Warning: Do not read this article if allergic to sound logic, verifiable facts and ‘groaning history’. Having been compressed from what should stretch across four full pages of a newspaper, this piece is miles away from economical truth.
Saturday, August 29, 2020 was a day of its own. It was a day a political heavyweight of Oro extraction made a ‘loud’ statement. The pronouncement may have sent right or wrong signals. But each person was permitted to receive whatever kind of signals they felt was appropriate. Whether or not, one was, or is comfortable with the day’s event, it would not affect the fact that Ikpoto Okon Osung had finally returned to his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Yours truly had unavoidably been absent from witnessing the live event. But that cannot restrict my freedom to duly express my regret. It is important that I join the rest of his ‘supporters’ to say congratulations to him.
The only child of his parents, Chief Okon Osung became a large personality whose existence confirmed to humanity that he wasn’t on accidental mission on earth. A paragon of knowledge and a very bold contender, Chief Okon Osung utilizes his intellectual endowments to his advantage. As a civil servant, he had a very rewarding career in journalism. Outstanding and very sagacious in union politics, Nigeria was nearly blessed with having him mounting the podium as the national president, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ). Tribal perception had its way and all is now retained in the dark books of history. One thing can’t be taken away from him. His personal development, political orientation and union activities yielded results with him serving as the vice president of NUJ about 30 years ago. He was also chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Cross River State Council and later, a Director General, Citizens for Change.
His enduring integrity, upright charcter and undoubted transparency stood him out for an unrivaled appointment as a pioneer chairman, Nigerian Election Monitoring Group. The June 12, 1993 election between Alhaji Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Kakanfo Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) may have had its ‘figurative distortion’, if his character was not of proven substance. The then National Electoral Commission led by the chairman, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu was announcing the elections when the Armed Forces Ruling Council ordered an instant halt in the precess.
Having been given the mandate to monitor and authenticate or ratify the results of the election before announcement by Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, Ikpoto Okon Osung had deployed election monitors in every polling units in the country. Of course, the foot soldiers reported to him directly. This was how he immediately arranged a world press conference to fill the gaps left by the suspension of elections results announcements as ordered by the Armed Forces Ruling Council. Straightway, he declared the SDP candidate, Chief MKO Abiola as having won the election in every state of the federation, including Kano, the home state of Alhaji Ibrahim Tofa. Would you wonder how Chief Osung escaped being pinned by the Nigerian military forces. Surprisingly, as president Buhari in 2018 named national honors to heroes of June 12, the veteran journalist had no entry. While his people are yet to protest that Mr Buhari should accord him due honour, some have even said the country should not wait until he visits his ancestors before dishing out a posthumous plaque on him.
Back home in the state, Chief Osung could best be seen as a catalyst. He is heavily endowed with oratory. Blended with accurate planning spirit, he towers high with deep thinking and humane appeal. At the return to current democratic dispensation, he gathered his friends and brethren and built what had been called the largest political party in Africa, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). With this gathering of people, he served his place as a kingmaker, producing the then Governors, Victor Attah and Godswill Akpabio and grooming very numerous politicians, too. He once served as chairman, Akwa Ibom local government service commission. And, in the comity of political elders in the state, he had his reserved and untainted place. Of course, it was not mistaken when he was honoured with the revered title of Adaha Akwa Ibom by the Akwa Ibom State Traditional Rulers’ Council. The same gesture was replicated at his home, when the Council of Oro Traditional Rulers recognized him with the highest traditional title of Ikpoto Oro.
Life itself is a school of contractions. The ‘bend’ of life caught his grip and Chief Osung could not escape the responsibility of leadership. It was towards the transition of the Akpabio’s administration in 2014 that he chaired the Oro 2015 Governorship Struggle. A widely traveled man, he explored relevant contacts to establish the Akwa Ibom tripodal case. He led his able team of Oro Think Tank, Oron Union, Council of Oro Traditional Rulers and other groups to advance the project. They consulted with power brokers across the nation, taking all the approved steps. But, there was a man whose stiff hands held the keys to the project. That man was Godswill Akpabio who made sure he did everything to install his choiced successor, Mr Udom Emmanuel. It was at this point that the collective decision of leaving the party for Godswill Akpabio was reached. As sportsman who knew the rules of the game, he led in front and left the PDP ship. It should be stated that no parent would be willing to groom his children and abandon them by the roadside.
The massive movement to the All Progressives Congress (APC) could never have been a comfortable decision. But it was a demonstration of the anguish of the Oro race who were coerced into statehood during state creation in 1987. Although all had not been rosy in the APC, a few appointments here and there have come the way of the Oron people. Yours truly has severally held the view that the APC has not been indebted to the Oron people. The Akwa Ibom PDP rather carries on its shoulders the moral burden of settling the Oro ethnic nationality not only with the exalted office of a governor, but also with equitable human and infrastructural development. But as 2023 election season slowly comes, no one is kind enough to remember them. While it seems the APC has not been a satisfactory party to quickly accommodate the interest of Oronians, few observations are here made.
Apart from the fact that the APC hasn’t made itself the desired alternative, is it very true that the PDP had been any different? A very honest consideration would present the sitting governor as a ‘fortunate supplanter’. Having been a product of stiff replacement with the fair choice of an Oron person, the governor hasn’t been fair to the Oron people. The biblical story of Esau and Jacob seems to have completely eluded him. While Jacob knew how he got the father’s blessings and showed kindness to the brother, the same cannot be said of Governor Emmanuel. The litany of abandoned projects dotting the landscape of Oro Federal Constituency (OFC) attest to this claim.
Speaking during the 94th anniversary of Oron Union in May 2019, Governor Udom Emmanuel promised to complete all ongoing projects in OFC. He spoke through his then Works Commissioner and current Chief of Staff, Mr Ephraim Inyangeyen. The Governor vowed to complete the 55.5 km Ibaka Superhighway in record time, saying he would construct a 21st century state of the arts plaza, a relaxation centre as obtainable in Uyo and Ikot Ekpene. He added that the Etebi-Enwang Bridge construction was ongoing and would be duly completed. “I terminated the Uyo-Okopedi Dualization project; Atabaong Beach Market Road in Okobo because I can’t afford to give Oro substandard roads. The days of marginalization of Oro are over”, he had said.
Others may wish to engage this treaty with an opinion that the governor has given the office of the secretary to government to Oro. Unfortunately, it is not useful to say that Governor Udom Emmanuel has improved the lives of Oron people with the appointment of Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem. Before a hasty line is drawn, one should get to ask what particular difference the administration can boast of in favour of the Oron people. It must be quickly added that the erstwhile PDP chairman, Arc. Otu Ita Toyo had also been offered the post of SSG by then Governor Godswill Akpabio. As lawyers would say, whatever was intended is regarded to have taken place. Again, although the previous administration gave three commissionership slots to the five LGAs of OFC which was reduced to two since 2015, the current government would have shown a sharp distinction through a massive development of the area. Instead, what has been deliberately executed is the deployment of executive fiat into snatching all development opportunities from the area.
Of course, it was this government which had the crass boldness to stage a meeting of core oil bearing communities with Mobil Producing Nigeria without a representation from OFC. That provocation sparked reactions from the four walls of the region which culminated in the nationwide protest that shook the state’s foundations. Has it even been forgotten that this government found courage to relocating the Deep Seaport which site was settled about 60 years before its emergence? Has it not tinkered with those of Ibom Industrial City, the Ibom Gas Park and the rest?
Truth is, the revered Ikpoto Okon Osung may have a personal reason of returning to his ‘tent’. Having been equally yoked with the ‘common enemy’ since August 2018, he may have really felt what it means to have the tormentor he ran away from come to stay in his living room with him. But to say that his return would attract the governor’s fair treatment of his people is left in the hands of time. No one doubts the possibility of the party’s change of character, even when the last local government primaries of the party has a lot to say in contradiction. No doubt, Ikpoto could be a party elder due to sit on the same table with the likes of Idongesit Nkanga, Senator Anietie Okon and the rest. But the question is, would these party leaders and the governor value him more than a former deputy governor from Urue Offong Oruko whose high office was not only recently denigrated but utterly treated as inconsequential?
Joseph Atainyang is a journalist and public affairs commentator. Gsm: 07036964637