By Anietie Ekong
It had all the trappings of a “state visit.” And indeed it was a state visit. It was Senator Godswill Akpabio’s first visit to his home state: Akwa Ibom State after his election as the President of the Senate.
As recalled by the Senator, the last time the people saw him was as a Senator-elect but on Saturday, June 24, 2023, he returned to Akwa Ibom State as the President of the 10th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Number three man in the country.
Akwa Ibom State has produced many great men and women who have shaped the history, economy and politics of Nigeria. They include such great Jurist as Sir Egbert Udo Udoma, an astounding economist, Chief Clement Nyong Isong, the super cop, Mr Etim Okon Inyang, a great educationist, Chief Ibanga Udo Akpabio among many others.
In contemporary times the State has been blessed with such great leaders as Obong Victor Attah, Air Marshal Nsikak Eduok, Atuekong Don Etiebet, Dr Ime Sampson Umanah among others who contributed their quota to the growth and development of the State and Nigeria as a whole.
But none of these great men had risen politically to the position that Senator Akpabio currently occupies. So the excitement of the people during the homecoming of Senator Akpabio knew no bounds.
It turned out to be very prophetic that many years ago the people had gathered in unison to bestow the title of Uko Akwa Ibom (the pride of Akwa Ibom State) on Chief Godswill Akpabio. The significance of his visit was not lost on Akwa Ibom people as the people led by the State Governor, Pastor Umo Eno turned out enmasse to behold and welcome their pride, their illustrious son to the State and to wish him well as the Chairman of the National Assembly.
Governor Umo Eno has proven to be a different breed of politician unlike his predecessor, Mr Udom Emmanuel. Despite differences in political affiliation, many were surprised on June 13, the date of the inauguration of Senator Akpabio as the President of the Senate, when he led politicians in the State, including Senator Akpabio’s estranged allies to congratulate him on his election.
In the words of Governor Eno, “Today I’m leading a delegation to celebrate what God has done for us as a people. And this celebration is across party lines. We thank God for the gift of our Senate President, a son of Akwa Ibom State and we have come to celebrate with him.
“Today party politics have broken down and for the first time after the elections, I see everyone coming together to celebrate this great feat of our State.
“We thank God for what he has done for our people as Akwa Ibomites and people from the South-South. We thank the President and Commander-in-chief for looking our way in the South-South.
“The people of Akwa Ibom State are extremely delighted with you (Senator Akpabio) as our hero who has gone to war and God has given us the victory. I congratulate you for this great honour you have brought to Akwa Ibom State, ” the Governor had enthused. The sentiments on the homecoming of Senator Akpabio were not different.
The joy and enthusiasm on the faces of the people who turned out at the Victor Attah International Airport, Uyo to receive Senator Akpabio was not misplaced. The last time anyone from the South-South had occupied the position of the Senate President was in 1979 through the late Dr Joseph Wayas. Pastor Umo Eno led the State Deputy Governor, Senator Akon Eyakenyi, captains of industry and who-is-who in the State to receive the Senate President at the airport.
The joy of the ordinary people was no less ecstatic as they lined up the streets from Uyo to Ikot Ekpene where the thanksgiving Mass was held at the Regina Pacis Auditorium of St. Anne Cathedral, Ifuho, Ikot Ekpene, to wave to the long convoy of Akwa Ibom people who had joined the Senate President in show of support, solidarity and appreciation for his elevation to the position of Senate President and the Uncommon Transformation Chief Akpabio had brought to the State as the Governor between 2007 and 2015.
For those who are familiar with the discipline of the Catholic Church it was no mean feat for the Bishop, Most Rev Camillus Umoh to have agreed to celebrate the thanksgiving mass which was scheduled at very short notice. But the celebration reflected the mood of the people of Akwa Ibom State and the Church was not left out.
Setting the tone for the Mass, the Priest saw the elevation of Senator Akpabio as the fulfillment of a self-imposed prophecy of 2018.
“Permit me to place on note that the event of the moment, that is the ascendancy of Senator Akpabio to the pinnacle of power in the Red Chamber, is the fulfillment of the prophecy when he told the mammoth crowd that gathered to witness his historic and uncommon defection from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress at the Ikot Ekpene Township Stadium some years ago, that he is on a mission to reconnect the State and the Niger Delta region to the centre of Nigerian politics. What many people did not take serious then has turned out true before our very eyes,” the Priest enthused.
In his homily, Most Rev Camillus Umoh, charged Senator Akpabio to leave his marks on the sands of time at the end of his tenure as the Senate President. “Our prayer is that at the end of your tenure Nigerians would be able to say that a man from Annang land landed in Abuja and left with the imprint of Annang land and that you brought to bear the Catholic character of justice and fairness. That from Ikot Ekpene Diocese, came a Senator and President of the Senate.
“As you continue to guide the activities of the National Assembly, make it that after your tenure, people would be saying when Akpabio was here, this wouldn’t have happened. Destroy things that would scatter this country. Go ahead and do things that you know how to do best; the uncommon transformation of Nigeria. This is the little Nazareth from where you rose. Let it be said that one good thing can come out of Nazareth,” he admonished Senator Akpabio.
The Chairman of the Stability Group and former Governor of Ebonyi State, Senator Dave Umahi who led other Senators to the Mass, in his goodwill message thanked the Catholic Bishop for accepting to hold the thanksgiving mass outside Sunday service.
He likened the emergence of Senator Akpabio and the Church to that of a woman who prayed for a child but was blessed with twins. “You did not only pray His Excellency into a great success at the election, your prayers were so intense, were so acceptable to God, that Senator Akpabio was not only successful in the election, but became the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he said.
Senator Umahi recalled the uncommon transformation of Akwa Ibom State under Chief Akpabio as Governor: “I was here last in the year 1991 as a young Engineer when I built Ibom Hall. And when I came back today after over 30 years, my case was like that of Queen Sheba that visited King Solomon.
She said that the splendor she had been told of cannot be compared with what her eyes had seen. I missed my road because of this Uncommon Transformer. I could not believe it,” he said to the applause of the congregation.
An obviously elated Senator Akpabio thanked the people for their support and show of love. “I thank you all for coming out to celebrate God’s goodness in my life and that of my family. I thank you for the support during the campaigns and election proper.
To those who didn’t vote for me, I will represent you well. Continue to pray for me and my colleagues as we daily navigate and steer the ship of the National Assembly for the betterment of all Nigerians.
“I am humbled by this show of love. You will see the difference. What I want you to take back home is the fact that Nigerians have elected an Uncommon Senate President. We will run an Uncommon Senate for the benefit of the uncommon people. That is why I am here today to thank God for what he has done for me,” he stated.
Senator Akpabio also used the occasion of the homecoming to tour around some Local Government Areas in his Senatorial District to say thank you to his constituents for their support during the campaigns and the elections. There was a general consensus that Senator Akpabio has started well and the people expects him to attract dividends of democracy to them.
Ekong, a media aide to Senator Akpabio writes from Abuja.