As the good people of Akwa Ibom State at home and in the Diaspora, as well as, settlers and friends of this Land of Promise celebrate her 29th Anniversary, yours sincerely took a moment out to visit the home of one of the forgotten heroes of the state creation struggle. I will shortly introduce him.
Fact is, until recently, Taiwo Akinkunmi, the man who designed Nigeria’s Flag was hardly celebrated. Same with national anthem of Nigeria. As most Nigerian’s enjoy its fervour whenever it is played, so many are oblivious of the fact that, the five entries from which the lyrics of the new anthem, “Arise O
Compatriot” were drawn from, were
written by John A. Ilechukwu, Eme
Etim Akpan, B.A. Ogunnaike, Sotu
Omoigui and P.O Aderibigbe. After which, the music was composed by the Benedict Ellis Odiase led Nigeria Police Band. These heroes are so often lost in the frenzy and euphoria of every National celebration. This is what, is happening to an Akwa ibom hero.
On 20th September, 3 days to the birthday of Akwa Abasi Ibom State, I made a trip to the residence of the widow of the late spokesman of the Akwa ibom State creation movement, Obong Barr. Anthony Amba Wills-Obong at No 11 Udosen Uko Street, Uyo. There is a legend behind this icon which remains untold.
While on throes of death, one of the foremost progenitors of state creation, Hon. Chief Effiong Okon Eyo a.k.a Eyo Uyo, summoned Barr. Wills-Obong. When the latter arrived, Eyo Uyo, the biggest political actor back then, as a nationalist, agitator for state creation and President, Ibibio State Union, took his hands and spat into his(Obong-Wills) palms. ‘Never give up the struggle for the creation of a Mainland state out of Cross River state’, the dying chieftain beseeched him. He died shortly afterwards.
It is on record that, in 1967, Chief Effiong Eyo alongside, Chief I. I. Murphy of Ogoja and retired Justice E. J. Ntia championed the struggle for a South Eastern State despite the raging civil War. Eyo Uyo who took the risk to cross Onitsha to Lagos to table the request, with all members of the Ibibio State union, had a breakthrough on 27th May 1967, when the South Eastern State was berthed.
Not satisfied and arguing that, the South Eastern state stopped at Calabar, this relentless fighter, before he died in 1983, started campaigning for another state. That’s where Amba-Wills, who was his close ally took inspiration from.
In 1975, the Federal Military Government set up a Commission on State creation presided over by Hon. Justice Emmanuel Irikefe rtd. The Commission did recommend the creation of Cross River from the South Eastern state, but the quest for an Akwa Ibom State was not heeded.
By 1977, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo as Military Head of State, set up the Constituent Assembly. Thereafter, the trio of Anthony Wills-Obong(Uyo), Chief Donald Etiebet(Ukanafun) and Mr N. J. Udoiwod(Ikot Abasi) emerged as representatives.
Backed by the President of the Traditional Rulers Council, Obong Sampson Udo Idiong, who doubled as Chairman of State Creation Committee,
the threesome resumed advocacy at the Constituent Assembly making case for the creation of Akwa Ibom State.
The name, ‘Akwa Ibom State’, was arrived at during a meeting in a Etinan, hosted by Obong J. D. Ekwerre, held by the Traditional Rulers on February 25, 1978, with headquarters of the propsoed state to be at Uyo.
Besides the ten Paramount Rulers who endorsed the resolution, Barr. Wills-Obong, Major Udoiwod and Chief Effiong Eyo(Eyo Uyo) were the other persons in that historic meeting.
The ten Paramount Rulers were: the Chairman, Obong Sampson Udo Idiong(Ukanafun), Obong Simon Tom Akpan Nsubong II(Etinan) Vice chairman of the conference, Obong Thompson Udo Uyoata(Eket), Obong Ekpe-Obong Atakpa(Itu), and Obong Pastor E.U.A. Arthur(Abak). Others are, Obong C.O. Akpan(Ikot Ekpene), Obong Jacob Akpan(Ikono), Obong Aman Umoessien(Ikot Abasi), Obong Okon E. Isong(Oron) and Obong Ekpenyong Udoekong(Uyo).
Before this bold move, Barr. Wills-Obong was mandated by all Constituent Assembly members from Cross River State, coordinated by Hon. Matthew Mbu, to file a formal request for the creation of a Mainland State for the people of the ten local Government areas that comprised that entity in January 1978, which he tabled before these Paramont Rulers. The application got their overwhelming nod.
Accordingly, Barr. Wills-Obong earned their blessing as the spokesman for the Mainland State creation struggle. Subsequently, he founded the Mainland(Akwa Ibom) State Movement which office was located at No. 13A(now 11) Wellington Bassey Way Uyo, whith Chief Horace Equere and Rev. S.J. King as Vice Chairman and Secretary respectively. Again, the dream fail short of materializing as the then Military Government felt it had little time left to perfect state creation.
Still focused and undettered, on July 21, 1980, Wills-Obong published on that days’ edition of the Nigerian Chronicle Newspaper a piece, titled, ‘Creation of States: Can we sit on the fence?’. Facing severe criticism from several powerful quarters for the piece, he got staunch support for the irrepressible Eyo Uyo.
Wills-Obong later on attended meetings in Lagosa, of the National Association for the Creation of States and presented a memoranda for the creation of Akwa Ibom State to the then Senate President, Dr Joseph Wayas.
Come 1986, Wills-Obong again mobilized Paramount rulers and stormed the Political Bureau with renewed agitation for a state. Following the dissolution of the Political Bureau by erstwhile President Ibrahim Babangida, Wills-Obong took the Memoranda for creation of Akwa Ibom state to Major General Edet Akpan, who facilitated the submission of the document to General Babangida. It is on record that, the Supreme Council of Ibibio Traditional Rulers(Esop Mbong Ikpaisong Ibibio) had given Barr. Anthony Amba Wills-Obong
The authourity to write, sign and submit a Memoranda on the Creation of Akwa Ibom State to the then Federal Military Government.
Consequently, the Political Bureau’s recommendation was validated on Spetember 23, 1987, as President Babangida announced the creation of two new states, one of which was Akwa Ibom and the other Katsina. The words of Wills-Obong following that landmark event, is a soundbite that is at once self fulfilling. He said, “the creation of Akwa Ibom state was not a pie in the sky, but the fulfillment of God’s plan for the welfare f millions of people in the mainland part of former Cross River State”. Looking back from its 29th Anniversary, how right this Spokesman of the struggle was.
Today, his voice should not be forgotten in unthankfulness and without reward be silenced. His name is not ubiquitous as we merry, sing and dance. His portraits are hardly spotted on the walls of our hallowed halls and citadels of state. I seek therefore, in this piece, to reinforce his stake and right of place in the Akwa Ibom Hall of Fame.
The late Barrister Anthony Amba Wills-Obong was born on June 12(does that ring a bell?) 1930. He graduated from the Presbytarian Primary School, Mbiaya Uruan in 1942 and proceeded to the premier Ibibio State College where he obtained his Cambridge Overseas Certificate in 1951.
He thereafter enrolled at the University of Nigeria Nsukka for a course in Law, which was aborted by the outbreak of the Civil war, but went ahead to complete the course at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria from 1966-1970. The following year he was at the Nigeria Law School.
His career began with the Ministry of Agriculture from 1952-1966. He joined politics and became a member representing Ward 1 Uruan of Uyo Local Government in the Constituent Assembly in 1978. He was one of the 49 wise men who drafted the 1979 Constitution.
Between 1979-1983, Wills-Obong, who held the traditional title of Eti of Uruan was a member of the Cross River State House of Assembly representing Nothern and Central Uruan constituency and was the Chief Whip of the House.
This legendary political strategist has sired offspring’s, one of which is an upcoming political act, Hon. Frank Anthony Amba Wills-Obong. In what seems to be an unfolding following, of his fathers steps, Hon. Frank Wills-Obong served his people as Councillor, representing Northern Uruan Ward 2 and was Majority Leader of the Uruan Local Government Legislature between 2012-2015. He served creditably well and waits on the wings for higher calling as a loyal party man who has served as Delegate to the State Congress of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. I trust Akwa Ibom will reward the labours of their heroes past. Many of whose relegated legacies, I have exhumed in the place. God bless Akwa Ibom State under the competent leadership of His Excellency, Mr Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, who by the special grace of God is the Chief Celebrator in this 29th year of her cycle.