As former Governor Victor Attah turns 80 on Tuesday, November 20, 2018, Obong Nsima Ekere (ONE) looks set to marry his vision with Attah’s, if elected Governor, next year, having learnt at the feet of the Father of Modern Akwa Ibom State in the last four years.
*By Inemesit Ina*
_“Akwa Ibom people say Nsima Ekere has brought a lot of joy and hope to the people.”_
– Obong Victor Attah in his remarks during the thanksgiving service by Obong Nsima Ekere at Ikot Abasi on July 23, 2017
_“Over the years, your attributes as a visionary leader, great statesman, brilliant architect, astute professional, philanthropist, sage and humanist have inspired many Akwa Ibomites, and all who know you, to work towards greatness. We are honoured to share in your life and precepts.”_
– Obong Nsima Ekere in a congratulatory message to Obong Victor Attah on his 80th birthday on November 20, 2018
Obong Victor Attah and Obong Nsima Ekere (ONE) are indeed two of a kind. They share a lot in common, especially vision, capacity, courage, resilience, professionalism, charisma, reach, recognition and humility.
Moreover, whenever the history of modern Akwa Ibom politics will be written, they will be remembered as the most prepared persons to be Governor.
Attah came into the 1998/1999 gubernatorial race with a clear vision for the development of Akwa Ibom, being the architect who designed the state master plan. This Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (FIA) also came with a plan to concentrate the professional strength he had used to develop various parts of the country in just one state, his home state.
ONE has come into the 2018/2019 gubernatorial race with a clear vision for the development of Akwa Ibom, having worked wonders in the state and the eight other member-states of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as its Managing Director in the last two years. This Fellow of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (FNIVS) is also coming with a plan to concentrate the infrastructural strength he has used to develop the whole Niger Delta in just one state, his home state.
Little wonder, they hold each other in high esteem.
What’s more, Attah is on record as the first Akwa Ibom elder statesman to suggest ONE’s entry into the 2019 gubernatorial race. ONE, on the other hand, is known to be the first Akwa Ibom State government official to suggest the renaming of the Akwa Ibom International Airport as the Victor Attah International Airport.
*ONE’s Vision of Renaming the Airport*
Renaming the Akwa Ibom Airport after Attah is undoubtedly ONE’s vision. And it is not a recent thing. It is as old as six years.
One got an inkling of it in February 2014 from a retired army general from Nsit Atai Local Government Area who has been one of Attah’s closest associates over the years. A group of six prominent politicians had called at the general’s residence in Uyo on an exploratory consultation visit for ONE’s gubernatorial ambition then. They were acting on his behalf. They had barely started preaching the ONE gospel when the general cut them short. They were preaching to the converted, he told his perplexed guests. The general informed his guests that he keyed into the ONE gubernatorial project two years earlier when he learnt, through his source in government, of two suggestions ONE made as Deputy Governor to immortalise Attah. The general mentioned the two, one of which was the renaming of the airport to the shock of his guests who were learning of it for the first time.
ONE, himself, did not let the cat out of the bag for six years. He finally opened up on September 22, 2018 during a grand reception for him and President Muhammadu Buhari by the people of Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District. In his speech, he promised to rename the airport after Attah, if elected Governor in 2019. According to him, the former Governor deserved the honour being the initiator of the airport.
*When Visionary ONE Met Visionary Attah*
In August 2014, ONE paid a consultation visit to Attah at his Shelter Afrique Estate, Uyo, residence. At the head of a delegation of political giants that accompanied ONE on the visit was Late Navy Captain Asuquo Okon Ekanem (retd.), whose masterpiece house on Dominic Utuk Avenue, Uyo, as it was revealed during the visit, was designed and built by Attah and his age-long associate, Engr. Efiok Akpan, as far back as 1978. Prominent in that delegation was Attah’s in-law, Senator Ittak Ekarika.
For ONE, it was more than just a consultation visit. It was more of homage to the man who dreamt big for Akwa Ibom and changed the hitherto not-too-salutary perception of the state by the rest of Nigeria through a fearless advocacy for resource control and abrogation of offshore/onshore oil dichotomy and landmark projects such as Independent Power Plant, Ibom Le Meridien Hotel and Golf Resort, Econet mobile telephony, information technology and roads.
ONE made it clear in his speech that he wanted to leverage on the legacies of Attah and his successor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, to take the state to industrial heights patterned after the Asian Tigers – Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia. He took time to outline his vision on education, health, infrastructure, social welfare, among others. The vision subsists till date.
Attah could not hide his delight: “Nsima, I am really impressed with your vision for the state.”
Thus began a strong relationship founded on a shared vision for the development of the state.
Before long, ONE emerged one of the major driving forces for the installation of Attah as the Leader of Ibibio Nation on September 7, 2014.
The relationship blossomed so much so that Attah became ONE’s biggest supporter till the December 8, 2014 gubernatorial primary of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). Subsequently, Attah and ONE backed the Gubernatorial Candidate of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC), Mr. Umana Umana, in the April 11, 2015 election and the post-election litigation that lasted till February 3, 2016.
*Attah and ONE’s 2019 Gubernatorial Ambition*
Attah and ONE became so close that the former Governor was full of gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari for the choice of ONE as NDDC Managing Director. In his remarks during ONE’s reception ceremony after his inauguration in Abuja on November 4, 2016, the former Governor said: “We must thank him (Buhari) for giving us someone we desire and want. Akwa Ibom State is solidly behind Mr. President.”
Immediately after the inauguration, ONE hit the ground running with his 4 Rs – restructure the balance sheet, reform the governance protocols, restore NDDC’s core mandate and reaffirm the commission’s collective commitment to do what is right. Within a few months, he turned round the fortunes, performance and perception of the NDDC so much so that Attah, always a man who recognises excellence, was highly impressed.
Speaking during ONE’s thanksgiving service in July 2017, he declared: “This thanksgiving is not just ordinary thanksgiving. You can see the outpouring of support for a man who has successfully restructured NDDC. Akwa Ibom people are very proud of him.”
Attah even suggested a reception for ONE by Akwa Ibom people: “I want to appeal to Akwa Ibom people. He has come here to thank God by himself. We must call him to appreciate him.”
Then he fired the first salvo, a veiled one, for ONE’s 2019 governorship bid: “Nigeria is talking about restructuring today. If Nsima Ekere can successfully restructure NDDC, there is every possibility that he can restructure a few more institutions.”
Emboldened by Attah’s salvo, individuals and groups began to agitate for ONE’s entry into the gubernatorial race. They agitated so much till ONE caved in two months ago during the reception for him and Buhari by the people of Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District. He was nominated the Gubernatorial Candidate of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) on September 30, 2018.
As ONE, backed by a rainbow election and a huge support base never seen before in Akwa Ibom politics, prepares for the gubernatorial election, four months ahead, he does not mince words about the inspiration he draws from Attah.
His words: “As the Father of Modern Akwa Ibom State, you laid the foundation for our collective aspiration to make our dear state a model of growth and of our people a proud inheritors of your vision and our heritage.”
That has been the tale of the two Akwa Ibom visionaries.