Urhobo Historical Society

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

A Speech Delivered at the 1st Annual Ibom People’s Congress Meeting in San Francisco
August 10, 2001

Nigerian Publius

Ladies and gentlemen, it is high time Akwa Ibom educated picked up the mantle of leadership they dropped several decades ago after they had shown the country the right way forward. It is necessary to take a quick peek at the future, then look back at the past and then at the present in order to plan for the future.

This present world is guaranteed to be here for another minimum of 1,007 years! If the Rapture occurred today, the antichrist would reign for seven years. Jesus would then return to rule for 1,000 years before the advent of eternity. Knowing this, and coupled with the fact that the average life span in Nigeria is 50 plus, or minus a few years, how should we conduct Akwa Ibom business today? Let us look back a bit.

Let me quote from The Story of Ibibio Union, by Dr. Udo Udoma. On page six he writes: “The major problem confronting the Ibibio as a people was one concerning segmentation … The tendency towards segmentation was perhaps a manifestation of the historical fact that from time immemorial, the Ibibio people as a whole had never before been seriously exposed to or confronted by external forces which could have compelled them to unite even in self-defense”.  This statement explains the preponderance of villages named Ikot-this and Ikot-that all over Akwa Ibom.  Sadly and contrary to what Dr. Udo Udoma imagined, the people of Akwa Ibom have demonstrated an uncanny inability to come together for self preservation in the face of deadly adversity.

The people of Akwa Ibom have since been exposed to Europeans and their colonialism. They have been exposed to other Africans who were forced into a non-negotiated union called Nigeria. They have been subjected to conditions their ancestors could never have imagined. Yet, they still have been unable to see the forest for the trees and realize their common ancestry as well as their common destiny. They have chosen to side with the enemy against their own kith and kin, as if it has ever been wise to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face.  They have been dubbed a minority in their ancestral lands and they have acquiesced to this characterization without a word. They have an example of a minority group that has succeeded to rule Nigeria without (until recently) drawing attention to themselves. Yet they have refused to learn. Or is it this generation that has refused to learn?

The evidence is there that our immediate ancestors knew what to do in the face of new threats due to changing times. They did it. However, their enemies were astounded to discover that they had no staying power and a mere bluff was enough to make them cower and withdraw like when one pinches the eye of a snail. Let us look at about 100 years ago.

The first western type school in Nigeria was established in Badagary in 1847. The second, ladies and gentlemen, was established in Okat in 1891 in Akwa Ibom. It is the present day Etinan Institute. I submit to you, pending the advent of verifiable information to the contrary, that we were the first or among the first to record our music on phonograph records in Nigeria. Contrary to recent mis-information you may have read in the press, published by people with ulterior motives, governance in Ibibio land was advanced and well established. I quote from “Christianity in Etinan”, by Mr. C. A. Ekere: "Etinan was a well-organized community. Government was in the hands of a King and Heads of Families (Ekpuk), but executive power was vested in secret societies, the most powerful of which was Ekpo Nyoho and the most revered Idiong." That situation was common throughout Akwa Ibom. It is therefore not surprising that Akwa Ibomites were the first to organize themselves into a cultural society named Ibibio Union, to more adeptly look after the affairs of Akwa Ibom people in the era of strong European influence.

Let us revisit very briefly the accomplishments of Ibibio Union. First and foremost, its founders recognized that the lack of unity among Akwa Ibomites was their greatest stumbling block. Hence, they set about to rectify that problem with considerable success. When the "Leopard – man" menace hit Akwa Ibom, the Union was instrumental in solving the problem. In a world class display of foresight, the Union organized a scholarship fund that sent Akwa Ibom students for further education overseas.  This stunned and awakened the nation. Unfortunately, while we were the first out of the starting blocks in education, in recent years Akwa Ibom State has been listed as a disadvantaged state, vis-a vis education. The Union undertook to educate the public about the issues during elections and stressed that honest men/women of integrity be elected to office. They did not sell out to any political party but looked after the genuine interest of Akwa Ibom people.

What other examples of good leadership can we find in Akwa Ibom? When Professor Eyo Ita was managing the affairs of Eastern Nigeria, he did not open a bank for transferring the Region’s funds into his personal bank as Dr. Azikiwe did. When Clement Isong was head of the Central Bank of Nigeria, not only did Nigeria’s money remain in Nigeria, but sound economic theory and policies guided the affairs of the bank.  Dr. Udo Udoma gave a good account of himself and Nigeria as the Chief Justice of Uganda. Ladies and gentlemen, we are capable people. While virtue is not reposed in only one ethnic group, our immediate ancestors exhibited an extraordinary sense of public service.

Fast forward to the present times. On the rare occasions when one of us has been put in a position of authority to serve the public, we have had those more intent on self - gratification than on the welfare of posterity. They have chosen to side with the oppressors for thirty pieces of silver. They have lacked the courage to stand up for what is right, even when threatened with death. Instead, they have always capitulated on the spot so they can exist another day in fleeting grandeur. Is there any wonder that we have been taken for granted and regarded as an afterthought, if at all?

Consider that there is an ongoing fierce debate about the future and nature of Nigeria.  What is the position of Akwa Ibomites on this issue? We are silent. Every other ethnic group has stated their conditions for continuing in this British experiment, called Nigeria. We have not stated ours. The sad fact is that once decisions have been made without any input from us, it will still be binding. Other so-called minority groups have taken on the colonialists, both foreign and domestic, and paid dearly for it. Have we shown our support for their efforts? Have we coordinated our efforts with theirs? Have we not yet learned that "divide and conquer" is and has been the successful modus operandi of our oppressors?

Our environment has been degraded and continues to be so. We cannot speak our mother tongue in the legislative chambers of the country. Yet we still remain quiet. The people at home look to us here for direction, yet we provide none. Other people do not ask for things, they just do it – like Sharia. Yet we kid ourselves that we are acting for the good of the country. Ladies and gentlemen, this condition has reached the point where we must be proactive and do something affirmative to change it. There is no need to fear being killed in the process because we all must still die one day. We might as well die for something worthwhile, like ensuring the welfare of posterity. Someone else usually digs the grave of a killer. Remember Abacha? Don’t you think Saro Wiwa was waiting for him as he arrived the spirit world? If you do not act decisively now, you may be able to exist (which is different from living) for a few more years. But I guarantee that you will have left no footprints in the sands of history.

This body must therefore take up every issue facing Nigeria and Akwa Ibomites.

What is our position concerning the inevitable Sovereign National Conference?

Under what conditions will we choose to remain a part of Nigeria?

 Do we want to be a part of Wazobia?

What is our position on resource control?

 What will our economy be based on after we had gained control of our resources and the oil wells have run dry?

How do we coordinate our activities with others in the Niger Delta who are also under siege?

Who should be lobbying the government on our behalf?

Are we willing to fight and defend Akwa Ibom from all enemies, foreign and domestic?

Should we have ROTC* in every secondary school in Akwa Ibom?

What is our position on the dredging of the river Niger?

Are we going to allow Sharia in Akwa Ibom as they have vowed to bring it to every state in the country?

Should the governments of the littoral states have withdrawn their lawsuit against the federal government on resource control?

How do we educate the rank and file about the real issues of contention in Nigeria today?

Ladies and gentlemen, if you want to leave your footprints in the sands of time, you must tackle and resolve these and other current issues now for the betterment of posterity. Never again should there be a convention of Akwa Ibomites without a discussion of the political situation of the people being the lead issue on the agenda. Remember, even if you are afraid to do anything so that they don’t kill you, one day you will still die. What will have been the value of your having been on earth then?

When you build today, build to last 1,000 years! No one will remember the contract you got today. But if you build or lay the foundations of institutions that last a thousand years, you will never be forgotten.

May God help us to accomplish something so that our living shall not have been in vain!

* ROTC stands for Reserved Officers Training Corps. In Nigeria its equivalent was called Cadet Units.