Today is a very significant day in my life, in the life of all Ibibio people and indeed, I believe, in the life of Akwa Ibom state.
Let me start by reminiscing – by remembering an earlier reception that had been held for me by Akwa Ibom professionals in Abuja at the Ladi Kwali Hall at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, on Friday August 22, 2003. I had not so long before, been sworn in for my second term in office as the governor of this state which was then beginning to show its greatness and to claim its rightful place in the political equation of this country.
The address that I presented at that occasion was titled “It is well with my soul”. In that address, I had quoted the president of Akwa Ibom professional who, at yet another previous occasion, organized to celebrate the re-appointment of Obong Uffot Ekaette, CON, as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, had this to say:
“We of Akwa Ibom Professionals will now be celebrating our leaders in their lifetime. We will honour them; we will appreciate them; we will acknowledge their achievements in the open; we will sing and chorus them to the high heavens; we will never be tired of doing so”.
I am not sure how many celebrations have since been held or how many choruses have been composed, which is why today has to be seen as a very unique and special day.
Let me start by tell you about something that happened in 1987. I was living in Kaduna and about the middle of that year, I received a message from the Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, GCFR. He sent to ask me if I was no longer interested in a state for my people. This happened because for a long time I had, with respect and within the limits of friendship, harassed him to create a state for us. When it did not happen, I gave up. This message therefore came as a bolt from the blue. I was shocked, but ecstatically surprised. I was asked to present yet another request for a state which I did. Sometime after that I was invited to the office of the Coordinator of National Security (CONS) at 12 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, and was asked to draw a map of what I thought should constitute the new state.
After that I waited and then on 23rd September 1987 came the announcement that Akwa Ibom and Katsina States had been created. My joy knew no bounds. Of course, the first thing I did was to sit down and compose a letter to our beloved benefactor, President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who had graciously created a state for us.
Before I tell you the content of that letter, I want to tell you another story. In 1994, by election, I became a Delegate to the Constitutional Conference which started that year and ended in 1995 under General Sani Abacha, GCFR. At the time of going to the conference, derivation stood at 1% with another 3% being given to OMPADEC for the development of the Niger Delta. I do not have to recount the battles that were fought within that Conference but suffice it to say that at the end of it all, it was declared that derivation will stand at not less than 13% and dichotomy shall not apply.
You can therefore imagine the shock and disbelief that greeted us when, after being sworn in, we were still receiving derivation payment at 1%. If the battle within the Conference to raise the percentage was brutal, the fight to get President Obasanjo, GCFR, to implement it was vicious. When, at last he was forced to accede to the 13% payment, he reintroduced the obnoxious principle of dichotomy between onshore and offshore oil production.
This hit us with the force of a tsunami that brought on the next phase of the battle. With your total support, we found the strength to stand firm and fight on till God, in His loving mercy, came to our rescue by way of a Bill from the National Assembly to which the President assented.
When President Obasanjo signed that Bill, even though it was he who had started the whole debacle, I felt so overwhelmed that I sat down and composed a letter to him.
The letter that I wrote to President Obasanjo on that occasion was the exact letter, word for word, that I had in 1987, written to President Ibrahim Babangida at the time that he created a state for us. Today, I present again, the exact same letter to you for this unusual honour that you have done me, the Ibibio race and the entire people of Akwa Ibom State.
By now you must be quite curious, so let me read your letter:
- My soul magnifies the Lord
- and my spirit rejoices in God my savior;
- because He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed;
- for He Who is mighty has done great things for me, Holy is His name;
- and His mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him;
- He has shown strength with His arm,
He has routed the proud hearted.
- He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly,
- The hungry He has filled with good things, the rich He sent empty away
- He has come to the help of Israel His servant mindful of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.
The Magnificat – the most beautiful, the most powerful and spontaneous out pouring of a pure heart in gratitude for God’s manifestation of His love for His people.
So today I thank God, I thank you the Ibibio people and I thank all the good people of this great state for this reception. I dedicate it to the glory of God, to the upliftment of the Ibibio race and to the restoration of this state.
But who are the Ibibios. If you are expecting to hear me say that the Ibibios are a great people who have registered a number of firsts; who have achieved this; who have accomplished that and accomplished the other; much as all that may be true, I am afraid that on this occasion, I will disappoint you.
I want instead to remind you that, in spite of our numbers, we have in the past been described as an ineffectual majority. We have also been described as an atomistic society perpetually at war with itself. Even more insultingly we have been compared with the tiny leaves of an African Oil Bean tree, numerous enough to fill the basket but totally useless when it comes to wrapping even the tiniest parcel. We have shown righteous indignation at these insults but, undeniably, there is need for an examination of conscience perchance we had provided the reason for the abuses.
In 2007, when I left office as governor, a thinking governor and one of the best performing governors, I had put myself up as an aspirant to vie for the presidency of this country. Some of the people who had campaigned with me are here today. Many of them were not from this state and there is no doubt that we had gained wide acceptability throughout the country. Sadly for me, for Ibibio people, for AKS and I dare say, for the entire country, that effort was aborted. Two years later, one of our distinguished sons boasted, on the pages of several newspapers that he played a major role, infact he claimed that it was by his efforts that my ambition was aborted.
Even though I knew that it was an empty boast, I still had to wonder how he thought he had benefitted, how he thought Ibibio people or Akwa Ibom Stae had benefitted by my not becoming the president of this country.
If we do not want to continue to remain where we are and continue to have these insults and abuses hurled at us, we must learn to accept that, in a dark room, my candle does not burn brighter simply by my putting out the other person’s candle. On the contrary, the more candles we can light, the greater will be the brightness in that room. And in that situation, even the obscure one among us may become visible and recognized.
Since leaving office, I have frequently been asked if I have any regrets and my answer, without hesitation, has always been no, none at all. I have also quite often been reminded that success without a successor amounts to failure. So with the benefit of time, I must now confess that I do have one painful regret. The one regret I have is that, though I left office with a successor, I left office without succession.
Today, our resolve must be that collectively we shall make a succession plan. Collectively we shall choose a successor to implement our succession plan. The collective will of all of us, and only our collective will, shall prevail.
As I look round, I see a number of faces here of people I know are aspiring to the high office of governor of this state. A large number of those aspirants are from Eket Senatorial District. This is as should be expected because of sequential logic that after Uyo and Ikot Ekpene it should be Eket. But there must be a level playing field for all aspirants.
This is particularly true at this time when there is such a crying need to give hope back to our people; to restore their confidence in their government and to rebuild the state. zoning will certainly be a major consideration but at a time like this, certain other compelling determinants cannot be sacrificed on the altar of zoning alone.
Once again I must thank you. I will remain eternally grateful to you for this great honour. I accept the leadership role that you have conferred on me with all humility and determination to serve you to the best of my ability as God gives me strength and wisdom. And may the Almighty God for whom this state is named continue to be our constant companion.
Obong Victor B. Attah
Ubok Udom Ibibio