By Dele Sobowale
“No person was ever honoured for what he received. Honour had been the reward for what he gave” – Calvin Coolidge, 30th US President, 1872-1933, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, P 94.
There are occasions when an incurably lazy person like me is rescued by circumstances divinely appointed. I have always envied my role model, mentor and friend, Obong Victor Attah, for one thing. Even when he turned 82 on Friday November 20, 2020, he is still not the oldest person in his family. Before Victor in 1938 came Edward Attah, OON, Emeritus Professor of Pathology who was born on December 23, 1936.
I took a trip to University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, UUTH, to see Prof in person after Obong informed me he has a senior brother. They were both over 70. Compared with me, the oldest man in my family, this was incredible. From four rooms away at UUTH, I knew where Prof was. He and the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State sounded alike.
A few days ago, while visiting Obong Attah at Abuja, I discovered that irrespective of how old you might be, having somebody older than you still alive means that you might discover new things about yourself. Before then I had been under the impression that I knew all that is worth knowing about Victor Attah. Attah also thought he knew everything about his own personal life. We were both wrong. Prof proved us wrong. A few weeks earlier, Prof and Obong Attah were standing in front of Obot Idim Nsit Girls Primary School. Then, Prof asked; pointing to the girls’ school.
“Victor, do you remember that school?”
“That was where you started your primary education. You were the only boy in an all girls’ school.”
Updated history of Akwa Ibom State will record that the future Governor of the state started his formal education as the only boy among girls in 1941 and continued to 1942. Briefly, here was how it happened.
Attah’s mother was the Headmistress in the school when young Victor clocked three. Big brother was already enrolled in a primary school; daddy was chasing the ‘Golden fleece’ in far away US and there was nobody to take care of Victor. So, mama used her prerogative as Oga and took her son to school with her. There he continued until he could be absorbed in the boys’ primary school.
For years I had been wondering how Victor Attah became an irresistible ‘Ladies Man’ while the rest of us clumsy guys had difficulties getting girls to listen to us. Now I know. He had a head start. Sweet mother for two years gathered the most delightful young females for him in his own private harem!!
More details about Attah family and the six families, including the Udoma Udoma family, which constitutes “the Joneses” in Akwa Ibom State, will soon be published in a book I have been researching and writing about the people.
As Obong Attah turned 82, he now remains the only publicly exposed person known to me who is firmly for one Nigeria. The other, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, died last week. The ranks of those seeking a just and united Nigeria are getting rapidly depleted. That might turn out to be our greatest tragedy.
“When an old man dies, you lose a library.”
Professor Edward Attah deserves to be re-introduced to the Nigerian public – because he is a superstar in his own field. He is not just a Professor of Pathology, he is also a professor of professors and known worldwide as one of the best on the planet. He is also a walking Wikipedia. So, be careful when you take him on. But, unlike other geniuses, he, limitlessly patient, suffers fools gladly.
The dedicated teacher in him will not readily allow a dullard to go uneducated.
Remember this. Professor Attah was the only black Pathologist who was present during the autopsy performed on the late Chief MKO Abiola.
I will like to take this opportunity offered by this new revelation about the history of the Attah family to wish Prof and Obong many happy returns of your days.
Knowing how close you are, I wish I had a brother even now. God bless you both. Your parents gave a lot to Nigeria. You have given even more. This country cannot ask for more.
WHITHER AKWA IBOM AFTER 2023?
“If a man takes no thought of what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand” – Confucius, 551-497 BC, VBQ p 70-1.
For obvious reasons, Akwa Ibom State is on my mind as I wish the Attahs many happy returns. Knowing them, I am certain that they are both concerned about the future of AKS – after Governor Udom Emmanuel. AKS, like most states of Nigeria, especially oil producing states, has had a history resembling the Egyptian experience in the Bible. Eight bountiful years, 2007-2015, had been followed by what promises to be eight relatively lean years, 2015-2023. Although the Bible did not tell us what happened to Egypt after the end of the lean years, the universal opinion among economists is that the Age of Oil is over. Nigeria and the oil-producing states, AKS included, will never again experience the deluge of dollars that came into the country during the years of abundance.
Several thoughts crowd into my mind when contemplating the future of AKS from now on. Those thoughts can be reduced to questions. First, was the bonanza of 2007-2015 well managed; and where is the proof? Second, granted, 2015-2023 represent the beginning of leaner years, but, were opportunities to prepare the state for a future without oil maximized; and where is the proof? Third, what sort of leader would be needed from 2023 to avert total reversal of the gains made from 1999 to 2007? One thing is certain; the next leader must pursue austerity economic policies as well as attempt to recover lost funds as much as possible. Fourth, is there such a man among the AKS political class today? Incidentally, I happen to know almost all the potential successors to Governor Udom Emmanuel. Only one or two surprises can emerge who are unknown to me.
I also know one powerful influence on the outcome. It is not Godswill Akpabio. In fact, anybody supported by Akpabio will lose – irrespective of whether on APC or PDP ticket. Only some of the reasons will be provided now.
UNCOMMON LIES, UNCOMPLETED PROJECTS, UNCONCEALED DEBT BURDEN
“Liars ought to have good memories” -Algernon Sidney, 1622-1683.
Contrary to what most gullible Nigerians were led to believe, the years 2007 to 2015 were not years of uncommon transformation of AKS as state government propaganda promoted.
They were the years when the organic development of Akwa Ibom was put on hold – after the infrastructural boom of 1999 to 2007 which characterized the Attah years. Instead a dark reign of terror prevailed. AKS, which was the nation’s most peaceful state, rose to the top on the Police crime chart. Darkness descended on AKS.
To deceive people a subtle but unmistakable clamp down on the media was put in place. Journalists in Uyo soon got to know that it was unsafe to write the truth about the government – if it was unfavorable. With those in the state silenced, the stage was set for the scamming of the Lagos-Ibadan media houses. Groups of editors, who had not visited AKS while Attah was governor, were brought into AKS and given guided tours during which projects completed before 1999 and from 1999 to 2007 were claimed by the AKS government. The people in the state read with increasing alarm and disdain as newspapers in the Lagos-Ibadan axis published what had not happened. In all these, someone forgot that ultimately power belongs to God. Transient holders of power frequently forget that.
Today, with the coercive powers which all state governors deploy removed, it is impossible for the AKSG 2007-2015 to claim the Airport, the Independent Power Plant, the Government Secretariat, the Ibom Hotels and Resorts, the Golf Course, the Shelter Afrique and the Low Income Housing Projects, the General Hospitals in each Local Government, the Ibom Plaza – to mention a few – as its own accomplishments as was done when it was in power.
Instead, today, any objective investigator can go to AKS and ask to be shown the projects started and completed from 2007 to 2015.
While there, the investigator should also make inquiries about the 18-storey 5-Star Tropicana Hotel proposed for Uyo which was never built while billions of naira went down with it. Then, there is the Specialist Hospital on the Ikot Ekpene Road which was also promised but not delivered until departure date. The investigator must race to Ikot Ekpene where, in the middle of downtown traffic, a 12-storey 5-Star Hotel sits like a sore thumb.
That one was also uncompleted before 2015 and remains largely unfinished and unused. Again, there is no need to list all the white elephant projects, mostly uncompleted, which constituted the real accomplishments of the years 2007 to 2015. That was when about N2.7trillion was available to AKS.
With two and a half years to go for Governor Emmanuel, it is still too soon to assess his achievements. In fairness to him, he inherited the state just when the lean years started. For serving, albeit briefly, in his predecessor’s government, he appears to be under obligation to accept responsibility for what was done – even before he joined the administration which dug a hole for AKS. His vast experience as a financial manager has been helpful in piloting the state as financial resources dwindled. All he can do now is to document carefully his own achievements – modest as they are by comparison with others.
The obvious question is: Looking around AKS now, how many people who participated in AKSG can honestly claim that they served their people as Joseph served Pharaoh in Egypt – during the good and bad times? Make no mistake about it; AKS might never have the opportunity again or at least for a long time to come. Sooner than later, the people might start asking questions.
Finally, it was bad enough that projects completed and uncompleted don’t seem to justify at least N2.7trillion revenue collected and spent during the period under review – 2007 to 2015. It is totally incomprehensible how the state could also have borrowed so much in addition. These loans must now be discharged from dwindling financial resources – making investments difficult. How then will the state grow in the future?
That explains why the people should start now to consider who will succeed Emmanuel. To some extent, he is a lame-duck governor. Barring any sudden change in crude oil prices and Nigeria’s quota, the windfall accruing from the 13 per cent derivation without onshore/offshore dichotomy, for which Attah fought successfully, had been wasted in the eight good years before Udom got to office. He has been left holding an empty bag. It is time to start hunting for a successor.