Politics & Policy - Viewpoint - August 10, 2021

Udom, Cultism And 2023

By Sam Akpe

As a Deacon in his local church, Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State loves to quote the Bible anytime he speaks.
In almost all his public speeches, he laces them with copious references to God Almighty. He talks as someone who loves God.
As a practical demonstration of his reverence for God, his administration is sinking millions of the State’s resources in building a controversial worship centre in Uyo.
I have also seen him dance gloriously in church all for God. Without sounding judgemental or even patronising, Udom seems to love God—even if his detractors say he is pretending.
As expected, most times, his Biblical quotations are used to justify his actions and condemn or warn those who engage in acts, in his estimation, that are not in the interest of the state or people.
In the speech he delivered on May 29, 2021, while trying to set the qualification benchmarks for his successor, Udom, in a short sermon, as usual, quoted a Bible passage, which he said aptly, captured what he started in May 2015 “and the direction of where we should be heading.” 

But he committed a serious blooper—not deliberately though. His speech writers perpetrated the faux pas! They misled the governor into an embarrassing brain fart.
In the speech, they cited Isaiah 43: 16. But what they quoted for the governor was Isaiah 43:19. That is the kind of gaffe you suffer when your speechwriters neither go to church nor read their Bibles.
Using the New Living Translation of the Bible, Isaiah 43:19 reads,”Behold, I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create a river in the dry wasteland.”
In a short sermon, which formed part of the broadcast, the governor explained that God has started doing a new thing in Akwa Ibom State. Waxing metaphorical, he said the Almighty, “has already made a pathway through the wilderness and has already created rivers in the dry land.”
What Udom tried to force down our throats was that Akwa Ibom State has changed from an industrial desert to a well-watered garden of industries. In other words, hope has returned; industries are springing forth from all corners. Permit me not to comment on the reality of that on the ground today, please.

Without mincing words, the Governor said anyone waiting in the wings to succeed him must be someone who will not take the state back to the desert it is coming out of. He put it this way: “…mark my words, we will not return to the type of leadership that was big on noise and small in the execution of the big picture items. We will never go backward on the peace in our land, the steady and focused developments we have started. The line in our state anthem has made this faith manifestly clear: Forward ever and backward never!”

Udom seems to be afraid of what usually happens when a successor to an office is either incompetent or does not share in the vision of his predecessor.
His fear is that whoever succeeds him would likely tear down what he has built. It is a natural fear born perhaps out of his personal experience. It’s the kind of fear that makes politicians and corporate organisation leaders to personally decide and choose as their successors those they believe would share in their vision.

By the way, Udom is in good company on the issue of who should not succeed him in 2023. A group, Fathers of Faith, comprising respected Christian leaders in Akwa Ibom State, has advised all politicians interested in the governorship election to purge themselves of secret cult membership.
Prelate Sunday Mbang, who heads the group, says so far, 13 of the aspirants have approached him to confess their sins. It is not clear if the sins those aspirants confessed included membership of secret cult groups. No names were mentioned. 

He told a press conference in Uyo, “As far as I’m concerned, let me tell you, about 13 of them have come to me and my attitude is that they must go and address a national press conference and deny being in cult. If they don’t, for us, we know that they are members of cults. We will not have anything to do with them. Anybody who wants to be governor, because of what cultism has done to our children, if he doesn’t go to the press and tell the press that he is not a member, Christians will not vote for him.”

The Prelate believes that cultism is, inarguably, one of the critical reasons our politics have become polluted, violent and very expensive. 
“We cannot, as Christian leaders, allow the continuous perversion of the characters and spirits of our citizens, hence our opposition to cultism, spreading its evil tentacles in our state and nation.” I completely agree with him on this.

He declared without any ambiguity that his group will not support the election of any known cultist into the political system and political offices. He urged the people that if the state must turn away from the insurrections, insecurities, conflicts, violence and evils that currently afflict the country and some sections of Akwa Ibom, everyone must join in the struggle and adopt the objectives of the group so that the state and the country will return to the paths of peace, morality, prosperity and good governance.

Recently, Akwa Ibom State has come under avoidable bloodshed and regrettable deaths caused by cultists. The most annoying part is that most of these cultists are secondary school students. They are young, violently audacious, and almost morally irredeemable. All their sponsors do is to point at a target—which could either be a human being to be killed or maimed, or a shop to be robbed. Then consider it done.
Fed with hard drugs, these youth are almost turning their parents into targets. They rob even at noon, maim at will, and kill rival gang members with brazen-face.

A few days ago, a former Executive Vice Chairman of ExxonMobil, Udom Inoyo, added a voice to the struggle to end cultism in the state. He was speaking to journalists during the state congress of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Akwa Ibom State. His position was that people should not be talking about cultism merely for political gains; but that the negative manifestations of cultism should worry everyone.
Inoyo cautioned: “We must not take the matter of cultism lightly. We must begin to find out what is driving cultism in our state and in Nigeria. We must take cultism out of the reach and realms of politics.”

Continued Inoyo, “It is important to ask questions like: What are we not getting right that is driving these children into cultism? Are we providing adequate education? Are we providing adequate employment opportunities? Are we engaging these youths to avoid their minds to become the devil’s workshop? Are we doing enough sensitization and attitudinal reorientation? Are the parents, schools, communities, government at all levels doing enough? We should be more concerned in addressing these problems from the roots.”

In my last contribution to the debate on 2023 governorship, I did mention that Governor Udom already has in mind whom he wants to succeed him, but is bidding his time before making the open declaration.
The question however is: Does he possess such goatish stubbornness required in picking and sponsoring a successor, despite envisaged public outcry by the professional politicians? 

On face value, he does not seem to have such swaggering defiance. But when one considers how he dealt a dizzying blow on Godswill Akpabio, his former predecessor and boss, in the last general elections, to the point of successfully voting him out of the Senate, then it would be risky to doubt his ability to manoeuvre the state political machinery in his favour.

Besides using cultism as a qualifying tool, Udom has other yardsticks. He says the people must desire a successor with the capacity and the discipline to build a state where everyone will live in peace and strive to excel; a successor who will not turn back the clock of developmental strides initiated and sustained by him; a successor who will bring out the best in the youth by galvanizing their energies and challenging them to be the best they can be. 

On the other hand, he advised that “if you desire a leader, who would not efficiently utilize the resources of this state on projects that have redeeming value, then I am sorry to disappoint you, God will not give us such a successor.”
 
He continued, “We have gone too far ahead to retreat backward (sic). So, as you are engaging in prognostications, creating camps of loyalty and getting consumed by who you think my successor would be, always bear these thoughts in your mind. God is doing great things in our state, and that invisible Hand will continue to steer the ship of this state, and will not bring anyone who will negate our gains.”

Without doubt, it is the wish of every right-thinking person that Udom’s wishes come to pass. Everyone is tired and fed up with old school politics. We need a change. We need someone who will do what Udom himself has not been able to do—someone who will continue to build upon what he has done.
Udom’s successor must think differently and act differently for the good of the people. But let such a leader emerge through acceptable democratic process.

Akpe, a journalist and Communications Consultant, lives in Abuja

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