By Joseph Atainyang
Monday, January 15, 2018 spluttered the air waves with the breaking news of the appointment of Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem as the new Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State Government, SSG. Dr Ekuwem is an Oron man. He is from Ofi-Uda in Mbo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. He is a core and one of the founding members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, especially from this part of the country. He is a technocrat, well schooled and highly cerebral. He is an enigma of reputation, a man whose brain remains a store house of history and whose volume sounds loud as thunder in a typical tempestuous season. Yet, Ekuwem is calm, excellent and virtually indispensable. He is a man of his words, not given to heresy and grounded in truth, especially in acts and deeds.
His appointment to the post of the SSG in Akwa Ibom State is said to have united the ‘Oro-Ukpabang’. The five local government areas may have well been connected with a cord well weaved by the political permutation of the Governor, Udom Gabriel Emmanuel who, through those who may have opted for Ekuwem had convinced him (Udom) for the choice. The Oro race, well known for their far cry from the slums over political seclusion and wanton marginalization in the ‘politricks’ of the state, are a people unduly carved out for uncommon ‘perdition’. This too, does not happen because they are whores, it rather comes because they are marked out by their ‘brothers’ for seamless construct that makes them become victims of misconception.
A perusal into Ekuwem’s profile shows that he is an old boy of the Queen of Apostles Seminary, Afaha Obong, Abak and an alumnus of Obafemi Awolowo University (former University of Ife) Ile-Ife. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Engineering Physics, Masters Degree in Physics, Masters Degree in Electronic & Electrical Engineering (Microcomputer-based Instrumentation and Control Engineering) and a PhD in Electronic and Electrical Engineering (Computer-based Instrumentation and Control Engineering). He did his Post-PhD fellowship research work (Computer-based Real-Time Data Communication in PSTN) in the Networking and Radio Propagation Laboratory of the UNESCO ICTP, Trieste, Italy.
He has worked briefly as Head of Engineering in the then Department of Meteorological Services (now Nigerian Meteorological Agency, NIMET) of the Aviation Ministry before going on voluntary retirement at a very young age. While in the Aviation establishment, he is said to have won a “Ministerial Award for Outstanding Productivity.
This meticulous and well-travelled man is a true giant in the global ICT sphere and is easily one of the most authentic public intellectuals in our part of the world, with over 172 publications and presentations to his credit. Ekuwem who speaks excellent English, French and Italian languages is a recipient of over 110 awards, recognitions and chieftaincy titles, including “Obong Ifiok Ibaka” and “Ofriyo Mbo”. He is a fellow of the Nigeria Computer Society; Fellow, Nigerian Meteorological Society; Member of the International Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, The Internet Society, amongst others.
Of course, Akwa Ibom remains a multilingual state. But, the central language is Ibibio, the language of the majority. Every citizen of the state is expected to use the language; fluency in it is emphasised. Hence, one would be deep in the sea of confusion as to why he will have to tell where he comes from, just for not being able to use the ‘general’ language. But for those who speak it well, whether they come from Jupiter, they are covered. Unfortunately, those who speak the Oro would suffer a ‘complex’ just for using it. This is the language the new Akwa Ibom SSG speaks, the first of all his mastery.
Interestingly, none of Oro Nation culture or names was derived from Bantu or any language elsewhere as immigrant; theirs were self-generated. The Oros are peculiar people, strong contenders in nature wherever they are found, with the accolade
Oro Ukpabang Okpo. Study shows that Abang was a warrior so powerful with huge muscles, the Head and Chief wrestler known as `Mbok’.
Meanwhile, around 2370 BC, studies reveal that Oro people were already settled in their present day land. But, during slave trade, the precolonial times, Abang the warrior with his group was said to have gallantly fought against the slave masters who were in the area for slave trade. One day, he was over powered and captured with few of his group men and were taken to the present day Israel of what was then Egypt. This is perhaps, research reveals, why it may be more than a mere coincidence that the only two nations on earth with places named “Oron” are Israel and Nigeria.
Like Jared Angira, a Kenyan poet observed in his ‘Expelled’, “We had traded in the market competitively perfect
till you came in the boat, and polished goodwill”. The Oro people had remained peaceful, with their neighbours until politics came. They had traded very competitively safely in the famous market places. No one saw them and looked for their troubles; peace and unity had been their chorus. But lo, politics came. They wanted to escape dominance from the majority, but reason subdued them and they humbled. The voyage started and the boat sailed in the murkey waters. They saw severe pains and anguish but the journey had started, going back was impossible.
To bind themselves, they opted for a bond of unity. The Oron Development Union was born. 1925 was a good year. The people went on a long journey like the Magi who in Eliot’s poetry saw it all, the odds of life. They engaged in communalism and brothers were their brother’s keepers. They were conscious and there they were in time. The fame went across the shores. They were civilised beyond contention. The Oro spirit of bravery reflected in all facets of life. They, like the famous ‘Ulysses’, ‘drank life to the less’. They traversed the endless shores of the world in ‘bloodless wars’ and their ‘boots were full of pride’. Their testimonies were ‘written in rainbow colours across the sky’ and just like the lad in Houseman’s ‘To an Athlet Dying Young’, “The time they won their town the race, they chaired them through the market-place; man and boy stood cheering by, and home they brought them shoulder high.”
The people were safe and sound, in health and in wealth. But politics came. The practice came, disguised in glowing sparks. The peace became pissed. Party lines set in, and lo the pendulum swung. The tables also turned and sure, the battle lept. Reason disappeared. Brothers no longer kept their brothers. Party politics became the bane. ‘Afanki’ (one direction) escaped their lexicon. They forgot their ancient landmark. Name calling rose to its crescendo. And very sadly, their ‘kings’ also ‘died’.
The Oro people, previously known for their oneness in purpose, vision and interest took diverged fronts. And like observed Robert Frost:
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could….
Two roads diverged in a wood, and
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
All dreams diverged. Everything went berserk. No father had a loyal son and wives, too, carved their inglorious niches. Politics played the cacophony and order gave way to disorder. Party A and Party B wrestled. In all spheres, the people, known for their unity, parted ways.
Of course, not minding the slave business of the slave masters, and the colonial business of its perpetrators, Abang had staged his ‘glorious home coming’ from Egypt during the Moslem celebration period through River Nile, as a strong contender in boat regatta with few of his men. He was said to have sailed down to Sudan via Lake Chad to settle within the North East now Jigawa State, Nigeria in a small area where he named
Oron which was written and pronounced as
Oronny, in line with Oros` phonemes migrations. As he was not comfortable with Islam, he escaped to a place called Usahadit area in the present day Cameroon. There, Abang begot Do, Do begot Doni, Doni begot Oro and Obolo. There are other stories which this piece may not accommodate. But the bottom line is in the strength of his fist, the undaunted courage that builds the confidence and resilience of the Oro race.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Although it would later take an Oro man to singlehandedly give power to an Ibibio man in the person of Chief Clement Isong to become Governor of Cross River State, a certain clannish Governor of the then South Eastern State whose gynecology links in the Oro blood, declared and agreed to be called a subgroup of the Ibibio nation to gain political
relevance and advantage. He was also said to have
denied the Oron people of the opportunity to site the Exxon
Mobile’s first terminal in Mbo and Effiat Oro areas of Oron.
Another common controversy that describes the worsened
relationship between Oron and Eket is the accusation that the same man ordered the bombing of Urue Oruko, a region at the heart of Oron where ‘several millions’ of Oron people (mostly traders and women) were killed during
the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s. This unfortunate
event in Oron has been observed to be the most tragic in the history of the Nigerian Civil War.
Long gone are the days when Afanki (one direction) had its time. It was a time when rationale had its full time. Parents could tame their volatile children. They could reprove them and see it work. They could punish them and hope for a change. But lo, long gone are the good old days. The day is old and the night is nigh. All what awaits remains unknown. Oro people are the richest set of Nigerians alive. Our soil is heavy with riches. Our water is bubbling with fishes, and our brains are the greatest resource of human intellectual capital. Sometimes in 2016, Hon. Okpoyo Etifit told this reporter, and in an interview that Oro has 565 corked wells? Again, Elder Ekefre, an Ibibio man, a well known king maker in the politics of Akwa Ibom State, noted that “Oro has “nine” (9) out of “eleven” (11) oil wells in Akwa Ibom State, according to available records”.
He added that during the agitation for the creation of Akwa Ibom State, Oro had rooted to belong in the Cross River State, having been curious and afrighted that they could be grossly marginalised by the Ibibio majority. He then enthused that to balance the equation, Governor Udom should step down and give Oro a chance to govern the state. He stressed that the refusal by Ibibio to support Oro governorship race in 2019 would amount to a confirmation of that fright that Oro would be oppressed by their brothers in Akwa Ibom. The question is, with nine (9) oil Wells, both onshore and offshore, out of eleven (11) oil Wells in the state, has any part of Oro been recognised to belong in the list of the core oil producing communities of the state? Nobody will wish to talk about it….
This politics continued and superior powers oppressed the weak. Number was important. But Oro had its strength. Victor Attah came and showed us love but God’swill Akpabio came and showed us none. Frustrated in the ‘highnes’, we took another route. But still, the cage was sealed and there was no headway. Dethroned, we roamed and still we hoped. A lot took place and greatly pressed, we could not weep. We scattered abroad and roots got rotten. Facebook became a podium for insults and all consternation. No one was spared. The young and the aged, the rich and the poor and both the high and mighty matched the plane. The youths went haywire and none could save us from the mess. And still, the course is on.
Perhaps joblessness is stricken hard on us. But are we the only enlightened set? Even those gainfully fixed seem along playing the same game. No one seems to have regard for authority. Remembering how grave this contempt has been on us as a people, I rue it to a core. I wish we never were this twisted. Personal interest has long been elevated above the collective. And as I mentioned in a piece in 2016, the slaughtered chieftain on the Eastwest Road saga is yet pacified.
Circumstantial realities pushed the people to a bent. The governorship struggle of 2015 was a case. While oppression, depression and frustration killed their dreams, dragging them into romance with the Progressives, many others still dragged along, lingering in the fruitless juncture of heightened persecution. Of course, patience is a virtue. And when deep thought could bring them forth for settlement, especially with the single-term tenure of the sitting ‘dispenser’, disappointment and the harsh experience of gross disrespect got them dismissed. The thinking was that fairness had long escape the humane disposition of the ‘fortunate oil money sharer’. And now, the struggle would be fresh, because they had their brothers who played the harlot.
Today, nothing seems to be at complete tranquillity among us. The then appex youth organisation, the Esu Nlap Oro had long dwindled into fragmented factions and proliferations. The fathers lose confidence in it and went ahead to establish the Nlap Isong Akpakip Oro. They perhaps thought this could be a safe platform to drive the youth in a focused direction. But no, that was not possible. The same group erupted in crisis as leaders sought political relevance, amidst the high demand for the actualization of the Oro dreams. Even the Council of Oro Traditional Rulers, COTR and the Oron Union slipped away. They could not unit to champion their policial ambition. It is shameful that politicians are today fueling the cultural engines of a people to an extent of having the grouse to foment crisis in the traditional stool. It is more shameful that politicians today appear to have hijacked the royal stool, operating parrarel offices as high as that of Ahta of Oro! All because of….
Right now, a qualified Oro son has been selected to man the exhaulted office of the state SSG. How prepared are the Oro people to support him to succeed. What shall we do to ensure that distractions do not get him weary. Ekuwem has the training, the exposure and the skills to drive his portfolio with ease. But sure, he would need to have a conducive atmosphere to maintain his stratum of clear thinking. His rich knowledge in the workings of government can be guaranteed.
Of course, on the two occasions where this writer had the opportunity of listening to him in 2016, the man had made him proud as one of Oro’s many sons who is deep in thought and knowledge. He was a Keynote Speaker at the Oro Youth Summit where he took his time to enumerate the past and present sons and daughters of Oro Nation whose reward for hard work and spectacular zeal in their endeavours marked them out for greatness. Ekuwem reasoned that the present generation of Oro youths must rise to the duty of self appraisal so as to command the same attention which those of the past have done, not just for their self reputation and prestige, but also to better the fortune and future of the entire Oro Nation.
Also Speaking quite passionately as one of the guest lecturers during the NUJ 2016 Press Week in Uyo, Dr Ekuwem who expounded the topic, “Social Media and the Image of Akwa Ibom State”, had described the social media platform of journalism as the ‘now casting’, admitting that it was a global coverage area where there were no boundaries or restrictions to who should, or should not read the stories published therein.
Emmanuel Ekuwem who decried a situation where stories published on the platform about the state were connoting negativity, saying people from foreign embassies were daily scanning and reviewing headlines of newspapers and online stories from the state and that no investor would feel safe to invest in a hostile economy, stressed that professional journalists were aware that the social media was realtime, globally accessible, and having no censorship which were cogent reasons they should be careful with what they posted online so as not to use their professional tools to desecrate the state as “none”, he said “could possibly be more developed than his background”.
The then lecturer, now Akwa Ibom SSG who however acknowledged that most online bloggers were not trained journalists, a situation that could bring about quackery, called on journalists to harness the tools of their profession such as Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, Video Tube, Goggle, WhatsApp, Skype, among others to redeem the image of the state. He then concluded that journalists should protect, project and promote the image of Akwa Ibom State which constituted their background by avoiding sensational headlines which destroy society but use the tools to wage peace, love and teach, educate and mentor young people so as to give them hope and the push to rise to their faith of greatness which the state was known for. Listening to him in those inspiring atmospheres gave one a feeling that this man, though did not reside in the state at that time, was interested in what happened at home.
As he mounts the SSG seat in the state, many have congratulated him. Both those from Oro and those from other parts of the state have risen to celebrate what has been described as “one of the most outstanding and well deserved appointments” as far as the Udom Emmanuel administration is concerned. Oro people, including the erstwhile President General of Oron Union, Chief Asuquo Inuikim Obon; the deputy Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Princess Felicia Bassey the Chairman, Governing Council, Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua, Dr (Mrs) Akon Eyakenyi and many others in their separate messages acknowledged his appointment as well deserved.
Chief Inuikim who was confident in Ekuwem’s pedigree which he said would make him drive the affairs of his office with ease and prayed God’s courage, wisdom and understanding on him, also called on Governor Udom Emmanuel to eschew politics of exclusion and focus on development which will touch lives, especially in the interior parts of the state. He said, “As a foremost telecommunications expert, reserved and well schooled son of Oro, whose achievements both in your academics and career remain very feasible and make you more-than qualified for the post, I am poised to delightedly observe that as a thoroughbred technocrat and internationally recognised personality, you have the pedigree to meaningfully boost the governance process of the Udom Emmanuel led administration.”
To Dr Akon Eyakenyi, “the news of his elevation to the exalted office of SSG was not a surprise but a dream come true.” She noted that as “a foremost telecommunications genius and a technocrat of no mean repute, the appointment was a fine tuning of the established state executive council for both a balance of power and an improved service to Akwa Ibom people whom the party under the leadership of Governor Emmanuel swore to serve.”
Meanwhile, the deputy Speaker of AKHA maintained that Ekuwem’s case was a juicy and very consoling appointment. She added, “I also very specially thank our dear Governor, Deacon Udom Gabriel Emmanuel for digging deep to see your clean records and taking a bold step to making it a reality.”
However, many have observed that the appointment of Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem as SSG has greatly united Oro people, across party lines. This may not be a thing of debate as the unified crowd that staged a celebration during his swearing in can comfortably attest to it. It was visible that both those of the APC and those of the PDP expressed delight at the occasion. Oro people across the five LGAs of Oro Nation rallied round him.
The question is, have we repented from double standard? Have we turned away from our volatile outburst at issues that should necessarily be amicably settled? Can we be proud to say that our youth groups would, in future, follow the peaceful and strategic planning system of the Oro International Youth Forum which an activist, Francis Otioro founded and very maturity handed over to Noble (Dr) Sunday Odokwo, after a single tenure of two years? Can we say that the Oro Union, under the leadership of the first female President General, Chief (Mrs) Janet Amba would have a smooth sail, without unnecessary accusations as was the practice of the just ended administration, and garner goodies for the Oro people? Do we hope that the COTR and the apex seat of royalty in Oro Nation, the Ahta Oro parallel thrones be resolved without bitterness? How prepared are we to support this fine gentleman? These are cogent questions that must be answered, with all sincerity, if we can hope to derive maximum benefit from this turn of events. A house that is divided cannot stand.
Joseph Atainyang is a journalist and public affairs commentator. Writes in from Ubodung Village, Urue Offong/Oruko LGA, AKS. Gsm: 07036964637