Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Akwa Ibom: Remembering Philomina Udonwa


Perhaps, she did a great disservice to humanity for standing by her husband, Sir Udonwa, through thick and thin to raise their children including, Engr. Iniekong Udonwa. Or, may be, her crime was being a proud mother of a successful son who found himself fit to aspire for the governorship of Akwa Ibom state in 2011. May be, she should have aborted the pregnancy so Iniekong would not be born. May be, she should have walked away from the marriage and left her husband and the children traumatized. She should have done something to destroy the family, at least, that would have ensured that Iniekong was not successful in life.

Late Mrs. Philomina Udonwa, mother of Engr. Iniekong Udonwa, who was a governorship aspirant in the 2011 gubernatorial race, was abducted from her home by unknown gunmen. One month after she was abducted, her desecrated lifeless body was found in a village in Mbiaso, Nsit Ibom Local Government Area. The over 70-year-old woman was only a trader so all she could offer those that held her hostage was her old wrinkled weak body, which was cruelly defiled before she was murdered. One month? I cannot imagine how many of them had her and how many times? It was her son they wanted but she paid more than the ultimate price.
The 2011 governorship election may have long gone but the memory still lingers. We cannot forget in a hurry the wanton destruction of lives and properties. Late Mrs. Udonwa was only one of the hundreds of Akwa Ibom people who were slaughtered on the altar of politics. The memory of her gruesome murder is only one of the many bad memories that constantly remind us of the horror of our dark days. Children were snatched in broad daylight from their parents; wives were defiled right before their husband; men and women were forcefully taken into captive. Animals are slaughtered more honourably than the way many of our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters were killed in Akwa Ibom - I remember Late Chief Paul Inyang.

Late Philomina Udonwa had not political ambition. What could an old trader like her possibly aspire for? She was contented with the little proceeds from her trade. At over 70 years, even with her son’s ambition, she probably never imagined a more satisfying life outside the market. She must have enjoyed the moments of gossip with fellow market women and teasing potential costumers. She must have savoured the offensive smell that hovered around the market in good faith. In her time, the Association of Market Women was not Her Excellency’s pet project as it is now, so she probably had nothing to fight over.

Late Mrs. Udonwa endured the labour of seed time; it was only biblical for her to want to enjoy the bounties of harvest time. She must have had her share of despise in her youth while preserving the pride of her womanhood; she must have struggled to maintain those virtues in her old age. She was not perfect but she lived a life worthy of emulation. She was not a politician but once, twice or more, she had voted for one politician or the other. She had no interest in being voted for and had no right to prevent others from having the interest, not even her son. She is remembered not for the good she did but for the evil that was done to her.

The last thing anybody in Akwa Ibom will wish for is the return of the evil days. The mere thought of the terror makes life unbearable. We’ll rather tarry till the end of time than sleep to have those nightmares again. We’ve taken a one-way trip through that valley of death, we’ll rather set a permanent camp in a strange land than make a return trip. We have paid dearly for condoning impunity; we have seen hell for celebrating evil. There is no way we can afford to let the terror, bloodshed, cruelty and all the barbaric acts of those evil days return to Akwa Ibom. Again, I say, there is no way.

The recent kidnap of Mr. Ifiok Umanah by unknown gunmen has awaken bad memories. It’s been one week since he was abducted and it is not yet confirmed if he has been freed. Suddenly, nobody is talking about it. For us, if he’s back, there’s no point talking about it again. If he’s not, then the security operatives must be doing the needful. We are carried away by the euphoria of PDP’s streak of good luck at the Appeal Court. Our only worry is the anticipated Appeal Court judgment on the governorship election. How callous a people we are? May be we have forgotten that in the past, kidnapping started with one person, then to the next until it became so rampant that the rich and the poor, the old and the young, the political and apolitical were potential victims.

I hear Ifiok is a jolly good fellow and runs a low-key private business. I hear he has no political ambition. Perhaps, just like Philomina Udonwa, he was a victim of a transferred aggression. I can’t help but imagine the horror, psychological trauma and perhaps, the physical torture he suffered. His wife and kids must have longed to welcome him back home. They must have cried beyond consolation; they must have lost appetite for food and interest in luxury. It probably, didn’t feel like Christmas for them. Ifiok’s ‘paddies’ must have missed him too and perhaps, also feared for their own life. Just one strike of terror and we are all running back to the cave. Those who can afford police security must have already negotiated for more. Those who can’t, must now become prayer warriors.

Lest I forget, just like me, you must have also heard the ‘breaking news’ that my mobile phone numbers were tracked because of a piece I wrote earlier. ‘I don’t know is tracking’ (apologies to my boss). But my joy is that the breaking news did not break the society. However, I am sad about this hypocritic society we live in. I’ll never hear that my numbers are tracked if I write about the ‘giant strides of the government’ or I celebrate the PDP’s victories at the Appeal Court. In the face of a looming terror, they want me to be a stereotype.

Sometimes, I wish I could comfortably feign the fact that these things don’t bother me. Nobody ever told me that path of courage will be an easy path to thread. Yes, I do have my moments of doubt and fear but I soon overcome them because that cave is not where I belong. I am not bothered about the plot against me but worried about the terror that lies ahead of us. I will not apologize or feel sorry for anyone who takes offence in what I do. How I react to the happenings in the society is my problem, how you react to my reaction is your problem.

The task of preventing this looming terror is before all of us. Beyond making promises, the government must ensure that it takes the issue of security very serious. There should be no loopholes. We must not completely attribute these social vices to politics. The present economic challenge should also be considered as a possible cause. Those who perpetrated this barbaric act in the past are still living among us. Old habit, they say, die hard. Hence, the government must do all it can to urgently address the present economic hardship. It is also incumbent on the people to be patriotic and law abiding enough avoid/condemn all actions capable of militating against the peace and unity of the society.

In the words of Edmund Burke; “all it takes for evil to prosper is for people of goodwill to do nothing”.Politics may have robbed us of our goodwill but for the sake of this doomsday terror, we cannot afford to do nothing. Regardless of my reservations, I join every well-meaning Akwa Ibomite to condemn the kidnap of Mr. Ifiok Umanah and any possible return of terror to Akwa Ibom. I wish we can turn back hands of time and avert the tragedy that befell late Mrs. Philomina Udonwa and others but it is beyond us. However, we have the opportunity to ensure that nobody else meets their fate.

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