Love him or hate him, he is one Ibibio man who remains a prominent force to reckon with in present day Akwa Ibom politics. To some, he is cold, calculating, and rigid; and to others he is as quiet as a clam; wears a look as sober as a monk in meditation; and is very economical with speech. Umana’s culture of somewhat stoic silence, his loyalists claim, has greatly encouraged his being one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented politicians in Akwa Ibom State today.
Umana Okon Umana is a man shaped by the insular peculiarities of politics. Inspite of political gains and losses, Umana has circumnavigated the murky waters of Akwa Ibom and Nigerian politics, to the admiration of his supporters and the chagrin of his opponents. In his astute navigation of the geopolitical terrain, he has garnered sufficient skills in the subtle art of politicking, and can’t be fairly begrudged of his survivalist instincts, especially in a milieu where primordial imperatives hold sway. To his credit, he has effectively if not controversially, deployed these skills to swim among sharks.
A former Commissioner for Finance, under Obong Attah, and Secretary to the State Government (SSG) under Chief Godswill Akpabio, Umana has garnered more than sufficient experience as a technocrat. He was a part of the glorious years of the Attah government. He queued behind the ex-Governor in the battles for Resource Control, On Shore-Off Shore Dichotomy, and others. As Commissioner for Finance, his prudent management of finances earned Attah’s administration high credit for profitable deployment of State resources. He was virtually a part of everything Attah did, and so, contributed to the merits of Attah’s administration.
Umana Okon Umana has contributed greatly to building the Akwa Ibom youths, as several of them in prominent and influential offices in government today, owe their fortunes to his magnanimity. During his time in service, he proved not to be the cult-friendly kind of politician, but displayed the kind of maturity which frowned at sycophancy and trifles. He never cut the profile of the kind of politician that would subscribe to swearing to, and administering of fetish oaths of allegiance, or establishing cultic bonds of loyalty. Umana presented the picture of a serious minded technocrat with too little time to do his job, and none for distractions.
Umana has been accused of perpetrating or being complicit in many of the ills under the Akpabio government during his (Umana’s) time in power, including marginalization of the his Ibibio brothers, sacking of their prominent citizens, responsibility for civil servants crises, and disloyalty to his former boss (Obong Attah), amongst others. But then, I daresay, if Umana ever had a media team, then they failed him woefully. Umana’s close political associates, and those who know him well, vow that Umana had no hand in the ills, but that he hadn’t the power to redress many of them. They claim these anomalies also ruffled Umana, and long informed his resolve to succeed Akpabio, and be presented with the opportunity to redress them. They added that only one person held the red biro in the State; and it was not Umana.
Many people have claimed that Umana betrayed his boss (Attah), by supporting Chief Akpabio against his boss’ preferred candidate. But then, I believe Umana has a constitutionally guaranteed right to support or vote for anyone he fancies. This does not translate into his hating his boss, (or betraying him either), as humans are free to differ in their reasoning, political ideologies, etc. On allegations that Umana mistreated his former boss (Attah) while he was in Chief Akpabio’s government, knowledgeable sources have claimed and credibly too, that in many instances, Umana’s loyalty to Attah instigated heated disagreements between him and many of the forces opposed to Attah’s relevance in the Akpabio government.
People have also asked why Umana didn’t resign from the government in the face of all the ills, but then, who would resign from an advantageous position which would ultimately present an opportunity to redress imbalances? It is plausible to argue that Umana was biding his time, waiting for the appropriate moment; and when it eventually came, he took it. Note that Umana was not removed from office, but willfully acted in a manner that invited his ouster. Had Umana continued to play the loyal servant, he would still be the anointed candidate today.
This writer is not in any way trying to ‘nominate’ Umana Okon Umana as Governor of Akwa Ibom. NO, that is the sole preserve of the Akwa Ibom people. This writer is only expressing his personal and candid opinion that, of the entire ensemble of gubernatorial hopefuls, Umana Okon Umana stands out from the lot. With his many years of political experience, he knows exactly what levers to engage, to kick-start the vehicle of the state in forward gear, and drive the economy; and which levers to disengage, to prevent continued hardship and suffering for the masses. All he needs is to be in control.
Even if Umana did err in his conduct while in office, just like anybody else, an imp of misguidance may have been delegated to perch on his shoulder and whisper the wrong advice. Nobody is without error, as it is human to err. We should rather focus on the fact that Umana is minded to redress the imbalances that have skewed the political configuration in the State and return it to the model that pre-existed the Akpabio years, (when there was no ethnic division in the affairs of the State). Umana is out to impact positively on the State in the position of Chief Executive.
Finally, Obong Attah is our father; a trailblazer and statesman par excellence. He is one of the greatest Ibibio citizens alive today; a devout Catholic with impeccable records, and a man that can be relied upon to do everything to uplift his people. I am convinced that the fire that burned in the spirits of the Ibibio torchbearers (who blazed the trail in Ibibio emancipation from the days of the Ibibio Union) burns brighter in Obong Attah than it does in any other living descendant of the early pioneers. Obong Attah knows Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, (whose father did not wave off him off, but welcomed him in genuine reconciliation). He knows that the wickedness Joseph suffered from his brothers didn’t stop him from welcoming, forgiving and providing for them. He knows that King David still loved his son Absalom who rebelled against him; and that if Judas had confessed and repented after betraying Jesus Christ, he would have been forgiven. Obong Attah himself has forgiven not just his political rivals, but numerous bitter enemies who once stuck needles into his seat to make him uncomfortable in office. He knows the scriptures admonish us to forgive our enemies and pray for those who despitefully use us, so that we may be children of our Father who is in Heaven. God knows it is easy to love those who love you and hate those who hate you, but because He is God, who forgives all, (even sinners who crucified Jesus on the cross), He admonishes that we forgive even our enemies.
‘Our father who art in Akwa Ibom’, (as my colleague Aniefiok Essah often describes you, Obong Attah), Umana Okon Umana has been your son, still is your son, and will always be your son. Our dear father, please reach deep into the recesses of your heart and grant this your son the forgiveness God instructs. This is afterall the duty of every father towards a penitent son. ‘Our father in Akwa Ibom’, this your son presents a change in the politics of Akwa Ibom State; a chance to redress wrongs, and drive the State forward in the best interest of all its indigenes (and not a section, tribe, or race). In the forthcoming elections, this is a chance that Akwa Ibom State in general, and the Ibibios in particular, cannot afford to let go a-begging. Finally, ‘Our father who art in Akwa Ibom”, to err is human, but to forgive, is divine. God save Akwa Ibom.