Professor Des Wilson: A Social Crusader or Partisan Political Undertaker?

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These are not the best of times for Professor Desmond Wilson, a lecturer of Communication Arts, and the Dean, Faculty of Arts in the University of Uyo. A letter dated April 10, 2011 but only recently released to the media, which he had addressed to the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the returning officer in the April 9, 2011 House of Representatives election in Ikot Ekpene federal constituency, has hung as an albatross on the neck of the university teacher who claims to have been in the board of Amnesty International, that now he is engaged in the battle of his life to save his job and career.

The latest of the worry of the Professor is a disclaimer by his employers, the University of Uyo denouncing him as having taken 'a partisan position' and dissociating the institution from the report which he had made to the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega. Other commentators and political analysts have similarly berated Professor Wilson for 'grandstanding and playing to the gallery to score cheap political points.' But for now, the man in the centre of the storm is concerned about convincing his employers, which we learnt may have issued him a query, that his role in the election saga was not ignoble.

Trouble started for Professor Wilson when he wrote a damning report to chronicle alleged electoral malpractices which he said occurred during the House of Representatives election and called for the nullification of the election. 'My humble opinion is that there was no election in Ikot Ekpene, Abak, Essien Udim and Obot Akara, so we can't even talk about it being free and fair. The logical thing to do is to order a rerun in the interest of peace, justice and fairness,' he had claimed in his letter to INEC Chairman.

But a video posted on Youtube, a social media channel contradicted Professor Wilson's claim. In the video, a calm Professor Wilson is shown announcing the result of the election in Ikot Ekpene federal constituency and declaring the election free and fair. Many have questioned why he did not invoke his enormous powers as the returning officer on getting to INEC office in the state capital, Uyo to recommend the cancellation of the result if he had noticed any anomaly. Instead he was said to have driven from Ikot Ekpene to Uyo to submit the result to his boss, the Vice-Chancellor of University of Uyo, Professor Comfort Ekpo and representatives of 14 political parties in the full glare of the press, and admitted before all of them without any coercion that the election was free and fair. According to analysts, Professor Wilson's letter may have been an afterthought to score some political points.

No sooner had the letter, purportedly written in April but which found its way into the media by the end of June, been published than there have been revelations which portrayed Professor Wilson as having gone to Ikot Ekpene to execute the agenda of the opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which according to sources he is a sympathiser but which the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) claims he is a card-carrying member.

First to fire the salvo was Akwa Ibom Diaspora Network (AIDN), a mass organization of Akwa Ibom State indigenes based abroad. In a counter letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Uyo issued by the President, Mr. Clement Ikpatt and Secretary General, Barrister Uduak Ukpeh, the Network questioned why Professor Wilson had used the university letter head complete with reference number of the University to write his letter to INEC and sought clarification if he 'was sponsored, endorsed and facilitated by the University.'

The AIDN also gave a hint on why the lecturer may have sought the cancellation of an election which he had declared free and fair. 'We note that Professor Desmond Wilson has a history of consistently using the Ibom Forum, an internet-based list serve and public discussion forum, to launch garrulous attacks against His Excellency, Chief (Dr.) Godswill Obot Akpabio's person and policies.'

'We do not believe that federal universities or faculty, in any official capacity, have the authority or right to take partisan political positions and/or engage in duties that clearly project and promote partisan interest. Partisan roles and gross abuse of office by Professor Desmond Wilson are apparent, being officially recorded on the University of Uyo letter-headed paper as his petition to INEC Chairman.

'Therefore, we call on the Vice Chancellor of the University of Uyo to fully investigate Professor Desmond Wilson's partisan and illegal roles during the recently held elections and his blatant abuse of office. Investigation should be completed with a view to reprimanding and/or taking other appropriate actions,' AIDN said in their letter to the Vice Chancellor.

In a tone that sounded as a direct response to AIDN's letter, the University, through the Registrar and Secretary to Council, John E. Udo published a disclaimer of Professor Wilson and disclosed that the management of the institution had commenced the investigation of the matter which he said had greatly embarrassed the University.

According to the University of Uyo in the disclaimer noted, 'That the subject of the said publication namely, report on National Assembly Election of April 9, 2011, has nothing to do with the University of Uyo as an Institution.

'The author of the said advertisement, Prof. Des Wilson was not performing the purported assignment as an officer of the University of Uyo.

'That although the publication is contained in the University's letter head paper and contains both the reference number of the University and the name of the Vice Chancellor, Prof. (Mrs.) Comfort Ekpo, such a publication did not emanate from the University of Uyo, neither did the University management authorize such publication, which is the personal opinion of the author, Prof. Des Wilson.

'Accordingly the use of the letter head paper of the University of Uyo, or any of the facilities was irregular, wrong, unlawful, having not been authorize by the management of the University of Uyo.

The opinions, conclusions, judgements and/or observations contained in the said advertisement are personal to Prof. Des Wilson and not those of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Comfort Ekpo or the management of the University of Uyo or any agent of the University.

'Since the publication attempts to create an erroneous impression of involvement of the University of Uyo management, the University clearly dissociates itself from the said observations, conclusions, judgements and reports in all ramifications, intents and purposes.

'The management of the University deeply frowns at the manifest abuse of its letter head of the Office of the Dean of Faculty of Arts. The said advertisement attempts to put the University of Uyo, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Comfort Ekpo and its staff into a partisan position.

'It is hereby stated categorically for the avoidance of doubt that the University of Uyo, being a Federal Institution has not, and will never play or take any partisan position in issues of the polity. The management of the University of Uyo has commenced the process of investigating the matter which has greatly embarrassed the University,' the Institution said.

Some analysts have also opined that Prof. Wilson dragging the name of the Vice-Chancellor into his petition to INEC may have been a grudge war against Prof. Comfort Ekpo and Governor Akpabio. It would be recalled that when the position of the Vice-Chancellor was declared vacant, Prof. Wilson had contested the position which was eventually won by Prof. Ekpo. He is said to have nursed a deep seated bitterness and resentment against the Vice-Chancellor. We learnt that after his loss of the position, he had dragged the Vice-Chancellor to court and after losing in court, he had resorted to writing petitions against his boss. The letter to INEC is interpreted as a way of getting at and rubbishing his boss who was the state retuning officer during the election.

Prof. Wilson is also said to be angry that the state government did not give him the necessary support to have clinched the position which may have accounted for his persistent criticism of Governor Akpabio.

But the Akwa Ibom State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was less sparing in picking holes in Prof. Wilson's letter. In a counter letter to the Chairman of INEC signed by the Chairman, Prince Uwem Ita Etuk. The party said the University Don's insatiable appetite to make money may have caused him to write the letter to INEC.

  According to the party, 'Sir you may ask why he did this? In his letter, he derided Independent National Electoral Commission officers by saying 'their desire to get rich quick is insatiable.' He could have been talking about himself (his desire to get rich quick is insatiable and this we know in Akwa Ibom State). This was his prime motivation in writing this letter after being settled by the Action Congress of Nigeria. It was also his motivation for contesting for the Vice Chancellorship of the University of Uyo even though we understand that he was not qualified.

The party faulted Prof. Wilson's claim that he received several calls from 'ordinary citizens and some candidates' on alleged rigging of the election and asked how the 'ordinary citizens' got his phone numbers since INEC did not advertise the names and phone numbers of returning officers to the members of the public. 'If Prof. Wilson had calls at all, they were from his fellow party members whose interest (not our national interest) he went to Ikot Ekpene to selfishly serve. And all his reports came from his so-called 'ordinary citizens and some candidates,' not from INEC staff, security agents and the thousands of Journalists who covered the exercise. We do not honestly know whether he is a professor of communication arts or of communication lies! He is better suited to tell us this,' the party said.

In his letter, Prof. Wilson had claimed that he had to announce the result and declare the election free and fair, 'because that was the brief I received and besides I had advised myself that if I had to leave Ikot Ekpene with my life intact I had to be seen to be cooperating with them,' a position the PDP faulted as not only cowardly but a tissue of lies as they claim he was not under threat by anybody.

'Prof. Wilson drove from Ikot Ekpene to Uyo and submitted the result at INEC State Headquarters, Uyo. Even if we were to follow his argument (his cowardly illogic not withstanding) and accept his jaundiced argument that he was 'chicken' in Ikot Ekpene (the wicked flees when no one is in pursuit), what did he fear in Uyo or what did he have to fear in Uyo? In Uyo he submitted the result to the INEC returning officer for Akwa Ibom State, Prof. Mrs. Comfort Ekpo, and the representatives of fourteen political parties. He submitted the result in the full glare of the press and he admitted before all of them and without being under any threat or duress that the election was free and fair. He was asked openly whether he had any problem in Ikot Ekpene and he said he did not. He was fully conscious of his powers as a returning officer, and he could have recommended that the election be cancelled in any ward or local government area and that would have been done. So what is he crying over?' the party asked rhetorically.

But Prof. Wilson may also have overreached himself when he had left his area of jurisdiction as a returning officer to also seek the cancellation of the election in other parts of the state. He specifically mentioned in his letter that there was no election in Abak. But this was quickly debunked by the state Commissioner for Information and Communication, Mr. Aniekan Umanah who posted pictures of his being interviewed by a horde of Journalists shortly after casting his vote in his polling unit in Abak. A picture of Prof. Wilson's boss, Prof. Comfort Ekpo voting at a polling unit in Abak was also released to deflate this claim.

To further prove that Prof. Wilson had some scores to settle with Governor Akpabio, his past contributions in Ibom Forum where we learnt he uses to launch scathing attack on the Governor was also released. For instance, in a post dated April 16, 2011 he was quoted as having said. 'The problem in Akwa Ibom State is not about poor leadership but the absence of leadership. With touts and thugs parading the corridors of power and being promoted as role models you cannot have leadership.'

In another post on June 27, 2011 in an apparent reference to Governor Akpabio, he said, 'The good book says we should pray for our enemies. Indeed when we establish how bad or wicked he is, we should pray to the good Lord to change him… God will judge him even when his name is Godswill. We can criticise his bad policies but let us leave the rest to God because He is not sleeping.'

And yet in another post titled: 'Speak up on Udoedehe, ACN, Osinbajo Urge Jonathan' Professor Wilson said: 'I recalled JFK's immortal words in these trying times and I fear for the future of our people over these acts of grave human rights violation in my state. 'Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.'' he said.

Another post in Ibom Forum which portrayed the Professor as working for the opposition in state was dated February 4, 2011, in which he is said to have peddled falsehood and made some disparaging remarks concerning Governor Akpabio. 'I understand there is already a contempt charge in respect of an Abuja court order barring the Governor from parading himself as a candidate in the April elections… The Governor is said to be a barrister and should know better.' All these have cast a doubt on Professor Wilson as a crusader for social justice while casting him in the mould of partisan political player more so since it was revealed that he is one of the witnesses being lined up by the ACN at the election petition tribunal when the matter resumes.

According to a political analyst, the elections of April 2011 were adjudged the freest and fairest ever in the history of Nigerian politics. It is indisputable or perhaps uncharitable for a Professor of Des Wilson calibre, who had accepted to serve as returning officer during the elections to have swallowed his pride and announced the result of an election he was later to claim was fraught with irregularities. He opined that in saner climes, the Professor would have thrown in the towel.

But the embattled University Don has remained defiant. In a recent post he said: 'We have been in this struggle for a long time. I do not struggle for ethnicities but for truth and justice. It is for this that I am known in this state and country. No matter what political upstarts like Clement Ikpatt and Uwem Ita Etuk may write, nothing is taken from my integrity. My only source of regret is that my institution appears to have joined the PDP train,' he said.

The Professor also claimed that his life was being threatened, a claim that political pundits have dismissed as frivolous, and quipping that if he was being threatened he knew where to report. For now public opinion appears to have tilted heavily against the Professor and this may be one struggle that he needs to acquit himself creditably.

Mr.   Anietie Ekong is a Journalist based in Uyo