By Emmanuel Aziken
When in 2018 a major crack erupted in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in Akwa Ibom State with the defection of a few members to the All Progressives Congress, APC it was easily assumed that the hegemony of the PDP over the state would be easily eroded.
The fire cracks that followed that uncommon defection and the intrigues that foreshadowed the 2019 elections in the state left the impression of permanent enmity among not just the local political champions in the state, but also among their associates from outside the state.
The hardening of positions would have been further conveyed by the overwhelming victory of the PDP in the 2019 elections in the state.
So when the governor and the political leader of the state, Mr. Udom Emmanuel lost his father, Elder Gabriel Emmanuel Nkanang on December 1, 2019 it was an opportunity to test the political maturity of the political class in the state, and nay the country.
The burial of the late Nkanang last weekend in Onna, in Akwa Ibom State indeed betrayed the emotions of political biases that had been perceived among some of Nigeria’s political leaders.
It was an opportunity to also showcase the political capacity and the way Elder Nkanang’s first son and the state’s political leader is appreciated within Akwa Ibom and the country.
It is remarkable that though Governor Emmanuel had prior to the 2019 General Election been at the centre of a vicious political attack by the APC, the burial of his father turned into a carnival that brought together many political and business leaders who set aside biases to honour the governor.
President Muhammadu Buhari was not physically present but was well represented by his deputy, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. Few would forget that Osinbajo had prior to the March 2019 governorship election helped to mobilize for the APC insinuating that the state should not be in the hands of the opposition.
However, despite the fact that his assails and his associates were unable to change the political complexion of the state as led by Governor Emmanuel, the vice-president was physically present.
The burial was also attended by two former presidents. President Goodluck Jonathan and his affable wife, Patience were there. So also was President Olusegun Obasanjo. With Buhari represented by Osinbajo, Pa Nkanang’s burial would be described as one occasion where all three living presidents were present under one roof outside Abuja!
Besides the country’s number two man, the number three man in the country, Senate President Ahmad Lawan was a conspicuous presence at the burial ceremony. What made Lawan’s presence conspicuous and remarkable was the presence of his predecessor, Senator Bukola Saraki.
The two men who had a testy and often difficult relationship in the last Senate on account of political proclivities, however, put aside their past issues as they cracked jokes and exchanged pleasantries.
Also present was Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the immediate past deputy president of the Senate.
The occasion was attended by several governors who came to condole with their colleague, Emmanuel, reflecting the appreciation that his fellow governors hold him.
The governors were led by the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who put aside APC partisanship to honour Emmanuel.
One notable gubernatorial presence was that of Governor Douye Diri, the new governor of Bayelsa State. That was the first public outing for the Bayelsa governor who was sworn in the same weekend.
Other governors physically present were Godwin Obaseki; Aminu Tambuwal, Seyi Makinde, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Okeize Ikpeazu, Ifeanyi Okowa, Sani Bello, and Nyesom Wike. Also present were Ben Ayade, Bala Mohammed and several deputy governors in attendance.
Given that Mr. Emmanuel entered the political fray very late having been appointed government scribe in 2013, not many former governors who left office before then would have been expected.
But a couple of them came along. If not because of Emmanuel, then in appreciation of the cordial relationship between Governor Emmanuel and Obong Victor Attah who Emmanuel has given his pride of place in the state.
Among former governors present were Peter Obi, Boni Haruna, Gabriel Suswam, Ayo Fayose, Rabiu Kwankwanso, Ibrahim Dankwambo, Sule Lamido, James Ibori, Attahiru Bafarawa, Donald Duke.
For these former governors it was also an opportunity to rally around Attah who was the first chairman of the NGF at the inception of the Fourth Republic.
If the burial was a melting of political passions, it also showed a melting of religious sentiments. Imagine the emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi arguably the second ranking Islamic leader in Northern Nigeria walking with majesty into the funeral service and sitting down listening to the gospel of Jesus the Christ! It projected the case for religious tolerance that is so much lacking among the citizenry.
As a chip from the private sector having been a senior executive director at Zenith Bank, Mr. Emmanuel’s former colleagues from that sector were fully represented.
They were led by Governor Godwin Emefiele of the Central Bank of Nigeria under who Emmanuel worked in Zenith Bank. The chairman of Zenith Bank, Mr. Jim Ovia was also on hand to condole with his former protégée. Mr. Herbert Wigwe, managing director of Access Bank was also present.
Of course all eyes would have been looking out for Senator Godswill Akpabio, the former governor of Akwa Ibom State. He was not physically present, but his better half, Unoma Akpabio was present indicating a breaking of the ice!
Indeed reflective of the thaw, one of the governor’s leading antagonists at home and APC chieftain, Eseme Eyiboh, chairman of the Cross River Basin Development Authority, had presaged the burial with his fitting tribute to the deceased when he said that a good heart had stopped beating.
“Elder G. E Nkanang of Awa Iman Community, a teacher extraordinary, strong community leader, social mobiliser and religious pathfinder closely, and I can attest that a good heart has stopped beating and a good soul ascended to heaven.
“As a community leader, he was a symbol of truth and integrity, characteristics that stood him out as conscience of his society. He shared freely of his enormous experiences, shaping lives of those of us who were privileged to come his way.”
It was as such suggestive that Eyiboh would urge Governor Emmanuel to follow the good paths of his father, saying “keep on reflecting the best parts of your father, thanks to the loving way he raised you.”
The burial of Elder Nkanang was indeed a bridge building forum for Nigeria’s political class. In the days of the military, the gathering of such men of power was usually a decoy for coup plotting! Who knows, what political coups would have been hatched last weekend!