Nnenyin Alison Attah (1938- 2012): A reflection


By Godwin Nzeakah

“There are not ten people in the world whose deaths would spoil my dinner, but there are one or two whose deaths would break my heart”.  

These words are not those of a celebrated sadist. On the contrary, they are those of Lord Macaulay (1800- 1859), a celebrated humanist, anthropologist, historian and politician rolled together. The words came from the sad recesses of the heart of a man who understood the world as much as the world understood him.

The words came rushing to mind as I sadly reflected on the tragedy that struck the Attah family recently when they lost one of their own, Nnenyin AlisonAttah, wife of Obong Victor Attah, the immediate past Governor of Akwa Ibom State. Almost completely apolitical, while her husband busied himself with the onerous task of “laying a durable foundation upon which future progress in Akwa ibom state will securely rest; creating a new breed of Akwaibomites who will lumber where their fathers scurried; who will scream where their fathers whispered and above all, Akwaibomites who will be heard in a country that prides itself as a federation in which rights of all are respected and protected”, Nnenyin dutifully devoted herself to prayers for his success and for peace abundant in the state.

What a virtuous house wife—a worthy and proud ambassador of her native Barbados, the world’s tourism heaven that obviously inspired Obong’s tourism dream for his State. Fare thee well Nnenyin.Your husband has said it all. Need we add more? “You have not died. You have only become an Angel. We are the poorer for it. While the celestial hosts have become richer we are bereaved”. As an immensely talented woman, Nnenyin was always seeking an opportunity to help out in any environment she found herself. It was Charlotte Bronte who wrote in Jane Eyre that “prejudices are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones”.

Perhaps, realizing the truism of Bronte’s postulate,Nnenyin as First Lady of Akwa Ibom State devoted time to pushing the frontier of literacy, by helping toimprove the reading skills of the Akwa Ibom child.Inthe process she stumbled on a major health problem: malnutrition, which compelled her to establish a non–governmental organization: Child Development Trust (CDT). The result was assorted brands of soya bean-based food supplements: Ali-powder, Ali-meal, Ali–cake etc which CDT took to the Akwa Ibom child, apparently believing, like Winston Churchill, that there is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies.CDT rose to attract the attention of foreign donors who boosted its work.

Therefore, not only did Nnenyin leave legacies as a professional Librarian and teacher, she also left even a greater legacy as a humanitarian worker through CDT.  Thus hers is but a painful loss not only to the Attah family and Akwa Ibom state but also to the nation in general. It is a real adversity, but also one that somewhat vindicates William Shakespeare who said that “sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad ugly and venomous, still wears yet a precious jewel”,for what seemed impossible: reconciliation of Obong Victor Attah with Governor GodswillAkpabio, happened upon Nnenyin’s passage, as the paths of both men crossed again in Uyo.

It was widely reported in the press that even though not formally invited to the last funeral mass service for the late Nnenyin, Governor Akpabio “stormed” the venue with his retinue of aides and commissioners. In the end, as press photographs clearly showed, both men embraced themselves and exchanged pleasantries. Akpabio and his wife had to take out full page adverts in a number of newspapers paying homage to the deceased. On its front page, The Guardian (1/12/2012) published a prominent photograph of Attah and Akpabio in a tell–tale dialogue that was as moving as it was fantastic to behold. One noticed the evident if subdued camaraderie, the smiles on their faces – infectious smiles that spoke volumes about two former allies meeting each other once again. That could not be anything but a welcome reunion.

That is how it should be, if there is not more to politics than meets our naked eyes. If what is at stake in politics is nothing but service, and more service to the people and no less to God, there should be less bitterness, less acrimony, and less vendetta in the game. Looking at that interesting scene of Friday 30th November 2012, which one hopes Attah and Akpabio should exploit further in the days ahead, one cannot but agree with PubliusOvidiusNaso, the great Roman Poet who under similar circumstances declared tempus edaxrerumi.e time is sovereign of all things. How true! Time conquers everything.

Time conquered the Great Wall in China. Time conquered the Berlin Wall. Why not a skin-deep misunderstanding between two political figures: a former boss and his former aide? That is what King Solomon, writingin the book of Ecclesiastes (3), tries to amplify when he tells us that to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven: “there is a time to be born and a time to die… A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing…

A time to love and a time to hate… A time for peace and a time for war”. Henceforth, for Attah and Akpabio, it should be a time to embrace and no longer a time to refrain from embiacing; a time to love and no longer a time to hate, even if they may belong to different political parties. I was present in Uyo on the eve of Attah’s departure from office when,as governor–elect,Chief Akpabio promised to have Attah as a consultant to his administration. Today, I am of the opinion that he would have achieved more than I hear he has, if he had kept his word.

With one’s spiritual eyes one can see that the spirit of Nnenyin is already at work. It is said that not long before she passed on, while in her hospital bed, one Sunday, Nnenyin thinking that the upward journey was nigh, beckoned her husband saying “hold my hand, let us pray together because I will soon go”, adding, “I did not want it like this, but I will beg God to continue to have mercy on you and guide you”. No patient under the kind of pains Nnenyin was under– going would remember such a ritual,except one reputed for a disciplined prayer life. Of course, Nnenyin spent her early childhood growing up in a vicarage under the tutelage and regimented religious order of her uncle Rev. Coleman, one of the first black Anglican vicars in the Caribbean.

So it can be said, and rightfully too, that Nnenyin started early enough in life with prayers and ended with prayers. Yes,for her,prayer was the master key. Fare thee well, replica of Mary Slessor, mother of the motherless, model First Lady. Goodbye our Florence Nightingale.Vivitpost FuneraVirtus: virtue survivesthe grave. Nzeakor writes from Lagos.

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  1. Nneyin Attah was a mother indeed. Her humility is a study in strict christian principles. sleep on Nneyin (our Granny) till we meet at Zion gate

  2. Adieu Nnenyin. It is d prayer of evry right-thinking Akwa Ibom person that d past n present wil come together for peace to reign in d state. Any house without a foundatn can’t stand. The on-going ‘uncomon transformatn’ in d state, we all blivd had a solid foundatn, and we pray if there was any crack somewhere, d gud Lord shud rebuild and re-strengthen it IJN. Amen.

  3. Toeing the part of peace is the only way for sustable development. It’s a good example from our great heros, bravo our excellences

  4. Adieu Nnenyin Attah and strength to Obong Attah, the visionary x Governor of Awka Ibom State.May her soul rest in peace.

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