In Akwa Ibom State There are Mandelas
A few days ago, someone raised an issue in this medium that Akwa Ibom State has no Mandela. There are several Mandelas in Akwa Ibom State.
The reason many of us fail to recognize a Mandela among us only confirms what Jesus Christ told his disciples that a prophet has no respect in his own domain.
One does not have to spend 27 years in prison in order to be a Mandela. One does not have to be 96 years old before he could be recognized as a Mandela. To be a Mandela is to be ready to stand up for the cause of a society and a community. To be a Mandela is to be at the fore-front of the people' struggle. To be a Mandela is to take actions that will help members of a society prosper, liberate them from ignorance and oppression, free them from political bondage, and empower them with tools for self sustenance and independence.
There are many people in Akwa Ibom State, in the past and in the present that fit all these roles. The reason we do not recognize them is due to our self-interests, which we have allowed to becloud our vision. As I write this, the names of a few individuals just pop into my mind whom I can justifiably tag with the label of “our own Mandela.” These are Obong Victor Attah, Senator John James Akpan Udoedehe, Frank Okon, Larry Esin, Group Captain Sam Ewang, and Iniekong Udonwa, just to mention six, out of many.
Obong Victor Attah
Obong Victor Attah might not have been the best governor, but through his leadership and due to his advocacy that oil-producing States must have control of their resources, Akwa Ibom State has become the richest State in Nigeria today. His advocacy for resource control led to the present revenue allocation formula in the country. As a governor, Attah empowered many Akwa Ibom people, irrespective of ethnicity. His insistent that government contracts should be awarded to local contractors created several millionaires. In his days as a governor, Akwa Ibom was one of the safest States in the country. In 2007, he became the first indigene of Akwa Ibom State to demonstrate a serious aspiration towards the presidency of the country. His ambition created respect and recognition for the people of Akwa Ibom State at the national scheme of political dispensation. At the moment, not a single Akwa Ibom person is as influential and noticeable at the national level than Obong Attah.
Senator John James Akpan Udoedehe
If there is any underestimated and misunderstood leader of Akwa Ibom State, that one person is Senator John Akpan Udoedehe. Extremely intelligent, witty, gutsy, with an ego greater than that of an elephant, he came out at a time when Edidem Ukpa scared Ibibio people by placing an injunction which was intended to forbid them from contesting against Godswill Akpabio. His emergence as a candidate created opportunities and emboldened others to enter the gubernatorial race of 2010-2011. A self-made millionaire, who could have been contented with his money and mind his business if he wanted to.
Instead, he came out to represent the people, hoping his presence will offer hope for those who have been maligned in Awa Ibom State. In the process, he was detained twice in prison. He was beaten by a police officer in a courtroom, humiliated by the system which was supposed to protect him, and lied against by a governor who was supposed to protect his freedom of speech, safety, and right of suffrage. Undaunted by all these, he is still fighting for the cause of the people, despite an attempt to kidnap his mother and his wife, not to talk of numerous threats and attempts on his life.
If Frank Okon wanted to, he could have received billions of naira from Godswill Akpabio to drop the pending lawsuit involving a fraudulent Certificate of Return in which Akpabio forged the name of a former PDP Chairman. But, to emancipate and restore a sense of decency and worthiness among the people of Akwa Ibom State, Frank Okon has chosen to hold fast to truth using the judicial system as an end. His refusal to receive money from Akpabio and his objection to the pressure put on him by his political party to drop the case have brought confidence among the people that at least there is one man the people can afford to trust.
Larry Esin, a brilliant man by any definition, is a highly articulated individual, who is full of visions for Akwa Ibom State. His decision to enter the 2011 governorship election was not because he needed to become a governor so bad. Rather, it was to tell Edidem Ukpa and Godswill Akpabio that his own people have a right of representation.
In spite of threats against his life, he stayed in the race until he was rigged out by Godswill Akpabio.
Group Captain Sam Ewang
Group Captain Sam Ewang is the only Akwa Ibom individual ever to have the opportunity of being a military governor of two different States in Nigeria----Ogun and Rivers. His desire to bring his experience to help Akwa Ibom State primed him to contest the gubernatorial election of 2010-2011. The price he paid for that desire to help the people was to have his wife kidnapped by Godswill Akpabio, which ended up costing him millions of naira in ransom for the release of his wife.
Young and determined to make a difference in Akwa Ibom State, Iniekong Udonwa left his secured job and family in Singapore to contest for the governorship of Akwa Ibom State. Rather than appreciate his efforts, Godswill Akpabio ordered him killed. Luckily, he escaped with bullets in his body. His escape led to the kidnapping of his mother, who was later murdered and abandoned by the road side. It was a personal sacrifice, which Iniekong Udonwa had to endure for and on behalf of the people of Akwa Ibom State.
It is important for readers to understand that what is written above about the aforementioned individuals is by no means an exhaustive biography. Instead, what are written here is just an acknowledgement of their roles and sacrifices in which they have endured for the people of Akwa Ibom State.
Though these few men are the ones mentioned here, we cannot down-play the importance of several others who have labored under constant threats for the betterment of the masses of Akwa Ibom people. Also, we cannot afford to ignore the roles of all the contributors in social media, such as Ibom and IbibioNation fora, that have sacrificed their own safety to propagate opinion and ideas that have contributed to reforms in Akwa Ibom State.
The Mandelas of Akwa Ibom State also include tens of people murdered or assassinated, kidnapped, raped, and wrongly incacerated in Akwa Ibom State since 2007 in the name of politics. I am referring to individuals such as Chief Paul Inyang, the Ekpenyong brothers, Mama Udonwa, Edidem James Obot, and Barrister Udonwa. These are the people whose blood will one day be used to wash the tree of tyranny in Akwa Ibom State. These are some of our Mandelas---the Mandelas of Akwa Ibom State.
Essien writes from Portland, Oregon.