Onofiok Luke: When Actions Speak Louder Than Words

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Political pundits would agree that yesterday’s public reconciliation and withdrawal by Hon Onofiok Luke from further contesting the 2023 gubernatorial election in Akwa Ibom State was historic. While it may have surprised many, it certainly could not have the same effect on many others, whose eyes are truly on the ball. For while many would merely not show particular interest in giving pensive thoughts to current political developments in the state, there still exists a multitude, who would not sleep till the last days.

And so it came to pass yesterday, Tuesday, August 2, that while yours truly was being born again, the all important meeting had to be staged. Interestingly, the withdrawal meeting of Mr Luke with the PDP governorship candidate, Pastor Umo Eno, took place simultaneously with that of the Akwa Ibom State executive council held in Government House, Uyo. Some persons may not give attention to the fact that the two important meetings held simultaneously. There are those who would quickly consider it a coincidence, a manifest portrayal of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s lack of interest in politics. They could say that while others were strategizing to safely acquire the succession baton, Mr Udom Emmanuel was concentrating with governance. Nice postulation, if you ask me.

Basically, there is a message passed by the reconciliation between Onofiok Luke and Pastor Umo Eno. It is to establish a public knowledge that Luke, who was speedily riding the White Horse of Amazing Grace towards the hilltop mansion, has decided to surrender his structure and work for the emergence of Mr Umo Eno as the next governor. Whether this is true or can possibly become truthful, is immaterial. What the PDP politicians want an average citizen to understand is the fact that Mr Luke is no longer interested in the office, and would not be involved in forming a contending force against Mr Umo Eno.

Oku Ibom Ibibio and Paramount Ruler of Nsit Ubium, His Eminence Nteyin Solomon Daniel Etuk (sitting), PDP gubernatorial candidate, Pastor Umo Eno (right) and Hon Onofiok Luke (left); and other Royal Fathers, during the reconciliation meeting at the palace of the monarch on Tuesday, August 2, 2022.

Of course, the federal legislator did promise to work for Mr Umo Eno. He said, “I have to honour my people, my fathers – the traditional rulers, the PDP which gave me a platform to serve the people. I will work for the emergence of Pastor Umo Eno as governor of Akwa Ibom State”.

In his response, Pastor Umo Bassey Eno thanked Mr Luke for his show of love, respect for the elders and for his maturity. He said, “I will work with you with open heart. I am your senior in age, but God has raised you as my senior in politics. I will never take this for granted. Help me reassure your teeming supporters that your people shall be my people.”

Recall also, that both Onofiok Luke and Umo Eno are citizens of Nsit Ubium LGA, the domain of the current Oku Ibom Ibibio and Paramount Ruler of Nsit Ubium, His Eminence Ntenyin Solomon Daniel Etuk, JP. There are blending reports of his apparent involvement and mediation in the process that resulted in the reconciliation. Also recall that the all important meeting took place in the palace of the First Class King of Ibibio Land cum Akwa Ibom State.

At this juncture, it becomes necessary to probe further into why it became important for the PDP to consider the option of wooing Onofiok Luke. It must be noted that Mr Luke is one of the most favoured politicians of his age in Akwa Ibom State and beyond. An aluta brother, who was once rusticated for a considerably just cause in students’ activism as SUG President of the University of Uyo, Luke had moved up to becoming a Special Assistant to Governor Godswill Akpabio on Grassroots Mobilization. Fortune persistently knocked on his door when he became the Pioneer Speaker of the Nigerian Youth Parliament. He doubled as the Speaker of the African Youth Parliament. It was from then he contested election in 2011 to represent Nsit Ubium State Constituency in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.

Although Hon Luke performed exceedingly well both as Chairman, House Committee on Finance and Appropriation and as Chairman, House Committee on Agriculture, forces beyond his shoulders rose against his reelection in 2015. This discourse isn’t interested in reviewing the successes of Mr Luke in various of his places of assignments. But one thing stands him out. It could be said that he is among the few Akwa Ibom politicians, who discovered early enough, that effective representation, relationship with the people, and goodwill among men, undoubtedly remain the magic for mass acceptance.

Consequently, his people stood by him and he won a second term. A fight also ensued when he sought the office of the Speaker. While his opponents initially won, he became the patient dog that ate the fattest bone. He reigned as Speaker from December 2015 till the expiration of his tenure. Since 2019, Mr Luke has been representating Etinan/Nsit Ibom/Nsit Ubium Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives. He currently belongs to various committees of the National Assembly, in addition to Chairing the Committee on Judiciary. In all the offices Mr Luke as occupied, there is no denying the fact that he is a performer with solid political clout.

Meanwhile, Luke is currently the Alumni President of the University of Uyo Alumni Association, a group of massive. Hence, it is justifiable that the PDP was able to look out for the former Speaker in the buildup to the election. Admittedly, and as stated in this piece, Onofiok Luke has promised to support Pastor Umo Eno. But can that promise be taken beyond the superficial import of meaning? This question arises as a result of the event of the last 10 hours.

It was the renowned William Shakespeare who stated that it was impossible to determine the mind’s construction on the face. Later in his writing career, and while doing the story of Hamlet, Shakespeare seemingly reviewed that postulation. He staged a play-within-the-play where a character obviously looks at the face of another, just to figure out the contents of his mind. Put it differently, some politicians are known for saying one thing but meaning the other. In the words of a good friend and scholar, “they would promise to pain the streets and roof the sky, during campaigns”. If you put your heart on them, you remain interminably miserable.

It happened earlier today, that just hours after Onofiok Luke met Pastor Umo Eno with an endorsement extraction, he then had a meeting with Senator Bassey Albert Akpan. Bassey Albert, Senator for Akwa Ibom Northeast Senatorial District, was part of the contest for the hilltop mansion under the PDP. OBA, as he is fondly called, together with Onofiok Luke and Mr Akan Udofia, had withdrawn from the contest, accusing the party of impropriety and partiality in the selection of its ad-hoc delegates. While OBA now stands the 2023 election under the Young Progressives Party, YPP, and Akan Udofia under the All Progressives Congress, APC, Luke was reported to have resolved to pick up the Labour Party governorship ticket. With this open endorsement of Pastor Umo, his rumoured ballot appearance under LP is no more being anticipated.

Hon Onofiok Luke (left), Senator Bassey Albert (middle) and Hon Victor Udofia, former member, Ikono State Constituency posing after the meeting.

The picture between OBA and Onofiok is expressive and cannot be tagged insignificant. Their pose was reportedly taken after an intense closed-door meeting at Luke’s residence in Uyo. While others may have their views on this particular development, I do not need to take us farer from what is possible. Luke certainly had followers who would have supported OBA, if he hadn’t contested. Again, Luke was said to have left his supporters in the dark, having been silent for sometime. In the event of Mr Bassey Albert officially moving to YPP, it is impossible to think that many of Luke’s supporters have not already joined the train.

In inference, it is simple to opin that this picture was deliberately taken and purposely made to find its way into the media space. While Luke may have promised to support Pastor Umo Eno yesterday, the actions taken in the early hours of today become contradictory. First, he met with Senator Bassey Albert physically in his house, just some hours after a major political decision. Secondly, he posed with him in a seamless show of conviviality. Thirdly, they both caused this picture to me published. These actions cannot be viewed differently. When one remembers the important roles these two men played in helping Governor Udom Emmanuel to secure a second term in 2019, one can then appreciate the political import of this innocently staged dramatic performance. Ultimately, Luke’s actions are subtle ways of communicating directly to his supporters. The actions today are deliberately configured to speak louder than his spoken words of yesterday.

Joseph Atainyang is a journalist and public affairs commentator.

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