By Victor Iyanam
It was with intense trepidation that I watched His Excellency, Gov. Udom Emmanuel, in a telecast that had long gone viral. In that video, the Governor had accused Oron people:
“I am not afraid to say this. They say, name and shame. I want to say this to all Akwa Ibomites in Nigeria and in the Diaspora. The problem we have in the Deep Sea Port today is caused by the Oron people. My SSG has tried in every way but they would not listen. That is why he is being blackmailed everywhere because he insists on moving forward. They did not bring us the Investor. We brought the Investors. After we got the approval from the Federal Government, they wrote endless petitions and chased one of the investors away …”
His Excellency had spoken angrily but what was the problem? The lingering issue of the location of the proposed Deep Sea Port had been a watershed matter since the advent of the Udom administration. I recall that in 2008 when I was the Hon. Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, I was also a member of the Implementation Committee of what was then known as the Ibaka Deep Sea Port Implementation Committee.
The then Gov. Godswill Obot Akpabio did a ‘Ground Breaking’ ceremony at a site in Ibaka. This was after a duly commissioned consultancy company submitted its Report, detailing the suitability of Ibaka. For some reason, this administration is not favourably disposed to Ibaka and has shown it in so many ways.
And the administration expects the Oron people not to show their indignation? Some basic facts cannot be denied at this point. Some of them include that the Government’s focus is on the change of location from Ibaka to Ibeno.
The issue has nothing to do with any change of name. The ‘Ibom’ paranoia as a brand title for Akwa Ibom State endeavours, is an afterthought. There are many existing and even new endeavours that do not bear Ibom, either as first or surnames. Some of them will include the St. Gabriel Coconut factory, the Peacock Paints Company, etc.
My concern now is the anger of the Governor and its impact. He demonised Oron people in that video. The Governor is the Head of Government and his voice is the weightiest in the polity. As a consequence of that video outburst, some have characterised Oron people as trouble makers, people with an undue sense of entitlement, etc. Could anything have warranted the anger of His Excellency to this extent? No sir! He is the Governor and his anger must be moderated, the provocation notwithstanding. His anger has pitched some against the Oron ethnic nationality with a clear potential of stiffening free expression in a democracy. This should never be allowed to happen in Akwa Ibom State, exacerbated by the Governor and Chief Security Officer of the State, himself. The tension is palpable!
It has come to light that some Oron people met with His Excellency and the result was a promise to expand the Ibom Deep Sea Port Implementation Committee, apparently to appease ‘aggrieved parties.’ With the greatest respect to those that attended the meeting resulting in that widely publicised outcome, this is beside the point completely. The agitation could never have been simply to expand the membership of the Committee! It cheapens and begs the entire issue that has been a defining point between the Oron people and Udom’s administration.
What about the Governor’s claims that his SSG has been trying to chart the way forward and the Oron people have remained adamant and unbending? Clearly, Oron people have been at the receiving end of poignant and emasculating blackmail, depriving them of the will to resist the torture and humiliation unleashed upon them by His Excellency in that video. Never before has any ethnic group been singled out for condemnation by any sitting Governor. It is the turn of Oron today, how about tomorrow?
There is nothing wrong in a Governor retracing his steps and apologising to the people who have been wounded in their collective pride. It would heal. Apologies always heal; not money, not appointments to a Committee. As a matter of fact, the expansion of the Committee is the palliative of a conquered people desperate to hide their humiliation.
This is yet a developing story. My conscience would not allow me to remain silent in the face of oppression of this magnitude. I trust that the longstanding and excellent relationship with our Ibibio brothers would not suffer any setback owing to the unbridled attack.
I cannot end this treatise without paying very deserving tribute to Engineer Okon Nkpubre for his untiring efforts to place the quest for the Ibaka Deep Sea Port in its proper perspective in spite of numerous attacks and abuse. His name will certainly be etched in gold.
Oron people are watching and will, at the right time, ensure that the names of those who thrive in sabotaging the collective aspirations of the people are duly entered in the black book of ages.
Iyanam is a former Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General in Akwa Ibom