Governor Akpabio: An ‘uncommon’ kindred spirit

12 Sep

Written by
Prof Patience Akpan-Obong
The e-mail spam folder must have been invented to save everyone a ton of headaches. But trust me to go seeking the headache by scavenging through the spam folder every now and then. Like all scavengers, I hope to find the treasure in the heap of trash.
Occasionally I do – in the form of e-mail from old friends and former colleagues. My work and Yahoo e-mail filters assume that every mail that comes from a Nigerian-sounding name must be a 419er. In the process, I’ve missed some serious e-mail. The one that I dredged up a couple of weeks ago was definitely not one of the good ones. It was a made-up story on Governor Godswill Akpabio and his “Coming to America.”
Of course, at the time I didn’t know the carefully detailed story was spam at its best … or worst. I was therefore surprised to see a “Note” on Governor Akpabio’s Facebook page last weekend. It looked like a speech delivered to Akwa Ibom folks in the United States. I had to be absolutely certain that he was “really” in the United States. It wasn’t enough that one of our brothers here, an Akpabio, had travelled to Houston a few days earlier to see his cousin, the governor. It wasn’t enough that a guy had ambushed me at a mutual friend’s home to persuade me to join the “Arizona contingent” to Houston for the governor’s visit. I had to see for myself … and Google came to the rescue!
The story in my spam box was that Governor Akpabio had done so much “njakiri” that the Americans refused to grant him and his entourage entry visas. Obviously, this wasn’t true for the governor came … and spoke. It is the speech, “Akwa Ibom: The Story of Uncommon Transformation,” that caught my attention. The poetry of the speech was an added surprise. Biblical and Shakespearean tropes and turn of phrases were used liberally and deftly to craft a masterpiece. I can only hope that its delivery did justice to the speech. Its writer should certainly give him – or herself – applause for a great piece of writing.
Beyond the packaging, the substance of the speech resonated as well. It was a chronicle of Akpabio’s accomplishments in Akwa Ibom, much of which is no longer news. One of the narratives in the speech that hit close to home for me was about the “factory” for houseboys and house girls that Akwa Ibom had become. Indeed, it had often been said that Akwa Ibom was a state of civil servants and house servants. Akpabio talked about how humiliated he felt when, as a Lagosian, his friends would tell him about their house girl/boy who was “your sister” or “your brother.” Like the governor, I too confronted this. Like him, I was often asked by friends and colleagues to get house help from Akwa Ibom for them. (No, I never did. I always replied with, “Are there no house girls or house boys in your village?”)
Back in the early 1990s, I was part of an informal group in Lagos known as the “Akwa Ibom Seven.” We met monthly to discuss the “way forward” for the state. We resented the houseboy/girl syndrome that had become our identity. We wanted to stop our people from farming out their children as house girls and boys. We wanted to stop being the “servant state.” As time went on, one of the “AK Seven” became a governor. I was already living outside the country by this time but I rejoiced for him and our state. Finally, I thought, Akwa Ibom would sit at the table as an equal partner rather than wash dishes in the kitchen of the rich and powerful.

Akpan-Obong writes from Arizona, USA

Gov Akpabio

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