– Samuel Ayara
Obong (Arc) Victor Attah, the second civilian Governor of Akwa Ibom State is 85. Courage, bravery, resilience and intelligence would fairly describe his believe in Nigeria and the promise democracy holds for a nation tattered by a brutal military grip. At the return of the current republic, following the death of General Sani Abacha there were not much to assure the people that succeeding military regimes would not tow his path, yet Attah and his class of patriots stood out to be counted in support of democratic rule.
That courage for all it was worth, years after has become for Akwa Ibom State a defining virtue that has seen us evolve through succeeding administrations to a model destination of choice, from a hitherto geographical location. These much cannot be enlisted as a product of a volcanic eruption or sudden flight, but of a carefully planned out vision and strategy that brought people across every strata of the social construct to the table of leadership, when he proclaimed, “Come let us build together”.
Attah was 61 when he mounted the saddle at the Hilltop mansion defeating the first civilian Governor, Obong Akpan Isemin, who could not have been much younger at the time. The ages of constenstants in that election must have fired a warning shot at young people that the generation ahead had lost so much; a warning they had to heed and steer-off every aspirations that could seem confrontational for the older folks. Tomorrow, whose leaders the youths are condemned to, had not yet arrived.
It was Obong Attah, and I think it only could have taken a man in his mould and character to bring the much anticipated tomorrow closer for Akwa Ibom youths at a time youth involvement in politics was far less fashionable in other climes. Many who had neither met nor known Udeme Nnana, must have been expecting a man in his late fifties, watching him make his way to the podium, as Obong Attah’s first appointee as Director of Press Affairs, on May 29, 1999. Nnana was in his early thirties, and a spill the older generation considered a big miss.
If Nnana’s appointment was considered a spill, regardless of his exposure and training, Attah’s audacity at giving young people a place in his government got further emboldened with the appointment of Isantim Kenneth Okon as Chairman Petroleum Products Monitoring Committee, in the State; first Civilian to occupy the position hitherto considered a preserve of the Military and Security agencies. Eduek Ekpe did not stop there, he went in to endorse the formation of Akwa Ibom State Youth CAUCUS as the Political wing of the youth in politics, with Isantin Okon as the pioneer Chairman, and thereafter SA to the then NDDC Chairman, Late Amb. Sam Edem.
Youths for the most of the state’s nineteen year existence, prior to Attah’s advent had not a single platform to ventilate their aspirations, but in months, could boast of teeth to bite, platform to exist and a government that could validate their aspirations, when the father of modern Akwa Ibom appointed then Dr. Chris Ekong (now a Professor) as Special Adviser Youth and culture and later Commissioner for youth and sports as Youth slots in the State Executive Council. This in ways than few became a warm assurance that the long awaited tomorrow had arrived.
Supporters, fans and admirers of the Cuurent Secretary to the State Government, Prince Enobong Uwah would twice have Obong Attah to thank. It was the octogenarian that provided the Atan Offot Prince of people-oriented leadership and czar of public administration the wings to fly, when he mobilized and supported his emergence as National Deputy Vice President of the National Youth Council of Nigeria. Uwah had since after the springboard Attah provided moved on to becoming as much as would pass him for a model to emulate in public service and politics.
His drive in elevating the younger generation of Akwa Ibom people to acclaim may be inexhaustible, but it would be inexcusable not to mention that he appointed Hon Emmanuel Ukoette Special Assistant Youth and Barr. Christy Edward (now Christy Usen) as Special Assistant Students’ Matters. Interestingly, these appointments were the first in their series and leaves more to wonder the depth of Obong Attah’s wisdom and vision, having done so well, without an already laid down template. The likes of Hon. Michael Etim, Ekerette Ekpenyong, Onofiok Luke and Monday Uko are unavoidable mentions of Attah’s leadership inventions.
He did not only build a forte for political youths, thousands of Akwa Ibom people today can read and write because Obong Attah thought differently about education, when he made the West African Examination Council examination free in the state and went irreconcilable miles ahead at awarding scholarships for national and international tertiary education. This found expression in the swell the state has contributed to the number of reputable professionals across different endeavours that are currently making Nigeria proud across the globe. The Akwa Ibom State University exists because the Ibesikpo Asutan born Architect passed through our clime in our time.
Dejavu, if all he achieved was building the people for the future, then he went far ahead of himself to contribute to nation building. Most of the young people he built had long moved on to become Governors, National Assembly members, Ministers, Commissioners, State Legislators Local Government Chairmen, Commissioners, Special Advisers, Chairmen of boards and parastatals, Aides to Governors in Akwa Ibom State and assumed leadership of professional and global bodies.
Thankfully, subsequent Governors after Attah, in inheriting the foundation he provided have built on bringing more young people to the table of leadership. Truly Obong Victor Attah deserves to be celebrated while alive as a Father, a prudent Leader and beacon of hope for the future of Akwa Ibom State, and not this generation nor the next would allow itself caught in the trap of ingratitude to a leader who saw the future early enough to give the youths a place of value and renown.
Today we are reminded that the “Come let us build together” proclamation was no lip service, as the State has since sustained his existential infrastructure and policy vision. Neither a thousand candles nor accolades in the value of gold would avail as plaudits for a man who gave Akwa Ibom State a masterplan in infrastructure and human capital development. But for daring the most to believe in youths, every young person in Nigeria had better found this 85th birth anniversary of the former Governor, an opportunity to celebrate patriotism, passion, resillience and deep-seated believe in Nigeria.
Cheers to the oak that has produced a forest; Happy birthday Obong (Arc) Victor Attah!
Samuel Ayara writes from Ibong Otoro in Abak LGA.