A Tribute to the charismatic former House of Representatives’ Member, Obong Ofim (King of Wind) Kenneth Archibong, who died on Tuesday, last week, a month after burying his equally legendary father
By Inemesit Ina
His traditional title, Obong Ofim (Itu), had eclipsed his name. Everywhere he went in Akwa Ibom, this charismatic and colourful politician was hailed by the title which, literarily translated into English, means King of Wind. Not many people remembered that his name was actually Kenneth Archibong. Now, all that is no more. The King of Wind is gone with the wind.
He died on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, at the age of 55 in Abuja but his death became public knowledge three days later when his ever supportive wife, Bridget, confirmed it to journalists.
Though he had been known to be sick for years, his death a month after burying his father still came as a rude shock to many.
What a Protracted Ailment!
It was no secret that Obong Ofim was not in excellent health in the last seven years. But it was soon after his inauguration in the House of Representatives in 2011 that his ailment, apparently, got worse. He spent over a year in a German hospital battling the ailment.
At a point, members of the House Committee on Air Force, which he chaired, could no longer bear his absence. They grumbled in national newspapers, clearly giving up on him. But God thought otherwise. Miraculously, Obong Ofim survived and returned to his duty post though still looking frail. He served out his tenure in May, 2015.
Now, he has finally lost the battle of his life.
Outliving his Dad
That Obong Ofim survived till last week was indeed a miracle. He had been rumoured dead not once or twice. So sick was he at a point that he could not attend his mother’s burial, a few years ago, while still in the House of Representatives.
But by divine providence, he lived to bury his father, Navy Captain Edet Akpan Archibong (retd). The late former Military Governor of old Cross River State (now Akwa Ibom and Cross River States) died towards the end of last year at the age of 77 and was given a state burial last month with Obong Ofim at the centre of action. Shortly before the burial, this writer ran into Obong Ofim on the street of Uyo driving alone and running around to get things in place despite his frailty.
At least, he lived to bury his father and not the other way round.
His One-Year Local Government Chairmanship Stint
A 1984 Geology graduate of the University of Calabar, Obong Ofim’s entry into partisan politics came in 1997 when he sought the chairmanship of Itu Local Government (LG). He joined the chairmanship race and was nominated the candidate of the Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) when the party was in disarray after the leading chairmanship aspirant was killed and his major opponent was arrested and detained by Police on suspicion. Obong Ofim went on to win the election held in March 1997 and was sworn into office by the then Military Administrator, Navy Captain Joseph Adeusi.
His contemporaries as Chairmen then who are still active in politics today include Mrs. Stella Effiom (Uyo), Dr. Emaeyak Ukpong (Ibesikpo Asutan), Prince Hogan Inyang (Uruan), Lawrence Udosen (Nsit Atai), Pastor Joseph Udoh (Ibiono Ibom), Obong Tony Okpon (Nsit Ibom), Anyanga Anyanga (Esit Eket), Obong Mfon Unaidet (ONNA), Prince Enobong Ufot (Ikot Abasi), Remigius Asuquo (Urue Offong/Oruko), Barr. Emmanuel Enoidem (Etim Ekpo), Obong Eno Akpan (Ukanafun), Chief Soni Udom (Oruk Anam) and Surveyor Felix Emmanson Udo (Obot Akara).
Many people in the state attributed Obong Ofim’s election to the influence of his father who had become one of the most powerful men in the state then on account of his closeness to Adeusi who served as the ex-Governor’s subordinate in the Navy. So relevant was the elder Archibong, who had been neglected for several years by previous Administrations, in the Adeusi Administration that it was speculated that he was going to run for the governorship seat of the state on the ticket of the government-backed United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP). Eventually, he did not.
Obong Ofim did not serve long enough for his tenure to be properly assessed. In any case, as most of his colleagues then, he spent almost a year at the Election Petition Tribunal battling legal challenges from his aggrieved opponents. But he left a legacy of uncommon humility. He had no chips on his shoulders, an attribute rare with past and present Chairmen. So down-to-earth was he that it was common to find him sandwiched with two or more aides at the back of his Peugeot 505 official car. Seeing them, it was difficult to tell who the Chairman was.
Obong Ofim’s tenure came to an abrupt end in July 1998 when General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the then Head of State, dissolved all political structures following the death of his predecessor, General Sani Abacha, the previous month. That effectively ended the Abacha Transition Programme.
His House of Assembly Bid and Uncommon Politics of No Bitterness
At the start of the Abubakar Transition Programme, Obong Ofim took a break from partisan politics and relocated, for business, to Abuja where this writer ran into him and Hogan in May 2000 at the Akwa Ibom State Liaison Office.
His father, however, featured as a foundation member of the All Peoples’ Party (APP) which was one of the three parties eventually registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in December 1998 after the LG election. The elder Archibong attended the party’s launch in Uyo in September, an event witnessed by this writer who similarly witnessed the launch of the rival Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) a few days earlier. The ex-Governor retired to his shell after the APP lost local, state and national elections to the PDP between December 1998 and February 1999.
After a four-year hiatus, Obong Ofim returned to politics with a bang. He won the nomination of the All Nigeria Peoples’ Party (ANPP), the former APP, to contest the House of Assembly seat of Itu State Constituency in December 2002. However, he lost the election held in April 2003. But even in defeat, he did something remarkable. Playing politics of no bitterness, he rushed to the Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation (AKBC) Radio Service, a few hours after the election result was announced, to congratulate the winner, Kennedy Ekong of the PDP.
Obong Ofim did not stop at that. He cultivated a robust relationship with Kennedy and featured prominently in the reception held in honour of the legislator after his chieftaincy conferment in Oku Iboku in 2005. This writer witnessed Obong Ofim broaching to Kennedy, at the latter’s house in the village, the idea of an alliance between them for the 2006 PDP House of Representatives’ and House of Assembly primaries. Though the idea did not come into fruition, it demonstrated Obong Ofim’s strength of character.
His Three House of Representatives’ Bids
Obong Ofim sought the House of Representatives’ seat of Itu/Ibiono Ibom Federal Constituency thrice, winning once and losing twice. His first bid was in December 2006 when he lost the PDP nomination to Dr. Henry Archibong, a Port Harcourt-based medical doctor. The ticket was eventually given by the PDP National Headquarters to the incumbent, Otuekong Ita Enang, to run for a third term after losing his Senate bid. While Henry protested, defected to the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to contest and took Ita to the Election Petition Tribunal and Court of Appeal after the election, Obong Ofim and other aspirants including the sitting Itu LG boss then, Ededet Ekanem, and a former LG Chairman, Obong (now Pastor) Usen Ebong, accepted Ita.
Obong Ofim’s second attempt at the PDP nomination was in December 2010 when he won. He was elected into the House in April 2011 and inaugurated two months later.
As an incumbent, Obong Ofim made a third attempt in December 2014. Then it was clear that he stood little chance given the nature of the primary. His ill health aside, he did not enjoy the support of the two most powerful forces in the constituency – Akan Okon, the Finance Commissioner, and his predecessor, Obong Bassey Albert (OBA), who was then running for Senate. Akan backed Henry Archibong while OBA, who was Obong Ofim’s chief backer and financier in 2010/2011, supported Kennedy. Henry won and Obong Ofim, true to his nature, acquiesced.
Service as Governor’s Aide
From 2004 to 2007, Obong Ofim was deeply involved in the Godswill Akpabio governorship project probably because of his friendship with Akpabio during their UNICAL days.
Throughout the four grueling days the PDP governorship primary lasted in December 2006, this writer observed Obong Ofim tirelessly going round the venue to lobby hundreds of delegates with a flyer, “Godswill 4Real.”
At the height of Akpabio’s post-nomination struggle with then Governor Victor Attah in Abuja from December 2006 to January 2007, Obong Ofim brought his tough-talking father to join a delegation of politicians to defend Akpabio’s nomination at the PDP National Headquarters in Abuja.
In fact, so committed was Obong Ofim to the Akpabio project that even before Akpabio’s inauguration as Governor on May 29, 2007, it was taken for granted that he would make the cabinet. His kinsmen from Ikot Obio Atai, Itam, on the fringes of Uyo, began hailing him as the next Commissioner of Works. But curiously, when the cabinet was formed in June 2007, Obong Ofim’s name was missing on the list. Prof. Etok Ekanem, a radical academic, former University of Uyo Branch Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Dean of Student Affairs at the institution, was brought in to fill the Itu slot as Commissioner of Agriculture.
Obong Ofim was made Special Assistant (SA) to the Governor on Public Utilities. Undaunted, he drew up his work plan and set to work. He went round the state, inspecting and documenting the state of all public utilities. It is uncertain if that document was ever put to use but history will be kind on him for leaving such a legacy behind.
As SA, Obong Ofim projected Godswill 4Real Organization as one of the support groups for Akpabio’s second term bid. He maintained a close relationship with Akpabio who personally commissioned his house built on a street behind his father’s house at Ikot Obio Atai in 2009.
In December 2010, Obong Ofim resigned to contest the PDP House of Representatives’ primary. Etok Ekanem, too, resigned to contest the same primary. But Akpabio favoured one over the other. He favoured Obong Ofim that time. OBA, who was then the dominant force in Itu/Ibiono Ibom politics, was ordered to deliver Obong Ofim who also enjoyed the support of the Itu Political Leader, Senator Anietie Okon. OBA did. Ekanem challenged Obong Ofim’s nomination at the Federal High Court, Abuja, for more than a year.
Mastering House Politics
A calculating politician, Obong Ofim quickly mastered the intrigues of House politics even before inauguration. At a time almost all 10 Members from Akwa Ibom were toeing the line of the PDP national leadership, President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Akpabio to support Mrs. Mulikat Akande-Adeola, the candidate of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, for the position of Speaker, Obong Ofim broke ranks. He backed Barr. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, the candidate of an amalgam of defiant PDP Members and Members of the three main opposition parties, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the ANPP and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), under the guidance of the ACN National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
An appreciative Tambuwal, who won, handsomely rewarded Obong Ofim with the chairmanship of the strategic House Committee on Air Force, a position he held till the dissolution of the House.
Legacy in the House
Obong Ofim did not spend up to six months in the House when he floated an empowerment scheme for his constituents back home. Many were given taxicabs on a revolving loan basis. It seems the drain on his resources, occasioned by his medical treatment abroad, prevented him from doing more.
He, however, left behind a legacy for the state in the Air Force Committee. He might not have been able to attract any Nigerian Air Force (NAF) formation to the state. But it is to his credit and possibly through his influence that Akwa Ibom officers excelled in the Air Force throughout the period he performed oversight functions on that service of the Nigerian Armed Forces. By the end of his tenure, Akwa Ibom could boast of an unprecedented record of four two-star generals (Major General’s equivalents) in the Air Force at the same time. In fact, between April and August, last year, two of the generals, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Francis Bassey Nyoyoko and AVM Uko Ebong, commanded two of the four Air Force Commands. Ebong, from Nung Ikot Itam in the same West Itam zone of Itu Local Government Area (LGA) as Obong Ofim, had served as the Commandant of the elite Presidential Air Fleet for almost four years before he was redeployed as Air Officer Commanding (AOC) Logistics Command, Ikeja, Lagos in April 2015. Two others – AVM Tommy Victor Udoh served as Director of Technical Services at the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), a tri-service agency in Abuja, for over four years and AVM Samson Okon Akpasa, from Nkwot Etok in Ini LGA, was Director of Safety and later Director of Plans at NAF Headquarters, Abuja.
Ebong, Udoh and Akpasa are still in service with Udoh now holding the strategic position of Director-General of Defence Space Agency, another Abuja-based tri-service agency. The most senior of them, Nyoyoko, who served as AOC Mobility Command, Yenagoa, from January 2015 to February 2016, has proceeded on terminal leave, preparatory to his retirement and pull-out in April after putting in the mandatory 35 years in service. Nyoyoko was promoted AVM in November 2012 while Ebong and Udoh rose to the same rank in November, the following year. Akpasa, too, became AVM in November 2014. Instructively, all four promotions took place while Obong Ofim was performing oversight functions on the Air Force.
The King of Wind might be gone with the wind but he certainly left behind a legacy of how to promote the interest of the state as a House Committee Chairman for the present and future federal legislators from the state to emulate.
Though he died in his prime, at least, he is now free from whatever ailed him for so long.
Adieu, Obong Kenneth Archibong. Adieu Obong Ofim Itu.