AKPABIO FACTOR, SECTIONALISM, AND THE DRIVE FOR OPPOSITION POLITICS IN ANNANGLAND
By UbongAbasi Ise
“At the end of the day, we must go forward with hope and not backward by fear and division” – Jesse Jackson
History has a way of reconstructing past human actions with the fragments of available evidences and then place judgment on the heads of those that play one role or the other in human existence. Today the whole of Nigeria is bedeviled with ethno-sectional chauvinism, and one of the terrible manifestations is political marginalization and domination of certain ethnic groups. This has led to stiff leadership struggles as political actors consistently look for a political platform that would guarantee both individual and collective prosperity. There is an oft-held claim that ethnicity is one factor that configured the nature of Nigerian politics but it is also believed in some quarters that it is politics that created and deepened ethnicity in the country.
Many historians have corroborated the claim that there was nothing like ethnic division along Annang-Ibibio fault-line until politics came to change all that. In my very brief discussion with Dr. Ini Etuk, an erudite scholar in the Department of History and International Studies, University of Uyo, I was briefed that every attempt to establish a distinct Annang history from Ibibio proper always seems to amount to scholarly failure because Annang is an Ibibio sub-group coming from the same source.
Another History lecturer in the same institution, Dr. Uwem J. Akpan, who is fast becoming an authority in Akwa Ibom traditional history, maintained that history, for now, lack that clear-cut description on the ethnic demarcation between Annang and Ibibio. According to him, the word, Annang, was circumstantially employed by the Central Ibibio to describe their Western Ibibio brothers. Akpan took time to illustrate the fact that Afaha people, all over Akwa Ibom and across various dialectal groupings in the state came from the same stock. That is why Mboho Akwa Afaha, a socio-cultural arrangement, draws its membership from all sections of the state without minding whether an individual is from Ibibio, Annang, Oron or Eket.
They all share the same motto, ‘Afaha Nte Enin.’ In a specific instance, Dr. Uwem Akpan noted that when the ‘Enin’ of Afaha, the late Okuku Johnson Udom, an Annang man from Ikot Nneke village in Ukanafun local government area was buried, all sections of Afaha group in the state came together and performed a traditional set of Afaha burial rites before the body was interned. The same order of burial customs were repeated by Afaha group when the remains of the paramount ruler, Robert James Obot, an Ibibio man from Ikot Ekpene Udo in Nsit Ubium local government area was committed to the mother earth.
An Eket man Chief Oduenyin also emerged the Enin of Afaha. Therefore, Dr. Akpan’s submitted that there is no dichotomy amongst Afaha people in Ibibio, Annang, Oron, and Eket. The same thing with Oku, one of the largest groups in the state. Oku people spread all over the state, therefore, whether Oku man is from Nnung Oku in Ibesikpo/Asutan or Oku Abak in Abak local government area makes no difference because Oku is one group. About 26 villages in Obong Clan in Etim Ekpo local government area, according to Dr. Akpan, migrated from Ibibio community of Obong Itam in Itu local government area. Obio Akpa community in Oruk Anam could also trace their own origin to Uruan in Ibibioland. This underlies the fact that Annang are part of Ibibio irrespective of dialectal variance until a new finding proves otherwise.
If Ibibio and Annang are one stock as historical facts pointed out, then what really caused this profound splitting betwixt? What was the determining factor that enthroned this divisive consciousness on the thinking of the groups? Who were those involved in reinventing ethnic identities for Ibibio and Annang groups?
At the centre of this conundrum, history points out at Ibanga Udo Akpabio from Ukana Ikot Ntuen in the present day Essien Udim local government area, an uncle to the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State and the present Senate Minority leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio. As the story goes, Ibanga Udo Akpabio was fortunate enough to be amongst the pioneer six beneficiaries of the Ibibio State Union’s oversea scholarship award whose membership were drawn from six Ibibio administrative divisions of Abak, Eket, Ikot Ekpene, Ikot Abasi, Itu, and Uyo of the Old Calabar Province during the time of British colonial administration. But, according to historians, Ibanga Akpabio would become the very one that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe would use as a divisive knife to cut the very thing that bound all Ibibio sections together. As McPherson constitution provided that the three Regional Assemblies through Electoral College needed to elect candidates to the Federal House of Representatives, Azikiwe, who represented Lagos seat, felt that Chief Obafemi Awolowo used the numeral strength of Yoruba-based Action Group, AG, to betray him and Igbo elements who were dominant members of Nigerian Convention of Nigerian Citizen, NCNC, from having a shot at the national assembly. This happened in 1951 election. When Dr. Azikiwe was denied the opportunity to represent Lagos in the Federal House of Representatives, he came down to the Eastern Region wearing full garb of ethnicity and orchestrated the process that saw the 1952 impeachment of Prof. Eyo Ita, an Ibibio man, who was the then Premier and the Leader of the Government Business of the Eastern Region.
With the threat of Igbo imperial domination over Ibibio nation in the Eastern Region, the leader of Ibibio State Union, Udo Udoma and Prof. Eyo Ita formed the United National Independent Party, UNIP, along with Alvan Ikoku, an Igboman from Arochukwu. They pushed for a coalition with Action Group with the aim of wresting power from Azikiwe’s Eastern Regional ruling party, NCNC. What Azikiwe did was to find an ally from Ibibio nation. Despite Ibibio’s resolve to stand firm together on the platform of their new found coalition to face the Nnamdi Azikiwe’s NCNC, Ibanga Udo Akpabio despised his own Ibibio people and worked in cahoots with Azikiwe who eventually emerged the Premier of the region in the 1953 elections.
Azikiwi blessed Akpabio with ministerial appointment: He was given the portfolio of a Minister of Education and Internal Affairs, and most times he assisted Zik in the premiership role. The strategem that was perfected then was that, while all the other provinces in the region were named after towns and cities, for example Calabar province, Port Harcourt province, Uyo province, Eket province, etc., the one that supposed to be Ikot Ekpene province, where Ibanga Akpabio came from, was called Annang Province which made it the only province named after an ethnic group.
Because the rest of Ibibio did not support his interest as accommodated under Azikiwe’s political ambition, Ibanga Udo Akpabio used his political advantage as a minister to attract developments to Annang at the expense of other provinces in Ibibio. With this, the seed of ethnic division was sown between Annang and the rest of Ibibio land. The Ibibio State College saga in Ikot Ekpene where Akpabio did not help matter, and the court case that followed widened the already broad cleavage between Annang and their central Ibibio brothers.
History can be cyclical in directionality. The same problem has resurrected today in the grave of history. Like Ibanga Udo Akpabio caused Ibibio to seek their political destiny in the opposition camp, the Abak Federal Constituency today has equally been pushed by another personality from Akpabio lineage to seek justice outside the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, the Akwa Ibom State ruling party. Today, the constituency comprising of Abak, Etim Ekpo and Ika local government areas in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District feels marginalized, deprived and they found their right to have a feel of a seat at the Red Chambers systematically denied.
The federal constituency has seen Senator Godswill Akpabio as the reincarnation of Ibanga Udo Akpabio who put a divisive knife between Annang and Ibibio. They see Godswill Akpabio as the same old factor returning to entrench injustice and division among Annang nation. Speaking with The Sensor correspondents recently, Barr. Joe Ukpong, the former Commissioner for Environment in Akwa Ibom State and a stalwart of All Progressives Congress, APC, bemoaned how Abak/Etim Ekpo/Ika has been wickedly been shut out in today’s power equation in the national legislature. According to Barr. Joe Ukpong, who hails from Abak, “If you look at Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, you will see that Abak Federal Constituency has not gone to the Senate before.
The country has 360 federal constituencies, only one has never gone to the Senate, and that is Abak. Is that not sympathetic? Some constituencies have gone 3 times; some have gone twice, and no one go once, except Abak/Etim Ekpo/Ika federal constituency that has not gone at all. Ikot Ekpene Federal Constituency has gone to the Senate four times through Senator Raymond Umoh, Senator Nsima Akpabio, Senator Emmanuel Ibokessien and Senator Godswill Akpabio. Ikono Federal Constituency has gone twice through Senator Aloysius Etok. Oruk Anam/Ukanafun has gone three times through Senator Donald Etiebiet, Senator Akaninyene Ukpanah and Senator Itak Bob Ekarika. But there is one that has not gone at all. Where is justice in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District?”
Reacting to the pronouncement made by the Chairman of Abak local government area, Barr. Imoh Williams that Senator Godswill Akpabio should stay on the seat in the upper chamber of the national assembly till he becomes weary, Joe Ukpong described such statement as very insulting, sardonic and sad.
Ukpong believed that with APC, the future of Abak Federal Constituency is bright. He maintained that despite paucity of votes ascribed for President Muhammadu Buhari in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District in 2015 elections, the gains brought by the federal government-controlled APC to the senatorial district are tremendous. Ukpong pointed out that Gen. George Umoh (Rtd) from Abak was appointed envoy to the Holy See; Akanimo Edet, Udoma Ekarika, Tony Esu, Chrysantus George and even Emem Akpabio have all been appointed into the Federal Boards by President Buhari. Even Ibokette Ibas from Abak, who is Chief of Naval Staff, was appointed by Buhari’s APC-led government, and he has been able to use his position to attract Naval College to Ikot Ntuen in Oruk Anam, which in turn brings development to the area.
Barr. Joe Ukpong believed that through PDP government, Senator Godswill Akpabio’s godson, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, the governor of Akwa Ibom State, despite being an Annang in-law, has marginalized and neglected Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District. Ukpong recalled how Uyo-Ikot Ekpene Road was abandoned, especially the Ikot Ekpene section of the road. He didn’t forget to mention the intractable problem of insecurity in Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo, where Udom Emmanuel blatantly refused to address. The violent situation in that part of Annangland has forced the locals to flee their homes for safety.
Against this background, Annang people are welcoming APC train led by its National Chairman, Comrade Adam Oshiomole to Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District on Saturday 21st July 2018. They are seeking justice and equipoise that would help reconcile the divided Annang brothers. They would declare support for the party that is expected to restore fairness; a party with poise to fix the imbalances found in the distribution of the dividends of democracy in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District.
Yes! I am UbongAbasi Ise. For Comment, please send SMS to 08189914609 | firstname.lastname@example.org