I have struggled with the thoughts of Ime`s death since I got the news on January 11, 2021 and I had wished it was another wild joke. As days pass by, the sad reality enveloped me. I am still shivering from the shock of his demise as I pen these lines hoping it will heal this personal loss.
Ime Okon Ekpo was a good man. He was still on his sick bed when he sent graders to upgrade earthen roads in some Ubium villages. When I petitioned him about the roads in Akai, he retorted jocularly, that the initiative is in phases due to his limited resources, and that my village is a township in all standard and shouldn’t fight over such small interventions. I’m also aware that on a number of occasions it was the quintessential architect who, among other prominent Ubium sons and daughters, applied their personal resources for the annual medical missions anchored by the Ubium Development Association in the United States of America (USA). A professional par- excellence, very few has attended the height Ime Ekpo had in his career as a civil servant and an architect having been involved in the design and implementation of the Akwa Ibom State master plan and capped it by superintending over a ministry of lands – the very beat he rose to the height of a director before he was practically head-hunted by Governor Udom Emmanuel to serve in the cabinet. Two events cemented my relationship with Ime Ekpo: the first was through a mutual friend – Eme Abia-Bassey. Eme was a beautiful soul herself, one of the best brains of Oro extraction who later died of cancer. “The master (as she used to call me), are you related to Arc Ime Ekpo?” I could not confirm ever knowing him. The closest I could admit was a faint knowledge of his other sibling with an alias “Oxygen” who was a household name in the neighbourhood when I was a youngster.
My father later told me his family is closely knitted with ours, an in-law of sort. The way the Ekpos and his Ikot Okoro folks intermingled in my village went beyond the explanation of Akai being a host community of the only secondary school in our part of Ubium at a time. The Akai Cottage Hospital and the Ikot Okoro Post Office, both situated at the buffer of the two communities cemented our contiguity – in fact, I had thought, until recently, that Ikot Okoro was part of Akai Ubium. A dependable fellow, it was during the traumatic procedures of processing the papers for the transfer of Arc Bassey`s corpse which arrived from India that the husband of the deceased told me to “call Ime Ekpo”, ostensibly the only family friend he trusted to get things done at such a critical situation.
A frank talker and consummated technocrat, a few people could understand his calm approach to politics; Ime Ekpo would rather ignore you to your thoughts than lie to have his way in politics. He wasn’t cut for the tricks of politicking. An austere technocrat, Ime Ekpo wasn’t a typical podium politician who would crave acceptability to any limit. To him, his appointment as commissioner for lands, housing and water resources, demanded the articulation of housing and town planning for Akwa Ibom State, a task he delivered to the satisfaction of his principal (Governor Udom Emmanuel). Indeed, such disposition was bound to unsettle those who have gotten used to having commissioners as kings of the hood and socialites. When a rumpus occurred recently over political positioning in his constituency, I put a call to some fellas who were already on the edge and were “calling for the heads” of political leaders to remind them that the best time to come together for a common purpose is when a community is facing a threat. Expectedly, when Ime Ekpo was relieved of his post a fortnight ago, Ubium nation was again embroiled in a flurry of genuine groaning from well-wishers on one hand, and sarcasms on the other from mischievous bystanders who latched on such opportunity to smear perceived enemies. The memory of Ime Ekpo calls for sober reflection in Ubiumland. His death came on the backdrop of the most bizarre fatalistic nativism similar to the “Nongqawuse syndrome”- a populist rhetoric and a millenarian form of politics which advocates, uses and legitimises self-destruction or national suicide, as a means of salvation”. In 19th Century South Africa, the Xhosa people were deceived by a false prophecy to kill all their cattle on the understanding that once that was done, Xhosa ancestral spirits would rise and sweep away the white settlers into the sea, leading to the restoration of the olden days. The Xhosa experience is recently gaining traction in Ubium as some folks appear to be creating a victim mentality and seeking the destruction of leaders through subterfuges, insults and rascality.
Ime Ekpo`s death calls for reflections, paramount of which is civility, even in politics. It also calls for our youths to be respectful, cooperate and work together for the good of all as no amount of exuberance can usher Eldorado. Rascality has never built any community.
When I had a personal challenge in mid-2020, I was reminded that our brother, by virtue of his position, was strategic to my concerns. A distinguished leader had advised that I “call Ime Ekpo” and I did just that and it worked. By the time I “called Ime Ekpo” a few days ago his lines were no longer alive and I came to terms that he`s indeed gone. His death robbed me of the privilege to look into his eyes to say thank you.
Sleep well Ime Okon Ekpo. Farewell great son of Ubium. I cry again.
Afaha is an associate professor and head of the Department of History and Diplomatic Relations, University of Abuja.