By Emmanuel Ndon
A dangerous plague appears to be engulfing Itu political space. Unfortunately, this festering drama is starring those who, ordinarily, are supposed to be torchbearers – the leaders!
Whether the current battle be seen as “a strife of interests” as in Ambrose Bierce’s definition of politics, “masquerading as a contest of principles”, or an attempt “to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins …” , the ugly spectre will surely unsettle the glorious foundation for which the great Ebong Okon, Idongesit Udokpo, Udoekop Udousoro, Mbom Jimmy Etuk bequeathed.
These Itu greats referenced above, all of blessed memory, worked hard to stabilize the polity and deployed politics as a tool for the development of Itu geographical zone and the overall benefit of her people.
Recounting from the revered Engr. (Obong) Ebong Okon who was development oriented, as commissioner for works during the early days of Akwa Ibom military leadership, facilitated the siting of AKBC transmitting station in Ntak Inyang. The Itam industrial area which has now become a commercial hub was also his brainchild. His engineering prowess led him to invent MV Obudu, Pioneer 1and 2, subsequently as Water Crafts – the first locally built ship in Nigeria. It was his urge to do more for his people that propelled him to vie for the governorship of the state at some point, and not without ensuring a relatively peaceful political climate in his domain.
Still pushing for higher frontiers, Idongesit Udokpo as commissioner for special duties during the Attah administration, used his close relationship with his boss to attract the timber market, an abattoir, the 25th anniversary hospital (now known as Ibom specialist hospital) as well as the science park to Itu local government.
Chief E. U. Okon, popularly known as “Okon Mkpeti” for he hailed from Mkpeti Itam, is also reputed for tirelessly working for the siting of the moribund NNMC in Oku Iboku.
The renowned Chief conservator of forestry for Eastern Nigeria at one time also sought for the governorship of the then Cross River State. The untiring efforts of the apostle of political inclusion, Chief Udoekop Udousoro cannot at this point be forgotten. He was an apostle of unity among the political blocs in the area.
But, the present political actors seem to have derailed from the noble foundation of these Itu leaders.
The turmoil that characterized the last Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) congress, blew the lid open. The intrigues and horse trading during the event gave a pellucid picture of the two political camps in the area both determining to get the upper hand.
One camp is controlled by the State Commissioner of Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport, Mr. Akan Okon, while the other is led by Rt. Hon. (Dr.) Henry Archibong, member representing Itu Federal Constituency in the National Assembly. The last group (or camp, if you still like), operates under the aegis of Itu Leaders Forum and comprises all elected and appointed officials from Itu, except the commissioner, the chapter chairman and the state party officer.
Interestingly, all the actors in both camps are from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). And one would be tempted to ask what on earth could be responsible for division among people who claim to be working for a single purpose and master?
The Itu Leaders Forum believes that its group enjoys legitimacy because of its numbers and composition as well as advocacy for equity. They also contend that political leadership of Itu should rest on the shoulders of an elected representative who hold the mandate of the people, not an appointee.
So, they would not like to have the commissioner who they believe, is a lone ranger, as the political leader of the area as he seems to behave – and this is part of the problem.
The issue of political leadership in Itu local government is ambiguous. Many people believe that Senator Anietie Okon holds the mantle of political leadership in Itu while others see his cousin, the commissioner, as the leader. Senator Anietie Okon has a towering influence in the politics of the area and is widely believed to be knowledgeable. As an establishment man, the senator has enjoyed a robust relationship and patronage from successive governments. In the same vein, Mr. Akan Okon has been in the state executive council for more than six years now and can conveniently fit the bill because of his closeness to the gatekeepers of power – and of course, this is another angle to the tussle -he came from outside the local cabal (not even from Senator Okon). Still, others believe that the commissioner is acting on behalf of the ageing Senator Okon who is seemingly not strong enough to exercise or direct the affairs of the office.
But the last congress of the party apparently put paid to the rivalry. Mr. Aniefiok Usanga was said to have won the chapter chairmanship, but the result as published in some local tabloids indicated that it was the commissioner’s candidate, Mr. Victor Okon, that was elected in Itu for a third term. Same goes for the state officer of the party who all belong to the commissioner’s camp.
This has deepened the simmering division and has attracted sharp criticisms from various stakeholders.
A former transition committee secretary, Mr. Ndifreke Ndon has objected to the result and decried what he calls the “unjust marginalization of East Itam 1, Ward 3” in the zoning of positions in the area. In a protest letter addressed to the state governor, he said, “my grievance is premise on the fact that having served as the ward collation agent of our great party P.D.P in the last election (2019), I and my brother, Aniefiok Usanga from ward 3 aspired for the position of P.D.P Chapter Chairman in Itu on the grounds that zoning favors ward 3 in East Itam South.
“I was happy
when I heard that Your Excellency has nominated Mr. Aniefiok Usanga for the position of the PDP Chapter Chairman in Itu. With this, I saw liberation and unity returning to Itu, but I was saddened when it was rumored that the decision is reversed”. Mr. Ndon however appealed to the governor to “use your magnanimity and investigate both what I have written and what you heard. We need someone from ward 3 to stand in the gap for us”(sic).
Also, a former chairman of transition committee in the area, Mr. Okon Etim Okon has described retaining the office of chapter chairman in Itu-Oma bloc as an error. Okon, himself a former chapter chairman, said both the present occupant and the area have “overstayed in that office”, adding that “it is clear and obvious that it should move. Anybody who says that the office (chapter chairmanship) should continue in Itu-Oma does not really understand the situation” because, as he reasoned, one office cannot remain perpetually in a particular area.
Similarly, stakeholders in Itu-Oma have decried a situation where a particular family in East Itam 2 Ward 4 (Nnung Ata Asurua Family), has a dominance of political positions in the area. According to a party stalwart and former Councillor from (Obong Itam (East Itam 3 Ward 5), Hon. Mfon James, the family has produced a Commissioner (Mr. Akan Okon), PDP State Officer (Mr. Effiong Ebong); and the Political Leader of Itu in Senator Anietie Okon, for more than eight years now.
Although it is true that politicians are always in contest striving for interests that offer them advantage, the ruling party should also do her utmost to promote fairness, equity and justice to satisfy the generality of people from where their strength lies. Agreed that the party also reserves the right to choose its officials from anywhere, it should also understand that upholding the wishes of their members would not only guarantee peace and stability, but diminish dissenting voices that are capable of thwarting success.
Beyond leadership, the political contest in Itu is also traceable to the 2023 power game. The Commissioner of Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport, Mr. Akan Okon was until recently the only popular name for the governorship slot from the area. But the Special Assistant to the Governor on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Mr. Gabriel Ukpe; Mr. Aniekan Akan Etim and one Engr. Godwin Ime Etim, have all declared interest. Thus, it is clear, why the contest for the control of party structure in the area was stiff. However, as we all know in our clime, their ambition does not and would not hold water anytime it conflicts with the choice of the leader of the party (the Governor). Of course, it needs also be stated that even if the contest was narrowed down to Itu, Mr. Akan Okon would be the candidate to beat because of his closeness to the “gate”.
Agreed that there are still some sour grapes arising from the fact that some of the elected officials like the Honourable House member, didn’t enjoy the support of the commissioner, however, it is necessary for all actors to close ranks and work with a single purpose irrespective of the outcome of the congress. After all, having a chapter chairman and state officer does not translate to electoral victory, as evidenced in the last elections. Everyone should remain calm.
Without pretence, it is true that those who were either elected or appointed to serve must come to terms with the fact that they are holding the sacred mandate of the people who are justifiably entitled to the dividends of democracy. My own definition of dividends here does not connote the harassment of public officials for personal gains or the common practice of begging, but bringing to bear new vistas of development, new dimension to projects that can directly touch the lives of the people. As a matter of fact, leaders who have a sense of responsibility and affection for the people they serve should bypass unnecessary criticism and bickering with sustainable development programmes.
Despite any progress , Itu as a local government is still in dire need of development with an urgent need to, not only move with the tide, but catch up with her peers. It is not yet time to fritter away any available opportunity we have had politically through unnecessary bickering and pettiness, rather to close ranks to build our dilapidated walls and etch our names in gold like those referenced in this piece.
Itu happens to be an habitat so blessed and richly endowed. Yet, the visible indices point to the direction of backwardness.
The natural resources in Itu are yet to be fully tapped for the benefit of her people and the state in general. For instance, Itu is reputed with the longest coastline in the whole of West Africa, yet it has remained at the same level in the colonial era where the Queen of England met it during a visit. The kaolinated clay deposits in Ikot Ebom Itam which can attract ceramic and pharmaceutical industries have also remained unutilized. So are other mineral resources not mentioned here, scattered over the area, remain untapped.
It is worthy but bitter to recall that during the colonial era, Elder Dempsters, John Holt, UAC, SCOA – all had their factories in Itu. The first telecom facility which birthed what was to become NITEL was built in Itu. It was because of its abundant endowment that prompted a certain Scottish missionary to describe Itu as an “outpost of God”. Sadly, all these endowments have been wished away. Today Itu is divided by selfish political interests and undue rivalry.
In comparative terms, Itu which was on equal threshold of development with Port Harcourt, Lagos, Warri and Calabar in the early 60s, has declined in gross domestic product (GDP) thereby losing her place in the political and industrial map of Nigerian federation and its potential for wealth and employment creation, leaving her populace, particularly the youths, impoverished.
The universality of our reality and the need for solidarity and united vision for the liberation of Itu from endemic poverty and grievous harm caused by neglect, abandonment and marginalization cannot be overemphasized.
A trip to the hinterland and riverside reveals perpetual collapse of infrastructure and basic amenities – and this actually are things our leaders should be looking at not bickering and unnecessary pettiness.
The absence of democracy to take roots in our democracy is principally caused by poor or absence of political leadership which has left Itu neglected, abandoned and marginalized.
But now is the moment of history. At the state level, Itu has been blessed with not less than twelve elected and appointed officials who can hold their own anywhere. They all need to close ranks and redirect their energies for the collective good of the area. The time to act is now.
Ndon can be reached on 08021076669; 09059991990.