The legendary Jim Rohn, one of America’s finest authors and the motivational speaker had bequeathed us with what I consider, in my opinion, a summa on political experience: “Life is a process of accumulation. We either accumulate the debt or the value, the regret or the equity”. The whole process of electioneering and politicking, in particular, is a deed in the accumulation with the corresponding recompense. It’s an analogy in financial accounting where lodgments are entered for credit and debits.
It’s another season of local government elections in Akwa Ibom State and, expectedly, the usual intrigues and horse-trading have reached its frenzy. Electioneering period is a time for the opening of books. Almost all books contain debts and value as well as regret and equity. However, a conspicuous item to be found everywhere is the concept of zoning. Most often, the rules are unwritten yet they are regarded as principles and treated as covenants for regulating the election (or appointments) of officials in a particular community. The objective is to promote peace and harmony by providing equal opportunity for the different parts of a community to partake in the governance process.
In Itu local government, which is the focus of this piece, the books have been laid bare. Barr. Etetim Onuk is the current council chairman from East Itam Northern bloc. Onuk is on his first term. It is the first time in the history of the area that (his bloc) East Itam Northern has had the opportunity to produce a chairman who has served a full term after Obong Nsima Edet’s tenure was truncated few months after the inauguration.
Itu local government is comprised of four geopolitical blocs: East Itam Southern; East Itam Northern, West Itam and Itu OMMA. Onuk’s predecessor, Hon. Michael James Etim (a.k.a Mac Joe), from West Itam, had run for two terms between 2007 and 2013. Before him, both Hon. Godwin Ndon (East Itam Southern) and Late Hon. Ededet Ekanem (Itu OMMA), have had their full terms between 2000 and 2007. Each of them jettisoned their second term for the House of Representatives election.
The above narrative has become necessary to confirm that Itu has had a long history of zoning arrangement which is geared towards providing equal opportunity for all sections of the area to participate in the way the area is governed. The formula has always provided a two-term shot for council chairmen except and unless upon the refusal of the holder of the office. This is why it is only wise and reasonable for Barr. Etetim Onuk to run his full course with a second term.
For the sake of equity, there is no controversy about Onuk’s second term project. What is seen as dissonance emanates from a narrow group who may not gaze into the future? Even though the group has viewed Onuk’s East Itam Northern zone second term clamour as demand in equity and justice and political necessity, individually, they see Onuk as undeserving of the slot. Their grouse is not hinged on Onuk’s capacity and performance, rather on mere political differences and sheer political capital. What is, however, unknown to them is the fact that any other person from the zone outside the current holder of the office, will definitely wish for a second term, and this certainly has the tendency to distort the existing zoning arrangement in the area.
Unfortunately too, the architects of Onuk’s disqualification drive are themselves, debtors, to equity. Except for the present Itu State Constituency’s representative who is currently doing his first term, all other elected person from the area is either in their second or third term in office. Whatever is good for the geese is also good for the gander.
For the sake of equity, Onuk’s ambition should be embraced by all irrespective of any political differences. The Onuk’s administration may not have achieved a milestone but has not fared badly either. Attention has been given to infrastructure development and welfare of staff. On matters of security, the Onuk administration has given an appreciable response to the hitherto recurring security challenges in the area particularly the troubling and incessant communal conflict between Itu and Ikot Offiong in Cross River State. Within the limits of available resources, empowerment programmes have been provided for youths and women of the area to enable them to acquire relevant skills and trade that could make them self reliant. Everyone is aware that at the outset of the present administration, the nation’s economy was only recuperating from a serious recession which affected the finances of councils to a large extent. Midway to the end of the term, the council, like other parts of the world, has been thrown into the shocks of the global coronavirus pandemic. The council is still struggling to get out of this. In spite of these challenges, Onuk has laid a solid foundation that can be built upon to push the frontiers of development in the area.
Thankfully, his administration has received tremendous support and goodwill from a broad spectrum of the area. Itu Leaders Forum – a forum of serving political office holders has given a pass mark to him and endorsed his second term project. Similarly, other notable elders from the area like Obong James Iniama, a former governorship aspirant have also thrown their weight behind his ambition. Others are Rt. Hon. (Dr.) Henry Archibong, member representing Itu Federal Constituency, Hon. Kufreabasi Edidem, member representing Itu State Constituency; Dr. Ekaette Ebong Okon, also a former House of Assembly member, among others.
These are just but the positives on the credit side of Onuk’s ledger. Viewed from the standpoint of the handicapped position of the councils, or the peculiar circumstances of the time, Onuk has accumulated value and deserves equity. It needs also be added that the process of accumulation is not one-sided. Those who are opposed to Onuk’s value should consider the consequences of debt and value, and the regret or the equity. The debt is that other sections of Itu ought to pay East Itam Northern the support it gave them when they took their turns. Value is seen here as the regard that “something” is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of the principle of zoning. Equity is “the quality of being fair and impartial”. Regret will definitely bring a feeling of sadness and disappointment over something that everyone has done or failed to do. It doesn’t need to be too late before we avoid the temptation. The truth is that denying East Itam Northern will destabilize the existing peace and harmony. In the same vein, replacing Onuk suggests a future third term for East Itam Northern. This is why the Onuk phenomenon is fundamental because “ethics and equity and the principle of justice do not change with the calendar”.