Imagine a Nigerian who establishes, equips, and funds for years, a tuition free secondary school without blowing a trumpet. Imagine a Nigerian who facilitates employment and empowerment programmes for hundreds of his people, but goes about it very quietly. Imagine a known public servant who sometimes drives himself to work without protocol and security. Now, this is the world of Rt. Hon (Barr) Ekong Sampson- a world where high regard for modesty is held with tenacity; a world where there is deep commitment to the real course of life; a world where passion for the service of humanity is the driving force; and a world where loud impact is rather preferred to loud noise. This is one man whose quiet and simple lifestyle is such that can give a misleading picture of his persona, especially to observers at a distant range. And the temptation of concluding from a wrong premise in this regard is most likely unavoidable.
Over the years, politics has been defined both by words and perception as a game for the tough and strongwilled. This perception, though clearer depicted in the early times of the Nigerian independent stand as a federation, has sustained itself through the years till date. However, there has been slight changes in recent times, though as little as what the word, “discrepancy” can rightly define, and as discrepant in nature as the said changes appear, they have been impactful enough to attract more human interests to the game of politics; and commendably so, the interest of humans who previously perceived the game as being so deeply infected with negative traits, such that the resulting rots contradicted their beliefs and philosophies in life.
With this development, governance in the present day Nigeria has seen more involvements by professional and even highly intellectual minds. Kudos to the crop of contemporary politicians who no longer see power seeking as a make or mar affair, and who now welcome the political approach of welcoming public criticism and responding to opposing forces with performances and scorecards, rather than resorting to intimidation or elimination as an option.
Truth is, though the negativity of complacency and mediocrity has so rocked the present day polity, a handful or a little more of the managers of this polity have shown commendable efforts to sustain the vestige of confidence the underprivileged masses have in them. And just when I thought I had seen it all, this new or revived preference in demystifying power and loss of interest in elitism sprang up.
Interestingly, men in the corridors of power are now developing the habit of appearing merely like civil servants by way of consciously putting aside societal status and paraphernalia of office just to guarantee more accessiblity for the common man. These days, some political power wielders, surprisingly, will rather prefer living a reserved and modest lifestyle than the shouty kind they were previously known for.
I am wondering how else one would react to being told that a serving commissioner at the state level who has served in different tiers and levels of government in the last fourteen (14) years, will kick against plans by family, friends and associates to organise an elaborate celebration on his golden age attainment, if not with as much surprise as I reacted? This, as I am made to understand, he did because of his thinking that rather than losing a virtue of funds to a frivolous party, taking advantage of such event to reach out to the poor and less privileged part of the society would be a better and more impactful way of celebrating his God-favoured life. This was the desire of Barr Ekong Sampson, the Hon. Commissioner for Rural Development who clocked 50 in age few days ago; but tried as much, this desire of his was not fully granted, as a group of young intellectual minds under the aegis of The Fourth House, attacked him in the later hours of the said day with a surprise package.
I had retired to the comfort of my home after a long hectic day at work, when I took this distress-sounding call from a friend, Barr Ememobong Nicholas whom I knew through the golden aged commissioner. He told me that there was an ugly incidence at the commissioner’s residence that he needed my attention. I was about asking why he was the one inviting me, when he told me it was the commissioner who asked him to. Every attempt to get him to explain what exactly the incidence was, proved futile, as he sounded like there was not even a second of time more to spend on that. At least, since he is a trusted friend, there was no room to fear for my safety. So, clearing my doubts, I hurried to the Barr Ekong’s residence only to find the environment calm and serene. I was tricked.
Few minutes after my arrival, Barr Ekong drove in. And before he could step out of his car, birthday songs and well wishes filled the air. Looking so tired and stressed, yet confused and lost for words, he finally found his voice, uttering the words: “so you guys still insisted on this”? At this point, he was left with a lone choice of leading the unexpected visitors to his sitting room in a show of acceptance.
After a short words of prayer to begin the informal gathering, the President of the Fourth House group, Barr Nicholas set the tone with a brief speech which began with an apology to the birthday man for going contrary to his desire. His reason was that he (Barr Ekong Sampson) has been such a strong pillar of support, as well as an inspiration to members of the group- reason they could not stick to the idea of letting such a golden feat pass without at least, a little celebration to keep the memories.
According to Barr Nicholas, the group’s insistence on coming to celebrate him was because he has overtime proven himself a worthy leader and a true Mkpat Enin son, having been consistent in flying the flag of the area so high at every given opportunity.
In his words: “Aside leading this group of young intellectual Mkpat Enin minds, I am here personally to celebrate you in appreciation of the good and sound mentorship I have gained from you as a young lawyer, and also for the exposure I have gained from you. I consider myself so privileged knowing you, being close to you, and being mentored by you. You have been very helpful to me and you are always there to guide me in the right tracks. You are one man who knows the value and importance of sharing knowlege, and even when one has difficulties diffusing the knowlege, you always have your way of guiding one through the path of knowledge.
“It is a thing of joy to me, seeing you this sound and healthy at this age. Right here before you are members of the group of intellectual minds drawn from the four clans of Mkpat Enin- same persons you have groomed and mentored over the years. I recall when, at the formation of this group, you advised us do everything possible to avoid politics, if we needed to succeed in our aims and objectives. Now, seeing the much success sticking to your advice has helped us achieve, we have more reasons to celebrate you.
“Ordinarily, considering your status and position in the society, your house would not have been this silent on a day like this. Loud music and a crowd of well wishers would be trooping in to wine and dine in celebration. Or maybe you could have comfortably had it done in heavy towered hotels or cities of your choice. Why is the case different? It is simply because of your modest disposition. It is because touching lives and offering humanitarian services makes more meaning to you than frivolous activities. Sir, that is why we are here to celebrate you”.
In his goodwill message, the Secretary of the group and a former President of National Association of Mkpat Enin Students, Udeme Umoh had this to say: “we thank God for giving you to us and the entire Mkpat Enin, and for giving us to you at this time too. I want to particularly commend you on the fact that you are always using your God-given blessings to bless others and touch lives. I say this affirmatively and authoritatively, as I pray that God continues to strengthen you with good health and keep lifting you up. And I believe that just like this, we shall gather someday in the furure to celebrate your centenary”.
Also in his goodwill message, a member of the group said: “Sir, you are a shining light to us the young legal practitioners, who look up to you as a model, and you have also been a light to the general public through the selfless services you have rendered. Your exploits contribute daily to our intellects. My prayer for you on this day is that God should continue to hold you up higher”.
Also, the Member Representing Mkpat Enin State Constituency in the State House of Assembly, Engr Otobong Ndem, in his comment, acknowledged the close connection Ekong Sampson has with the grassroots, as well as his firm grip on Mkpat Enin politics. Even the Youth Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party in Mkpat Enin, Ime Inoh hinted that Ekong Sampson enjoys so much goodwill among the youths, women and traditional rulers because of his accessibility which according to him, began since his days as chairman of council.
Responding, the celebrant began by admitting being caught by the Fourth House group in their planned surprise. According to him, after deciding to stick to his “no elaborate celebration” principle, he never expected any special event on that day, only to retire home after a long working day that ended him in church for a quiet mass to find the surprise awaiting him. Barr Ekong noted that certain things away from birthday events drive him into a celebration mood.
His words: “my mood for celebration comes whenever I am able to add something meaningful to humanity. I consider as a birthday, any day a book I wrote is being presented to the public, because that makes me happy that I have added to public knowledge, or when God uses me to touch a life. For instance, I have been trying for a while to figure something out for some youths in Mkpat Enin- about four of them, and that thing just sailed through. Now, that is something worth celebrating as a birthday. Again, in the school I established and made the tuition fee free, whenever students in that school pass in good grades, I celebrate that feat as a birthday. and I am looking up to a bigger birthday when the school will be seeing off its first set of graduates. That is how I shape my philosophy- living for others. Based on my belief, I feel that is just how the society should be- puting the larger interests first before personal ones. A lot of people have passed through me, and, without sounding immodest, about 120 youths have had gainful employment both in the private and public sectors through me. As I watch these ones grow and make progress in life each passing day, it sparks that happy and celebration mood in me”.
In his final words, the Hon Commissioner thanked the group for taking up the stress of ambushing him with a surprise even against his wish, while urging them to continue in their noble path, even as they keep building and raising their potentials in readiness for what the future would bring. He also took time to specially appreciate members of the local community hosting the charity school for the love and support they have shown, which he said, has contributed to the growth of the school. He did not forget to appreciate his wife, family, friends and supporters for the massive kind of support he enjoys from them at all times.
He further urged the group to key into the developmental agenda of the State Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, who he said, is doing so well with a poise to taking the state to greater heights. He added that just recently, the governor, during a parley with the press community in the state, reiterated his commitment to changing the economic fortunes and history of the state. That, he said, is a good reason to give him (the governor) the needed support to help him achieve his set goals for the benefit of the state and to the glory of God.
Though in different voices, the respective speakers had their speeches drawing conclusions in one direction- that Barr Ekong’s life achievements, despite coming in silent tones, have made so much resounding impacts; that the goodwill he enjoys presently from elders, youth and women structures, as well as the political stakeholders in the area and beyond, is possible because of the numerous benefits his years in public service have brought to the Mkpat Enin area; that despite his lack of interest in it or refusal to make noise about it, the kind of political followership he commands can rightly pass him as the defacto political leader of the area; little wonder he is being reffered to as the political junction of Mkpat Enin.
Even without an elaborate celebration to mark this new age, Barr Ekong’s years of earthly sojourn have been a life of undisputable success and excellence in virtually every facet of life. From his early days in public service at the local government level through his stay in the legislature down till his present jurisdiction, he always has his way of standing out from the crowd, owing to his tenacity on his view of life from a different angle. As chairman of council, he preferred spending his unofficial hours in the village by choosing to live right there with the people he led. Consequent upon the much legislative knowledge and experience he gathered at the national assembly while serving Senator Udoma Udoma as Chief Legislative Assistant, especially during the tough days of ex-governor Victor Attah’s projected onshore/offshore bill, Ekong’s eight years of service in the legislature became just another history making round of remarkable representation and leadership, as he established a firm and consistent voice for his constituency both on and off cameras. This indeed proved him a lawmaker in display in the legislative chamber, as well as a lawmaker at work at the committee level. While serving out his lawmaking tenure, he never forgot the party platform upon which he stood to be elected. And as part of his acts of appreciation, he initiated and championed the construction of a secretariat for the party in his area.
As it stands, there is not a single of the fourteen (14) wards in Mkpat Enin that can deny benefiting from his numerous empowerment programmes, as the Ekong Sampson Empowerment Program (ESEP) has, over the years in Mkpat Enin, been a notable vehicle that has driven life touching projects, from education, health services, skills acquisition training and provision of business grants and infrasructures to meet basic community needs.
Furthermore, he brought his game changing capacity to the executive arm of government last year with his initiated ideas and master strategies in the rural development ministry which he was appointed to man. A worthy evidence here is the Rural Development Master Plan he initiated and designed in a way that will last as a permanent and effective guide to the current administration (including successive ones) in the state in the area of rural development. In addition, he also initiated a Prompt Response Mechanism, through which timely interventions have been made to rural communities suffering any form of infrastructural crisis.
Intellectually, Barr Ekong has also shown competent capacity with a grounded knowledge and mastery of his chosen legal profession. With a handy masters degree in law, he had, before his just concluded PhD programme in same field, done a number of books- books edited and presented with commendations from some high profile Nigerian scholars like Justice Kayode Eso, former CBN Governor, Charles Soludo, and even the famous Justice Oputa, to mention but a few. And consequent upon his highly placed interest in freely sharing knowledge, he had taken up a financially demanding commitment of establishing and funding a school (Excellence Comprehensive Secondary School), probably the only private institution in the state that is tuition free. This he said, is one of his contributions to charity.
Today, I have voluntarily taken this stress to put up this piece in celebration of a man whose everyday life defines modesty; whose many years spent in power is yet to override his life’s philosophy(s) and regard for humanity; who, despite seeing and tasting success, still prefers not changing the commoness of his human person; and who, despite a long life span of years on earth, still remains strong physically and mentally. I write to celebrate an intellectual, a consumate lawyer, a charismatic lawmaker and an astute administrator at a golden age.
* Ubong Sampson (08021419939) – a Public/Political Affairs Analyst, writes in from Uyo.