IF WE STAY, WE DIE …!
In search of the dignity of Oro People
Keynote address by Architect Otu Ita Toyo to the 2015 AGM/
90th Anniversary Ceremony Of Oron Union
My gratitude to the Executive Committee of Oron Union (OU) for the lifetime honor they have done me in inviting me to give an address on the ninetieth anniversary of the union. I am convinced that they will be happy to learn that I brought along three revered patriarchs of the Union. My Grandfather, Ofong Anwana Esin, a founder of this Union, Surv. Edet Otu Ita, the first and only martyr of this Union and my first cousin, Barrister Oyokunyi Otu Ita the first scholar produced by the effort of this Union and my father, I can assure you that they are here now grinning with satisfaction as four generation of successors to their dream present in this historic hall wait in anticipation for a chance to ponder the moves for the next ninety years. Someone once told me that Africans work from the day they are born, they never take vacations, until they transit and keep working through eternity as ancestors. You can therefore, with the right attitude summon them to service as protectors if you have clean hands. I did and today I invited them to bless us all for keeping the flag aloft. I consider the potent mix of personalities in this Exco as productive and adventurous, just the right combination we needed for a trying year. They have fared well in their duty. May it please the almighty to reward their effort? They were elected in very electrifying circumstance but with the benefit of hind-sight that was a sign of things to come, by a creative twist of fate, it has also become their lot to pilot us through the celebration of the ninetieth year of the OU. It has been a very busy year for Oro and none has been busier than the folks at OU. I salute their diligence and leadership at a very difficult time for our people. I thank you all for having the kindness to endure me for a few moments. God bless you too.
My discomfort over how to approach this assignment disappeared when upon enquiry I was assured that the Union has very thoughtfully asked a team led by our very able Dr. Effiong Edunam to handle the very exacting science of compiling a factsheet on the history of the Union. If this was not about history, which I am eminently unqualified to handle, then what could be the drift of the address? Since I was sure it cannot be about architecture. My only other claim to relevance must be my long sojourn in the slippery political terrain of our community and this has been a political year like no other.
Until ten days ago, things were happening on the political terrain that impacted on our corporate existence with such rapidity as at no other time in modern recorded history. In one smooth wave, we nearly lost the political, cultural, moral and social relevance that we acquired over nearly a century of handwork and strategic thinking. Often led principally by the Spirit of the Union. How did that happen? To find the answers we must go back to the formation of this Union ninety years ago. In attempting to do so, I will stick to accepted oral narratives informed largely by my personal observation, participation and discussions through and onto these interesting times. It is a well known fact that Oro Union was a product of deep strategic thinking. The venerable founders of this Union came together at a time just like this. Their existence as a distinct scion of the human race was under creative assault. The conception of the Union was one of their varied answers to that challenge. The Union launched on a very futuristic development plan anchored on sacrifice, love, respect for order and investments in the quest for knowledge and to a lesser extent, capital. This strategic engagement has served us for ninety years and while its basic tenets are still potent, today we face a similar (some will say, more threatening) set of circumstances, but in a more complex, challenging and mercurial environment. How we respond, could in fact set the tone for the next ninety years.
It is tempting to see our current challenge purely through a political prism. While politics has always had a significant bearing on our thinking, it will be wrong to ascribe to it the damnable position of villain-in-chief. The generation before ours can remember too well the challenges of the COR state movement, the struggles for development under a hostile regional government and even a series of internally generated conflicts which engulfed the County Council and even this union until the civil war. Even with these obstacles, we were able to build a presence which radiated towards national recognition. The second republic was the crest of that influence and ascendancy. The decent into this, socio-economic depression started from the Sani Abacha announcement of Dec. 31, 1983. First the military and then the political environment changed the indices which conferred development and it is my submission that we were overwhelmed by the sheer gravity of inequities which were visited on the minority groups of Nigeria of which we were a part. We never dreamed it could get that vicious. A few minority groups who were nimble enough adapted but in the main, they were national level minorities, like the Tiv, Igalla, Urohbo and even the Ibibio, who had the advantage of dominance in the states in which they were local majority groups. Even so, they gasped for oxygen nationally and if one looks closely, they still lack the spring in their steps. Our challenge was made even more precarious by deliberate misrepresentation of the history of Oro’s contributions to the growth and advancement of the interest of our neighbors and the resultant mistrust. Deliberate misinformation was deployed to misdirect the character and purpose of enwi-oro. All with the single purpose of damaging the cordial relation we had carved through the years and in mindless pursuit to truncate our deserved place within the succession order. The mismanagement of the Nation has encouraged decadent behavior nationally, but even with that, it was perhaps the most callous case of officially sponsored campaign of malignment against a people who had done nothing but ask that the government respect an existing understanding.
To be sure, the slide into regression can be traced (with cogent justification) more to our collective disengagement from our core communal values, community building and the application of the fail-safe tenets from the ages to the disastrous drift of later generations into political entrepreneurship. Our cultural principles and leadership ethos took a dive. The unthinking enthronement of mediocrity elevated a tribe of barely equipped mannequins who adorned the sidewalks of the emerging political bazaar into social relevance and with their arrival; the Oro political firmament took delivery of its first set of professional political entrepreneurs. If one should add this to the universal drop in the standard of education; the de-mystification of tertiary education and the rapid development of political brigandage as a culture of the ruling class (which in turn bred a culture of sycophancy and dependency), it is easy to connect with why our bubbling development trajectory, hitherto built on a platform of diligence and merit, took a dive. Even at that, we remained competitive until the arrival of the last PDP administration that deployed a strategy of mass emasculation of Oro as a vehicle toward its uncommonly expensive and bewildering succession plan; For reasons yet to be fathomed, that government took a deliberate aim at and pulled the trigger on the fledging Oro economic and socio-political environment. This is a story for another occasion. Years of trust and hope had blunted our alertness. Critically, the leadership had lost the nimbleness that usually characterized our engagements consequent upon which the people became uncharacteristically precipitate, gossipy and uncoordinated. These and to a certain extent, the betrayal of the trust imposed by Oro on other group-players in the state despite our steadfast support for them in their time of need, left us flat footed. However, there was a quick rally and our responses became more effective.
The Oro Union summit of 2015 dealt exhaustively with the processes of our preparation for and engagement with the Oro 2015 mandate. Since then that battle, in a curious way, has refused to discharge itself: It is now clearly apparent that the lack of an organized mass based Oro challenge for the prize left us bruised as a people. The deployment of a team of contestants instead of a well-backed candidate with unshakeable support from home watered down expectations and it did not help that most of the aspirants were at one time or the other under the illusion of support by our tormentor-in-chief. It is clear (with the benefit of hind sight) that no one outside the nominee of Mr. Akpabio was going to get the nomination of his Party (a party Oro built and used to support him to relevance) and a few discerning players from Oro knew on time that he was not going to support onwi-oro suki for the position. Since it was an avowed position he had taken from his first term (but concealed from the public domain). Unfortunately, those who steered our challenge were, not for the first time, so taken by his charm and given word that we incredibly distanced ourselves from exploring other alternate possibilities. I am sure we all know that this was not strange. Again, it was obvious even then, that political players who were in office will deploy state muscle to grab electoral advantage irrespective of the hypocritical platitudes coming from that administration. When a very senior operative in government advised that every member of his party must use whatever means to get announced as the winner, we should have seen the drift. Be that as it may, apart from these understandable oversights, the Oro 2015 struggle was conducted with deep seriousness and it involved very extensive consultations with major and influential political heavyweights all over the country. Whatever avenue was open was explored. It is to the eternal credit of the indomitable Oro spirit that the late rally by the Oro group (principally to establish their displeasure) was the foundation upon which the challenge to fight the ensuing display of impunity was founded. The flawed judgment of the electoral tribunal underpins this fact. Oro provided the anti-impunity platform; four LGAs out of the five it had as well as the only seat in the House of Assembly. This Oro effort provided the traction that led to the Appeal Court Verdict cancelling the election. As it stands, the Supreme Court will have the final say and Oro must prepare for any possible outcome.
In my opinion, the pre-election struggle for nomination set the tone for all the other events that was to come. The system and process was subject to acute executive interference. Clearly, given the scale of interruption, the results of the so-called elections were predictable no matter what Oro did. For as long as the PDP was the dominant force in the land and her structures in Akwa Ibom were firmly under the control of the anti Oro Cabal who were protected by executive cover, to that extent was the Oro governorship dream doomed to fail. It is always possible to be cleverer after the fact, so we can at this time say that our response should have been more strategic and nimble and not tied to the whims of our detractors. Particularly since the PDP and her leadership was in all intents, hostage to a cabal which included our tormentor-in-chief in the Oro 2015 dream. In all however, the struggle was quite intense and within the limited capacities available, it had a very remarkable outcomes. The last has not been heard of our intervention as we have succeeded in creating a new reality in the state, which has left the hitherto authoritarian cabal in confusion. Chances are that Oro will come through with a better deal than the non-deal of the PDP. This will positively reprogram the cycle for Oro’s political relevance and the succession convention in our state.
ROLL OF POLITICAL APPOINTEES AND ELECTED PERSONNEL
It is important to draw attention to the activities of the leading beneficiaries of political patronage and offices from Oro. At the risk of sounding immodest, only Professor Okon Eminue, Chief Edet Nkpubre, Representative Uwak, Dr. Asuquo Anwana and my humble self (as I recall) were in any manner involved in the struggle on the side of Oro in a visible capacity (as a consequence of which we lost our jobs) All other public office holders from the Minister right down to the PA of the least Local Government Councilors were at best tepid in their engagement with the process. They considered their personal privileges over and above the well-being of their people. During the election, they deployed excessive methods of cohesion and state power to achieve results which justified their slavish association with the cabal rather than encourage the fair expression of resentment by our people at the treatment which the PDP has meted out to Oro. These sons and daughters of Oro betrayed the fatherland. It is true that most of them were specially selected for that purpose by the agents of the Ukanna Cabal. Selected to undermine their homeland and promote the agenda specifically designed against their people and themselves. Even those who held elective office were at the mercy of this machine rather than depend on the votes of our people, but the Yoruba’s have a saying which would have helped them in the circumstance they found themselves: “even if one is sent on an errand as a slave, he/she has the prerogative to deliver the message as a free-born”. These persons were in their positions of privilege primarily because they were from Oro. So while a sense of solidarity with the establishment was just tolerable in that sense, their primary duty was to robustly defend Oro’s interest within that establishment and report to their primary constituency for advice or approval. They were not committed in the least to our collective interest. This must be seen for what it really is, treachery of the highest order, and it must carry with it stiff sanctions.
Our representative in the House of Representatives Hon. Robinson Uwak must be commended for his very steadfast stand on all matters of Oro. We all know why he is not back in the House of Representatives. Our expectation is that those who deployed “okpono Ulu” to get into that house must perform similarly or even better and in our interest or begin to look at the rear mirror. The only electoral seat we have at the center must always be occupied by a patriot who will and must risk all in Oro’s interest, it is after all the largest Federal constituency in the country. The last time we had a Senator, our man needed no introduction. He left very large shoes indeed. Now, thanks to the cabal, we have been given another and our appetites are whet. I will not say more!
In all of this, the OU and the COTR had the impossible task of remaining non-partisan but steering the ship of Oro through this stormy political sea which of course could only be given expression using political parties as delivery vehicles. Nonpartisanship was thus forced into retreat and both institutions were compelled to drop their veil and express a preference for Oro to adopt. They did this by ingeniously adopting the activism of the Oro Think Tank as the conduit for their expressions
THE ORON THINK THANK (OTT)
Let me seize this opportunity to say a word about the Oro Think Tank. I founded the OTT when I was the State Chairman of the PDP. It was the crystallization of a widely held notion at that time by respected Oro citizens, that we needed a clearing house for the emerging political chaos of the time. The aim was to have a clearing house which was to keep the Oro agenda focused while bringing order, respect, intellect and capacity into the execution of our interest. It was in part to be a buffer between our revered institutions (the COTR and the OU) and the chaotic and irreverent political terrain; thus insulating them from descending into the arena. Ideally it was to be a non-partisan shock absorber, working out its schedules and tactics with the singular purpose of proffering strategies for our survival in a very turbulent terrain; irrespective of who or which organization is in power. It has worked well in the main and for a season became hostage to its success. Today it survives largely on life support suffering from a crises of misrepresentations over the conduct of the Oro 2015 project but it is still alive and recuperating. It will revive. Its role in the Oro 2015 is laudable in the energy that was brought to bear on the pursuit of the agenda. There are lessons to be learnt from that experience. However, in the aftermath to that event, the OTT must reinvent itself in line with reality. It must go back to the glory days of The Sir Etim Uye’s captainship when it commanded the allegiance of most enwi-oro on account of its diligence, sacrifice, transparency and intellectualism. It is my considered view that they could consider membership based on more definitive criteria than numbers representing LGs. As a rule, it must discourage the temptation to be seen as the stock exchange for investors in political, social or cultural patronage. It must return to being a think tank, not a talk shop.
The Oron Union has had a productive year. It managed to steer the ship of our affairs without a derailment. If at any point it looked like jumping into the political arena it did so with decorum and the wider interest of Oro in mind. It actively encouraged the pursuit of any alliance which offered us a good deal. That is the avowed responsibility of this union. In the turbulent year just gone by, it was indeed a feat for it not to be caught up in deep political controversies. I believe a great deal of persons will agree with my assessment that their drift had been pro Oro. But that is not the only department they will be judged on so I hope they did just as well in other departments as I believe they are coming up for an election.
There are issues other than political which should also occupy the Union. A conservative estimate of N6b is the National allocation of resource to our local Governments every year from the federation Account. Apart from the New buildings owned by successive Chairmen and councilors, there is nothing to show for this endowment. The Union must take legal and other steps to ventilate the accounts of the Councils which are run largely as the private fiefdoms of Council Chairmen with no heed to the community. Where there is a semblance of performance, the books are overburdened with over invoicing and unperforming loans while the allocation is creatively drained under social subheads. It should be the duty of the Union to know about such things. A legitimate part of the security votes of each Council Chairman should in fact formally be negotiated for the Union, an NGO which eminently helps in maintaining the security integrity of the LG. Other institutions in Oro such as the Maritime academy go under the radar. That is until you read in the news that the Rector sat on a N19b financial chest. Without being meddlesome, this Union can engage the Institutions and increasing number of corporate bodies operating in Oro in strategic partnerships which could result in benefits to the community (usually on specific projects).
To send our sons to England in the 40/50s this Union introduced personal taxation. Patriotic Oro sons and daughters paid. It is on record that there was only one Oron public servant in the entire country who did not contribute and his name is down in the record book of infamy. It does not have to follow the same pattern but any creative alternative should be more rewarding than a method which consistently depends on the same individuals who seek out donations every year. Let the Donations be an additional source to a treasury which is serviced by the very essence of our Oronness.
The education of our youth and the business of income generation by young people and women can be organized. The Union must again take it upon itself to drive growth and knowledge as it did in its formative years. These are times which calls for creative thinking.
We are nothing without our language, and that resource is under attack. I recall that the Union was on the trail of rejuvenating and empowering it as a written word. That project must be revived as a matter of survival.
I recall that someone was compiling a database of Oro people. Nothing has been heard of this effort in a while. That is an essential resource. One which can serve our collective interest. For instance, a young Oro Engineer working in Gusau, could, in a snap, be made to fill one of the attractive vacancies which had just come to the notice of Sir Edet Amana. Saves time and the mere availability of the resource will be self-rewarding.
We are blessed with expert in all fields, the OU must harness these resource to produce an economic/development blueprint for ORO covering the next 20 years. We need a plan.
One must praise the COTR for their fatherly role in all affairs of the land. Their counsel has been divine while their engagement with other persons within their stratosphere brought invaluable essence to the Oro 2015 struggle. They were the unobtrusive spirit behind every move. The Ahta through the entire field of titled elders were kept abreast of every step of the endeavor and their advice and continuous blessing must have caused the razzle-dazzle that continue to confound those who had written us off. They deserve a special gratitude for their unanimous believe in and support for the Oro struggle
No one can offer advice to the wise ones, they know it all but there are signs, troubling signs that the pantheon is being subverted. The COTR must be the last word on wisdom, selflessness, honesty and order. I believe it is so and those who see less than an untainted institution must be wrong. It is the only way we can sustain hope. If the COTR sees corruption, we are finished. Respectfully, you must, remain like Caesar’s wife. I implore you. As you admit more members, let your guiding principle conform with best practices. Certain citizens just can’t make the cut and we must not lower the stick.
The traditional institution represents the point of contact with our forebears who kept the land for us. That connection is strong and eternal and we, the living, must strive to keep their values alive. We hear whispers of rather untoward occurrences in this vital institution. Of corruptive tendencies, of individuals who have exhibited rather less than transparent conduct. There is wonder how the passage of the Ahta ended up a government affair leaving the COTR marooned as guests in their own events without even introduction. That is a consequence of corruption. It is from the ranks of the COTR that we have the Ahta; so we are expectant and our ears itch but we will refrain from scratching them because we know your decision will as always unite the land. None is more versed than you in navigating the swamp of unity. You are practiced in the art.
The trend worldwide is to reinvigorate and modernize traditional institutions and this should be done with a deliberate eye on increasing the relevance of the office. Relevance comes from influence and influence begets respect. An influential Ahta can offer his children more protection. It takes a long season to transform any institution, ours will be no different but we must start planning. It must be done with care and in love in the interest of the people. Why would some Emir, Oba or Obi and no Oro person has been heard of being transformed into The Chancellor of a Federal University and the Ahta cannot? To achieve such ends, we must prepare our candidate for the competition and that calls for, among other things, the reexamination of the old ways; which have proved quite ineffectual as developmental processes outstrip their original purposes. Majesty and Highnesses, please forgive my impertinence, if I have over spoken, I apologize.
It is fashionable for today’s youth to treat their youthfulness as a qualification rather than a process, a passage. They cling to the number which defines their sojourn as if it confers a special right. It does not. All facilities on earth are available to all God’s children according to capacity and ability. If we find a seventy-year-old geezer who can score goals repeatedly and confound the tightest defense in soccer, that dude will be in the forward line of the Super Eagles and we will probably win the world cup for keeps. That’s it. So even for the youth there is a demand for engagement. So also it is also for the elders.
True our youth have a myriad of challenges. Most of which are a direct result of the kind of kleptomaniac indiscipline exhibited by persons in government. But it is time they began to show more perception and quit acting like the world owes them a special debt. They have been so conditioned that I am sure if old Uncle Sambo (Dasuki) can work his way out of his little predicament, he probably will get an award from youths of every Nigerian clime who have been bred with an almajiri mindset. It is a national malaise and we must all bear the shame and blame. Back home, things are not different. We have seen lately a flurry of youth exerting themselves to act as the slaves- in-chief of the very oppressor class that has pegged their lives. They are easily carried away by promises of cheap gains. The usual line deployed in defense of this self-immolating behavior is that their elder have short-changed them…. “our elders have sold out” is the common refrain. Which elder and how has he/she sold out? Can this statement stand up to any scrutiny? In the main, they have bought in into the propaganda of those who want to use their energies against their fatherland. They are quick to count money in another person’s pocket. As a rule Oro elders have always been conscious of their roles as protectors of the younger generation and relish in working with the discerning ones. I do not recall in my long exposure in public life when they failed to do so with all the capacity at their command. Every office meant for young people are reserved for and occupied by them. They are and have always been encouraged to strive. They are the Assemblymen, they are in the House of Representatives, all the Party apparatchiks are young persons. All the commissioners, all PA’s and SA’s from Oro whom they know are in their age brackets. Need I mention Councilors, Chairmen of Councils and Board members? I need to be challenged on this by a youth. So, the problem is not in the elders, they have not been greedy. The real drag is that there is great reluctance in the youth to undergo tutelage coupled with a recalcitrance towards engaging in self-improvement. Every youth is now a political “stake holder” and there are just so many political positions.
This attitude must change. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, I will use my example for illustration. At thirteen I lived under the eagle eye of my Uncle Justice Esin. At seventeen I was in Chief Anwana’s custody where, the splendid rascal that I was, I got whipped for my efforts every so often, even at that age and it remained so until I counseled myself and decided it was better to reform. After school certificate, I lived in alternate cycles in Idombis care and under the supervision of Ahta Etim Ati Okpo in Zaria. It was the Ahta , in 2007, cameras rolling who told the PDP entourage when we went to introduce our very amiable gubernatorial candidate (as he then was) that I, the State Chairman, was an expert in car care, that was true, I could launder a vehicle better than any other teenager within a fifty mile radius. I entered the university under their supervision. In the University, I met up with older Oro students like Chief Nukak Anteh, Ndekedehe the Ambassador, Enam Nduonofit, Odiongenyi the Chartered accountant, Engr. Efretuei Snr, Ambassador Sir Etim Uye was doing his Masters at the time and you could not dare misbehave where he was (not then, not now). At the same time, I had my cousin Barrister Magnus Esin who left me at home and died in a motor accident two hours later at Lafiya. Upon graduation I met up with and worked with all sorts of senior Architects from all over the world. By the time I joined Senator Victor Akan at 29 years I had an M.Sc and was ready for another round of pupilage under the guru whom I served and revered unto death. As the State Chairman of the PDP, I was suspended over a malicious and trumped up charge of embezzlement laid against me by the person of Mr. Nelson Effiong, then Speaker of the House of Assembly and an Oro man, before President Obasanjo. I was investigated by the then dreaded Nuhu Ribadu of the EFCC, (I have been investigated four times by the ICPC and thrice by the EFCC since. Curiously all the petitions had its roots in Oro). The lessons of that period of pupilage came to my rescue on every occasion I have been investigated and/or discharged in the course of my public service career. Few persons understand anymore the values I learnt from people like Chief E. R. Isang who blessed me in 1983 and has continued to do so till today. Chief N.I. Nkeruwem, Ovong Isemin and Chief Atteh were all my mentors. Professor O. Bassey and Dr. Akwa Akan and my ever-adorable father-in-law, Etubom Bassey-Duke, who grew up in Ekim, taught me how to crawl before I walked. This list is not exhaustive and is not limited to Oro. I can fill the next three pages with wise Elders all over the Globe who shaped my thinking. Before all these came on board, I was rendered teachable by my loving and God fearing mother assisted by her host of sisters and brothers. I endured that stony gaze of rebuke from Prof. Eskor Toyo. You would be lucky to survive the encounter without being turned into a toad. Most of these revered personalities are alive and they can attest to the fact that the only “settlement” we got was their blessings. They did not have Hiluxes or corollas to give, and apart from the Senator, none even spared a dime but we were immensely blessed by their wisdom and will live forever on it. This was how I spent my youth.
Forgive my immodest concentration on self but I hope the point is made. I am still here and I am who I am because of, not in spite of, those kindly elders. It is unimaginable the lessons I would not have learnt because I was either in a hurry or considered them usurpers. The world is a different place today, I admit, driven by decadent values but that is the more reason our youth must stoop to learn the ropes of life.
“…Those who improve with age embrace the power of personal growth
And personal achievement and begin to replace youth with wisdom,
Innocence with understanding and lack of purpose with actualization…”
The elders in our community are open for service but the youths prefer to wait for “foreign” deals. The only place success and progress come before work is in the dictionary and the only structure which man starts constructing from the top is the Grave. These are life’s lessons. The youth can never compete for wisdom with their parents. Is it right for the youth of any community to challenge the decision of the council of elders with the arrogance exhibited by some of our own? In ignorance they prepare for their failure. Honor thy Father, the good book says. In the last three years, even the authority of the Ahta in council have been challenged several times. How do we achieve the goals of our community if the young are not in lock-step with the old? The elders of any community hold the key to the future. The youth only inherit that future. Just think how it will look if you arrive at this future only to recall that you had inadvertently shoved the gate keeper off a cliff. In any case, pretty soon, today’s youth will be an elder and natural laws will take their course. If you don’t have clean hands, then you cannot go to equity.
I have not talked about the ravaging social disease called cultism for the simple fact that I do not understand the dynamics of it. I cannot simply understand why an Oro son can raise a hand against another outside admissible tussles which establish peer superiority. We have lost many sons through this incredibly mysterious and babaric development. We lost that very fine son, Hon. Okpo Ekere to this mindless brutality and up till today the police has been unable to bring the culprits (who I learnt are in their custody) to book. This crime was committed before at least fifty known witnesses, all of which are still in the community. Can the lesson of Okpo’s death be that we should not expect sensible limits of misbehavior from our youth? As I said, I cannot even begin to think out an approach to a solution. Luckily, the Union has other sources.
The youth of Oro must seek wise counsel. Every conclave called by Oro which I have attended agonizes about the competitive quotient of our youth. If they could transfer their excess knowledge to the young by osmosis they would. They ask themselves what they need to do to salvage our situation. They are concerned because they know the way since they’ve been through it. They want the youth to be part of the solution. Youth, in their own interest must learn to trust the leadership and counsel of their elders who have nothing but their wellbeing at heart. A governor once came to Oro and urged the youth to rebellion. Some youth obliged. Ask yourself how they or their community have been rewarded for diminishing their own.
WOMEN (AND THE CHURCH)
Folklore attributes the survival of Oro through the nineteenth century siege by the British Navy in part to the resourcefulness of our women. They ran the underground supply line which kept families alive through the siege while men kept an eye out for the enemy. That siege was centered around the Udung Ukoh creeks and coast and it was the women’s responsibility to shift the family inland and sneak into the farms and do some guerrilla harvesting before dashing back home. (By the way, my source also told me that the siege and that mass migration inland was the reason (pretty much so every onwi-oro has a cousin in Udung Uko. Can this be true?) As a boy, I was witness to them, our women, playing the same role during the civil war. They have always tended to our needs, but this time, along with the churches, Oro prayed. They rolled on the floor and wore sack clothes and ashes. Our women fasted and cried out while politicians engaged in their feast of deceit. How many times did they commandeer this very hall and turned it into a house of supplication? Along with the church in Oro, they called on the Lord ceaselessly for rescue and protection. It was the only arrow left in our quiver. We can all see the answer to those prayers. The Lord Answered and is answering. At his time and not the time of our tormentors, he will grant the request laid at his feet by our women and our churches. It is not yet over.
Oro should take the development of our girls and women as a priority. Their protection should become a tradition. Unlike in days of yore, our society has abdicated this responsibility. The result is rampant teenage pregnancies and the consequent truncation of an equal number of otherwise productive lives. No minority group can afford this unnecessary waste. As individuals and as a Union, we must reenergize a visible trend geared towards girl-child development. Several NGOs exist internationally, nationally and locally who offer guidance and help since it is a cardinal platform of the International effort at achieving sustainable development. We must deliberately seek this help for our girls and women. They need guidance.
The word in the health community is that the level of sero-prevalence of the HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis is quite serious in our community particularly at the riverine precincts. We must support government effort at enlightenment on appropriate behavior. It is our community and we bear direct responsibility for its survival.
THE ROAD TO DIGNITY
We are drained from a long emotional battle but not weary. The enemy must be even more tired at this point. The good news is that we are on track to reaffirming our dignity. Enough has been said about the plural republicanism of the Oro person. If one examines the two pillars of this ideology viz the “nlie ku ufok ofu” and the “afang ki’ phenomena it is not difficult to see that they are based on contradictory dynamics. The one supports centripetal action and the other, centrifugal. But we have made an art of carving out a dignified and respected community by dexterously welding these two contradictory platforms into one productive entity. We will need all the dexterity in our arsenal to survive the next test on our dignity. Soon this union will again be called upon to lead Oro in thinking out another political decision to the future. It is always a trying time for the Union as I observed earlier. In the last outing, despite warnings from informed pundits like me, they were led into the waiting embrace of the devouring lion. The God of Oro brought forth wisdom and even the most recalcitrant saw the need to raise our flag against injustice. That is how, following on the advice of our revered institutions, Oro ended up voting for Dignity and not selling their right for a morsel of pottage. Today we are proud soldiers of that just cause but the battle rages furiously towards a climax.
Let me make an informed prediction but a prediction no less. I must warn, that in over forty years on the “job” of predicting political outcomes, I do not recollect being far off the mark. I predict that the Supreme Court will uphold the judgement of the Appeal Court on the Akwa Ibom Gubernatorial case before it. If that happens, we shall again be asked to choose on a certain day in April whom we want as Governor.
On the blue corner will be PDP; the traditional Oro Party who sapped our total support for sixteen years and left us comatose. It abandoned us when we legitimately asked for our right to produce the next Governor. The only demand we have made of the party in sixteen years. In the last eight of those sixteen years, the PDP government waged a war of attrition on Oro and its people. The state of our community speaks for itself. Our personal economies in the midst of the glut which characterized Godswill Akpabio’s era speak for themselves. In the last eight years we have buried very many prominent sons and daughter, all from manageable ailments who nevertheless died because no one in Oro can afford to pay for treatment abroad and we had a government which sponsored weddings in Dubai for millionaires yet treated us like lepers (and I can imagine secretly wished we all died off). Look at the infrastructural development in Oro over the last eight years. There is no motor-able road in all of Oro. If there are no roads, then need we talk about other sectors of development? In comparison, other parts of the state have been turned into sprawling metropolise with roads leading to streams and even nowhere. We have witnessed a deliberate impoverishment of the Oro political and business classes and concurrent subjugation of the Oro society by every applicable sanctions. There was within the PDP leadership a conscious encouragement of our youth to rebellion. They chose their targets well. Youth with low self-esteem, often with “corel-draw” certificates. They were and are still being funded to undermine our institutions. No institution was off limits, I mentioned earlier the incidence of the Ahta’s passage. One cannot get higher than that.
This PDP ignored their constitution, ignored the traditional Tripodial arrangement in the State and brought in a total stranger to the polity and in less than two years drove him with all the might and violence they can muster into government house. Mr. Udom Emmanuel is a banker. He has done well as a banker and I believe that being the Governor of Akwa Ibom State did not feature within his prospects of engagements. It could not for he is a Deacon of the Qua Iboe Church and his Bible tells him that he cannot reap where he did not sow. He may in fact become the next Governor of the Central Bank but he certainly did not sow any seed in the state political terrain. That seat he occupies was by right meant for Oro. It was so agreed and the cycle of succession was turning very smoothly until the conspiracy that forced him on us.
Now for all those who talk glibly and ignorantly about Senatorial Rotation, let me tell you this. Nowhere in the Nigerian Constitution or the PDP Constitution is Senatorial district mentioned as the unit for balance. Nowhere! On the contrary, both documents emphasize the recognition of Distinct peoples and language groups as the base unit for any such exercise. In Akwa Ibom from the very beginning, it was the TRIPOD. Which conveniently but coincidentally spread the three major ethnic groups into the three senatorial districts. It was a coincidental relationship. You will see that everywhere there is a contention, for instance in Ogun (Egbas, Ijebus, Egbados etc) , Kogi (Igala, Ebira, Yoruba etc), Benue (Tiv and Idoma etc), Rivers (Riverine and non riverine, Ijaw, Ogoni and non Ijaw) This fraud of zoning along Senatorial lines must be challenged. After the Ibibios and Annangs, it was clearly the turn of Oro people and after that a review of the process to include other distinct groups and factors like merit etc. That is the understanding.
Mr. Emmanuel has shown his hands. He has had six clear months to turn the page. Hands up those who believe he has done so. On the contrary he has further reduced all the advantages we took for granted as the third leg of the tripod. Today as in the last eight years no Oro person sits on the table our resources are being carved up. No decision is made in our state with our participation. Just the other Day I wondered whether out Deputy Speaker will rise up and fill the vacant Chair left by the sacked incumbent, what happened? That was an opportunity to pull something back but to the PDP we do not exist. Chief Jerry Okpo can speak to the pains of being a party loyalist. Despite his best efforts at “loyalty”, his wife, our sister the heir apparent was cleverly eased out of the line of succession. I have not spoken to Jerry in a long season but I am sure if I do, his views about our pursuit for dignity will now reflect his personal reality. Not different from all of ours. See it does not matter how hard a slave dances to please the master, he is still in his eyes, a slave. For eight solid years, the PDP denied us any of the Principal offices in both the Party and Government. The highest Oro person in Government is the Deputy Speaker. That was not how it was before Akpabio became governor. At a time, there were over three hundred PA’s of all description, Oro had only five. We can go on and on. This Party has not sought to meet with Oro formally since we catapulted Akpabio to the Mansion. In all the eight years, we were treated to a degrading menu of informal meetings with one man. The Governor, no doubt, but one man all the same. For all of twenty-six times; without any change in the attitude of the cabal. There has been no constructive dialogue with Oro through these locust nine years. The Road to dignity is long through the PDP. It will take forty years before we can take a shot at the title and even then it will still be open to contest once again in Eket senatorial District (not to Oro) and by then our children will all have been turned to slaves. That is not our original agreement. The PDP whether under Akpabio or Emmanuel treats us as non-persons. They have cut the umbilical cord which connected us. Truth is that they have gone too far and cannot retreat. From here on their only recourse will be to try and silence us. It is like a murderer who must commit more murders to silence the witnesses to a crime. Worse was to come, in a creative move into the gas chamber, they reached for our Jugular. In the deliberate removal of the deepsea port from Oro, this party has thrust a dagger into our hearts. We are slowly bleeding to death. Stabbed by a man to whom we gave life. That singular move removes the hope for economic independence of the entire Oro race for generations. Over forty years we waited and patiently dreamed this dream. The plans were firm and the designs completed by the Attah government but today, a panel of “experts” constituted By our Governor Udom Emmanuel has affirmed the movement the port from Oro. We had two experts in that panel, Emmanuel Ekuwem, Ph. D and Akon Eyakenyi, Ph. D. how so clever. While we await our experts’ report on their assignment, Oro has a decision to make.
On the red corner is the APC. It has no corporate track record and is frightfully peopled by some principal but discontented actors from the PDP. Most have suffered injustice, some have participated in meting out same but all now do understand the pain occasioned by maltreatment; having tasted the bitter PDP pill themselves. We cannot judge APC with anything more than their willingness to meet Oro and the result of that meeting. The Party at its highest structure sought for and had a meeting with Oro institutions. Many areas of cooperation were explored and certain cogent arrangement reached. To start with, the APC has affirmed their intent to return to the tripodal arrangement. Interestingly, in a show of goodwill APC have nominated our son as the Deputy Governor, signaling the clear path for the succession and rotation. Oro is to return to its position of the third leg in the tripod and be treated as such. Other matters of mutual interest were discussed and agreed on. We must take a stand for our dignity.
In the cancelled election, we voted for the APC in an emotional reaction to the mistreatment meted on us by the PDP. If that decision was emotional then our next move must be based on facts and rational thinking. It is my considered opinion that for reasons based on the facts enumerated above, the PDP does not value us as allies. They had since drawn the line to keep us out of the power and economic vortex. It seems that they have sent a clear signal that they do not want us in their schedule of engagements. Many months since the start of the Udom governorship, enough time to show remorse and step up the friendship making act, we are still debating support for an organization which has deliberately tried to stripped us of our dignity? And by their actions showed the world they do not care how we feel, I am scandalized. Can we in all good conscience leave our destiny in the hands of an organization which we know will not respect or enhance it in any form. After sixteen years, we should listen to the wisdom of the lepers in 2 Kings 7. Hear the lepers talking to enwi oro:
“why should we sit here, at the behest of the PDP who do not want or like us, if we remain here they will kill us, we will die, they have done all in their power to achieve that end as we all know; why not go into a new alliance, this time with the benefit of our experience, even if they too want to kill us, we will be just as dead anyway but no death can be as painful as that inflicted by the PDP to whom we gave unreserved support for sixteen years” …..2 Kings 7, 3-5.
To push the argument a bit further, the PDP, now a decrepit shadow of the former Oro propelled party is struggling for oxygen. To tell you who they are, all their web sites have been shut down as I speak. It is a sensible proposition to even think it is dying. Watch the National trend. The PDP had to gasp for air in Bayelsa, the home state of President Johnathan. It lost in Kogi state and has lost more than ten national assembly seat since the tribunals began to seat. It has to contend with elections in the South South against people like Amechi whom they could not defeat even when they were in power. Senior PDP personnel are too busy trying to explain how they got their stupendous wealth to bother about Akwa Ibom Election. In Akwa Ibom State senior operatives of the party have all but dropped from the radar screens. That is not typical of that boisterous group. The forces of impunity have left them. They will be contesting their first election as the opposition, a situation they know too well is not pole position. The party’s involvement in 16 years of mismanagement of our economies cannot have gained them friends. The deployment of thugs, fake policemen, security personnel and corrupt INEC officials cannot be reenacted. How does PDP intend to win? Their strategy was to grab materials and be declared winner. They don’t know any way else. Here in Akwa Ibom, take a walk around town and hear what the people are saying and you do not have to choose your preferred station, anywhere will do. Everyone wants change. They are tired of impunity. If we are deeply interested in our Dignity, we cannot enhance anybody that insults us. Akwa Ibom state is a jewel in the crown Buhari is building. Can he just sit back and not give a little encouragement to his party’s candidate? A presidential nod goes a long way.
I have met a motely group of people, Oro people who plead party loyalty as their reasons for supporting the PDP. Fair excuse but they sound hollow. Loyalty cuts both ways. If the party you are loyal to is unfair in the union with your people then you must find another reason. They do not represent us. I am as loyal a party man as one can get and I have not left the PDP (even though a little bird told me that they have left me) but I am first an Oro man before I am a party man. In my personal capacity, I cannot vote for the PDP for the reasons I have enumerated above. The only way they can get my vote is if this Union, if the COTR and the OTT issue a proclamation that they have smoothened the rough edges and we should go that way. On that day, the day of the election, I will pray very hard, I will pray that the card reader rejects my permanent voter’s card. We can only take so much
Our lives have been taken over by political issues. It is the sign of the times. Let us side step it for a while and recall that this union has the organizational capacity to turn many facets of our lives into productive vectors. We must now find the will, means and ways. That is the assured Future. Our dignity is enhanced by our quality as a people. It is a road well-travelled by us. Today a strong proportion of our challenges are accentuated because we don’t have the cutting edge talent we were known for. This is a sure way to perdition. We must vow not to let this trend continue.
Minorities, any minorities owe themselves a debt of survival. They must be creative, resourceful and dynamic. Oro must invest in her future. What lesson can we learn from other successful minorities? There are about 14.2 million Jews in the world, about 0.2% of the world population and 4million persons less than the population of Lagos. Out of the 870 Nobel prizes awarded since 1915-2015, the Jews have won 194. The only Jewish nation on earth is the state of Israel. 8 out of the 14 million Jews live in Israel which covers 20,770km and is almost surrounded by 13,132,327sq. km of 400million Arabs. It is in the top 5 technologically advanced countries in the world. They have been victorious in four wars against the Arabs who outnumber them in a ratio 1:30. Israel is also a leader in the design and manufacture of military and precision equipment. The Fulani are 7 million strong in Nigeria but have the influence of the other 250 groups.
A minority status does not therefore automatically translate into a disadvantage. Research has distilled that education, discipline, support and hard work can work marvels. We were successful and ruled our roost not too long ago. Perhaps we can adapt some of the successful principles of that era
· The first ingredient of success for groups of distinct people such as Oro is an acute sense of self and dignity. We must hold strongly to our existence as a different group. This pride in Exceptionality drives the urge for achievement. The more other groups bother about your consistent productivity the more you tend to have the edge to pull ahead. It is a shame to see our compatriots who see their Oroness as a disability Nothing can accelerate defeat faster than a weak sense of self-worth. The confident gait of the Oro man is beginning to wane, rapidly disappearing. Nothing can be more disheartening. The danger in that is that it sends out the signals to your opponent or competitor that you are beginning to lose steam. Just think, if the founders of the OU had been afflicted with this defect, today you will be a member of another union.
· The second ingredient is the conscious development of the feeling that you cannot do enough. We must teach ourselves how to keep challenging ourselves and each other. Our community has almost lost the spirit of competition. Growing up, the Eskor Toyos and Essangs etc demanded perfection. We were made to aspire to new horizons. While the others can afford to paper up mediocrity, we have only one chance to get the job delivered. No one makes excuses for us, there aren’t enough of us to form the excuses team, we don’t have the numbers.
· We must learn to control the instant or supermarket syndrome. We must reacquire the capacity to invest for rewards. Have the discipline to wait and build up for reward. None of our heroes was an instant success. They all labored and invested and when the reward came it was for keeps. We must teach ourselves to resist the supermarket effect which leads to the thinking that everything has a price. Our honor, word and character must not have a price no matter how tempting. We hear that “what money cannot do; more money can do”. Sounds familiar? It apparently works for some people again for a brief heady while; but that is not the way for us. We must be trusted to do the right things.
· We must return to the fear of God. Sadly, the churches are no more as potent in this department as their fore runners were.
· We had created a reputation for love for each other. There was an erroneous twist that we were ethnocentric. All because we looked out for each other. That is dead now. These days, if an Oro executive faces challenges, chances are that there is an Oro hand behind it. Shameful.
· In future, we must devise a way of controlling where our votes go to. In that way we can make it produce dividends. Imagine if we pick up a political party and send all our elected persons, who must be chosen for their patriotism/capacity and not because he/she wants to ride a Lexus on our allocation, to the various assemblies on that platform, we have enough electoral power to make demands and be taken seriously. The PDP for instance would have sat up if the four Assemblymen and Member of the House of Representatives were all from the National Conscience Party, say. We will not even be worse off in any way. This is food for thought as we develop more coping strategies for future encounters
THE REAL HEROES
Three events are indelible in every Oro person’s memory, The creation of the Oron Division, Creation of Akwa Ibom State and the Oro 2015 project. These events are buried in their soul. In all these events, the real heroes are the Ordinary Oro person who claims the project as his/her own. The Carpenter, the Road Transport worker, the teacher and the Medical consultant. Persons who are not involved directly but energize the project by sheer good will. They are the quintessential Oro spirit. You can take their reliability to the bank. Also crucial are the women organizers, wives of activists who man the home when duty calls the man. Who scramble to turn their five fishes into a feast for the multitude who have shown up uninvited but must be fueled up to keep producing for the kingdom. These are the heroes who sacrifice quietly but are seldom acknowledged, without whose support the entire scheme would be worthless. We all salute them
Its Christmas and one can see that this is not the Oro at Christmas. We have to make our home enjoyable and livable again. I set out to give a narrative which believe can help us take the decisions of today with the benefit of our recent experiences. I hope I have touch a nerve in us for we cannot continue this way. I believe that nothing can be worse than eight years under the PDP. During the elections I made a shock discovery, most of our rural dwellers are malnourished. How can this be with a complex network of riverlets watering the land and the Atlantic as our southern border. The land itself goes uncultivated for seasons because the muscle needed to cultivate them are
wasting away in an urban hovel pretending to be a stakeholder. The rains still water our lands but we have detached ourselves from its cycle. These are self-inflicted difficulties and we can stem that drift.
Before I leave I will like us to look into one aspect of our culture which we must quickly regulate. Burials. No family in Oro survives a burial without bruises. It is a self-inflicted aggravation which must stop. Burials in no way represents a celebration of the dead if it injures the living. Many Oro families are groaning in discomfort occasioned by the interpretation we give to its scope. There is so much pressure on the ordinary folks to cope. Let’s think about it and stop further unnecessary self-inflicted aggravation.
There is change on every one’s lips, it must now move into our hearts and minds. The type of change which brings true love, Love for Oro and one another, love for the growth of Akwa Ibom and Nigeria. Thank you all for your endurance. God bless you.
Merry Christmas and Yak Abasi abak me’nyin ku nyafa isughe.
December 24, 2015