by the State Government, there are levels of secrecy in government and would have been at the discretion of Aquilla, to reveal such amount. Protocols sometimes demands so. Maybe the naysayers need to get their facts right and stop speaking out of wild thoughts.

Rewind to the issue of N2,000 entrance fee…

Folks should be familiar with the mere fact that students are ordinarily impatient and would want to cut corners to get things done fastly. In that way, they usually fall prey to hoodlums who dupe them hands-down. Such instances may have occurred at the just concluded intervention programme. It does not in anyway mean the programme was uncoordinated, but only shows how impatient, insincere and stubborn some students are, because announcements were made severally, at the programme venue, that they should NOT pay such monies to anyone. Any students who ignored the warning and went ahead to pay certain amount of money, to whoever, in a bid to benefit from the programme from the back door, whatsoever, did so at their own risks and should have themselves to blame. However, Miss Otobong Akpan, disciplined as she is, remains undaunted in ensuring that the culprits are captured and punished accordingly.

Moreover, calls that names and Registration Numbers of students who benefited from the programme should be published is uncalled for and improper. It is true that the critics calling for publication of student names and registration numbers are ignorant of the underlying legal issues and it’s important they’re enlightened.

Normally, a student identity, especially Registration Number, is private. Publishing such information would automatically violet Section 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) 1999, which provides for citizens’ right to PRIVATE and family life.

It would also violet the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Act 2007. The NITDA Guidelines contain principles that should be adhered to, when dealing with personal information of Nigeria residents including the collection, processing and dissemination of personal data. It state unambiguously among others, that personal data MUST NOT be transferred, unless adequate provisions are in place for it to be protected. The Guidelines apply to Federal, State and Local Government agencies and institutions as well as private sector organisations that own, use or deploy information systems of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Therefore, publishing names of students who benefitted from the intervention programme, would amount to contempt of these Privacy Guidelines in Nigeria and it is punishable under law. These are issues unknown to the self acclaimed activists and blind critics.

The rumour paddlers have also forgot that funds were needed for logistics – hiring of computers, printers, generator, and purchase of stationeries for the registration processes. The computer operators at the venue of the exercise needed to be paid too. Even when the programme came barely 24hours to close of the school portal, Mobile Police Officers and men of the Man O War were deployed to ensure safety and orderliness at the venue of the programme.

Have the activists and critics asked where Aquilla got money for these running costs? Have they asked where she had time to make these preparations, at such short notice? No, they are only focused on casting aspersions on her and trying hard to whip sentiments from those who have lebbled themselves opposition. They’re trying hard to tarnish a noble gesture with claims it was characterised by hitches. Come on, even bigger State Government sponsored programmes with huge funding sometimes meet hitches, therefore Aquilla must not be crucified for any reason but given a pat on the back and perhaps, advised on how to make improvements in subsequent programmes.

We mustn’t make it seem that the exercise was unsuccessful, as the over 200 students who benefited from the programme had been saved from suspension of studies and other scholastic stress. Or, what if Aquilla only helped her course mates as was originally planned. Plus, if she did not offer to help those students, wouldn’t they have paid fees? The gesture was just a rare privilege enjoyed by the students, not a right and the fact that she went out to source for more funds to help more students should be appreciated.

Governor Udom Emmanuel, through the Tuition Intervention Programme spearheaded by Comrade Otobong Akpan, has impacted positively on the lives of hundreds of students, a feat that most blind critics have never attempted and may never achieve. Aquilla on her part has done noble. Handing the affairs of millions of students within and outside the State is tasking; surviving frequent sponsored attacks, characters assassination and betrayals, stands her out as a result oriented, focused and meticulous Aide to the Governor who should not be discouraged, but encouraged to do more. She has over the years, shown class, dexterity, excellence and sincerity in dealing with students’ matters in Akwa Ibom State, she has been unwavering and level-headed in the discharge of her duties, despite backstabbing, sabotage and other risks associated with her office, owing to the nature of people her office serve.

To say the least, the critics must be commended, not only for the free publicity given to the Intervention Programme, but the popularity and strength they’ve indirectly accorded Aquilla. While they go about their duties as self-acclaimed “activists”, one would only advise they nurse genuine intentions, ask questions and verify speculations, before jumping on their keypads, at least, to avoid misleading the public.

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