. Idongesit Ituen, Prof Etok Ekanem & Sen Anietie Okon
MEMORANDUM TO THE GOOD PEOPLE OF ITU LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA, AKWA IBOM STATE, SOUTH-SOUTH NIGERIA.
LET ME BREAK MY SILENCE ON THE ITU LOCAL GOVERNMENT COUNCIL POLITICAL CRISIS – IT IS NO LONGER GOLDEN
– PROF. ETOK EKANEM
1. I HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING
I have been systematically and painstakingly following the current political crisis in my Local Government Council (LGC) – Itu – since it began a few months ago. I have seen and read several well-intentioned comments, remarks and contributions by Itu people and others, on the lingering crisis, both in the print and social media. In the belief that it was golden to do so, I had all along, restrained myself from commenting on the crisis and maintained a studied silence on the disturbing situation in Itu, in spite of persuasions from a number of persons and quarters that I quite respect, to the contrary. I have now decided to break that silence because I no longer consider it golden. I therefore like to render the following as my modest contribution to the search (by Itu people) for lasting ways and means of resolving this present political crisis and placing Itu on the real path to progress and development. As usual, I shall be very frank and honest, call a spade a spade. I shall hit the nail, squarely on the head. We must tell ourselves the truth, so that Itu and our people can be set free, or set themselves free.
2. THE ELSIE ESARA SAGA
I saw and read the mid-April, 2017 petition to the Akwa State House of Assembly against Mrs Elsie Esara, the Chairman of the immediate-past Transition Committee of Itu LGC, by three Supervisors/Members of the Committee, alleging misappropriation of Itu public funds by the Chairman. Basically, the allegation was that the Chairman (Mrs Elsie Esara) had not accounted for huge Internally- Generated Revenue, regularly accruing to the Council from various sources, since her assumption of Office. Mrs Esara was also accused of total contempt for due process in the expenditure of Council funds.
According to the petitioners, the Chairman had claimed that she shared the money in question amongst a couple of Itu sons, namely – Senator Anietie Okon, his brother, Mr Akan Okon, the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Housing and Special Duties, another of the Senator’s relation from his Mbiatok Itam village, Mr Effiong Okon Ebong, Itu State Officer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Idongesit Ituen, the occupant of Itu seat in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Dr Henry Archibong, the occupant of Itu/Ibiono Ibom seat in the Nigerian House of Representatives and Mr Victor Okon, Itu Chapter Chairman of the PDP, and that she (the Council Chairman), had also used part of the Itu public funds to settle some bills for the wife of the Akwa Ibom State Governor, our dear sister and amiable Lady, Mrs Martha Udom Emmanuel.
I am aware that, rather than honour the invitation of the State House of Assembly to defend herself (when she was subsequently invited), Mrs Elsie Esara went to Court to challenge the authority of the House to summon her for questioning, seeking a restraining Order of Court, to tie the hands of the House of Assembly in this direction. Finally, the House issued an Order compelling the Council Chairman to appear before the Assembly. Mrs Esara eventually realized the futility of her earlier line of action, abandoned the Court case she instituted against the State Legislature and appeared on the floor of the House as ordered. I watched (on television and as pictures of the House proceedings were uploaded on social media platforms, real time) with utter dismay and deep reflections on the cause and course of Itu and our people, but with profound sympathy for the clearly, inexperienced and politically-exploited Elsie Esara, as she stood dejected and helpless, before the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, for close to four hours, for questioning.
Answering questions, I heard Mrs Esara (an innocent retired Public Servant) inform the House, Itu people and the world at large, that she had guiding political mentors, whom she named as the within-named Senator Anietie Okon, Mr Akan Okon, Mr Effiong Okon Ebong, Mr Idongesit Ituen and Dr Henry Archibong. In the main, these “political mentors” are the same persons Mrs Esara’s petitioners (the three Itu Transition Committee Members) had earlier alleged their Chairman (Mrs Elsie Esara) claimed she shared Itu public funds amongst. I heard Mrs Esara inform the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Itu people and the world that, it was her “principal political mentor”, whom she named as Senator Anietie Okon, who advised her not to honour the invitation of the House of Assembly, but rather, approach the Court, to block the House. I heard and saw Mr Idongesit Ituen (sitting in judgment in the House, against Mrs Elsie Esara),deny Mrs Esara, tell her he was not her political mentor (as she had claimed) and that he knew her not, all, on the floor of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. I watched with very deep sympathy of heart, the public ridicule and humiliation of this woman, as she stood, abandoned, for all of about four hours, before the House, anguished and begging for “mercy and forgiveness”, wobbly pleading, that she was misadvised and misled by Senator Anietie Okon, to ignore the State Legislature and go to Court. I noticed the political inexperience of this poor woman and clearly observed that Senator Anietie Okon and her other so-called political mentors, had taken undue advantage of her inexperience, to manipulate, exploit, expose her to ridicule and embarrass her. I deeply felt for her indeed. In the fear that she could collapse from fatigue and fall down on the floor of the House as she was standing, I made to get in touch, through the telephone, with the Speaker of the House of Assembly, my young Comrade friend, Barr. Onofiok Luke (with a suggestion to either offer Mrs Esara a seat or adjourn the session to give her a break), but that was not possible, as Mr Speaker was right on seat in Plenary. I later saw Senator Anietie Okon’s comments, publicly admitting that, he indeed, advised Mrs Elsie Esara not to honour the invitation of the House of Assembly (but rather go to Court) as the Legislature had no right to question the Chairman, and was only intimidating her.
I am aware that, at the end of the drama and Mrs Esara’s show of shame on its floor, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly recommended that Mrs Elsie Esara be removed as Chairman of the (unconstitutional) Itu LGC Transition Committee for her disrespect to the House. I am aware that the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Deacon Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, former Governor Godswill Akpabio’s protégé, subsequently, not just promptly sacked Mrs Esara (as Chairman), but dissolved the entire Itu LGC Transition Committee. The Head of Service (a Civil Servant) was directed to take over the affairs of Itu LGC as a Sole Administrator – at this stage and age of our country’s political development. The Head of Service is solely in-charge of the affairs of Itu Local Government Area till date – in a Democracy! While Mrs Elsie Esara had been removed from Office and her Transition Committee disbanded (the disbandment, for no stated reason), I am not aware, that Senator Anietie Okon or any of the other persons (including the Governor’s dear wife) the erstwhile Chairman reportedly claimed she shared the Itu public funds amongst (or applied the funds on behalf ) have been formally and officially asked for their own responses and explanations as to their culpability or otherwise. I am not aware of any official and public Report on the petition following the interactions between the House of Assembly and Mrs Elsie Esara and her accusers. Itu people and Nigerians are waiting.
I shall submit my views and position on the matter in due course.
3. THE CURRENT EPISODE OF THE CRISIS
We are in the third year of the Deacon Udom Emmanuel Administration in Akwa Ibom State, with hand-picked Transition Committees running the 31 LGCs of the State. The tenure of the third set of such unelected and clearly, unconstitutional Committees in the State came to an end shortly after the dissolution of the Elsie Esara Committee in Itu. The contempt for Itu people, Akwa Ibom people at large and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been extended. The Governor, Deacon Udom Emmanuel, has sought and obtained from the State House of Assembly, an illegal and unconstitutional authority to hand-pick and constitute, yet, another set of Local Government Transition Committees, the fourth of such undemocratic arrangements/Committees he would inaugurate since his assumption of Office in May,2015. With the exception of Itu (not for any inspiring reason though), these new illegal contraptions were inaugurated by the Governor in the State, early this July, 2017. While the processes leading to this renewed illegality have been initiated and concluded without much rancour in the other 30 LGAs of the State, that of Itu has thrown the Local Government into further chaos. On the order of the Governor, the inauguration of the proposed Itu LGC Transition Committee was suspended moments to the D-Hour. Itu LGC is still run and administered solely, by the Head of Service, a civil servant from another LGA in the State. Oh Itu! Where is thy Honour! Where are thy children?
As we are all aware, it is the selfish interest of two Itu sons – Senator Anietie Okon and Mr Idongesit Ituen – that has brought us into the present episode of crisis and embarrassment. This is a struggle between these two men, as to who has to have Itu and our common resources in his pocket. Except Itu people frankly and fully review the activities of these two men and cut them to their proper and fit sizes, Itu will not know peace, Itu will not make real progress and Itu people will not be free. Neither of them, nor any other one (or group) of us, can be bigger and greater than all of Itu. We must stop them before they completely destroy Itu, and the time to do so is now.
As we have come to understand, Senator Anietie Okon and Mr Idongesit Ituen, in their characteristic egoistic tendencies and selfish interests, submitted to the Governor, their respective (unilaterally hand-picked) names for the new Itu LGC Transition Committee. Mr Idongesit Ituen had Mr Fortune Archibong Umoh, a Pastor of Rev. Ntia I. Ntia’s Full Life Christian Centre (as Itu Chairman) on his list while Senator Anietie Okon had another. After the System had given Senator Anietie Okon all the assurances, the Governor later yielded to pressure from Mr Idongesit Ituen’s arrow men in the matter – the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Barr Onofiok Luke (from Nsit Ubium LGA, not Itu people) and Rev. Ntia I. Ntia (from Ibiono Ibom LGA, not Itu people) – and accepted Mr Fortune Umoh (Mr Ituen’s protégé) as the Chairman of Itu. When Senator Anietie Okon got to know this (after the lists of the LGC Transition Committees, including that of Itu, had been made known), he got in contact with the Governor and threatened fire and brimstone, except the Governor changed his mind and reversed his earlier decision. As we have come to understand, the Governor insisted he would not drop Mr Fortune Umoh as Itu LGC Chairman. Not even the intervention and firm support of Dr Henry Archibong, the Itu man representing Itu people in the House of Representatives, for Senator Anietie Okon’s position and pressure thereof, would have the Governor change his mind, as he, the Governor, Deacon Udom Emmanuel (from Onna LGA) would not let down Barr Onofiok Luke (from Nsit Ubium LGA) and Rev. Ntia I. Ntia (from Ibiono Ibom LGA) over the choice of a leader for Itu LGA. Oh Itu! Where is thy Honour!
Our sources indicate that it was only when my elder cousin, Senator Anietie Okon threatened to blow up the Universe, that the Governor decided, at the nick of time, to suspend the inauguration of Itu LGC Transition Committee when the others in the State were inaugurated. Senator Anietie Okon “stopped” the planned inauguration of Itu LGC Transition Committee, not because he was acting in the interest of Itu and the integrity of Itu people, but because, in this instance, Mr Idongesit Ituen had outsmarted him in their war of ego and the control of Itu public resources. He acted to preserve his self-interest. Itu is bleeding. This is the truth. It might be bitter.
I shall submit my views and position on this in due course.
There can hardly be any public-minded person in Itu LGA, who has engaged in the political process in Itu within the last ten years, that is not familiar with the character, and the ways and means of the politics of the extremely haughty and arrogant young man, called Idongesit Ituen. In his well-known politics of extensive blackmail, there can be no toe (regardless of the size, age and status) in Itu, that Mr Idongesit Ituen has not stepped on. There can none that he has not treated with disrespect and mindless contempt, individually and/or collectively. Today, this my Itam man sits in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, “representing” Itu State Constituency. For equity and harmony though, Itu people had, in 2014, collectively, zoned that seat to Itu/OMA geo-political Zone of the LGA. I shall return to this shortly. As I write, I am not aware if the issues that have been variously raised in the public space, regarding aspects of the academic credentials Mr Idongesit Ituen has officially laid claim to, have been clarified. Rather than build, as most of his colleagues in the House of Assembly are doing in their respective areas, Mr Idongesit Ituen is using the position he is occupying in the State House of Assembly to engage in a senseless and self-serving war of supremacy with Senator Anietie Okon, over Itu resource control and ego. Ordinarily, what audacity and capacity has Mr Idongesit Ituen to challenge Senator Anietie Okon over the political leadership of Itu, even as unhelpful as the Senator himself has been?
Senator Anietie Okon is of the same maternal DNA/blood line and stock in Adang Itam in Itu LGA with me. He is my cousin on our mothers’ side. Politically, Senator Anietie Okon has been around in the Itu, Akwa Ibom State and Nigerian public arena for quite a while. In style and content, his politics has, however, been largely undistinguished, unhelpful and unbeneficial to Akwa Ibom State, his Ibibio people, and particularly, to Itu people. From all narratives, this is of course, well known. I had personally, taken the situation for granted, until the day Senator Anietie Okon publicly told a capacity crowd of Itu people, the who is who in Itu politics (while trying to justify an unconscionable political action he had taken) that: “There is no conscience in politics” and that, “what is important is your interest”. I was as shocked as every other person present, particularly when the Senator went on to challenge a young man to a fight, for daring to express shock and disappointment over his unfortunate utterances. The day was Sunday, September 26, 2010 and the venue, the Ewet Housing Estate (Uyo) residence of Mr Michael James Etim, at the time, the Chairman of Itu LGC. For me, that was a sharp descent into the valley, a very deep valley, by Senator Anietie Okon. My subsequent careful checks and analysis of the style, the direction and assessment of the fruits of his politics – before and after that unfortunate public pronouncement – clearly show that our Senator indeed, plays without conscience, and always, only in the direction of his narrow interest(s). I am pretty sure that I have said, absolutely, nothing that is new or strange to Itu people.
No person with this kind of frame of mind can serve public interest and defend public cause. In the current crisis in Itu, the Senator has locked horns with Mr Idongesit Ituen over the inauguration of Itu LGC Transition Committee, not in the general interest of Itu people, but to maintain his personal grip on the Council and its resources, as he did under Mrs Elsie Esara, whom he “mentored” to the show of shame on the floor of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and subsequent dismissal from Office. This is the truth. It might be bitter.
I shall submit my views and position on this in due course.
5. DISTORTION OF ITU ZONING
Let me remind all of us that, in 2014, Itu people had, after various all-inclusive and painstaking meetings and discussions, mutually agreed to zone the Itu State Constituency seat in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly to Itu/OMA geo-political Zone in 2015. Other positions were also zoned as generally considered appropriate. The zoning was done for the sake of equity, political inclusiveness, harmony and peace in our LGA. The Agreement to this effect was duly signed by Accredited Representatives of the four Geo-political Zones of Itu namely, West Itam, East Itam Southern, East Itam Northern and Itu/OMA. Following this Agreement by the Political Class, the arrangement was endorsed and confirmed by the Traditional Institution in Itu LGA, under the signatures of His Royal Majesty, the Paramount Ruler of Itu and other representative Traditional Rulers.
The Zoning Agreement was flouted, frustrated and distorted by two sons of Itu LGA – Mr Idongesit Ituen (from West Itam Zone) and Engr. Anthony James (from my own East Itam Northern Zone) – who (to satisfy their greed and personal interests), procured and completed the PDP Expression of interest and Nomination Forms, and sought election to the State House of Assembly in 2015. Amongst others from Itu/OMA, Mr Idongesit Ekpanya, also procured and completed the relevant Forms and sought election to the House, on the platform of the PDP. Despite all his initial encouragement and declaration of support for Mr Idongesit Ekpanya, at the nick of time, Senator Anietie Okon abandoned Mr Ekpanya, yielded to external pressure (in favour of Mr Idongesit Ituen) from Chief Godswill Akpabio and his brothers in Ukana Ikot Ntuen, Essien Udim LGA and sold the birthright of Itu people to conduct their own affairs, their own way.
Finally, Mr Idongesit Ekpanya was, in the last minute, frustrated out of the PDP, after spending his fortunes. He sought and obtained the Ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and contested the General election against Mr Idongesit Ituen, who had been brazenly imposed as candidate of the PDP. The rest is history. The process was, as was generally characteristic of the System then, criminally manipulated and INEC declared Mr Idongesit Ituen “elected”, by, God knows who. Mr Idongesit Ituen’s “election” was on the same date and in exactly the same manner Deacon Udom Emmanuel was “elected” Governor of Akwa Ibom State, with that miracle score of 996,071 votes (out of a total of 1,222,836 votes purportedly cast), in an election in which a total of only 437,128 persons were accredited to vote, in the entire State.
To satisfy his self-serving desire at the time, Senator Anietie Okon (working assiduously with his brother, Mr Akan Okon, the then newly appointed State Commissioner for Finance, who hardly understood the structure and dynamics of Itu politics), betrayed Itu people, held and treated Itu people beneath contempt, to make Mr Idongesit Ituen take the Itu seat in the House of Assembly, against the agreed zoning arrangement. Today, the same Senator Anietie Okon (also working actively with Mr Akan Okon, the brother and current Commissioner for Housing and Special Duties) and Mr Idongesit Ituen are fighting – not to preserve, prosper or upscale Itu – but to disintegrate and exploit Itu for their respective personal interests. This is the truth. It might be bitter. As we hear, Mr Akan Okon wants to be Governor of Akwa Ibom State in 2023. Mr Idongesit Ituen, we understand, also wants to be Governor of Akwa Ibom State in 2023. Good to dream dreams, but they should please allow Itu to be. They could please, shift their battle to Ibom Connection, the centre of Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State Capital City.
6. PECULIAR ITU
As I begin to wind up, before I make my submissions, let me tell this brief story. It is about my good friend, the late Obong Okon Uwah, former Chairman of Ukanafun LGA and Deputy Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly (may his soul continue to rest in peace). The story is this:
During my tenure as a Member of the Akwa Ibom State Executive Council and Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, my boss, the Governor, His Excellency, Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio, in his protocol salutations (both in formal and informal meetings) always fondly and jovially addressed Obong Okon Uwah, as :“My brother, the Deputy Speaker, peculiar Okon Uwah”. This was quite regular. At a social occasion in his house in Uyo, I had an opportunity to ask Obong Okon Uwah why His Excellency, the Governor, always addressed him as “Peculiar Okon Uwah”. My friend laughed and gave me and others present this interesting explanation.
He told us that during his tenure as the Chairman of Ukanafun LGA when Chief Godswill Akpabio (the Governor) served as Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, he (Obong Uwah) was always vehemently opposed to any deductions from Ukanafun financial allocations during the monthly Joint Accounts Committee meetings in the State. He said he always told the Honorable Commissioner, Chief Godswill Akpabio (and insisted), that his Local Government Council be exempted from any such deductions “because Ukanafun had peculiar problems and needed a lot of funds for development”. According to my late friend, this was how Chief Godswill Akpabio started calling him “Peculiar Okon Uwah” and stopped deduction of Ukanafun allocations for reason of its “peculiar problems.”
As one of the oldest development centres in Nigeria, the present state of Itu, is bad, very bad. Most of its contemporaries, and even far younger LGAs (like our sister Onna LGA in Akwa Ibom State) are now far ahead of Itu. Our LGA is indeed, in dire straits and yearns for development. Itu is peculiar – in terms of its physical environment and difficult terrain, infrastructure and socio-economic needs, its people – and all. The Akwa Ibom Government must recognize this and exempt Itu from some of the irregularities and unconstitutional actions of the Government in the administration and management of Local Governments in the State. Itu is peculiar.
7. MY SUBMISSIONS
Let me end with the following candid submissions and suggestions:
7.1 On the Elsie Esara saga, Itu people should DEMAND that the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly releases, without delay, the FULL REPORT of its investigation of the petition raised by three Members of the immediate-past Itu LGC Transition Committee against the Chairman, Mrs Elsie Esara, in mid-April, 2017. It is not enough for the House to recommend the removal of Mrs Elsie Esara as Chairman, and the Governor consequently, removes the Chairman, and goes ahead to dissolve the Transition Committee, without anybody telling Itu people what actually went wrong and how. This is about Itu, and the people deserve to know. Should the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly fail, refuse or neglect to release the Full Report, Itu people should approach the Courts for a compelling Order on the House, under the Freedom of Information Act.
7.2 With respect to the current impasse over the constitution of a new Transition Committee for Itu LGA, arising from the fight for the soul of the Council between Senator Anietie Okon and Mr Idongesit Ituen, I submit that:
7.2.1 Itu people should condemn and reject, in very clear terms, the self-serving and retrogressive actions of the two sons of Itu. Senator Anietie Okon and Mr Idongesit Ituen cannot hold the whole of Itu to ransom. Elsewhere (in and outside Akwa Ibom), Senator Anietie Okon’s contemporaries (former Senators) are helping to build their communities, not downgrading and tearing them apart.
7.2.2 Itu people should condemn, reject, in no mistaken terms and take strong exceptions to the unwarranted interference of the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Barr. Onofiok Luke (from Nsit Ubium LGA) and the owner of Full Life Christian Centre, Rev. Ntia I. Ntia (from Ibiono Ibom LGA) in the internal affairs (the leadership placement process) of Itu LGA, unconstitutional as the proposed Itu LGC Transition Committee itself is. Itu Local Government should be a Government of Itu people, put in place by Itu people and for Itu people. Rev. Ntia I. Ntia should concentrate on his Church Business Organization and leave Itu politics and other affairs to Itu people.
7.2.3 Itu people should DEMAND a formal all-inclusive meeting of its representatives with the Government of Akwa Ibom State, to discuss and resolve the current impasse and chart a permanent way forward for Itu. Our Local Government Council cannot continue to remain in the hands of the Head of Service as Sole Administrator, in a democracy. This is as unacceptable as it is shameful.
7.2.4 Itu people should passionately DEMAND that the Akwa Ibom State Government and the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly should exempt Itu LGA from all the unconstitutional actions in the management and administration of the Local Government system in the State. Itu has peculiar problems and challenges. Itu is peculiar.
7.3 Dr Henry Archibong, Itu son and representative of Itu Federal Constituency in the Nigerian House of Representatives, should convene a meeting of Itu people, to discuss this crisis and resolve as appropriate. This is clearly, his responsibility, in the present circumstances. My Leadership Bible tells me, in a commentary, that “if you are not prepared to carry the ball, you cannot captain the team”. Dr Ekaette Ekong Okon, Barr Kennedy Ekong and Dr Offiong Udoh may wish to assist him.
7.4 In the process of the resolution of the present quackmire, Itu people should, in view of his status, invite and formally offer to Senator Anietie Okon, the position of Political Leader of Itu, with the leadership expectations of the people clearly spelt out. Where Senator Anietie Okon accepts the offer and is willing to provide quality and balanced political leadership to Itu, Itu people should formally crown, install, present to the world, uphold and celebrate the Senator as their Leader. Where, however, Senator Anietie Okon is unwilling or unable to change his ways and style, and provide the needed quality and balanced leadership, Itu people should look for another. They should very carefully and diligently search, locate and install a suitable and ready leadership without delay. This has always been my position on the matter of political leadership for Itu, which I have previously, frankly discussed with Senator Anietie Okon on more than a couple of occasions. We cannot continue to be rudderless, politically. Nor can we continue to helplessly, allow Senator Anietie Okon to put forward himself, hold out and parade himself (even outside Itu) as our Leader, when he is not acting in the interest of Itu people, is not providing leadership, and is clearly, unwilling and not ready to do so.
8. AS I END
Let me end here, with a prayer for Wisdom and divine courage for Itu people, as we make to rescue and redeem our Local Government, re-establish our collective integrity and reclaim our common heritage and birth right.
I respectfully submit this for the consideration of Itu people, please. I salute all. May God grant us needed help in His strong and mighty Hands. Dr Henry Archibong, you are our Captain and on duty today. Where are you, please?
I am sending a copy each, of this Memorandum to the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly and Dr Henry Archibong, the Itu son, representing Itu people in the Nigerian House of Representatives. Itu Local Government is bleeding in excruciating pains, and should be relieved.
Prof. Etok Ekanem
Nkim Itam, Itu
July 24, 2017