BY UZOR MAXIM UZOATU
It is a deeply felt knowledge that the death of a truly great man is akin to the burning down of a library. Most notable Africans of the past died without putting down their multiform activities into bound books. Succeeding generations could not therefore tap into their experiences that would have helped a lot in the march of civilization.
In Ancient Greece, the great philosopher Socrates did not set down his teachings in print but he lives today all over the world through the offerings of his distinguished student Plato, and even Aristotle. It is against this background of passing on the legend of the past that one beholds this 336-page book, He Dared by Offonmbuk C. Akpabio, a resourceful reprisal of the life and times of Okuku Udo Akpabio, the great colonial ruler of the Annang people of Nigeria in today’s Akwa Ibom State.
He Dared comes highly recommended with the words of the respected critic and editor Dili Ezughah: “Offonmbuk Akpabio has told the enthralling story of not just a man but that of his people in a time of transitions. He Dared captures the force of Okuku Udo Akpabio and his time – He is a force driven by integrity, justice, honour, and derring-do.”
A man of immense insight, Okuku Udo Akpabio had to surmount very daunting circumstances to emerge as the shining light and patriarch of the Great Akpabio family. He married as many as 29 wives, and the icing as it were on his matrimonial cake could be seen in the fact that many of the wives were married into the family by Udo Akpabio’s first wife Nne Eyen Mboho.
An old master who had sharp and knowing eyes for good things, Udo Akpabio enjoyed wedlock to sundry daughters and sisters of associates and friends. Of course any new wife must pass the basic test of admission into the family, that is, scrutiny and acceptance by Nne Eyen Mboho. Not unlike Solomon in the Bible, Udo Akpabio reveled in the company of many concubines. Offonmbuk Akpabio limns: “Through these twenty-nine wives, Udo Akpabio begat a large family whose offspring would later form nearly the entirety of Ukana Ikot Ntuen village in now Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.”
Even as he lacked Western education, he gave the training of his children in the white man’s school pride of place. He was at birth named Essien, connoting “Essien Ubong” which means “the compound of glory”. An astute businessman, he quickly made his wealth but refused to be introduced into the then reigning slave trading business controlled by the Aro Igbos of the Ajali, Arondizuogu, and Bende kingdoms.
It was around 1903 that the white colonialists arrived in a forceful manner that was in no way peaceable. Okuku Udo Akpabio was elected by his people of Ukan Ikot Ntuen to be their representative as dictated by the British Administration Office at Ikot Ekpene. He thus became a “Chief by Government Warrant”. Then the “Administration elected Udo Akpabio as the first president of the court, Obong Esop, in Ikot Ekpene – a position he held until his retirement from the administration.” His esteemed position as the president of the Native Court ensured that the other warrant chiefs paid deference to his judgment.
In 1918 Udo Akpabio was initiated into the prestigious Abie Owo Society. His older sons, namely Akpan Udo Akpabio, Ibanga, and Ukpong were already leading the way in the acquisition of Western education. By 1920 Akpan Udo Akpabio began work as a court messenger in the Native Authority Court. Ibanga began life as a pupil teacher in the local Methodist School. Ukpong on his part gained admission into the Methodist College, Uzuakoli, to pursue his secondary education. The death of Adiaha who was married to Chief Ekukinam was a major blow, but the child she left behind as Okuku Udo Akabio’s first grandchild – Ekukinam Bassey – was brought up in the home by Nne Eyen Mboho.
The paramount chiefdom established by the British colonial administration put up Okuku Udo Akpabio as the first paramount ruler of the district.
In 1927 Okuku Udo Akpabio relocated his family to a more expansive compound befitting of his status. He did not join the Spirit Movement but would not stop his sons from joining. There were riots across the Owerri and Calabar districts, but Udo Akpabio played a pivotal role in stemming the violence such that Margery Perham in her book Ten Africans singled him out as the only paramount ruler to “initiate and work committedly (sic) to preserve life and property during the riots.”
According to Offonmbuk Akpabio, “Strengthening the traditional institutions greatly enhanced the role of Okuku Udo Akpabio as an administrator of Ikot Ekpene District, a dispenser of justice, and guardian of the norms and values of the people.” Okuku Udo Akpabio distinguishes the white man from the black man thusly: “The white men are great in their fashion of doing things.
They like to do everything in order. They are not like some black men who jump from one thing unfinished to a fresh one, and by so doing, may be unable to finish both.” In his dotage he “did not suffer a protracted illness but slipped quietly away to join his forbearers.” The book is illustrated with unforgettable black-and-white photographs of yore.
In He Dared Offonmbuk Akpabio has given the world of learning a treasure-trove. The immense wealth contained in this eloquent rendering of the life and times of Okuku Udo Akpabio, the inimitable colonial African ruler, I worthy of celebration.