Akwa Ibom @ 30: Is This Where We Really Should Be?


By Substance Nature

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Marcus Garvey


Three remote primary factors had made the issue of State creation for the present day indigenes of Akwa Ibom both determinable and indispensable. First was the providence in the flagship scholastic sagacity and innovativeness of the earliest Akwa Ibom elites who by that precedence were indisputable beacons and lighthouses to the rest of Nigeria in certain aspects of contemporary growth and development, but who, by the vindictive strength of number, were unfortunately treated as second fiddle by the larger Nigeria contemporaries. The catalytic and cumulative consequence was the vociferous and inexorable struggle towards self-assertion as manifest in the collective response that heralded the formation of the Ibibio State Union (ISU) in 1928 as a launch-pad to meeting recurrent and deferred aspirations. Ever since the formation of ISU, its members realized how easy and glorious it was to speak with one voice over matters of regional and national interest.

The second was the subsequent endemic envy, chauvinistic and condonable political ethnic genocide and intra-tribal betrayals of between or around the 1950s and 1960s in the Eastern House of Assembly, that infamously aborted the premiership of Prof Eyo Ita and terminally robbed Eastern minorities of political relevance and truncated the glorious possibility of the COR State that was almost impending and was a constant headache in regional and national discourse. Even the eventual creation of the South Eastern State in 1967 was impulsively embraced as a surprised and suspicious gift and victim of Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s war-time stratagem to pacify and cajole the down-trodden minority in the imminent Civil War of 1967. The conceptual prototype and ingenious second-sight would since have seen the creation of the COR State (Cross River –Ogoja-Rivers) quite earlier; but that dream was masterfully and haplessly submerged in the Igbo-dominated heterogeneous South Eastern Bloc. But it was a matter of time and events for bottled dreams to fructify. There were no pretensions that the minorities were therefore like flotsam in a mighty ocean of ethnic jingoism, not until the post-war creation of Cross River State in 1976, which, perhaps unknown to the cabals, was a providential narrowing down to the root.

The third reason in the context of this recall, among other factors no less integral back home in Calabar, was probably Dr. E.N. Amaku’s awkward constant snag of the Ibibio (as those from the core hinterland of present day Akwa Ibom State were generally known then) in matters of anthropology and distinct self identity that, directly or indirectly, supplied the audacious impetus to expedite action towards having a recognized, distinct and integrated geographic entity of their own, sooner or later, as an expression of their peculiar voice in Nigeria’s nascent metamosphosis. E. N. Amaku, a foremost Efik pedagogue, author and historian was loved and hated for his insolent and most despicable ridiculing and questioning of the genealogy of the industrious Ibibio. “Ibibio must go”, as I was made to understand, became the poison that sooner exploded to a song of victory and glorious return to the Promised Land.

Aggregately, it is argued that the conscious idea of state creation in Nigeria originated with the Akwa Ibom stock. They needed a space and voice of their own in a thick forest of socio-political sadists and scavengers. From the embryonic 1920s, to the turning-point events of the 1960s to the 80s, approximately six decades had passed; yet the resilient and ever optimistic people of Akwa Ibom State never lost their focus and hope of redemption. And that momentous day appreciatively came to pass on Wednesday, 23rd September, 1987 in the notorious administration of Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babaganda who, as good and bad as he was seen depending on one’s spectrum, believed in Martin Luther King Jnr’s timeless postulations that, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step taken towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals”.

Hence, we cannot patriotically recap the history and evolution of Akwa Ibom State without proud reference to iconic paterfamilias like Sir Egbert Udo Udoma; Chief Ibagna Udo Akpabio; Chief Nyong Essien, Sir Effiong Okon Eyo (Eyo Uyo); Prof. Eyo Ita; the Osungs of Oron, the Etiebets, Bassey U. A, Attah, Wellington Bassey, Phillip Effiong, etc. We are therefore constantly reminded by History and unfolding events of the present that the creation of the State did not come on a platter of gold. Today Akwa Ibom is 30. No question about that. As should be expected, the crowd is hysteric and appreciative as history opens another page in reminiscence of the memorable day that the news filtered in from Doran Barracks, Lagos.

The 30th anniversary of the State therefore should be a moment of contemplation and earnest self-appraisal; it should not be an occasion for excess revelries and sanctimonious pretensions. That is why some self-examining questions become very pertinent at this point: 30 years after, how has the State faired in critical areas of growth and developemnt? Has it met the vision and aspirations of the founding fathers of the State? Are we progressing or retrogressing? Where are we today in the comity of states in Nigeria? In attempting to answer these questions, the words of Michel de Montaigne must be taken to heart:  “We need very strong ears to hear ourselves judged frankly, and because there are few who can endure frank criticism without being stung by it, those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship.  For to undertake to wound or offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love for him.”

At 30, objective observers might pat Akwa Ibom State on the back and say – So far so good! A 1997 American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer traces the etymology of this idiom to James Kelly, an author who in his 1721 Scottish proverbs is quoted to have written: “So far, so good. So much is done to good purpose”. Whatever personal circumstanced inspired Kelly, the epigraph is an utterance of relief from the burden of details or to protect someone from cheap boasting and pains of under-achievement in the face of redundant abundance. Conversely, so far so good refers to a satisfactory feeling about an existing condition or a sense of concession to failure or ineffectiveness in meeting set goals. Either way, it is a situational utterance that inspires neither absolute confidence nor satisfactory convictions.

So, can we with pride of accomplishments and modest concession to failure therefore say so far so good for Akwa Ibom State at 30? Yes. A more diplomatic summation would be that we have tried, but our collective best may not have been good enough, considering our enviable human and material endowments; yet there still abound a thousand windows of opportunities and prospects for the anticipated change – only if we are truly committed to the Akwa Ibom Project. From the pivotal year of 1987, Akwa Ibom has had six military administrators and 4 civilian governors: Tunde Ogbeha (28 September, 1987 to 30 July, 1988); Godwin Abbe (31 July, 1988 to 5 September, 1990); Idongesit Nkanga (5 September, 1990 to 2 January, 1992); Yakubu Bako (15 December, 1993 to 21 August, 1996); Joseph Adewusi (21 August, 1996 to 9 August, 1998); John Ebiye ( 9 August, 1998 to 29 May, 1999), and the booby-trap, 20-month democratic farce of Obong Akpan Isemin – 2 January, 1992 to 18 November, 1993. They were fortuitously followed by Obong Victor Attah (29 May, 1999 to 29 May, 2007); Chief Godswill Akpabio (29 May, 2007 to 29 May, 2015); and Governor Udom Emmanuel (29 May, 2015 till date and still counting.

Whereas it would be hard to assess the docile military errand boys, the period of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria (1999 till date) has provided broad platforms for critical appraisal of Akwa Ibom State in terms of growth and development. Amidst the trendy controversies and arguments over idiosyncrasy, philosophy and governance style and policies, it can, in all fairness, summarily be stated that, by and large, the State has been blessed with great leaders who have made peculiar impact in the State in the last thirty years. Yet, truth be told, we are still far behind in so many areas.

30 years after, in spite of our enormous natural and human resources, where is Akwa Ibom in critical sectors of Nigeria’s macro economy. Even though we may flaunt the finest intellectual capital in Nigeria’s extant history, where indeed is Akwa Ibom in the highly competitive areas of telecomm, banking, oil and gas, construction, politics, and general merchandize? When shall we produce the Adenugas, Dangotes, Ovias, Otedolas, Buharis and Tinubus – and even the Nnamdi Kanus? A state whose citizens are patently content with the status quo, always queuing behind others or playing the second fiddle with imbecilic pride shall have centuries to go before realizing their collective dreams in a place like Nigeria. Producing a few political tin-gods and billionaires in a mass of poverty-stricken and economically-dependent people is akin to building sky-scrappers in a slum.

It thus appears that the strongest opposition or hindrances to our holistic growth can be our collective values or unaligned vision, individualism, the stereotypic fear to venture out and conquer, the kind of politics we condone, the leadership we encourage, and insidious tribalism we may pretend does not exist. At 30, we must aggressively discard the derogatory appellation of being “oil-bean leaves” or “an atomistic society constantly at war with itself”.  It readily implies that we must not allow greed and selfishness, acrimonious politics, intra-tribal chauvinism and parochial interest jeopardize our collective growth and destiny.

Therefore, amidst the great successes and observable failures we have recorded, let us all, the govern and the governed, always remember why and how we came to where we are today. I had since known that leading Akwa Ibom State to the Promised Land cannot be the sole responsibility of leaders, but complementary participation of the masses so that at the end everyone will justifiably share in the boasts. Like Thomas Jefferson, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” Congratulations to all Akwa Ibom people!