A percipient look at how ministers have emerged from Akwa Ibom State since 1989
In the last 34 years, Akwa Ibom State has recorded a total number of 17 persons appointed as Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The roll-call: Chief Senas John Ukpanah, Atuekong Donatus Obot Etiebet, late Air Marshal Nsikak-Abasi Essien Eduok (retd..), late Air Commodore Ita Udo-Imeh (retd.), Mr. Akpan Wilson Etukudo, late Dr. Ime Titus Okopido, Obong Rita Akpan, Senator Helen Udoakaha Esuene, Senator John James Udoedehe, late Obong Ufot Joseph Ekaette, Chief Nduese Essien, Prof. Ita Okon Bassey Ewa, Senator Akon Etim Eyakenyi, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio, Mr. Umana Okon Umana and Obongemem Ekperikpe Luke Ekpo.
Ekperikpe, inaugurated by President Bola Tinubu on Monday, August 21, 2023 as the Minister of State (Gas), Petroleum Resources, is the latest.
All the ministers emerged through high-wire politicking even during the military era.
Four of the former ministers have been recurring decimals in the politics of ministerial appointment for some years, namely Udoma, Eduok, Akpabio and Umana.
Akpabio holds the record of the most constant. He has been directly involved once (2019) and indirectly but intricately involved seven times (2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2022 and 2023).
Eduok was directly involved once (1995) and indirectly twice (1996 and 1998).
Udoma has been directly involved thrice (1989, 1999 and 2015). And so has Umana (2019,, 2022 and 2023).
Teachers as Ministers
Nearly half of the 17 ministers, so far, from Akwa Ibom are former teachers. They are eight in number.
Three of them, Ukpanah, Etiebet and Udoma, had short stints as lecturers in three top federal universities in the 1970s. As if by design, they all became Pro-Chancellors of federal universities, at different times, more than two decades after they left the academia.
One, Ewa, is still an academic.
Four others, Rita, Akon, Umana and Ekperikpe, are former secondary school teachers. In fact, teaching was their first job, long before politics. Etiebet also belongs in this category.
The Story from 1989 to 2023
The politics of ministerial appointment from Akwa Ibom has been characterised by intrigues and drama for over three decades.
Take a Look:
The Babangida Regime
Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, from Ikot Abasi, the headquarters of Ikot Abasi Local Government Area (LGA), would have been the first minister from Akwa Ibom. In 1989, the business and political guru, late Dr. Ime Umanah, recommended Udoma to his close friend and then Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, for appointment as minister. As Udoma, himself, once told this wrriter, he declined the appointment, to Babangida’s surprise, because of a pressing international business engagement at that time in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
As replacement, Umanah recommended a retired permanent secretary in the civil service of the old Cross River State (what is now Akwa Ibom and Cross River States), Mr. Senas Ukpanah, who was said to be working with him. Ukpanah, from Nsekhe in Ukanafun LGA, served as Minister of Trade from 1989 to 1992. He schooled in Nigeria, the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK) and taught Business Administration at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (his alma mater) and the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, before settling in the civil service.
For much of Babangida’s regime, the cabinet was called the National Council of Ministers.
The Shonekan Regime
As he was exiting the presidency on August 26, 1993, in the heat of the political crisis resulting from the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Babangiida set up the Interim National Government (ING). He put up as Head of the ING, late Chief Ernest Shonekan, who had served in the last eight months of his regime as a de facto Prime Minister with the designation of Chairman of the Transitional Council, a cabinet of sorts.
The ING was basically a coalition government between the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC), the two parties registered by Babangida’s electoral umpire, the National Electoral Commission (NEC). Late General Sani Abacha was the lone military officer in the ING. He held the Defence portfolio.
In that provisional government was Chief Don Etiebet, the undisputed father of the computer industry in Nigeria and presumably one of the richest men in the country then. He had contributed heavily to the campaign of the NRC presidential candidate, late Alhaji Bashir Tofa. He reportedly gave as much as N10 million which was a huge sum of money then. The NRC compensated Etiebet, from Ikot Ekpuk in Oruk Anam LGA of Akwa Ibom State, as one of its nominees into the ING. He was named Secretary for Petroleum and Mineral Resources. Ministers were called Secretaries in the ING, a carry over from the practice of the Transitional Council.
The Abacha Regime
The ING was ousted in a military coup staged by Abacha, three months later, precisely on November 17, 1993. Though he dissolved all political structures including the two parties, the new Head of State populated his cabinet with politicians largely drawn from those parties. Again, there was a lone military officer, Lieutenant General Jeremiah Useni, who manned the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Etiebet survived the coup, retaining the petroleum portfolio. Secretaries were re-designated ministers. The petroleum industry was a familiar terrain for him given that it was his first love before the computer industry. Etiebet actually holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Oil Technology from the Imperial College, London, UK, and a Master of Science degree in Applied Geophysics from the University of Western Ontario, Canada. He lectured at the University of Ibadan Institute of Technology before venturing into business.
Interestingly, Etiebet’s first Special Adviser as minister was Udoma, himself a former University of Lagos law lecturer. When Udoma left in January 1994, a former Company Secretary/Legal Adviser of defunct Icon Merchant Bank, Barr. Bassey Dan-Abia, who later became the Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), took over.
On February 8, 1995, at the start of his transition to civil rule programme, Abacha dissolved his cabinet, asking politicians with ambition to leave. Etiebet was one of them. He left to pursue his presidential ambition, founding the National Centre Party (NCP) which later became the National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN) or more popularly called Centre Party, one of the five parties registered by Abacha’s electoral body, the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) on September 30, 1996.
Akwa Ibom’s slot was taken by then Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Nsikak Eduok from Mbak Ekpe in Ibesikpo Asutan LGA. He was appointed Minister of Aviation on March 20, 1995. Eduok was the first fighter pilot from what is now Akwa Ibom State contrary to the claim of some revisionists who give the record to late Brigadier Udoakaha Esuene, the first Air Force officer from the state. Esuene, a former Military Governor of South-Eastern State (later renamed Cross River State), was a ground officer. The Air Force has ground troops like the Army.
The AVM was elevated to the position of Chief of Air Staff on March 30,, 1996. Assisted by Abacha’s powerful younger brother and retired Army major, Alhaji Abdulkadir Abacha, Eduok made his kinsman, Air Commodore Ita Udo-Imeh, his successor in the Aviation ministry. Udo-Imeh, from Nung Oku Akpasima (Ikot Itere) in Ibesikpo Asutan LGA, was a ground officer. The two generals hailed from the two component clans of the LGA which the air chief was instrumental to her creation by Abacha on October 1, 1996. Eduok was an indigene of Asutan Ekpe Clan while Udo-Imeh came from Ibesikpo Clan.
It was at that time that Eduok alongside Udo-Imeh and their subordinates, the Commandant of the Presidential Air Fleet, Group Captain (later Air Commodore) Idongesit Okon Nkanga and the Military Administrator of Ogun State, Wing Commander (later Group Captain) Ewang Sampson Ewang, formed the strongest cabal in the state. During a well-attended reception for Eduok and Udo-Imeh and launch of an endowment fund for Ibesikpo Asutan LGA at Nung Udoe, the LGA headquarters, organised by the pioneer elected Chairman of the local government, Dr. Emaeyak Ukpong, in July 1997, a wealthy contractor, late Chief Bassey Inuaeyen, who was the chief launcher, revealed the existence of the cabal. He said he was proud to be associated with them.
The previous year, the State Government, led by the Military Administrator, Colonel Yakubu Bako, had held a state reception for Eduok, the highest office-holder from the state then, at Ibom Hall in Uyo.
The Abubakar Regime
A crack soon developed in the relationship between Eduok and Udo-Imeh, both of who had been childhood friends before joining the Air Force in 1968 (Nkanga and Ewang, cousins from the same village, Ikot Nya, in Nsit Ibom LGA, were commissioned in 1973 and 1975, respectively).
Consequently, Eduok replaced Udo-Imeh, a one-star general, with a retired permanent secretary in the state, Mr. Akpan Wilson Etukudo, in the cabinet of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who took over as Head of State following Abacha’s sudden death on June 8, 1998. Etukudo, from Atan Ikpe in Ikot Abasi LGA (Eduok’s late wife, Nkese, was from Ikot Abasi), served as Minister of State for Finance till the return to democracy on May 29, 1999.
It was also after Abubakar’s take-over that Ewang was transferred to Rivers State and Eduok was promoted to Air Marshal, making him the first and only three-star general from Akwa Ibom till date.
Next: The Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan Regimes
(to be continued)