By N.T.A. Efo
Okpolupm Ikpong Ikpong Etteh, three-time member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and Commissioner for Special Duties, turns 50, on the 19th day of September.
The day almost missed showing up because several years back, Etteh almost lost his life to political violence. He was burnt alive inside a car by political adversaries during elections and left to die. God provided rescue that paved the way for him to live till this moment to celebrate his 50th birthday.
Years after, the wounds have healed; the scars have faded, the storms have calmed and life has been good to him.
I am sure when he looks back today to those times, the wordings of the Liverpool Football Club ( he’s a proud fan) ‘anthem’ will always come alive in his thoughts:
When you walk through the storm/
With your head up high/
And don’t be afraid of the dark/
At the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky/
And the sweet silver song of a lark.
Walk on through the wind/
Walk on through the rain/
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on/
With hope in your heart/
And you’ll never walk alone/
You’ll never walk alone.
Walk on, walk on/
With hope in your hear/
And you’ll never walk alone/
You’ll never walk alone.
Etteh hasn’t walked alone ever since pulling through the storm.
He became one of the youngest ever to be elected into the House of Assembly in 2006. He would later be re-elected to record second and third terms, the first legislator in the state to enact such feat. He served as Chief Whip and Leader in the 4th and 5th Assembly, before leaving office with honour in 2015.
Working on his Governorship campaign in 2015 as Head of Media/Publicity of his campaign handle, the Akwa Ibom Goodluck Movement, AKGM, exposed me to the depth of his personality.
At first, people thought he was a huge joke but gradually, he became the talk of the town. Noiselessly, he strategised and before long, became the man to beat at the elections.
How was this achieved? Strategic planning; focused and passionate commitment to his plan; cross-fertilization of ideas with his campaign managers and interactive engagement with the people.
Well, time is gone and all that is now in the dustbin of history. But it must be stated that his peaceful disposition prevented mayhem, violence and its resultant consequences on the day of the primaries. With good security network/contact and in possession of a Delegate list from Abuja, we had lined up delegates to storm the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, venue of the primaries. Our security apparatchik had assured us the gates will be opened for our delegates. Our landing at the stadium gate was to coincide with the landing of the “government” delegates. A clash was avoided when Etteh backed down on the move, to the consternation, displeasure and shock of our delegates, mostly youths, who, if the plan had gone ahead, would have created a scene, clashing with the “government” delegates and the outcome wouldn’t have been pleasant.
Fanatically a Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, man, he bowed to party supremacy and supported the Governor till date. He turned down every entreaty to dump the party and take shelter in another. He had also, during the campaigns, directed that no one should abuse or denigrate the person and office of the then Governor Godswill Akpabio, because, according to him “you don’t rub mud” on the seat or tarnish the image of the person occupying the seat you are after. He held the office of the Governor sacred throughout our campaign engagements. He also had a robust and friendly relationship with other aspirants to the office he sought. To him, it wasn’t a do or die affair but only an ambition to step on a higher platform of service to the people.
At 50, Etteh has enjoyed God’s mercies; robust health; comfort, loving family and loyal friends.
At birth, he walked into a family of means; not of wealth but of contentment, integrity, morality, intelligence, discipline, honour and charisma.
His late father, Chief Ikpong Ikpong Etteh was a highly revered charismatic personality himself amongst his Upenekang, Ibeno people and beyond.
Etteh had elder siblings, all great achievers, to look up to and who provided the needed definitive character role modelling he required to grow up with. His eldest brother, Prof. Akpanuluo Etteh of the University of Ibadan who died recently, was Africa’s first Professor of Atmospheric Physics. Another elder brother, Engr. E. I. I. Etteh of Etteh Aro & Partners remains, unarguably, the doyen of Nigeria’s Structural and Civil Engineering Design Consultancy. Another one, Arc. Esoetuk Etteh, former Executive Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, superintends over PACS Associate, one of Nigeria’s best architectural firms, while another one, Barr. Enobong Etteh, a Reverend gentleman, is, again, unarguably, Nigeria’s number one labour and industrial matters lawyer.
God, however, cut out his own piece of the family success cake for him through politics.
After obtaining a Higher National Diploma, HND, in Marketing at the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State where he served for two terms as the President of the institution’s chapter of the National Association of Akwa Ibom State Students (NAAKISS), the lure for community service pulled him straight into politics. This was after a few years into paid employment, mostly centered around firms on contracts engagement with the oil multinational, ExxonMobil. He later founded Olgette Projects Limited, a general logistics and allied services provider for Mobil and other oil companies and with base at Ibeno and Eket, he practically was forced to live with his people.
Spending time with his people and tending to their matters threw him up as the youth leader. As a fiery youth leader, he was at the forefront of protecting and defending their right. He articulated the ideology of youth empowerment and saw to it that they got their due from government and oil companies.
At the House of Assembly, he became an institution in a short time: as Chief Whip, he took the issue of the welfare of fellow members to a higher notch; and as House Leader, he caused an uncommon cooperation between the House and the Executives and made it seamlessly cordial.
Strong-willed, bold, popular and passionate about community development, he joined the 2015 Governorship race to further the course.
I came out of his campaign with several lessons learnt from his lifestyle, administrative acumen and political candour. All the lessons were life changing and had nothing to do with the politics of the elections. He went into the elections with the lifestyles and character and came out with them intact. No wonder he has continued to make a mark on society even when the election didn’t turn out in his favour.
The lessons: Firstly, that integrity and discipline is key to all round success. He bought completely into Dwight Eisenhower’s philosophy that “the supreme quality of leadership is unquestionable integrity. Without it, no real success is possible.” You could not just catch him on the wrong side of integrity and discipline. Secondly, that in simplicity lies the ultimate sophistication. He has never regretted living simply. Thirdly, that no legacy is as rich as honesty. Fourthly, that humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less and that pride makes one artificial while humility makes one real. I also learnt from him that courage is what it takes to stand up and speak and still what it takes to sit down and listen. I also learnt from him that, faced with what is right and to leave it undone is lack of courage. He also thought me that no one ever gets drowned in his own sweat; that a dream does not become reality through magic; that it takes sweat, determination and hardwork. I also learnt that discipline is the link between goals and accomplishments; and also that, with one minute of patience, one can have ten years of peace.
Through his abiding adherence to these principles, he has kept a non controversial way of life. You can never point a finger at him over any controversy. At best, his simple life has made him a subject of ignorant conjectures by people who wished they know him. If he wears a suit and tie, these set of people wonder why. If he changes to a traditional outfit, the same people still wonder why also. But that is the uniqueness in him. You never see him coming. You also can never see him going.
Today, he is a beloved of Governor Udom Emmanuel who first appointed him a Honorary Senior Special Adviser and lately, the Commissioner for Special Duties. He has a very busy and demanding schedule as he is supervising some of the government’s most important and must-do projects, including the 21 Storey Dakkada Towers and the “magical” International Airport Terminal. Noiselessly, he is giving character to the projects.
Etteh is someone who treasures relationships. All his friends are friends from back in time. If he has a private function right now, the A-list of invitees are surely going to be his old friends and family. “Political” friends, if they ever get invited, may make the B or C List.
A consummate family man, he dots on his lovely wife, Ekaette and children.
A pan-Akwa Ibomite ,with a father from Ibeno; mother from Ikono; grandmother from Uyo and wife from Etim Ekpo, Etteh is a recipient of several Chieftaincy titles, including that of Iberedem Ikono, Obong Uforo Esit Eket, Nta Nta Ekpene Ukim and Offong Ubeadai Mbo.
A lover of education, scholarship and further studies, he is yan alumnus of the Galilee International Institute of Management, Israel; member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations and Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Industrial Administration.
As he moves into his new age grade, I say a simple prayer for him: God bless you today and always, YE; You’ll Never Walk Alone