By Osondu Ahirika
His life has played out like a short lived romance, bristling with hope but with little known of its awesome power. So it came to pass, than in his death, he remains an example of truth that now belongs to eternity.
He was a teacher, that persevered through decay and growth, generational dreams and the corruption of the age. He then joined public service, became a politician, an appointee of the Government, a statesman, then a Party leader. But, whatever and wherever his station, he discharged his transactions with honourable sincerity , as to earn for himself, not by default, but by common consent, the title of Mr Loyalty.
So it was, that on August 3, 2020, after his inauguration as the Akwa Ibom State Chapter Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the current Honorable Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Comrade Ini Ememobong, then serving as the State Publicity Secretary of the PDP, introduced him to the dais for his inaugural speech , and by what I consider, divine intuition, heralded him as, Mr Udo ” Loyalty” Ekpenyong, to a resounding and affirmative applause. From that minute, the name stuck like a thumb tack on a canvas. For me, I decoded it as akin to the Arabic title, Al Amin, translated, The Trustworthy- that means “Faithful, Loyal, True-hearted”.
Let me confess, I didn’t know Hon. Ekpenyong until after the keenly contested 2015 Akwa Ibom State Governorship Elections that pitched His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel of the PDP against Oblong Umana Okon Umana of the All Progressives Congress, APC. After Governor Emmanuel was declared winner, Obong Umana headed to the Tribunal to challenge the victory.
To abridge the story, the APC in protest caused the Federal Government to relocate the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Tribunal to Abuja, pleading security concerns. Yours sincerely found himself in a team of news hounds including Mr Essien Ndueso, Aniekeme Finbarr, Uwemedimo Umanah, Emmanuel Nicholas, Udeme Inyang and Nsibiet John drafted to Abuja to cover the Tribunal proceedings. In that same trip was a contingent of Akwa Ibom citizens who were witnesses for the Respondent, in this instance the PDP. I will not forget that Witness 001 was Elder Imoh Okon, the immediate past Executive Chairman of Uyo Local Government. I digressed.
Back to my beat. When we landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, the protocols for receiving the contingent from Akwa Ibom PDP was impeccably dispatched. When we arrived at the Four Star Nanet Suites, there was Hon. Ekpenyong, who though always wears a melancholic visage, lured us on with a warm welcome smile. He was saddled with the responsibility of being our chaperone.
He discharged his duties with grace and a humility that disarmed me. He debriefed us on our roles and what is expected of all and sundry, allotted to us our different suites and helped us settle in. Enthralled by his charming stewardship, I inquired after who he is.
In summary, I was informed that between 2003 to 2005; he was a National ex-Officio Member and went on to become a Member of National Executive Committee (NEC) of PDP from 2012 to 2015. Prior to this, he held other Political appointments I elect, not to bother you with, being irrelevant to my pursuit in this essay. I was consoled and for the duration of the case, I literally touched the effusions of his passionate and unrelenting service, albeit, behind the scenes, to ensure that, PDP, and in particular, Governor Udom Emmanuel trumped his opponent in the case.
When on February 5, 2016, the Supreme Court finally settled the rift of the Akwa Ibom State Governorship tussle in favour of His Excellency, Mr Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, I saw the singular modesty of his celebration and could discern the purity of his sense of mission accomplished.
He lived much within himself and did not look covetous for wealth or status.
When he was appointed Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Local Government & Chieftaincy Affairs in 2016, shortly after the closure of the electoral tussle, I was not surprised. Once or twice, when Governor Emmanuel visited Nanet Suites, I could figure how impressed he was with shine of an Ekpenyong at the peak of his service. He was endowed with a refined mind, unwavering dedication, a reserved and a meditative mien. The quiet and retired life he lived was a sharp contrast to the sheer force of the energy he exuded for duty.
From 2016-2018, 2018-2019, 2019-2020, he served as a three time Commissioner holding forte at the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs.
In between, he ran into stormy weather and was relieved of his appointment. Again, I don’t wish to sieve through the substance and shadow of that low turn. Rather, I prefer to concentrate on his equanimity in tribulation. In the face of the bitterest pain, stoned , insulted and ridiculed for his loss by detractors, Ekpenyong was undaunted and exhibited the profound wisdom of forgiveness. When his sister was assassinated and when he lost his brother, his robust faith defied the taunting troll of foes.
He seemed trained by the severe loss of death, hardship and suffering, to develop a staunch faith in God, submission to the will of the Almighty, while remaining unflinching in the service of humanity and practice of brotherhood.
When on July 30, 2020 he was elected unopposed as the State Chairman of the PDP, his acceptance speech in its opening remarks was telling. Permit that I replicate same in part. Ekpenyong said and I quote:
“I find this moment an extremely significant one as I accept with a deep sense of humility, and submission to the indiscernible wheel of Providence the honour of being elected the Akwa Ibom State Chapter Chairman of our great Party, PDP.
The fact is not lost for me that, this is a clarion summon on me, to work extremely hard to steer that affairs of our Party, to loftier heights and ideals, with a focused determination to surmount future challenges that may threaten to undermine or dislodge the enviable successes the PDP has recorded in Akwa Ibom State.
Let me thank the Leader of our Great Party and Our dear Governor, His Excellency, Mr Udom Gabriel Emmanuel and his dear wife, Her Excellency, Dr Martha Udom Emmanuel for the pragmatism manifest in the proactive leadership and good governance he has bequeathed to our State, making him the pride and rallying point of our party.
I also take judicious note of the sterling work of my predecessors in office, with particular reverence to Obong Paul “Politics” Ekpo, whose excellent records in office will always serve as a reference point for years to come” he said.
With that, he set his template to run the party. In his very first assignment, he delivered a flawless wholesale victory for PDP in the Local Government Elections held in November 2020.
Just when he started to roar, his valour was quenched by the inevitable arbiter of all life. He went to be with the Lord. Having seen the promising success of what his reign would most likely be, having magnanimously overlooked, and I believe, pardoned the folly of his enemies, having won the affection of so many who found succour in his philanthropy and hope for a better future, Ekpenyong took the gallant hurdle into eternity.
I have wondered why Hon. Udo Ekpenyong didn’t argue his case before God as Hezekiah did, to say, “remember my walk before you.” Yes, he did walk before God and from his sweat built and donated two magnificent Temples for God which he handed over to the Delightful Christian Church International headquartered at Goodluck Jonathan Boulevard, off Idoro Road, Uyo and another at his hometown in Ukanafun Local Government Area. Of a truth, he assisted countless Churches with cash, musical instruments and building materials, all of which, methinks, can plead his cause against the evil day.
Alas, he passed away from the affection and devotion of his party men and followers. His greatest reform was the prioritization of Loyalty, while among other salutary measures, he forbade anti-party activities, limited intra- party squabbles and discouraged unhealthy competition for party tickets.
Even in death, Ekpenyong remains undimmed and this turn seems to have unveiled his pristine beauty and sublimity which was hitherto not too apparent to us. Seen or unseen, his influence remains and will vivify ethics and politics in the new PDP, forged out of the revealing ashes of his death.
Adieu, The Trustworthy One.