Victor Attah: Reminiscing renaming of Ibom International Airport
Facebook reminder threw up photos of today in the history of our state. It was on November 19, 2018, that the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly passed a resolution urging the State Executive to rename the Ibom International Airport after one of our greatest patriots, Arc. Obong Victor Attah. It was today, two years ago that I was almost chocked to death from tear gas which filled my lungs as armed policemen filled the hallway of the state assembly in an effort to restore sanity in the place.
As an Akwa Ibom son in general, and a proud Ibesikpo Asutan indigene in particular, I often feel a sense of momentous pride every time there is a landing at the state airport and the crew alerts passengers to an arrival at the VICTOR ATTAH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. And for some strange reason, what often follows that feeling of pride are the mental snapshots of the unsavoury events which took place on the historic day of the renaming of the airport. Anybody in my shoes would not forget, not after escaping death by the whiskers.
As a reporter covering the state legislature, I recall an earlier sitting of November 14, 2018 wherein plenary was adjourned to November 20, Obong Attah’s birthday. According to the Speaker at the time, Barr Onofiok Luke, this was going to be a special sitting to honour the former governor. There were information already that the House was going to request the renaming of the airport after the man.
However, on November 17, the federal government announced a public holiday for November 20, the designated date for the sitting. I was in my house that evening when I got a message from Mr Kufre Okon, the Speaker’s Press Secretary at the time, that sitting had been moved backward to November 19. What was going to be a celebratory sitting didn’t however turn out to be one.
As I prepared for the assembly that morning, I started to receive calls from friends and family who wanted to find out what was happening at the assembly. Moments later, I would confirm that there were armed thugs at the entrance to the parliament. From my findings, they had been hired by some lawmakers who had defected to another party, and who thought the day’s sitting had been brought backward so that their seats could be declared vacant. For a sitting which agenda was solely to commemorate Attah’s birthday, it was hard to see how they were right.
Although the members had defected weeks before, thereby putting Speaker Luke under intense pressure to leverage his constitutional powers and declare their seats vacant, sources close to both the Speaker and the defected members claimed the speaker thought this was not politically expedient. Moreover, these were his close allies before they switched camps.
One can only pray that our state never again witness the sacrilegious attack on democracy as we saw on that fateful day. We must however also pray that should such an occasion arise, God should strengthen our leaders to stand up for us like the Speaker and his colleagues did on that day.
I recall vividly the horror as all 22 members forced their way into the chambers to sit. They sat under an intensely gassed air, coughing throughout the sitting as they passed that historic resolution to rename the Ibom International Airport after Obong Attah. The bravery of the Speaker will never be forgotten. This man had always advocated the renaming of the airport after Obong Attah. The former governor’s 80th birthday was a golden opportunity to do so. And we will not forget him for not fretting, for standing his ground on a day that his strength and the strength of the legislative institution was put to test. And the courage of the members who stood by him will also not be forgotten. The man who moved the motion for the renaming of the airport, our dear member representing Ibesikpo Asutan state constituency, Rt. Hon. (Elder) Aniekan Uko, will also be remembered as a true son who aligned interest towards the elevation of Akwa Ibom’s patriot. These true Akwa Ibom sons made sure Obong Attah, a man of courage himself, was not put to shame.
Indeed, politics will always be politics. But like many other human endeavours, there are those who play the game with conscience and those who stop at nothing to prejudice the common humanity that we share in their quest for power. Sadly, some of the pictures which have popped back today rather remind us of the violence that took place at the assembly on November 19, 2018, instead of the beautiful resolution of the brave lawmakers who closed political ranks to honour our dear former governor.
Happy birthday in advance to the indefatigable Obong Victor Attah.