The UK versus Akwa Ibom
Through a statement posted on its website on June 17, 2019, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, FCO, of the United Kingdom has cautioned British nationals against travelling to 21 states, including Akwa Ibom, in Nigeria.
The FCO stated, in part, that “There is a high threat of kidnaps throughout Nigeria” and that “kidnaps can be motivated by criminality or terrorism, and could be carried out for financial or political gain.” The FCO groups Akwa Ibom in “riverine areas.”
Others in the category are the other states but one in the Niger Delta region – Cross River, Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta. 15 of the states are in the northern part of the country, which has been the worst hit of Boko Haram terrorism and farmers-herdsmen communal clashes in recent times, while the remaining one state is Abia in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria.
A week after the FCO statement was issued, the Akwa Ibom State government, through the Secretary to the State Government, SSG,
Emmanuel Ekuwem, made a riposte, kicking against the inclusion of the state’s name. Perceiving the UK’s security directives to its nationals as erroneous, particularly with the mentioning of Akwa Ibom, the state government advanced its contention in the following words: “We believe Akwa Ibom State was erroneously given a mention in the report based on the agitation for equitable distribution of God’s given resources by the youth of the Niger Delta zone, which fortunately today, through several laudable government intervention programmes, has been significantly reduced.”
While Ekuwem cited glib and presumptuous comments of some topnotch persons in Nigeria, including some top personnel of security agencies in the country that Akwa Ibom “remains one of the most peaceful, safe and secure states in Nigeria,” the UK’s position seems to be relying on reality evidenced in the grievances of people at the lower rung of the society and other residents at the hinterland, who, recently, had been at the receiving end of multi-faceted crimes of banditry, kidnaps, armed robbery, rapes, cult-related clashes, assassinations, youth restiveness among others, particularly between early 2017 and late 2018.
Within the period, about 200 people were said to have been killed, scores of women were raped while private properties worth millions of naira were either destroyed or carted away by gunmen in Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo local government areas of Akwa Ibom State. There were spillover effects in some part of the neighbouring local government areas of Ika and Oruk Anam. Kidnap incidences, which demands ransoms ranged from N1, 000, 000 to N100 million, were almost an hourly happenings.
In furtherance of buttressing how safe Akwa Ibom is, Ekuwem stated that “One of the largest American oil and gas companies, Exxon Mobil, operates peacefully in our state.” While that position is not faulty, by refusing to mention that Idongesit Udom, who retired as a manager in Exxon Mobil and relocated to his village in Ukanfun, was kidnapped and got his right hand amputated for his failure or inability to pay ransom pegged at the rate of his multimillion state-of-art Sure Foundation Polytechnic, Ekuwem only succeeded in portraying how those who live in the villages, however their status, matter to the Akwa Ibom State government. Pity to the rural dwellers!
Measuring on the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory structure of Nigeria, 21 states are closed to two-third of the whole Nigeria, so, why was the state government so forward in countering the UK’s directive to its citizens? Was the state volunteering to rise up to the occasion for the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Does the statement by the Akwa Ibom State government imply that the state is immune from the insecurity that has been ravaging Nigeria for years now?
The presumption that Akwa Ibom is the safest place in Nigeria, which the state often gloat about, could be true only to the extent that Ukanafun, Etim Ekpo, and the environs, which have been ravaging by criminals, are not part of the state. Amidst the presumptuous reveling that Akwa Ibom is more safe and secure than other places in Nigeria, the state government often provides security details armed to the teeth, to some top professionals and businessmen, who visit the state, including those of Akwa Ibom nativity, who move about freely in Lagos and Abuja. Insecurity is everywhere in the world today just as it is as old as human history.
The differences in the security situation from one place to another are marked mostly by conscious effort in an organised society to maul the tide of the malaise. The UK, by that security alert, is doing what other countries that place value on its people have been doing overtime. In addressing how the Akwa Ibom State government has been fighting crimes, it would have sufficed to mention high profiles cases that the state government has been successfully prosecuting for the past five years through the state Ministry of Justice. But the SSG did not.
As at 2:00 pm in Nigeria on July 31 when this piece was about to be filed, the FCO advisory statement, which was last updated on July 29, was still current, meaning that the UK has not been swayed by the Akwa Ibom State government.
Akwa Ibom State government is losing from the start and would lose at the end, in its contention with the UK as to the current security situation of the state. It has nothing to do with UK’s unassailable sophistication, which dwarfs that of Nigeria, let alone Akwa Ibom, but more to do with the power of truth over false.
Given the candour that seems to run in the DNA of the Ekuwems and his personal untainted track record, which might have largely contributed to his ability to carve a niche for himself in private entrepreneurship before becoming a public servant, so many people, including this writer, could queue behind the SSG on matters where truth and honesty are required. But regarding Ekuwem’s official position on the security situation in Akwa Ibom, only those who live a life of lies would line up behind him.
If at all the UK versus Akwa Ibom contest is necessary, the first and fortified step to win the war is to defeat criminality, which is still rearing its ugly head, in the state. And the best way to successfully check the monster is to face reality with the truth.
• Ekanem wrote from Lagos