It is a common part of the world’s popular wisdom that everything has its obverse side. Nothing makes the truism in that wisdom clearer than the anecdote known as the “Sword of Damocles.” Damocles was a friend of King Dionysius 11, a 4th Century BC King of Syracuse. Damocles envied the king and claimed he was truly blessed to be a man of such great power, influence and authority. So the king proposed to trade places with Damocles.
Damocles was overjoyed. He sat down in the king’s throne with great fanfare and aplomb. But he noticed that hanging over his head as he sat on the throne was a giant sword tied to the ceiling with just a single horsehair. If something were to cause the sword to drop, he would be a dead man. Damocles begged his friend, the king, to let him depart because he no longer envied the king’s fame and influence.
This anecdote was popularized by the great Roman orator, Cicero, and passed into European cultural mainstream by his reference to it in his book “Tusculanae Disputationes.” Its compelling morale is that those in power should be prepared for the obverse side of power. This obverse side includes unmerited criticisms, prejudices, insults, lies, envy, etc.
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If Governor Godswill Akpabio has never heard of the Sword of Damocles, he has not missed anything. He has experienced it with increasing intensity in a state, which lives out, in compelling fashion, its unenviable tag as an “atomistic society perpetually at war with itself.” Akwa Ibom had always been a frighteningly and absurdly divided society. It warehouses ethnic groups like the Ibibios, Annangs, Orons, Ekids, Ibenos, Andoni, Itu Mbonusos etc. Its diversity has unfortunately been a curse over the years – instead of a blessing.
Akpabio came with a missionary zeal (you can even say, a messianic complex) to change the narrative. He came declaring that if someone points the torch of love, everyone would follow. He believed that he could pick up the fragmented tribal threads of Akwa Ibom State and build a quilt of cohesiveness, unity and brotherhood. Seven years after he is wiser… you can take a cow to the river, but you cannot force it to drink.
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His faith in unity and brotherhood led to a lot of firsts. For the first time in the history of the state, a civilian governor appointed his secretary to the state government, his commissioner for finance and his personal doctor from outside his tribe (not to mention outside his senatorial district). For the first time a governor’s entire press team (at the inception of his government in 2007 till August, 2008) did not have any single person from his Annang ethnic group. For the first time other ethnic groups dominated the ranks of aides of a governor by over 80 per cent. For the first time a governor located over 80 per cent of his huge projects outside his Senatorial District. Akpabio did all these to prove that men and women should be judged by the contents of their character and not by their nativity.
But all his efforts have turned out like the story of the pedestrian killed at the Zebra Crossing. The epitaph for the pedestrian was, “Here lies Mr Pedestrian/ He was right as he walked along/But he is as dead as if he were wrong.” Akpabio was right in trying to point the state to a moral direction where the songs of the old national anthem would hold sway – “though tribes and tongue may differ in brotherhood we stand.” But he has been criticized, lampooned, lied about, hunted and hounded in the press by a few but highly vocal and relentless ethnic chauvinists and their attack dogs - as if he were wrong. To these dyed-in-the-woods tribal jingoists, Akpabio can do nothing right.
As the 2015 elections beckon, some of the ethnic fault lines Akpabio appeared to have sealed have been opened up by these few chauvinists. Many of them would stop at nothing in an attempt to start ethnic warfare. Under Governor Victor Attah, the state had just three local newspapers. But under Governor Akpabio, it now has over 103 local newspapers (the largest number in Nigeria) involved in institutional blackmail. Yet these same newspapers claim that there is hunger in the land. If there is hunger in the land how come newspapers are springing up like mushrooms? Just a food for thought!
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Several things account for the hounding of Akpabio by these chauvinists. One, Akpabio comes from a minority ethnic group - Annang. The more he succeeds in the discharge of his job, the more these pathological ethnic jingoists hate him. They share the same sentiments, which drove the Ku Klux Klan in America to kill innocent successful African Americans in the south simply out of envy. That is the ethnic sword of Damocles Akpabio has contended with ever since he came into office.
Secondly, Akpabio has become a polarizing figure: those who love him love him with all their hearts, and those who hate him hate him with every fibre of their beings and without a reason. The list of projects he has done are endless; the Ibom Stadium, Specialist Hospital, Ibom Airport, Ibom Gas Plant, over 320 roads, five flyovers, Ibom E-library, over 4,500 life-impacting rural projects, free and compulsory education from primary to senior secondary school, free medical treatment for pregnant women, babies under the age of five and the aged… the list goes on. So why would anyone hate a man who has done so much? The answer is simple: because there are thieves in the society and some of them are in politics.
The opportunities provided by success are dependent on perspectives. Armed robbers do not operate in rural villages because there is no wealth there. Wealth attracts robbers, entrepreneurs, economists and others. In the same vein the success of Governor Akpabio is attracting interest in the governorship of the state from the good, the bad and the ugly. To the thieves, Akpabio is a crazy to do all that he has done, instead of sharing the money to friends and keeping some for himself. They come up with narratives to hide their ill-intentions, “there is poverty in the land,” “Akwa Ibom is a poor society in spite of what it makes as revenue,” “Is it infrastructure we will chop?” etc. These are exercises in sophistry designed to obfuscate the facts and deny Akpabio credit for what he has done.
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Thirdly, some persons are so blinded by ethnic prejudice and bias that they see themselves as soldiers of their ethnic groups engaged in a war against other ethnic groups. Such ethnic jingoists came up with the funny theory that Akwa Ibom is a tripod made up of Ibibio, Annang and Oron, with the Ibibios as the first son, Annangs second and Oron third. This curious assertion makes no accommodation for the Ekid, Ibeno, Andoni, Ijaw and Itu Mbonuso ethnic groups in the Akwa Ibom project. It fails to recognize that if such thinking were applied to Nigeria, then the country would be said to be a tripod made up of Hausa/Fulanis, Yorubas and Igbos. Then other ethnic groups (including those in Akwa Ibom) would be permanently excluded from the Nigerian project. As Christians, they fail to apply the golden rule, “do unto others what you will want them to do to you.
These vocal ethnic jingoists are behind the unceasing and unsparing campaign of calumny against Akpabio. But the reverse side is that majority of Akwa Ibom people are detribalized. You have such respectable Ibibio figures as Otuekong Idongesit Nkanga, former governor of the state, Senator Anietie Okon, Sir Val Attah, former permanent secretary, and many others who believe that the path to a greater Akwa Ibom State lies in unity not divisiveness. They believe that justice, equity and fair play are the pillars of true democracy. When Akpabio looks up and sees the ethnic sword of Damocles wielded by the ethnic chauvinists, he should look around and see that the majority of Akwa Ibom people are detribalized and are with him. Let this knowledge comfort him.
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