By Substance Nature
So often, it has been said that “Akwa Ibom is an atomistic society constantly at war with itself.” – and I personally perhaps have been most conscious and therefore must have heard it more often than quite a number of other Akwa Ibomites who would care little or nothing about the implications and imprecations each time it is said.
This platitude or derogatory statement has been mostly made by Akwa Ibom elders or leaders especially in garnishing their grandstand utterances at public events. I heard Obong Victor Attah used it almost brazenly in his speech during his reception by the Akwa Ibom people at Asan Ibibio sometime in 2014. Not only Obong Attah. And I have always been wondering how many of those who used or heard the expression have ever paused to contemplate the immediate and differed consequences of the inanity. Nevertheless, it might still be necessary to ask: For what reason(s) is Akwa Ibom said to be an atomistic society constantly at war with itself? Have events in the past and present really justified the truthfulness in the fatwa?
If your guess is as good as mine, to attempt the first question in due consultation with extant and contemporary history, it could be argued that the principal ground upon which Akwa Ibom is said to be an atomistic society constantly at war with itself is no other than politics – acrimonious, atavistic politics that cares little or nothing about consequences provided selfish or ulterior aims were realized. And we seem to have lived in insidious pretensions and endemic adversities of the truthfulness in that expression.
Today, Nigeria is divided largely by politics than by geography. And the Akwa Ibom story and experience are peculiarly disturbing to the conscious and curious. Directly or indirectly, at one point or the other, we have been made pitiable victims, redemption of which, like the superscription to this piece tends to suggest, principally depends on our thought protocol and action. Therefore, when Karl Marx postulated with debatable conciseness that “Religion is the opium of the masses”, what he forgot to have added instantly was that religion cannot work alone to achieve its devilish objectives but needs politics as an accomplice or active partner to achieve the worst.
Politics exerts twice as much negative effects on the psychology, idiosyncrasy and cosmology of a given people than religion can boast. In retrospection hence, Karl Marx perhaps was referring to the indelible bloody stains of the infamous War of the Crusades or by introspection, pin-pointing to the colossal damages the two War Wars were to cause the human race at the gratification of the insatiable and merciless gods of politics. That is what politics has also succeeded in doing in our time – severing long-held bonds by sowing potent seeds of discord among people who once lived together. We have seen or heard of fathers killing their sons and daughters on the altar of politics. We have seen or heard of friends masterminding the kidnapping or assassination of friends. And the winner takes all in the do-or-die scenario.
And Akwa Ibom, even back in history, has been a victim of brother-kill-brother-to-live in the shrine of politics. It is said that the man who moved the motion for the impeachment of the then Leader of Government and Speaker in the 1951 Eastern Region House of Assembly, Professor Eyo Ita, was not from amongst the Igbos, the Yorubas or the Hausas, but his own blood brother, Mr. Effiong Okon Eyo (Eyo Uyo), whom Prof. Eyo Ita by principle of ancestry should have trusted and relied upon most. However, as sequence of events has revealed, to succeed at doing this, Mr. Eyo first had to sow a fertile seed of discord amongst the Ibibios, Efiks, Annangs, and the Oros – who then were collectively known as the Ibibio from the Calabar Province. Part of the counter-productive machinations, among others, was the formation of the Annang Welfare Union to stand in deviant opposition to the more integrative and progressive Ibibio State Union (ISU) which philosophy and antecedents already had been a benchmark of regional emancipation to other sections of Nigeria.
In referring to what exactly took place, an extant record by an eye-witness at the time regrettably reports: “It was one of the principal duties of Mr. Effiong Okon Eyo to spread false propaganda against the Ibibio State Union and its leadership and drum into the ears of the Annang people of Ikot Ekpene and Abak Districts that they were a separate and distinct people from Ibibio properly so called; that they were better off sticking to Dr, Nnamdi Azikiwe and the NCNC party as the party in Government; and that if they broke away from the Ibibio State Union in which all of them were then members, their representatives would be handsomely rewarded by appointment as ministers and members of Government boards and corporations and their young people would be awarded scholarships by Government”. Whether or not they were so rewarded later, having helped the outsider derange his kith and kindred, the summary is that when it really mattered, Eyo Uyo and others from Akwa Ibom were ostracized and expunged from the party they sacrificed all they could to build and ultimately made a laughing-stock. It was rather the Mbadiwes and the Okparas who would count blessings in political circles. Eyo Uyo and co. were routed and deceived. The last option then was for them to return to where they rightly belonged – the Ibibio State Union – and were most heartily welcome. Needless to emphasize that it was the genuine and concerted efforts of this body that in the long-run gave birth to Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State as we have today.
This is no unconscious digression from my focus. I have deliberately taken this historical detour to revoke a narrative that might offer a lesson or two in our present circumstances: Why must we allow politics divide us into tiny pieces that can easily be swept off in the day of great need? Why should we use the fragile sticks of politics to beat tribal drums to our disadvantage? Indeed, why should the love of our tribe make us incorrigible tribalists?
With the return of unmitigated democracy to Akwa Ibom State in 1999, a lot has happened that has raised many hard and bruising questions such as the above. No matter the excuses and pretenses, in no other arena have we been made to be clannishly conscious of the tripod upon which Akwa Ibom revolves and constantly being reminded that we are not of the same stock but the Ibibio, Annang or Oro like in politics. And these have created a chasm that only a complete change in approach to issues can modify for collective unity that we once were known of.
This observation in no way seeks to defy political formulae of representation or governance template of our state. Bust as much as you and I might want to confess, the attention appears to have since been shifted from co-existential essence to tribal hue and composition. Today, no matter how open or strategic the office was supposed to be, the moment you indicate interest in any political office be it at home or at the national level, the first question is, where is he or she from, same question you are bound to be asked across River Niger? And this tradition has surreptitiously and openly crept into every sphere of our personal and corporate existence. Now, we can only have Ibibio governor, Annang governor or Oron governor! The Ibibio-Annang-Oron tribal songs may never have been brazenly pronounced and awkwardly mismanaged in the history of the state as it has been in the last one decade or so, largely on grounds of politics. Accordingly, though some could afford to pretend in public, the allocation of our commonwealth and the amount of support and solidarity an incumbent Governor or other leaders are given may be contingent upon which tribe he intrinsically or biologically belongs.
Down the line, in recent times, there is the argument that Obong Victor Attah tends to be drawing nearer to or dinning in Hilltop Mansion in the prevailing wind because the present principal occupant of the office is an Ibibio man. Unfortunately, these ethnic jingoists in their self-foolery and astigmatism forget in hurry the 2007 Ekarika Ke Nsinsi dead dream phenomenon which the same Obong Attah was condemned to have initiated or held onto. So what are saying in times like this when tunes of unity should fill the atmosphere? There is therefore mischief, disaffection, distrust, suspicion and, by extreme summation, a sort of undercurrent xenophobia that can dampen our collective future.
That explains why some Akwa Ibomites may choose to embark on hibernation, sequestered in self-imposed exile, or indulge in acoustic criticisms so long as the man at the very top is not from where he supposedly should. We run down and plot with all we have to make sure our appointed representatives are brought to their knees or literally imprisoned even if outsiders ‘have called for forgiveness and parole. So where are we heading? I think the onus lies with our leaders, our politicians, many of whom now has the hearts of pharaoh and lions, whose perceived enemies or opponents must be crushed to their bones.
The killings in Ukanafun in recent times, the tribal bickering in beer parlours and the open-secret war among our leaders at some public events robs us of decency. Politics, we can say is an open arena one must struggle for space; but it need not be tragic dramatization of Charles Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest dialectics” or Adolf Hitler’s holocaust that claimed even its principals.
The thrust here is that, if we must catch up with those we once led in Nigeria or stabilize our polity, we must review our psychology and pattern of politics. Else, we shall bequeath to successive generations landmines that can explode and claim an entire race. Or what would you say: HAS POLITICS UNITED OR DIVIDED AKWA IBOM PEOPLE?