By Edidiong Udobia
Tuesday, March 22, 2011: the general elections was few weeks away so the entire state was a beehive of political activities, but they were nothing other than the usual campaigns, and except for those hullaballoos, it was like every other normal day in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom state capital. I spent most part of that at a friend’s place somewhere around the popular Mechanic village. Dusk had started setting in and I knew it was about time I hit the road. There was relative calmness and I had walked some kilometres close to the “circus”. Suddenly, a sea of irate youths flooded the place. It was obvious that they were out for destruction so innocent people (including yours truly) scampered for safety. In few minutes, government and private properties were set on fire and the clouds over the city went completely dark and smoky. The rage and bloodlust in the youths was terrifying.
Amidst the chaos, words got around that the mayhem was a reprisal attack by supporters of the then governorship candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, who were earlier in the day attacked in Ikot Ekpene local government area on their way to a campaign. From that day on, elections in the state have been a streak of bloodlettings. In his message earlier this year to mark the 7th anniversary of the tragedy, Senator Udoedehe recalled the brutality that led to the death of many of his supporters, revealing that both attacks were ploted and executed by agents of the then state government with the aim of incriminating him (Udoedehe). A part of his anniversary message reads;
“Fellow Akwa Ibom State brothers and sisters, I recall in painful and tragic detail, the events of March 22, 2011, when innocent citizens, on a lawful political campaign to Ikot Ekpene Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, were attacked and either injured, maimed or murdered in cold blood. Today marks the Seventh Anniversary of that sad day. As can be attested to by all, the Constitution of our country guaranteed me the right to campaign for the governorship of my State, anywhere within its borders; but shortly before March 22, 2011, some disgruntled elements in the then, and still ruling PDP, conspired to deny me that right, beginning with warning me not to set foot for campaigns anywhere within the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District home-territory of the then incumbent Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio.
“Of course, I flouted their ban, because it was illegal, unconstitutional and preposterous within any context of democracy; and became a victim of great tragedy, along with my supporters, who had accompanied me on my campaigns. My convoy was ambushed; my supporters were attacked. My vehicles and some belonging to my supporters were set ablaze or otherwise vandalized; and our attackers went further to torch several private and public properties in several towns in the State. All of this was in execution of a carefully crafted plot to cause mayhem, frame me, arrest me and initiate a process to keep me out of circulation, if not eliminate me.
“The mayhem gave the government their opportunity. They blamed everything that they had orchestrated and executed, on me and my supporters. I was arrested, and charged with the weightiest crimes in Law, including terrorism, treason, murder, arson, etc. But I thank God, the courts ended up vindicating me against the promptings of the State. On March 22, 2011, I lost devoted loyalists, as well as had to deal with injured or maimed supporters. I escaped death by whiskers, that day, and by God’s grace, catered to the hospital bills of my injured supporters and legal bills of those that were detained. I have also been catering for the upkeep and education of my deceased supporters children, and welfare of their families”.
This emotion-laden message is just a keyhole. For the sake of not reopening old wounds, I’ll rather not insert the key and unlock the door entirely. But if we only peep through it, may be it can jack our memory a bit. It seems we’re too distracted by the mirages on the road to 2019 that we have completely forgotten the sad events of our recent past – a time when state-sponsored terror was a norm during elections, and people’s wives had their hearts in their mouth because nobody knew whose husband will be gruesomely murdered or assassinated. We seem to have forgotten soon a time when our dear state was like the Biblical Ramah, with lamentaion and bitter weeping; mothers weeping for their children and refusing to be comforted for their children because they are no more. Whether we have truly forgotten or only pretending to, truth is, we cannot rewrite our past. The best we can do is to decide on the kind of future we want.
Talking about the future. The next general elections is only few months away, and again, we’ve started witnessing bad auguries, from the proliferation of inciting remarks to the awakening of ethnic division. However, there is a silver lining on this dark cloud. The man who now wields the full power of the state is putting God and the people at the center of his election. This is a complete contrast to the believe of the relics that “what money cannot do, more money can do”. From the word go, Governor Udom Emmanuel had maintained an uncompromising stand against violence and insecurity. The hallmark of this firm stand was his decision to proscribe over 30 cult groups in the state earlier this year. By that singular act, the governor, like Pontius Pilate, interceeded and at the same time, washed his hands off whatever will befall any Akwa Ibomite found guilty of cultism or other related vices. His unsaid words were, “I am innocent of the blood of these Akwa Ibomites. Let the law see to it.”
In his declaration speech last week, Governor Udom echoed his efforts towards ensuring a Godly and peaceful state, while soliciting the support of the people for his second-term. “I have operated a Christ-centric Government, I have led a People-centric Government, I have worn humility like a badge of honour, believing that power comes from the people; I have refused to hurl insults at people who have attacked and called me names. I have refused to show anger even when I am severely provoked. I have been a Servant-leader which I had promised you. I have maintained peace in this State and brought about civility in our engagements. I hereby ask you to send me back to go and complete the Divine Mission which you had first sent me to accomplish in 2015. We couldn’t have achieved all of these except ONLY GOD and to HIM alone be the glory! Akwa Ibom is rising and we must continue to move forward; forward ever backward never. I know I can count on you”.
Clearly, if the 2019 governorship election of the state was to be between Governor Udom Emmanuel and another of his kind, we would be sure to witness a very peaceful election in the state. Unfortunately, that will not likely be the case. There’s a merger of old foes. The same old foes whose rivalries account for the highest politically motivated deaths and worst election violence in the state. By now, those who died for the sake of 2011 governorship election in particular would be turning in their grave. But besides the merger being a dishonour to the dead, it is a poser to the remnants of the vain rivalries, who must now ask questions like, in whose interest is the merger? How does the reconciliation of the old foes repay them (the followers) for all their loses? Or are they only merging to pull enough human sacrifice for another election?
But most importantly, as 2019 beckons, Akwa Ibom people will have to choose between Governor Udom Emmanuel and the merger, and for the sake of a better future we all crave, I pray we make the right choice; a choice that will not bring another gloomy Tuesday, March 22, 2011 on us because we’re already on the bright side of time.
Welcome to September, people!
Edidiong Udobia is a journalist and writes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom state.