Considering assumption that Chief Don Etiebet has made imposing marks in private and public enterprise, one may be inclined to thinking that in his 70s his interest is waning in politics. On the other hand, arising from the foregoing, coupled with his antecedent of presidential stature in politicking, one could also be tempted to conclude that those with comparatively lesser weight, particularly in Akwa Ibom State, where he has for decades commanded father-figure influence, would avoid engaging him in any duel fraught with conflict.
Such considerations hardly apply. Reasons: Firstly, there is no retirement age in politics. Even those who claim to retire in most cases only do so with their lips and not their lives. In fact, the younger ones stand to tap from experiences of their older politician colleagues. That was why dissenting opinion and public outcry were louder across the country when military President Ibrahim Babangida disbanded the old breed from participating in the politics of the third republic, which he himself inflicted life-threatening injury on and finally brutally killed and buried by his successor, Sani Abacha.
Secondly, politics is a game for everyone; it is not class-based. The mighty and the minions flock together in politics. Also, like other places in what used to be called Eastern Region of Nigeria, Akwa Ibom State is republican in nature. That is why constant effort to demystify Etiebet even by beneficiaries of his political benevolence and clout should not be surprising. After all, the same factor is why legendary Nnamdi Azikiwe appears not so revered by his people whereas Obafemi Awolowo, his peer in the nationalist movement from the Yoruba speaking Western Nigeria, is still venerated decades after his demise. It is in the context of this narrative that recent squaring up and squabbles between Etiebet and John James Udoedehe should be understood, appraised and, depending on one’s take, appreciated.
In terms of social stratification, Etiebet and Udoedehe certainly do not belong in the same class. Their commonality could, more than anything else, be premised in politics – an endeavour where the mighty and the minions parley along and interface. Udoedehe may be looked upon as a minion but within the fold of the minions he is a mighty commanding some other minions.
Given his background in his father’s then local champion-like transportation business, some people tend to derogatorily situate him as a motor park tout and that that orientation still defines his actions in private and public arena. But Udoedehe has proved to be a shining example that underrating one is to the peril of those who do so. To the chagrin of many that look down on him, he has been steadily climbing the ladder of leadership. He has been a chairman of Uyo Local Government Council, a senator and minister.
But this writer sees the former senator as maverick politician well grounded on how to have its way whether by hooks or crooks. Provided he has the will, he could shrewdly deliver a task to the consternation of many appreciation of his hirer. In the 2006 primary which Godswill Akpabio was a dark horse he played the Man Friday role with clandestine scheme to the advantage of Akpabio, who won by default and went ahead to win the governorship election, which Udoedehe served as the Director General of the Campaign Organisation.
He is good at rabble-rousing. Tribalism is less is a mean factor in his consideration, which accounted for his getting a wife from Annang at a time his Ibibio kinsmen rarely do so. But he understands and values the forceful influence of ethnicity in our local politics. In 2011 governorship election that he contested under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, he drew cult-like followership by fanning the embers of ethnicity.
He is a master at carving a niche for himself by fighting against the mighty. In that 2011 governorship election, Etiebet, Umana Umana and Nsima Ekere that he is now fighting within the fold of All Progressive Congress were on the side of Akpabio in PDP yet he did not blink for a moment but made more headlines than he made as a minister, senator and council chairman put together. In events he cannot make he can mar. While others financial profile sink on losing election it has been said by many that he was financially profiteering even after losing the 2011 election. In 2015 governorship election after losing the APC governorship ticket to Umana he momentarily renewed his relationship with Akpabio and was evidently handsomely rewarded. He is also the type that is ever ready to jump into gutter just tar his supposed fighter at the moment.
His recent hullabaloo protest against the leadership of Akwa Ibom State APC revolves around the party’s early move to put machinery for 2019 election, which culminated in the making of Etiebet the chairman of the party’s caucus in the state. Given Etiebet’s pedigree, Udoedehe, like the rest of us, knows very well that no one could better fit the bill. He knows also that those who hold sway in the party would not reckon on him to a point of making him flies the flag of the party in governorship contest. His fighting Etiebet could be likened to MKO Abiola’s proverbial ants and a cube of sugar.
Underrating Udoedehe may be to one’s risk and engaging him in a tussle of any kind makes him achieve his real intention – attention and cheap popularity with their accompaniments. He should therefore be tackled sparingly and cautiously; after all, he is not an unknown person to the informed public. In the same vein, Udoedehe’s hangers-on and hiring who joined the fray by queuing behind their master to throw jibes at Etiebet and co need to maintain decorum even as they join the fight just to service loyalty and curry approval of their mighty-minion, in that by the time Udoedehe goes to pay homage to Etiebet he would not to be accompanied by his cronies.
. Ekanem writes from [email protected]