– Samuel Ayara
As conclusion in a recent paper on Akwa Ibom people, language, culture, politics; the dividing factors and solutions, Aniekan Johnson posited that “our challenges are local so are their solutions, so let us dream collectively, plan futuristic and in the knowledge of our strength by our unique history and culture if our society must be better”. These lines got me glossing over our political historicity and the need to reinvent the depth and acclaim of the past in our walk to a sunny day. In that paper, I was hit differently by Johnson’s description of history as the most critical capital for sustainable development.
In reflecting on our progress, we must be careful not to jettison viable efforts of the past that have brought us this far. Such conversations would bring to mind events, actions and human assets that braved the times and tides to shine us some luck. At the zenith of these human assets sits the affable, energetic and passionate Sen. Effiong Bob; a name engraved in the heart of our political firmament. With the evolving political milieu and attendant 2023 crossfire, it is time we patterned our political solutions after a peopled and workable module. As with our challenges, our solutions must also be local, whatever our priorities are about age, experience, content and reach; this one-stop lover of Akwa Ibom has all the poise and passion that getting things to work require.
My reverence for Senator Bob stems from the solidity of the touch and impact he has exerted in his space. It is unassailable that he will for long remain a rallying point in leadership discourse in our clime, not for high-end sophistication but pro-people dispositions. When chronicling his engagements, it is easier to find in him a trusted ally inclined to healthy collaborations. He believed in working with people way earlier when individuality was a courted order; left a budding law practice to hearken his people’s call to service as Supervisor, a partnership that has spanned more than three decades without any of the parties counting a loss.
If I ever come by a future I would be required to talk about politicians who found fortune in service of their people, I would spare no time in describing Senator Bob who from beginning small did more than treat his people small. Lacing every inch of his way to the top with pricey laurels, it has become both warm and alluring to reflect on what possibility one clawed in ticking the box of political attainments in a leadership adventure that began way earlier, as School prefect, pioneer Secretary of the Land use and Advisory Committee in charge of the old Ikot Ekpene Local Government Area now comprising Obot Akara and Essien Udim, Councillor, Chairman, member of the state legislature, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, as well as a two term Senator of the Federal Republic and an active member of the ECOWAS parliament for eight years.
His scorecard on each leadership rung is already in the open, but deserving of mention is the capacity he exhibited to remain Deputy Speaker of an Assembly that had three Speakers within its lifespan. Whatever was behind his not being consumed in the power play, would readily admit him in the hall of fame of leaders who should be studied with a view to acquitting people in position of authority with the capacity of sustaining their hold and grip. This may not be unconnected with his belief that politics is a game of maneuvering where one only succeeds with God and people sensitivities as often captured in his popular “mbre ikid song”.
Have we ever rewarded ingenuity? The response would be a yelling “yes”. It could not have been for nothing sake that he was appointed Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in 1999 at the return of democracy, and by no less a man than the scrupulous Obong Victor Attah. While on that constitutionally recognized state executive council seat, a lot of mileage must have been covered at putting together laws that were required to drive democratic governance in the state, as the military government of the time left lots of considerations that on several counts could not be applied in a civil rule.
Whether he did well on that beat would be better explained in his being drafted to represent Uyo senatorial district at a time men who loved Akwa Ibom State were needed at the center to push the resource control and onshore/offshore oil dichotomy conversation that was threatening to rip the Niger Delta region apart. Alongside patriots who saw the larger picture, Bob in the Senate was not just a cerebral voice, but became an oak the 5th Senate could rely on, which arguably thrusted him to the reckoning of chairing sensitive committees like finance, Senate services, power and solid minerals as well as local/foreign debts, among a chain of landmark interventions Nigeria can retrospect with gratitude.
His exploits up till the last day of his eight year stay in the red chambers were laced with beautiful moments of mature politicking and viable pro-people interventions that came to an abrupt end when his shot at a third term was thwarted despite his cult-like following and massive acceptability. To say it was his district’s loss when he could not return to the Senate in 2011 would amount to being uncharitable to Sen. Ita Enang, who succeeded him, but of the truth, a golden era of people representation had been cut short. Those who were not there may have to check up with the Minister of Niger Delta, Chief Godswill Akpabio, to find out what he meant when he referred to Senator Bob as the proverbial “Atama soup” which gets better with time.
When indigenes of Akwa Ibom are counted on the staff and graduates roll of University of Benin, it is to the eternal credit of this Ikot Ekwere Ubium political maverick who latched on the opportunity he had as Pro-chancellor and Chairman Governing Council of the institution to expand the horizon for indigenes of the state to either be admitted as students or employed as staff. The tact with which he managed the unusual influx of Akwa Ibom people to Uniben without raising a brow would easily pass him for an octogenarian; whose patriotism does not look away from merit and balance.
There may not be an accurate chronicling of politically exposed persons who have supported educational development without the mention of Bob, who has led several interventions in the direction of getting the education sector on its feet. Worthy of note is his role at getting Nigerian University teachers back to class in 2013 at the death of ASUU former President, Prof. Festus Iyayi, in a road crash in Kogi, while heading for an ASUU national executive meeting in Kano. This he conceived as a mark of honour for the departed ex-president of the union. In his days at Uniben, Bob also championed an anti corruption crusade to rescue the institution from the claws of mindless perfidy. The 696- bed hostel he got the Barr. Bassey Dan Abia led Niger Delta Development Commission to build will for long be recorded on his credit column to booster the glorious era of his hold at the Ugbowo and Ekehuan campuses of the institution.
If the ultimate measure of a man, according to Martin Luther King, jr, is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands during challenging and controversial moment, then Sen. Effiong Bob had long proved himself a man deserving of the confidence of his people. Not many would forget Onofiok Luke’s stormy return to the state house of assembly in 2014, when state actors within the Godswill Akpabio gubernatorial court were up against him. It was Sen. Bob’s resilience and daring support for Luke, up to endorsing his nomination forms, that did all the magic, even when several Nsit Ubium critical stakeholders thought differently. Today Nsit Ubium is thick in the comity of state constituencies that have produced Speaker of the state assembly, a feat that may not have been possible if the elderstateman was not firm and definitive at resisting the attempt to armtwist his people.
Every time people have attempted a doubt on his patriotism on account of having his son in the House of Assembly, his defence would remain that in one lifetime he has mentored scores of people to political offices as chairmen, state and Federal legislators as well as sensitive appointments as commissioners and other roles. Such a man should also be leveraged to bend backward to take a look at home, as he cannot be seen as the proverbial carpenter who makes doors for people but have none. He sure could not have refused the call of critical stakeholders to have Barr. Otobong Bob, give the state legislature a shot, as it was also one of the numerous ways of encouraging children of politically exposed persons to lead reputable lives than indulge anti-social vices of hooliganism and drugs that is threatening that rung of the society.
The ability to still stay atop his game, lead an economically productive life and not drift into the path of bullying his political beneficiaries for returns clearly stands him out as a natural leader, who is either contented or sufficiently productive to call his bills. This trait of financial independence is rare for a society that easily looks forward to entitlements; even from the most ridiculous of places. For Bob, it is even more honourable that his name is yet to be mentioned as a leprous finger in any illicit financial deal; this attests to his strength of character and entrepreneurial acumen which have for decades seen him tower as an employer of labour that in many ways have added value to our society.
Without painting a gerontocrat picture of his political hold, we must be careful to preserve the brightest of our lights, conscious that an uninformed shift could completely displace our clime. He stands tall and irrepressible in the Nigerian conversation and wears numerous caps that is giving our clime advantage and impetus; these are values we should strife to make the best of rather than think him a competitor, which brings to mind his recent elevation and recognition as the Political Leader of no less a place than Etinan Federal constituency. While this elevation did not slide without an emphatic mention of the need to consider a credential like his as political leader of Uyo Senatorial District, people of the district should however consider the benefits of his wealth of experience and stability, especially as they look forward to producing Akwa Ibom’s next governor.
Intriguing of his leadership credentials are the disarming smiles, unassuming mien and faultless humility that puts him on a pedestal where struggling for recognition or stirring needless controversies got nothing on him. He still finds people at various strata of social construct warm enough to be considered friends and family, a rare attribute of men in his class. Whoever has been around long enough would acknowledge him as a politician who has never deployed his resources or contacts to the detriment of the state at any point. It is unassailable that Senator Effiong Dickson Bob is one of the very few advantaged Akwa Ibom elites that have maintained a crisis free relationship with the trio of Obong Victor Attah, Chief Godswill Akpabio and Governor Udom Emmanuel, even in moments a standoff appeared unavoidable.
We cannot wish away the advancements that could aide our mileage to a sustainable and enduring future, but let our leadership priorities and choices reflect our desires to see the Akwa Ibom project attain viability. With 2023 as the next big issue on the plate of politically conscious people, we must device a means of bringing our best minds and hands on the table where deals would be brokered. This is Sen. Effiong Bob’s forte, judging from testimonials of beneficial deals he has in time past struck for the state. It is a truism that men made of his fabric cannot be overlooked in the composition of statesmen on the discourse about our future; if patriotism, maturity, experience and capacity are values to esteem.
A man of conviction and patriotic dispositions, Senator Effiong Bob does not only deserve our respect as he soldier’s on with repositioning leadership and service delivery, our state have come full cycle to the point we must get intentional at creating more men in his velve and class, if we must take our rightful space on the table where nigeria is the topic of discussion.
Samuel Ayara writes from Ibong Otoro in Abak LGA.