A tribute to Chief Etim Inyang, the first service chief from Akwa Ibom and the second Niger Deltan to become the Inspector General of Police, who died last week
By Inemesit Ina
It was no secret that he was not in excellent health for some years but his death still caught many unawares. Chief Etim Okon Inyang, the legendary retired Inspector General of Police (IGP), died on Monday, September 26, 2016, at 85. The family confirmed his death two days later in a statement signed by his first son, Inyang Etim Inyang.
Burial arrangements are underway. Another of his sons, Etim Inyang Junior, told this writer on telephone on Thursday that the family was tentatively planning to bury the late Ikpoto Oro in November subject to consultations with other relevant parties. He described his demise as a celebration of life.
The History Maker
The late Etim Inyang, as he was popularly called, was a man of history. He was IGP from 1984 to 1986, making him the second indigene of the Niger Delta Region and the South-South Zone to rise to that position after Late Chief Louis Orok Edet, from neighbouring Cross River State, who was the first Nigerian to become IGP, serving from 1964 to 1966. Not only that, Etim Inyang holds the record of the first and, so far, the only Akwa Ibom State indigene to be IGP.
And as IGP, he blazed the trail as the pioneer service chief from what is now Akwa Ibom. Air Marshal Nsikak Eduok, who served as Chief of Air Staff between 1996 and 1999, was the second service chief from the state. No one else from Akwa Ibom is yet to rise to that height since then.
Mission to Uyo with Buhari
It was in 1984 that this writer saw Etim Inyang for the first time. That was when the then Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (now President Muhammadu Buhari) was visiting Cross River State (of which what is now Akwa Ibom State was a part of) and he stopped over in Uyo, then the second major city in the state. On Buhari’s entourage were all his service chiefs, namely Etim Inyang (Police), Major General (later General) Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (Army), Rear Admiral (later Admiral) Augustus Akhabue Aikhomu (Navy) and Air Vice Marshal (later Air Marshal) Ibrahim Mahmud Alfa (Air Force). They landed with fanfare in three intimidating Air Force helicopters on the field of the University of Cross River State (now University of Uyo).
Accompanied by the then Military Governor of Cross River State, Colonel Dan Patrick Archibong (late), Buhari addressed the people and leaders of Uyo Local Government Area (now Uyo, Ibesikpo Asutan, Nsit Atai and Uruan Local Government Areas) at the UNICROSS Pavilion which was then the biggest hall in Uyo (there was no Ibom Hall then).
It was a colourful event and the people were ecstatic at seeing one of their own, Etim Inyang, among the quartet of service chiefs who were the most powerful men in the country then after the Head of State and his deputy and Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Major General Tunde Idiagbon. With Etim Inyang’s exit, Babangida is the only one among the quartet still alive.
For this writer, then a school boy, the memory of that event stuck till date, igniting an abiding interest in the Nigerian Armed Forces.
The Ultimate Super Cop
Etim Inyang was the consummate policeman. He joined the force in October 1949 at the bottom and rose to the top in January 1984 before voluntary retirement in October 1986. In all, he spent 37 years in the force, distinguishing himself and holding various key positions including Commissioner of Police in Kano and old Bendel (now Edo and Delta) States.
Several years after retirement, his name was still synonymous with the force particularly in Akwa Ibom. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Akwa Ibom indigenes were said to have leveraged on his influence and encouragement to enlist in the force. Many are still serving today.
Two of his subordinates from Akwa Ibom followed in his rise and barely stopped short of reaching the very top themselves. The duo, Archibong Nkanna of Ikot Akpan Abia in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area (LGA) and Udom Ekpoudom of Uruk Ata Ikot Ebo in Etim Ekpo LGA, retired as Deputy Inspectors General (DIGs). The third, Emmanuel Inyang of Mbioto II in Etinan LGA, is serving as DIG in-charge of Training and Development at Force Headquarters, Abuja, having been appointed four months ago, with the prospect of becoming IGP someday.
Even after his retirement from the force, Etim Inyang remained influential in the regime of Babangida, his close friend and colleague. He was appointed the Vice Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee by Babangida who ousted Buhari in 1985. His influence transcended the Babangida regime to that of Abacha who ruled the country from 1993 to 1998.
With his presence and connections in the corridors of power, Etim Inyang easily became the most influential Oro leader in Nigeria after the death of the iconic Senator Victor Akan in 1987. He remained so for several years.
And Etim Inyang clearly did not fail his people. Perhaps, his greatest achievement for his people was the split of Oron LGA into three (Oron, Mbo and Okobo LGAs) in 1989. Urue Offong/Oruko and Udung Uko LGAs were subsequently created from Oron LGA in 1991 and 1996, respectively.
The former Police boss also helped his people economically. Upon retirement, he went into fishing, the major business of his people, but on a large scale. In partnership with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, he established the Ebughu Fishing Terminal in Ebughu community of Mbo LGA on a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis. The industry employed and empowered many of his people.
A towering figure, Etim Inyang did much to ensure Oro’s socio-political relevance at the state and national levels in his time. Little wonder his people honoured him with the prestigious traditional title of Ikpoto Oro.
Etim Inyang appeared to have served as a source of inspiration to his kinsmen in Enwang, the headquarters of Mbo LGA, to join the other armed forces apart from the Police. Today, Uko Akpan, Etim Inyang’s village in Enwang community, boasts of the first and only two-star army general from Oro Nation, Major General Isidore Henry Edet, interestingly from the former IGP’s family. Ekiebong, another village in Enwang, has a one-star navy general, Commodore Etim Effiong Etifit. Instructively, as pointed out by Prince Chris Abasi-Eyo, a former Information Commissioner from Mbo, it is the same Buhari that made Etim Inyang IGP in 1984 that approved the appointment of Edet as General Officer Commanding (GOC) 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Lagos, in 2015, making him the first Akwa Ibom indigene in 15 years to command any Army division.
Etim Inyang operated more as a political kingmaker than a field politician. That became manifest in 1991 when he emerged the biggest Oro backer of Late Obong Akpan Isemin’s successful governorship bid on the ticket of the National Republican Convention (NRC). It was an open secret that an appreciative Isemin reserved a commissionership slot in his cabinet for Etim Inyang which was filled by Late Chief Edet Anwana, from Mbo, who reportedly operated as the ex-IGP’s foot-soldier in Isemin’s campaign.
Isemin already enjoyed tremendous support from heavyweight politicians including Second Republic actors as former Governor Clement Isong (late), Obong (later Senator) Akaninyene Ukpanah (late), Late Otuekong Okon Nelson Obot (Anon Lodge), Otuekong Sunny Jackson Udoh (Jackson Devos), Obong Otu Robert Akpan and Chief (later Senator) Anietie Okon. He also had the backing of the NRC State Chairman, Dr. Lambert Mark Udoh, and Secretary, Prince Peter Ekpe Atakpo, and (some said) the then Military Governor, Wing Commander Idongesit Nkanga. But in the ruthless politics of the military era, all that was not enough. An aspirant could easily be disqualified on flimsy grounds or stopped from winning by the Federal Military Government despite his popularity in the field. And that was where Etim Inyang became crucial to the success of the Isemin project. The ex-IGP was said to have provided the all-too-important link to Babangida. It made all the difference given that Late Dr. Ime Umanah, the main backer of Isemin’s major rival, Late Otuekong Ekpongntak Ekpong, was close to Babangida and had capacity to influence a lot including ministerial appointment for Akwa Ibom.
Isemin was inaugurated as Governor in January 1992 and ousted by Abacha’s coup in November 1993.
Undaunted, by 1995, Isemin had started work to come back as Governor. That was during the formative stage of the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) which turned out to be Abacha’s favourite party two years later. Isemin still enjoyed the support of some heavyweight politicians including Chief Isong, the pioneer Chairman of the Ibibio Elders’ Forum, and the present Chairman of the forum, Dr. Okon Akpan Uko. But for unclear reasons, many of his erstwhile kingmakers, associates and appointees including his deputy, Chief Etim Okpoyo, were no longer in his political structure which he styled, Ubom Noah (Noah’s Ark). They were in the UNCP’s main rival, the National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN), led by Atuekong Don Etiebet, then a presidential aspirant, where they supported other governorship aspirants. Even within the UNCP, some of Isemin’s former associates were backing other aspirants. For instance, Anwana was then coordinating the campaign of Dr. Okon Mfon Amana, Isemin’s old rival in NRC.
Isemin had also palpably lost the support of the top military officers from the state that mattered a lot in the contest – Group Captain (later Air Commodore) Nkanga, the then Commandant of the Presidential Air Fleet, and Air Vice Marshal (later Air Marshal) Eduok, the most powerful military officer from the state then, who was appointed Minister of Aviation in 1995 and Chief of Air Staff, the following year, by Abacha. Air Commodore Ita Udo-Imeh, who succeeded Eduok as Aviation Minister in 1996, and Wing Commander (later Group Captain) Ewang Sam Ewang who became Military Administrator of Ogun State in 1996 and of Rivers State in 1998, did not show any enthusiasm to Isemin’s come-back bid as well.
Those facts were put in form of a question by this writer to Isemin at his residence in Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo. Ever witty, charismatic and courageous, the former Governor replied by enumerating several formidable associates still in Ubom Noah and previous foes that had come on board. The list was impressive and intimidating. But he did not mention Etim Inyang. And this writer was curious to know if he, too, had left or was involved in the UNCP. “No, no, no!” replied Isemin who was the issue in Akwa Ibom politics, with near-fanatical supporters and opponents alike, even after his exit as Governor in 1993 till 1999. “He is a big man. You don’t bring him in at this formative stage. It is when we finish forming the party that we will go to inform him about the new party as our father.”
Isemin’s reaction mirrored the Ikpoto Oro’s father-figure role in Akwa Ibom politics then.
With the return to democracy in 1999, Etim Inyang seemed to have retired completely from partisan politics. But as a goldfish that had no hiding place, he could not be left alone. His old friend, Governor Victor Attah, sought him out and made him a member of his Elders’ Advisory Council.
Etim Inyang’s wife, Mary, however, carried on the political baton. Between 2001 and 2002, she spent considerable time in Enwang, away from their Lagos base, participating actively in grassroots’ politics. Before long, she became the rallying-point of the local government chairmanship bid of her son, Etim Inyang Junior.
The July 2002 chairmanship primary of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Mbo proved a very tough one because of the external interests involved. There were four major aspirants: Junior, as he is popularly called; Chief Edet Moses (On the Rock), a veteran politician with a career dating back to the Isong days in the Second Republic who was backed by Chief Okon Osung, then the Chairman of the Local Government Service Commission and Leader of Oro Unity Forum, a pro-Attah group, as well as Ita Awak, then Okon Osung’s protégé and Commissioner of Information, and Ita Awak’s predecessor, Chris Abasi-Eyo; Chief Joseph Edet, a retired school principal, supported by Late Chief Tony Emenyi, then the PDP State Chairman; and Prince Alex Nyong, then a protégé of the telecommunication guru, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem.
The contest was chaotic and inconclusive in the field as in many other LGAs in the state. As in the other four Oro LGAs, it was largely seen as a test of strength between Okon Osung, from Udung Uko, and Tony Emenyi, from Urue Offong/Oruko, who were then the two most powerful Oro politicians in the state on account of their closeness and access to Attah.
By the time the contest moved to Government House, Uyo, the dynamics changed. It moved beyond the Tony Emenyi/Okon Osung battle for supremacy or a straight fight between two elderly home-based aspirants, Edet and On the Rock (formerly The Rock), to something higher. It even assumed a religious angle. It was still a straight fight but this time between the two young Lagos-based aspirants, Junior and Alex. The contest was narrowed to them, thanks to some wily Mbo politicians who successfully turned it to a proxy war between Etim Inyang, Junior’s dad, and Dr. Joseph Ekuwem, the then Catholic Bishop of Uyo and elder brother of Emmanuel Ekuwem, Alex’s godfather. In fairness to the two highly-revered Mbo big men, they never openly identified in the field with the two aspirants associated with them but they suddenly found themselves the issues in the contest in Government House, possibly against their will.
Attah came under severe pressure. He was in a dilemma of sorts, obviously torn between pleasing his Bishop and his adviser who virtually created the LGA in contention. A decision could not be taken for three days. In the end, religion ostensibly prevailed. Alex triumphed.
Apparently uncomfortable with that experience, Junior’s mum left active politics. But Junior moved on to the state level, clearly taking the loss as his political baptism. He played active roles in state politics during Governor Godswill Akpabio’s first term as a close associate of the then PDP State Chairman, Arc. Otu Ita-Toyo, and the then Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Engr. Ignatius Edet, who was his inlaw. During Akpabio’s second term, Junior was handsomely rewarded as the Commissioner representing Akwa Ibom State in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a position he held from December 2013 to July 2015.
The Need to Honour the Legend at Home
The former IGP was like a prophet honoured abroad and not at home. The Federal Government honoured him with the second highest national award, Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON). Lagos State Government named a street after him in the highbrow Victoria Island. And the Police celebrated him till death as attested by Junior.
But surprisingly, he was not so honoured by his home State and Local Governments.
Adieu the Ikpoto Oro. Adieu the super cop. Adieu the political kingmaker.