Viewpoint - June 27, 2021

SUNDAY MUSINGS: Letter to My State’s Men

By Innocent Okon Snr

Let me confess that this piece may come to stir some concerns on audacity and capacity . The Audacity to probe into distant past and the capacity of the ‘scavenger’ , who charitably, is an unknown quantity in the political matrix of Akwa Ibom state. To further diminish the capacity of this ‘interloper’, he has his roots in one of the ungazetted villages in the state. The lone factor in favour of this unsolicited endeavour is the history of our past which are verifiable and immutable!
Before Akwa Ibom was created in 1987, it had and still has a population advantage over its mother State, Cross River. So if Prof. Emmanuel Ayandele , the Vice Chancellor of University of Calabar, as he then was, before the birth of Akwa Ibom, described Cross Riverians as “an atomistic society, perpetually at war with itself” ; some generations of present Akwa Ibom can’t absolve themselves from this damning diagnosis ! Events that came after the euphoria of state creation lent credence to this clinical diagnosis from a Historian ( Ayandele). First was the location of the state radio station at Abak instead of Uyo, the state capital . The Abak station had already existed before the creation of Akwa Ibom and only needed equipment to cover the entire state. Ethnic fireworks were detonated from all fronts. It was when installation commenced at the FM and Television stations at the present Ntak Inyang in Itu , that the ‘Radio war’ ended ! Also recall, in the early 90’s when Akwa Ibom was under the watch of late Otuekong Idongesit Nkanga, these “atomistic tendencies ” never allowed him to sleep with two eyes closed. Irrational pressures from ethnic jingoists pushed the then young Air Force pilot to approve the translation of news on both state radio and television stations in more than nine dialects . Talk of the Biblical tower of babel ! It was during his tenure that it became a tradition for the seat of a Governor to be brought from Government House for use of the Governor at public functions within the state. That protocol arrangement still remains extant in the state. The reason for this was not far from ethnic distrust, rivalry and superstition ! The mother of all ethnic rivalry came with the pronouncement of a Federal University of Technology for the then young state by Military President Babangida during a state visit. Politics of location for the University inundated all leading national newspapers consistently . Every ethnic component in the state literally wanted either a campus or a hostel! The Federal government inorder to save the young state from breaking into smithereens, took over the then existing jointly owned University of Cross River state ( with two campuses in Akwa Ibom) and renamed it University of Uyo . We lost, and am yet to see those that won that avoidable ‘war’ !
Providence has always been kind to us as a state, but we have not been to kind to this benevolent spirit that dutifully shapes the destiny of our dear Akwa Ibom. Everytime a benevolent gift comes our way , we ignore the lessons from our distant past. Late Dr. Clement Isong was the Governor of the then Cross River state from 1979 to 1983. He gave leadership his best shot . He unfortunately had to battle with intra party opposition which had a bloc called ‘ Lagos Front’. When then President Shagari approved a new refinery for then Cross River state, elements in the LAGOS FRONT allegedly used their political clout, particularly in the national politics, to block the siting of the proposed refinery at the recommended location of the then siting Governor! While the politics of location held sway, the military struck in the dying hours of 1983, and we lost that rare opportunity to host a Federal infrastructure. The proposed refinery later surfaced in Port Harcourt courtesy of Prof Tam David West , whom the then Military Head of state, General Buhari, appointed as Minister of Petroleum. When shall we ever learn ?
Last week, Federal authorities announced to the nation that Akwa Ibom has been graciously allocated a Federal University of Technology. Before appreciation letters could hit the Press, agitations on where the proposed University should be sited have secured front pages, public comment aries and social media space! All manner of existing and pseudo ethnic groups / nationalities have begun advancing reasons why they should host this new University . It is normal and reasonable to so do in a political environment such as ours. But we must all be good students of history and avoid fatal mistakes of the past. No local government in Akwa Ibom will take hours to reach as we now endure when seeking admission for our wards in the nearest Federal University of Technology in Owerri, Imo state! Am even told we are not treated as catchment area in admission considerations there. Let’s do our lobbying for the site discreetly and out of public space. The attitude of “if we can’t get , no area must get it” should be banished ! In our journey as a distinct political unit in Nigeria, we have come a long way and lost a lot too. We can’t afford more loses and imminent harsh judgement of history.
Accept assurances of my best wishes , dear State’ s men.

Okon is a lawyer and former Chairman, NUJ, Akwa Ibom State Council

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