July 13, 2024

Senator Albert’s incarceration and loud silence of Ibibio elders

Senator Albert’s incarceration and loud silence of Ibibio elders

Ekpenyong Effiong

I’m very proud of my Ibibio identity. I have derived much fulfilment from flaunting that identity anywhere in the world. No sentiment beats my attachment to my roots, as such; Ibibio remains my primary identity, before my Nigerian citizenship.

Hailing from such a revered and gigantic stock evokes a deep feeling of satisfaction. But it seems most good things about Ibibio only exist on the pages of history. The Ibibio Nation currently appears disoriented. My lifelong quest of witnessing a stronger and more progressive Ibibio keeps tarrying. Contemporary developments in the polity give validity to my worries.

Firstly, the Ijaw ethnic nationality (which is even smaller in size and perhaps accomplishments) is now claiming to be the fourth largest ethnic nationality in Nigeria, realistically ‘overtaking’ Ibibio. The numerically disadvantaged Fulanis, too, with a powerful hegemony of power, are waxing stronger by the day. Ibibio is now almost relegated to the rear politically and economically.

For record’s sake, the Ibibios founded the Ibibio Union as far back as April 28, 1928, to assert themselves and cater for the welfare and education of their people. It also aligned with other committed groups to fight for the independence of Nigeria.

Ibibio Union remains the oldest ethnic union in Nigeria. The Annangs, Oros and other sub-ethnic nationalities were very comfortable under the Ibibio umbrella, same as other sub-groups feel safe under the larger Hausa canopy in the north, Yoruba in the west and the Igbo in the east.

Today the Ibibios appear hapless. There is a dearth of group consciousness – everyone in its tent. Brotherly love is being consumed by avarice.  Even the traditional institution has joined the feast of shame. Royal fathers instead of upholding their dignified positions by serving as the conscience of the society and speaking truth to power are dancing to the tunes of dirty politics.

Docility has so set into the institution. The much-cherished respect hitherto enjoyed by it is now a thing of the past. Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, showed us the poor ratings of our traditional institution when he came to Akwa Ibom State to flag off his presidential campaign on Monday, October 10, 2022.

For the Sultans, Emirs, Obas, Obis and others, Abubakar can prostrate in reverence. But for Akwa Ibom Traditional Rulers, he fist-bumps and can only offer them undignified handshakes, as was recorded when he visited our supreme traditional ruler, the Oku Ibom Ibibio.  Of course, respect is earned, not forced.

Things have worsened so much that even elders who witnessed and benefited from the good old days, are the ones also masterminding this free-fall. For the sake of political lucre, they have compromised their values and ideologies. Ibibio Elders now have no voice. They can’t resist the king’s meat and therefore anything the king does is right. Sad!

Take for instance the incarceration of Senator Bassey Albert Akpan by the Federal High Court in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The court slammed a concurrent jail term of 42 years against the senator, a governorship candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) in the state on charges of indirectly receiving gifts of SUVs from his friend, one Olajide Omokere.

Despite evidential explanations that the items were not bribes and not received when Akpan served as Finance Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, the presiding judge, Justice Agatha Okeke, in a controversial judgement that has raised dust in legal circles across the country, convicted the senator. The bizarre judgement is seen in many quarters as being staged-managed and sponsored by the state government in order to keep the cerebral senator out of the 2023 governorship race.

The indifference and even jeers from the senator’s erstwhile political friends and allies to the unjust conviction, are strange in a community that should see injustice and speak against it.

Age-wise, Governor Udom Emmanuel qualifies as an elder, but his recent outbursts on the subject matter are bereft of maturity and deep knowledge.

At a public event, he shamelessly exclaimed, “I did not send somebody to receive bribes, those who have cases with EFCC should face them and leave me alone; I am not EFCC.”

Akwa Ibomites and other Nigerians were shocked by such an outburst and glorification of the persecution of a kinsman and dependable political ally. OBA, as the Senator is fondly called, has stood firm with him since 2014, when he stepped down for him to ensure his electoral victory in the 2015 Governorship election. The Senator had also stoutly supported the governor in the 2019 elections. Unfortunately, that friendship and kinship have been sacrificed on the altar of petty politics.

Upon realizing that the accelerated hearing of the case had a political inkling, our elders who were supposed to speak out rather kept mute and watched it unfold. Oron Union stood up for the immediate past sole administrator of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr Effiong Akwa, when the Ijaws wrote copious petitions, demanding his removal on allegations of corruption.

Oron Union also fought for their interest by opposing the appointment of an Ibibio son, Nsima Ekere, as NDDC Managing Director. They went to court claiming it should be an Oro person.

Ati Annang, lawyers and eminent elders of the Annang stock did it for the slain job seeker, Iniubong Umoren and others who risked becoming victims of injustice. Curiously, after an Ibibio son from Etinan, Akwaowo Japhet was butchered to death in Uyo by one Paschaline Odume, a lady who was on her National Youth Service Corps programme in Akwa Ibom State, Japhet’s kinsman from Etinan, Attorney General Uko Udom, SAN, compelled Justice Bassey Nkanang to strike out the matter on grounds that the State is unwilling to pursue it.

As usual, Ibibio elders, political leaders and traditional rulers all kept mute to date.

The Arewas have always held the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in contempt. To them, selective justice is injustice. The Igbos did it successfully by rescuing Orji Uzor Kalu – they couldn’t afford to throw away the baby with the bath water. They have also made efforts for the unconditional release of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.

At a time like this, the dire question arises: where are Ibibio elders?

Where are the Ibibio Socio-cultural organizations? Specifically, where are the Mboho Mkparawa Ibibio, Ibibio Elders Forum, Akwa Esop Imaisong Ibibio, Ibibio National Union and many others? Of course, it is apparent that they have been coerced and they can’t ruffle the feathers of their ‘demigods’ or put more succinctly, the powers-that-be because of filthy lucre.

Our adage says “Owot Uko, àtuà useñ ñnanaenyin” which literally means “When a warrior is eliminated, a community risks grievous danger on a day of adversity.” The towering image of OBA in the build up to the 2019 elections cannot be easily forgotten. Not only did he decline offers to move to the All Progressives Party (APC), he mobilized political associates and supporters across the state and electorate in Uyo Senatorial District, in particular, to vote overwhelmingly for the re-election of Governor Udom Emmanuel for a second term in office.

Or have we forgotten the siege and impeachment plot by 5 members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly against Governor Emmanuel? The silence of Ibibio Elders on this sordid conviction against a foremost Ibibio son, a performing Senator and a philanthropist, is sad and reprehensible.

Certainly, OBA’s case should not have gone that way. How a judge discarded all known precedents in similar cases and even refused to give an option of fine, reveals a hatchet job done to cage OBA till after the election. And Ibibios have kept quiet and watched such glaring injustice!

As legal experts have pointed out, there are incontrovertible facts that our shining star and representative of Uyo Senatorial District in the Senate, will overcome this conspiracy. He’ll be back for good.  However, the obvious reality stares: Ibibios (especially the elders) have retrogressed.

Nations rise and nations fall. If these are symptoms of Ibibio’s future annihilation, I wouldn’t be surprised. Our neighbouring and far-flung enemies are definitely working towards it – and not without our collaboration.

-Ekpenyong Effiong is a writer on contemporary issues and is based in Abuja

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