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Isemin and leadership question in Akwa Ibom

By Sunday Antai

RATIONAL experience has shown that humans are born into a parenthesis marked: “born and dead”. Within the opening and closing brackets is the totality of our experiences in life.

Sadly, however, this aphorism which plays out daily, only falls on the ears of  humans who are mostly steep in vanity and profanity, bereft of true spirituality, and only jolted to this reality when the cold hand of death hits one close to them.

On Saturday, August 22, 2009, Obong Akpan Isemin (1939 – 2009), returned to mother earth amid wailings and tributes by family members and those who were close to him. As the first civilian governor of Akwa Ibom State, he was
dutifully given a state burial. Elected on the platform of the defunct National Republican Convention, in the
military-sired election of December 14, 1991, Isemin and other elected folks were overthrown by the military about
23 months into his tenure.

Several weeks ago, Isemin, as my late elder brother used to say whenever he heard of a friend’s demise, had stopped
ticking. But beyond the death and burial of the man who propagated the idea of Structural Mental Adjustment (SMA),
and governance as “Ubom Noah” (Noah’s Ark), a statement he made as he was bowing out of office as governor, engages our attention vis-a-vis leadership across the spectrum of life.

On November 22, 1993, as Isemin was handing over to Mr. Pius Ahonkai, then Police Commissioner in the State, he
uttered words, the profundity of which should drive the architecture of leadership anywhere. He said: “I came into
politics not because I loved power, nor its potential – wealth. No, far from it! Rather, I was motivated by the
privileges it offers to serve, the happiness to know that something I do leaves the world around me a bit better”.

That was speaking with history in mind, indicating that he was aware that one’s life’s work and walk, rather than wealth, is the defining monument one leaves behind after death. But with such recent revelations like the one made by Tim Daniel, Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNIDO), that Nigeria loses $110bn annually through

treasury looting, not many of our leaders would find Isemin a good companion; same thing with those behind the increase in Nigeria’s stolen money, stashed away in foreign accounts, from $50bn in 1999 to $170bn in 2003 (Saturday Sun, 22 August  2009, p. 45).

True to his philosophy of governance, Isemin will be remembered by those whose lives his 850 boreholes touched; by
those who shared in his philosophy of baking the State cake, rather than just sharing it, which drove his struggle
which led to the increase of the federal allocation to the State from a paltry monthly N350,000 to N11.2 million. He
had successfully convinced the military establishment of the need to abrogate the suppressive Decree N0. 9 of 1970,
which had placed a dichotomy between off and on-shore oil revenue, which had made the central government unduly

It was perhaps because Isemin saw in the current governor of the State, Obong Godswill Akpabio, the potentiality of
being more in the cake baking and structural mental adjustment businesses of his people, that he threw his weight
behind him, at a time when “big politicians” in the state gave him little or no chance at all. He had stuck out his
name and reputation for Akpabio in a crowd of nearly 60 contestants for the governorship position.

If that was the reason for Isemin’s decision to back Governor Akpabio, has he been justified, or could he have regretted that he misread Akpabio’s make up and disposition? Hardly; and the reasons are obvious!

On the “Ubom Noah” axis of Isemin’s philosophy, whereby he preached the unity and equality of his people regardless of ethnic backgrounds, Akpabio has persistently and persuasively canvassed for unity among the people. He has backed this up by his appointments that have tended to weld the people together.

Continues  tomorrow

Mr.  Antai, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.