Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise and give it up for former Governor of Akwa Ibom state: His Excellency, Arc. (Obong) Victor Attah, FNIA. God bless Nigeria!
[Continued from last Monday]
Your cacophonous affirmative chorus confirms that you want the unveiling now. That should come presently. Let’s tee off with what golfers call an approach shot. Moments with this model afforded me the opportunity to observe power firsthand.
Previewing the television interview billed for the following morning was yet another chance to glean more sweet-nothings of leadership from the great man. When I sought footages of some of his legacy projects, he asked that his Honourable Commissioner for Agriculture and natural resources, Dr. (now Prof.) Trenchard Ibia, be brought on line. It was a matter of minutes. ‘Hello, Commissioner … Good evening … Apologies for calling you up this late … If you are not as tired as I am, could you please bring those video tapes?’
I looked at the time: 8.47pm! I had goosebumps all over me. In a society where even quack bosses bark orders, it was refreshing to experience a leader at the pinnacle of power extend courtesies to his own younger lieutenant. That 2004 civility has hugely accentuated my life.
There was more that night. Considering that his administration was being pummelled on all sides by politicians angling for poll position over who would succeed him in 2007, I asked him about no-go areas and if he minded telephone calls on air. He politely rejected both favours, with a trademark preachment that re-echoes in my mind’s ear every time I’m in a leadership quandary.
‘Da, I have nothing to hide. Ask your questions as you always do, because indeed that’s one of the things I love about your programmes and style. I am always sad when my commissioners or others, in a bid to please me, play around with your direct questions. Please open the phone lines; let those who want to abuse me go ahead and enjoy themselves: I am their governor, also!’
Getting home 10-side that night, the cornucopia of psychological pleasures I had sustained from the government house encounter completely barricaded sleep. I was excited and thankful. I prayed that the interview with the iconic leader would be as eventful. ‘Akwa Ibom, good morning. Help me to welcome our governor to the programme!’
As is the house style in Bush House Nigeria, I stretched my hands across for a handshake of welcome and what I got was a silent boom! The governor half-rose from his seat, as he handshook me. He was 66, I was 33! It’s a memory that vindicates the man whenever I remember my rough moments in the twilight of his governorship heyday.
The interview proper was so classic, NTA 12, Uyo allowed the one-hour programme to run for two extra hours! He fielded every question. As was his wont (it still is), he was quite combative when he needed to stand up for his administration. I laughed to tears when the teacher of sense, ethics and attitudes (that he is) recalled the first and last time his father flogged him; because rather than address the family driver as ‘Sir,’ as was the rule, he had used ‘driver, oya, oya, oya, let’s go;’ something he picked up the only time his siblings and he used public transport!
He recounted that his parents taught him to always use ‘please’ anytime he needed even service he was paying for; ‘thank you’ every time he got it and ‘sorry’ whenever he erred. That courteousness has stuck with me. On the twin issues of successor and retirement, he announced his commitment to handing over to ‘someone from Akwa Ibom northwest senatorial district’ for the sake of equity and the hope that he would remain a consultant to help both the new administration and the state going forward. The latter didn’t happen, and things degenerated so badly he quit politics!
In 2005, he rejoined me for another moment of magic on air; this time on radio. I had gone to a burial which he attended, and spotting me, he left his seat, walked all the way to tell me that he came to greet me. Even now, thirteen years after, that gentlemanliness haunts me. Lieutenants and friends of this legendary elder statesman corroborate that humility runs in his blood; in fact that in addition to honouring time and appointments, this governor read and replied every mail and memo, never hesitated to use his red pen to edit or asterisk here and there; and never felt too big to learn from his aides; often argued with them over logical and lexical semantics.
This Nigerian hero boasts capacity, character, and courage. Born in 1938 at Okop Ndua Erong in Asutan (Ekpe) clan of Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area, the child who would grow into the father of modern Akwa Ibom proceeded after his primary education to St. Patrick’s College, Calabar, Cross River state, graduating in 1956. He was educated within and without Nigeria: first degree from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria in Kaduna state; other tertiary qualifications from Leeds College of Arts, Liverpool University (both in the United Kingdom) plus United States’ Columbia University and Kennedy Graduate School of Governance at Harvard University. The global architect practised in the Caribbean, United States (New York) and Nigeria.
As the world awaits his 80th birthday on November 20, it’s my privilege to set off the over-delayed celebration of this Nigerian lion of the tribe of Niger Delta. Let’s appreciate the man who sacrificed his presidential aspiration for resource control. Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise and give it up for former National President of Nigerian Institute of Architects, former Governor of Akwa Ibom state: His Excellency, Arc. (Obong) Victor Attah, FNIA. God bless Nigeria!