RETROSPECT: Annang Welfare Union: Was There Ever Such An Organization?


By Substance Nature

In the fertile or menopause womb of history are so many things untold and those to tell – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It therefore may surprise or intrigue some in the younger generation or even those carefree of the past how much the forgotten yester-years can unfold when closely studied and how refreshing what is told can be to the present.

To the exception of ignorance or how much you already may have known, Retrospect, as the abiding mandate demands, today digs deep into the past and re-surfaces with a story that many never may have known or that those who knew may have forgotten in the pressures of contemporary times. But did you know that there once was an organization in Akwa Ibom State in the 1940s called Annang Welfare Union (AWU)? I shall endeavor to stir the scanty rubbles once again and open the archives with nuggets of extant value – to surprise, thrill, please or discomfort the reader. But let me quickly state that the greatest generic and generational misgiving of Akwa Ibom elders is their deliberate failure or unconscionable negligence to invest in the past or undertake the perpetuation of history as compared to the larger ethnic blocs of Nigeria. My intention is that our history must be told in a documented and easily accessible form that guide our present and future. Otherwise we are mere floatsam and jetsam on the tossing sea of humanity. Now let us return to the issue of the day: the Annang Welfare Union?

The Ibibio State Union (ISU), established in 1927/28, begotten many positives. These would include the very ingenious, novel initiative that brought the organization itself to birth, part of which stimulus was incidentally supplied by E. N. Amaku’s infamous scorn, disdain and distortion of anti-typical and contemporary history of Akwa Ibom people. Other great offspring of ISU were its pioneering efforts at inclusive and excellent intellectualism which saw it being the first socio-cultural organization – by a supposedly minority group at that – to launch a scholarship scheme that sent its indigenes for overseas studies; the establishment of the Ibibio State College in Ikot Ekpene; first to agitate for state creation for the minority as practically and determinedly expressed in the famous COR State Movement, which today has gloriously crystallized into Cross River, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa States. The concerted and central impetus of the premier organization locates its steam in the strong grip that people like Prof. Eyo Ita (Premier/Leader of the Eastern House of Assembly in 1951); Ibanga Udo Akpabio whose public service exploits, among others, saw him held strategic positions like the Minister of Education and that of Internal Affairs; Sir Egbert Udo Udoma who crossed continental borders on the sweeping wings of personal brillaince; Chief Nyong Essien, the pioneer President of ISU and of the Eastern House of Chiefs; Effiong Okon Eyo (Eyo Uyo), to mention but a few. These were voice that mattered then.

It was the high profile of the Akwa Ibom people and the self-evident achievements they recorded that saw those from other principal ethnic groups planning to scuttle their rise, innovations and daring incursions into national circle. But the greatest weapon used in this regard, to the sordid extent it obvious, was politics. Already, or was the emerging practice, the Ibibio were hated and schemed out of many things simply because of their dare in asking for a state of their own and holding top rank positions in the then Eastern House of Assembly at the expense of the Igbos. Therefore, names of great plotters like Dr. Nnmadi Azikiwe, Francis Akanu Ibiam, Michael Okpara – stakeholders of the controversial National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) – which, again, necessitated the formation of the United National Independent Party by Prof. Eyo Ita in defiance.

More expressly, because of the power wielded by the Ibibio State Union and the promises it held for its people in Nigeria’s evolution, Dr. Azikiwe and other ethnic jingoists believed that the most potent weapon to use in dampening the zeal of members and weakening the socio-political pillars of the Ibibios was to destabilize the Ibibio State Union, and therefore accorded dictatorial monopoly of manipulation to the powerful and Ibo-dominated and manipulated NCNC at the regional centre. To them, Ibibio State Union was a strong rallying force that guaranteed the minorities’ unity of purpose. With series of betrayals and obvious instances of daylight ‘robbery’, a time came when members of the Eastern House of Assembly from Calabar Province resigned en bloc from the NCNC around 1953.

But before then, Dr. Azikiwe had found a traitorous and willing lynch pin in Mr. Effiong Okon Eyo (Eyo Uyo), a House Member whom he cajoled and showered with questionable fringe benefits, enviable opportunities and sudden love all in a bid to completely win him not only to himself but the NCNC’s crushing machinery, against the South Easterners as the whole of Calabar was then known. It was therefore, in a twist of ironies, Effiong Okon Eyo who would move the motion for the impeachment of Prof Eyo Ita, an event that brought progressive end to Prof. Eyo Ita’s political carrier and relevance, instead of Kingsley Mbadiwe who may have been suspected. It was ostensible that with Eyo Uyo, the NCNC had control of the Calabar Province, such that it cleared the subsequent elections by hook and crook. But more was to come.

According to postulations the formation of the Annang Welfare Union was understandable. It was a political strategy by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe that came with it a potent and insidious seed of tribal discord: To divide and scatter focused members of the hitherto unified Ibibio State Union. And the seed sprouted wildly and tentatively met its target. The Annang Welfare Union disguised or flaunted itself as a regional wing of the NCNC in Calabar Province. It is said that it that it was Effiong Eyo who initiated the move in collaboration with few Annang aggrieved elements and saw to its formation which, as it was argued, was to cater for the socio-political needs of the Annangs, principally spearheaded by the Abak and Ikot Ekpene Districts representatives.

Originally, because the organization offered promise of distinct identity and political freedom, the Annang people were said to have thrown their weight behind it. But problem was not long in coming. This was on account of two reasons: the Ibibio State Union’s irreconcilable refusal to recognize the body and heated and unresolved problems between representatives from Ikot Ekpene and Abak as to the fate and management of the AWU. Dr. Nnmadi was said to have promptly swopped in. The fallout of these circumstances led to the creation of Annang Province and the Ibibio Province (which was later changed to Uyo Province) by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. He used the same weapon against the Office of the Obong of Calabar where, using his foot soldiers, Azikiwe insinuated and succeeded in deceiving the once united Efik people that the Ntoe of the Quas and the Muri of the Efut were not supposed to be subjects to the Obong of Calabar. With these crafty intrusions and destructions on the altar of divide –and-rule politics, Dr Azikiwe paved the way for his party, the NCNC to dominate the political scene.

However, whether or not the Annang Welfare Union would have lasted longer than it did or beyond the proscription of organizations of its like that was pronounced by Gen. Yakubu Gowon following the cessation of the Civil War in 1970 remains a matter of needless arguments; but it must be accepted to already have collapsed when Dr. Azikiwe arm-twisted and denied Sir Ibanga Udo Akpabio, leader of the Annang Community, of the post-election promises he had personally made to him with regards to appointments and related benefits. It was expected that Ibanga Udo Akpabio, instead of Michael Iheonukara Okpara, will become Azikiwe’s successor in office as the Premier of the Eastern Region, considering the efforts he put in helping NCNC won that year’s election and the grassroots consciousness he created amongst the Annangs through Annag Welfare Union.

Sir Ibanga Udo Akpabio therefore lost all confidence in Azikiwe and all the political concoctions of the Igbos. It was such that Ibanga Udo Akpabio refused to contest the 1962 election into the Eastern Regional House of Assembly on the platform the NCNC. He, as the argument went, however accepted financial compensations, part of which, still on the strength of the preceded arguments, he purportedly perpetuated in the establishment of the Independent High School in Ukana, Essien Udom Local Government Area. Worst of it all perhaps, the NCNC sooner sacked Eyo Uyo who had no option more promising than eventually returned to the Ibibio State Union.

Whereas I cannot at this point say how they afterwards looked at his political brain-child or their terminal relationship with AWU, Retrospect however can authoritatively state that there once existed an organization called ANNANG WELFARE UNION for whatever purpose it was meant to serve. Yet, you are free to tender your opinions via the address on the template of this page.