By Livingstone Akpan
Recently the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Pastor Umo Eno, gave assent to an atrocious law (Traditional Rulers Council [TRC] Bill, Cap 155), which seeks to create a master ethnic group in Akwa Ibom State. The law also seeks to put the other ethnic groups in perpetual subjugation
There was a time when the House of Assembly was peopled by honorable men who had paid their dues in public service and were truly honorable. Men of timber and caliber who walked tall, did right and talked right.
Pix-Akwa Ibom House of Assembly
Opposite is the case presently.
In this darkness, only Effiong Johnson proved himself a man (a truly honorable man) by walking out of the circus show in protest. Queen Esther, in the Bible story, faced in the same situation, was prepared to die for her people and declared thus, “If I perish, I perish.” Not these capricious band!
Good laws generally do not mention tribes, ethnic groups, or races. This was the sour point in the fight of Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, against segregation in America. The segregation law mentioned races and sought to place whites and blacks separately in the social structure and that amounted to racism. In the apartheid law in South Africa and Rhodesia, the same thing happened, and the world cried against it. Races were mentioned in the laws. Apartheid had to fall. In Akwa Ibom State this apartheid law states that the “Ibibios because of being the major ethnic group…” would in perpetuity enjoy privileges that the other ethnic groups would never enjoy. How dare you bring ethnicity into a law in this century when the world did away with all vestiges of such laws in the last century?
Pix- Gov Eno
This apartheid law establishes what it calls the Supreme Council of Ibom Traditional Rulers, and states that because the Ibibio are the majority ethnic group in the state, whosever is the Oku Ibom Ibibio should automatically become the President General of the council. The Oku Ibom Ibibio is a stool meant only for the Ibibio, so the law technically shuts out persons from the other ethnic groups in the state from ever becoming the President General of the council. It at the same time makes it possible for any Ibibio man or woman (simply by reason of being Ibibio) to become the President General. What this means is that even if someone like Chief Assam Assam (SAN), Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Russia and one of the most distinguished lawyers in Nigeria, were to become the paramount ruler of Eket, he would never be the President General of the council because he is not Ibibio. Even if the Oku Ibom Ibibio were to be a secondary school leaver, the secondary school leaver would be the President General because he is Ibibio. Chief Assam, in spite of his exposure, eminent status, scholarship and towering credentials would be consigned to taking orders from this Oku Ibom. Why? Because he is Ekid not Ibibio.
If this is not apartheid, then tell me what it is. Apartheid is defined as a policy or system of discrimination on grounds of race. This law is a policy or system of discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity. It seeks to create a kingdom where none ever existed. It seeks to colonize. It seeks to dominate ethnic groups which have no history of ever being ruled by the Ibibio. It seeks to make vassals out of free people, and create first class and second-class citizens. It is driven by the same spirit that drove apartheid in South Africa. This ill-motivated, apartheid law is a complete violation of section 42 of the 1999 constitution as amended in 2023. Fortunately many righteous Ibibio have spoken against it and described it as unnecessary.
Why did Governor Umo Eno assent to such a callous, apartheid law? I do not know, but one thing is certain, his defense raised more questions than it provided answers. He claimed that the law was agreed upon by paramount rulers. The affected paramount rulers immediately repudiated the claim. The law as passed, they argued, was never discussed by them. But even if the law was agreed upon by them, so what? At his swearing-in, the governor held a Bible in his right hand and took an oath of office, before God, to do justice to all manners of people, and he should live up to his oath? The buck stops on his table. Ecclesiastes 5:4 (BBE) says “When you take an oath before God, put it quickly into effect, because he has no pleasure in the foolish; keep the oath you have taken.” My very dear pastor, please keep your oath!
More so, I believe he has read the Bible up to the point where it is written in Galatians 3:28 (KJV) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”? His assenting to such an unjust, atrocious, apartheid law is the greatest disservice to the Christian faith, and has already given the unbelievers grounds to attack the faith. Now, in stead of addressing the fault lines in the law they are busy pointing fingers at people in an attempt to obfuscate the issues. The issue is about morality – not politics. What is morally abominable, cannot be politically justifiable.
The strident defense of the law by government agents is laughable. Scampering like a cat on hot bricks, they claim that the law wants to strengthen the traditional institution in Akwa Ibom State to be at par with that of the Emir of Kano, Obong of Calabar, Ooni of Ife, Sultan of Sokoto etc. Laughable! These traditional stools were not legislated into office by Houses of Assembly. Succession in these respected traditional institutions is through the monarchical system of family inheritances. But this Eno’s apartheid law is about one ethnic group only producing the so-called President General – not a family. They claim that the Oku Ibom was made the President General to be at par with the Obong of Calabar. Nonsense! The Obong of Calabar is not the president general of any council in Cross River State. The stool of the Obong of Calabar is renowned for its rich history and tradition. It was not created by the Cross River State House of Assembly.
The Akwa Ibom State Government has no business establishing and funding a traditional stool with the tax payers money in order to establish a master ethnic group and subjugate other ethnic groups. The sooner Pastor Umo Eno, walks the path of honor, keeps his oath, owns up to his mistake and amends this law, the better for his image and that of the Church. A word is enough.
Akpan, a public affairs commentator, writes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.