It was a moment of history for me, a gift of serendipity, when the master of ceremonies at The Sun newspaper awards, Mr. Gbenga Adeyinka, invited me last Saturday to present a Lifetime Achievement Award to the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Moses Ekpo. This was an upscripted setting in which a mentee was presenting an award to his mentor.
In 1972, I had cut my journalism teeth under the admirable tutelage of Mr. Ekpo at the Nigerian Chronicle in Calabar, where he was the pioneer editor of the paper. In 1974, I returned to the paper after my graduation in 1973 and my National Youth Service Corps stint; Ekpo had left the paper by then. But his journalism guidance of me did not leave me. Ekpo was born on December 22, 1941, three days shy of being the birthday-mate of Jesus Christ.
This was during the period of the Second World War (1939-1945). It is possible that God allowed him to be born during the hostilities of the war as preparation for the brutal battles of life he had to fight and the hard knocks he had to endure. As he entered Holy Family College, Abak, in Akwa Ibom State, to begin his secondary school journey, he seemed to find writing an alluring enterprise. He would write reports of sporting events and paste on the board for other students to read. He later became the editor of the school’s magazine called The Link. The seed of journalism had been planted in him.
After graduating from secondary school, he was anxious to find any legitimate work that would enable him to save money for his further education as well as contribute to the family’s upkeep. When he saw an advertisement for recruitment into the Armed Forces in Enugu, he surreptiously applied, went for the interview, got through all the formalities and was successful. He thought everything had gone swimmingly, until his angry mother materialised in Enugu and, with the cooperation of the expatriate recruitment officer, she dragged him back home. His ambition to give and receive a smart salute collapsed irretrievably.
That failure to join the army firmed up his ambition to be a journalist. And a journalist he became, straddling the electronic and print media. He worked for the West African Pilot, Daily Express, Daily Times and the British Broadcasting Corporation. In the several decades that he worked in the media, he had been everything from proofreader to reporter to editor. His ability and versatility were enhanced by the fact that he studied in several countries: Nigeria, London Polytechnic in London, United kingdom, Institute of Mass Communication in Berlin, Germany, and at the University of Wisconsin, United States.
In the public service, he was a commissioner for information in Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State, board member of the National Population Commission, a diplomat in London, the Americas and in Washington, and director-general of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, among others. In these conglomerate of offices, Ekpo had shown dedication, and dedication often leads to the final product called excellence. That is why he was respected wherever he worked either as a hired hand or as the hand that did the hiring. Ekpo is a good public speaker, based on his close affinity with words as a journalist. He is persuasive, but not aggressively so, because he is a man who is measured in speech and manners.
He has charm, the polished version of it, not the rabble-rousing, in-your-eyes variety of it. That is why he makes and keeps friends easily, remembers them and keeps in touch with them. That is perhaps the slice of his character that comes from either his public relations training or his diplomatic engagements or his journalistic maxim of keeping contact lines open. These three spheres of his life may also be the reason he has developed what I may call an Edwardian sense of decorum, that feeling of evenhandedness, appropriateness and decency, the feeling of getting angry and not bringing down the walls, of getting happy and not making others to derive unhappiness from your happiness. He remembers his old friends, younger or older, with whom he worked anywhere, as if they were all from his mother’s womb.
That is a unique quality not possessed by many who have arrived at the doorpost of success. Most of them scorn those of their former colleagues who have not risen to their height. Ekpo doesn’t. Ekpo is invigorating company, pleasant to be with, unhappy to part with. He is a master raconteur who tells stories that are wrapped around history, remembered history, of the media, his community, his country. That is largely because journalism is a treasure house of stories, stories that did break yesterday, stories that didn’t break today, stories that will break tomorrow. Even with all his achievements, Ekpo has remained humble though self-assured. Self-assuredness comes from knowledge, wide knowledge, deep knowledge. His knowledge has depth and breadth. His knowledge and his self-assuredness are without haughtiness or arrogance because he has his feet firmly on the ground and doesn’t need any validation from anyone.
Ekpo has led a life of nobility that has given him presence, panache, and a good carriage, which together make him a good bridge-builder and a good troubleshooter. Part of most journalists’ lives includes covering trouble spots, areas of conflict and confrontation, weddings, coronations, war, skirmishes and shootings. These wake in the lives of most journalists such emotions as pathos, love, anger, happiness, sorrow. And when journalists get emotionally involved in the stories they cover, they are capable of developing multiple persona. Many people today hardly appreciate the dignity of work because we live in a country where making quick money is better appreciated than making a valuable contribution at the workplace. Perhaps, this is a generational disease. Ekpo must have brought the diligence and dignity of work taught to his generation to today’s generation, which may or may not appreciate it. But it is obvious that he has not stayed entrenched in the past. He dresses like a modern man, a man of sartorial elegance. He speaks with the currency of today’s happenings. So, without fear of any contradiction, it can be said that he is a bridge between the past and the present.
Ekpo has paid his dues. He was marooned in Biafra for 30 months, unwillingly separated from his loved ones. He lost his son in the morning of his life and his wife when their marriage was blooming. He was harassed by armed robbers in his house with the threat to waste his life, if he did not cooperate. He may have been shaken by all of these episodes but he remains calm and dignified and debonair because he is a doughty fighter. Now as Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State for more than six years, he has remained steadfast and loyal to Governor Udom Emmanuel. That means that he has faith in himself because, as Erich Fromm said: “Only the person who has faith in himself is able to be faithful to others.”
That display of loyalty to the Governor has brought stability to the government and the state. However, some of his kinsmen from Annangland, from where he comes, have accused him of not being able to fight the Governor and bring amenities to their communities. I am sure he is capable of defending himself but I think their opinion is based on their failure to read the Constitution carefully.
The 1999 Constitution says in section 170 (2) that “the Governor of a state shall be the Chief Executive of that State.” As Chief Executive, the Governor reports basically to the board of directors, which is the voters. It must also be noted that a Deputy Governor is a nominee of the governorship candidate, according to the Constitution. But the most important section of the Constitution that affects a Deputy Governor is Section 193 (1), which states that “the Governor of a State may, in his discretion, assign to the Deputy Governor or any Commissioner of the Government of the State responsibility for any business of the Government of that State, including the administration of any department of the government. It is clear from the foregoing that the Constitution does not provide any special functions and or powers to the Deputy Governor’s office. He functions only at the discretion of the Governor. It would, therefore, be futile and unwise for Ekpo or any Deputy Governor to pick a fight with the Governor, because the powers of the Governor are gargantuan.
Besides, the Governor controls the purse of the state. So, he can get his Deputy impeached through a cash-and-carry arrangement with a state House of Assembly. This has happened in several states since 1999. Most of the deputy governors who fight their governors are those who want to be made governors. In Ondo State, the Deputy Governor to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, Mr. Alfred Agboola Ajayi, was forced to resign on June 21 last year when he defected to the PDP. He contested for the PDP governorship primaries and lost to Dr. Eyitayo Jegede. He decamped to the Zenith Labour Party, contested and failed woefully. In the Anambra Governorship election scheduled for November 6, the Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Nkem Okeke, was hoping that he would get the APGA governorship ticket. He didn’t get it because, apparently, the party thought that Professor Chukwuma Soludo was a better candidate. Now, Mr. Okeke has crossed carpet to APC, but he is just jumping from frying pan to fire because the APC had already picked Mr. Andy Uba as its candidate. Mr. Okeke is now being threatened with impeachment.
In our political setting where money is the name of the game, it is very easy to remove a recalcitrant deputy governor like a jigger from the foot or lice from the hair. By the rotation arrangement, Mr. Ekpo would not be qualified to contest for the 2023 governorship election, which will be an Uyo Senatorial District affair. He has no viable reason, therefore, to fight the governor. But since there ought to be reciprocity in loyalty, it is expected that Mr. Emmanuel will reciprocate Ekpo’s loyalty as well in the shape of amenities to Ekpos’ territory. That will be another feather to the cap of Moses Ekpo who has carried himself well as a journalist, diplomat, public servant, politician and statesman for five decades.