OBA’s Car Gift Of ‘Controversy’
By Kenneth Jude
So, like a bolt from the blue, another striking story rumbled through the social media like a knife going through a hotly served bread the other day.
Without any hint of ado, on April 20th this year, the Senator representing Akwa Ibom North East in the National Assembly, Obong Bassey Albert, popularly known as OBA held what many described as “mother of all empowerments”. All empowerments programmes we’ve witnessed this year have all been christened, somehow, as mother of them all. It gives credence to how powerful mothers are in the society. Isn’t it?
None of the empowerments have been called father, not even son. The mothers, like the ayes, have always had it. Fathers and sons, it seems, will look for theirs if and when they get to heaven where they’ll slug it out with teachers whose reward are said to be locked up safely in celestial abode.
So, for OBA, it wasn’t an exception. It was another mother of all empowerment; arguably the biggest. Many, needless to say, had looked forward to the day with bated anxiety. First date was shifted same as the second. But on the third attempt, no change of date. It held. Same time. Same venue. Clement weather. Roaring crowd.
The empowerment packages came in varieties. They were rich and plenteous. Mini Buses, Hair Dryers, Sewing Machines, Generators of different sizes and shapes competed for space at the expansive Uyo Township Stadium, venue for the event. So, as speaker after speaker eulogised the embattled OBA for his quality representation with one ‘big man’ asking rhetorically, but spitefully where one of the three senators from Akwa Ibom State is, beneficiaries of the packages had their gazes firmly fixed on the items.
Event over, beneficiaries gathered as if set for a job interview as names were called and items given out with a dint of precision. Joy radiated through their faces as those who got car gifts joyfully rode out of the venue with that wow feeling of becoming car owners. One woman, apparently the head of a political group, was the cynosure of all eyes as her fans, supporters and followers, numbering over two hundred, encircled her car, roaring rapturously as their ‘mama’ drove off in a blaze of glory.
Now there is a hot gist in town. One of the ‘beneficiaries’ whose name appeared conspicuously as recipient of a car gift is aghast by the fact that he made the almighty list. He didn’t just make the list but had his name penciled down as the number one man therein. The man in question is not new to politics. He’s no neophyte. His name isn’t strange but one that rings a bell.
Step forward Barr. Usenobong Akpabio. Former two-term lawmaker who represented the good people of Uruan State Constituency in the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly and member, Governing Board of Ibom International Airport.
As part of activities to mark the 19th Democracy Day celebration in Nigeria and Akwa Ibom State, an assemblage of journalists peopled predominantly by onliners and social media influencers had a chat with him on the state of the State, nation, and other issues of interest.
Responding to a question, the former lawmaker who is also eying the Red Chamber, expressed shock at his name being bandied as a beneficiary of a car as an empowerment package. The car, according to him, was only a birthday gift given to him by Senator Bassey Albert in 2016. But how his name found a way into the list of those empowered on April 20th by OBA remains a mystery to him. He can’t fathom it.
Said Usen Akpabio: “On 4th June 2016, on my birthday, I was called that OBA had sent a birthday gift to me. I was pleasantly surprised that the birthday gift is a car. There was a facebook post to that effect. I sent a letter thanking him for the gesture to me. But at his constituency briefing/empowerment, I was disappointingly surprised that my name was written as beneficiary of his empowerment. The issue of putting my name is cheap political point to score. If he had told me that time that it was empowerment that he gave, perhaps, I wouldn’t have collected it. That gesture was the greatest disappointment I had about Bassey Albert.”
As could be expected, the post which was shared by a popular Facebook user, raised hoopla as commentators stepped in to the fray to bare their minds on the matter. Some, in response, called on the “disappointed” ex-lawmaker to return the car having discovered the ‘ploy’ behind the gift. “Truth is, let him return the car, that could be a fair justification,” a Facebook user said.
One comment was quite striking. It went thus: “I am reading quotes where he’s saying he’s angry with OBA who “dashed” him a car and now went ahead to include his name on the list of people he (OBA) empowered. Please kindly tell him that the best way to show this anger is for him to return the car or give me the car and publish my name on national papers as someone he has empowered. Believe me, I won’t be angry as far as I have the car!”
This dude, was apparently out to trivialize the matter or make mischief. But one cannot Pooh pooh his opinion with a wave of the hand. Like others, he has every right to air his opinion on this matter even if jocularly.
But away from the car gift, the anger arising from one’s name being published as a beneficiary, the clamour by concerned citizens and netizens for the car to be returned, the question of the rationale behind one’s name being published in the first place, other issues have arisen from this development which many say is not a palatable one.
But it is instructive to note that according to the brochure, those who got cars were listed under the heading “allocation of cars”. It also raises questions like: were the cars given to one person per local government that makes up Uyo Senatorial District? Was the word ‘allocation’ a mere semantic rigmarole?
Now, some have accused OBA of an attempt to mock the person of Usen Akpabio. True? False? We may never know because we are talking of a car that was given out in 2016 as a birthday gift and not an empowerment package.
Others maintain that it is a calculated attempt to humiliate the person of Usen Akpabio who, from all indications, is interested in running for the same senate seat currently occupied by OBA.
But at any rate, one is worried that a birthday gift turned an empowerment package to the extent that the name of the gift recipient was published as the first person on the list as a car beneficiary from the benevolent heart of OBA. Now, some posers: when the car was given, was Usen Akpabio in dire need of a car? Was he having issues with a car such that he needed to be ’empowered’ urgently? What really does empowerment mean? One dictionary defines empowerment as “The process of supporting another person or persons to discover and claim personal power.” Now, was OBA out to support, perhaps add to Usen Akpabio’s fleet of cars?
If this is true, at the time of handing out the car, was it stated clearly that asides being a birthday gift, it was also an empowerment package? When gifts are given, one should always state why and the rationale behind it. When husbands (though rare these days) buy gifts for their wives, sometimes, it’s to placate them for one misdemeanor they committed. For a young man intent on winning the heart of a girl down the street, gifts given to the damsel is, in many cases, designed to make his intentions clear and lure the girl to give in to his overtures.
Gifts are also given out when people achieve great feats. People are appreciated too for their heroic deeds. When Nigeria won the Nations Cup in 2013, not only were they hosted by the president, several individuals, corporate bodies appreciated their efforts with gifts. On the strength of this, one is moved to ask if Barr. Akpabio did anything worthwhile that prompted OBA to hand him a car? Was it a kind of promise to the recipient by the donor that on his birthday, a special gift awaits him? Was it a show of appreciation for the Uruan born politician’s stellar outing when he was a lawmaker? These are merely conjectures because we cannot say with surgical exactitude what informed the car gift now that the recipient is angry that a private matter has become news for public consumption.
What does this unsavoury development portend? Won’t this matter make people wary of gifts coming from OBA in future even if the gifts are given from the senator’s closet? Won’t one say, “thank you, keep it” when OBA offers them anything tomorrow for fear of their names being published anywhere? Has OBA betrayed the biblical admonition not to allow his left hand know what his right hand has done and vice versa? Has friendship been betrayed?
Another “big man”, it was learnt, also got a car gift from OBA but his name, as it were, was not published. The said ‘big man’ (if you know you know) sadly, reportedly had an accident with the car. But that’s not the gist. The kernel of the matter is: why was this other big man’s name not published while the other was? Was it deliberate? A typographical error? Was one out to use the car gift as a political gimmick tomorrow where it’ll be said ” listen, I empowered you with a car, if you must contest against me, return it? Or something like: “I have empowered many people including a former House of Assembly member from Uruan local government area” and so on. As Barr. Akpabio said, is it a ploy to score a cheap political point?
Will Usenobong Akpabio pander to public opinion and return the car? What is the state of the car? Certainly, a car of 2016 can’t be in the same tip top shape in 2018. If it was a brand new car at the time it was given, returning it now means it can be branded “fairly used”. Even if OBA is to get his car back, won’t he demand that he needs his car in its pristine state?
What does this car gift which morphed from a birthday present to an empowerment item and the disappointment of Usenobong Akpabio portend for the race of who represents Akwa Ibom North East in the Upper Chamber beginning from 2019?
The answers to all these posers are safely tucked in the womb of time!
Kenneth Jude is a Public Affairs Analyst and two-time AKS NUJ Best Columnist of the Year.