WHO WILL FIGHT FOR THE COMMON MAN IN AKWA IBOM STATE?
By Inibehe Effiong
As a proud Ibibio man from Akwa Ibom State, I grew up to know Oron Union as a respected non-partisan association. But like most pressure groups, it has become a tool used by every government in power to spread propaganda.
I read a provocative statement by the Oron Union today where they passed a vote of confidence on the governor over his handling of COVID-19. If the group had stopped at that, maybe we would have swallowed their statement with equanimity.
But no, they went ahead to curse and attack people for “defaming” the government.
Oro is about the least develop tribe in Akwa Ibom State in terms of infrastructure. But their leaders are dining with the government, passing a vote of confidence and issuing threats to critics of the state government while their communities are suffering from government neglect.
It should worry us.
Mboho Mkparawa Ibibio came out to tell critics of the governor enough is enough few days ago. Today, the Oron Union took its turn to praise the governor and deride “enemies” of government.
Tomorrow it may be Ati Anang.
Paramount rulers, Clan Heads and other traditional institutions used to be respected during the time of Obong Victor Attah. Before 2007, no politician in Akwa Ibom State could go out of his way to insult our royal fathers. Their nobility was never in doubt. Today, our royal fathers are being insulted and denigrated because of politics.
Politicians and partisan politics have captured, desecrated and silenced nearly every professional and pressure group in Akwa Ibom State.
My immediate constituency, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), has lost its voice in Akwa Ibom State. Although some lawyers in their individual capacities are doing what they can for the advancement of the society, the NBA in Akwa Ibom State is missing in action. The NBA has entered voice mail.
If one million people are arrested for criticising the government, the NBA in Akwa Ibom State will not talk. When the Reigners Bible Church collapsed and killed many people due to the desperation of its founder to be consecrated as a Bishop, the NBA could not stand up to demand justice for the victims.
“Defending the rule of law” is the motto of the NBA; but the rule of is non-existent in Akwa Ibom State.
Many of ‘my friends’ in the Fourth Estate, the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), have since been silenced. I used ‘friends’ because I am close to journalists in Akwa Ibom State. I have been privileged to defend many of them in court and outside the court. But I must be honest with them.
I have always considered myself a part of the journalism world even though I am not a journalist. Gani Fawehinmi was right when he said that “the pen is the closest to the wig and gown.”
When Mr. Patrick Albert invited me as a guest speaker at his last World Press Freedom Day as Chairman of the NUJ, I was privileged to express and share my misgivings directly to journalists about the way many of them have abandoned their responsibilities to the society to become public relations experts, by majorly laundering the image of politicians and the government.
I did say, among other things, that the power of the pen does not lie in the size of the pocket. I also said to them that a journalist cannot be a close friend with the Government House and expect to function properly.
It is very difficult to distinguish a journalist from a public relations expert in Akwa Ibom State. These two professions do not represent the same values. I respect those courageous journalists who are still standing strong.
Before a young courageous medical doctor, Dr. Ekem Emmanuel John, became the spokesperson of the Nigerian Medical Association in Akwa Ibom, nobody would have believed that the NMA can openly stand up to the government.
Who would have believed that the association of medical doctors can pass a vote of no confidence on a serving commissioner in Akwa Ibom State?
The most annoying denigration has been the religious leaders.
Many of the so-called fathers of faith in Akwa Ibom State have become too useless to the society. They openly and shamelessly support the evils and atrocities of politicians. They have lost their consciences.
Religious bodies like the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) have become the propaganda wing of the PDP and the Akwa Ibom State Government.
Those who should represent the moral authority of the state are now the face of corruption and moral decadence.
They confer fake and paid titles and awards on politicians. There is hardly a politician in Akwa Ibom today that has not be consecrated.
The current governor is a Deacon.
The Nigerian Union Teachers (NUT) in Akwa Ibom should be fighting for the welfare of teachers and agitating for increased funding for education, but it is basically a dead union.
The Next-of-Kin of late primary school teachers have been fighting for their entitlements for many years but the NUT cannot lift a finger. I don’t know whether there is an association for pensioners in Akwa Ibom State.
I know that few members of these groups have been doing what they can for the masses, but the bodies have been emasculated by politics and politicians.
I don’t want to talk about student associations. They have since been captured by politicians to the best of my knowledge. They are also struggling for whatever crumbs they can get from the table of the government.
There is hardly any association or group in Akwa Ibom State that the PDP virus has not infected. When they say that “Akwa Ibom is PDP”, what they are telling you is that you are either with us or against us.
One day, I will talk about what the PDP has done to the Judiciary and the Legislature in Akwa Ibom State. When that day comes, God will give be the inspiration to say certain things publicly, not minding the consequences.
I emphasise the PDP not because the APC is different, but because the PDP is the only political party that has been in power since 1999.
Some will say that I am sounding sanctimonious, but it is never about me. Someone just has to say these things. We cannot all pretend not to know that Akwa Ibom State has since gone to the dogs.
Everyone seems to be afraid to speak out. People are so conscious of the government. It is as if the government gives Akwa Ibom people air to breathe.
Politicians and the government have weaponised poverty. Things are hard and man must survive. But the society is paying a heavy price for our collective silence and complicity.
If we cannot speak out for our own sake, how about posterity?
Politicians are in shock that those they regard as common people are beginning to be more vocal on social media. Prominent groups have lost their voices and the government cannot comprehend why common Akwa Ibom people are complaining about their failures and corruption.
That is why the rotten and corrupt system of oppression is paranoid and has responded with arrests, threats and dubious prosecutions.
Luckily for politicians, they have a strong ally in the current Attorney General, Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko.
Mr. Nwoko may have forgotten that Section 211 of the 1999 Constitution which he swore to uphold, enjoins him to have regard “to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process” in carrying out his duties.
The Attorney General’s Office is now an instrument for political persecutions and state sponsored terror against outspoken members of the public.
Under his watch as the Attorney General, Mr. Nwoko’s office and the Nigeria Police Force have filed multiple politically motivated and oppressive charges against citizens for allegedly defaming politicians.
I hope Mr. Nwoko knows that power is transient and that one day, his legacies will be scrutinised. He will one day be required to render account of his stewardship. When that time comes, people will remind him of the atrocities that took place under his watch.
So I ask, who is fighting for the common man in Akwa Ibom State?
Who will defend the oppressed now that almost all pressure groups in the State have merged with the government?
Can members of these associations revolt and take back their groups from the clutches of politicians and the oppressive system?
When will these groups produce radical leaders who will put the interest of their members and that of the society above their selfish, pecuniary and partisan interests?
I weep for Akwa Ibom State.