The death of Dr. Ime Sampson Umanah for several months now, has continued to trail the atmosphere with shudder surprise and empathy. This is not because Late Dr Umanah was an immortal being, who could live in perpetuity, but because by his very nature, Late Dr. Umanah was one of the men who walked through life with evidence of his passage, making his life an object of interest to many who knew him. This was not surprising because when the news took to the air, it struck many with shock because it was rather sudden. It was least expected, the deceased was a man of value and content. His life was iconic in the little way God made him. His life and presence was felt everywhere, and I can only highlight a little of Late Dr. Umanah’s life with reference to his country home; Abak, his ancestral stock; Annang land and in Akwa Ibom State
Abak has lost a Son
In all honesty, Late Dr. Umanah is one of the greatest sons that Abak has had in the past two decades. His relevance was not hidden, but more glaring like a moving train. I got to know about the name in the late 80’s. I briefly recount the circumstance. On one fateful day, my Uncle’s wife who used to carry some wares for sale at Abak main market returned home calling the name “Imesco”, and pouring blessings on him to the curious amazement of the neighbours who saw her danced back from the market. She was happy because as she sauntered along the road to market, with another woman, a man slipped through them and stuck some good money into their palms. She had assumed that the man who was unknown to her wanted to change the money. She quickly told him that she had no change, but the man in a very soft spoken manner said she should use the money for food stuff and wrapper, that it was a gift. Another man that passed by told her to “thank God, that the man who gave the money was Imesco”. Late Dr. Umanah was an extra-ordinary giver. He gave to people who were not related to him, he supported rightful projects, and invested in many!
The story was further corroborated when, on a fortuitous dialogue, I got to know from another woman who hails from Ikot Obioko but married in my village that “Dr. Umanah is a great philanthropist”, that once he was in town, people visited his house and he attended to their needs as much as he could. I also learnt that he had rendered help to some people through education, and also signed papers for few others to travel outside the country. You could imagine a man with such a large heart! The fact that he bore the title “Ufan Ndito Ubuene” lend credence to the depth of his gracious heart. The title is not given to everyone. It is not a political title, but a deserving honour earned and conferred on him by a non-for-profit organisation.
While at Abak, and as a young boy, I fondly remember those times that I sneaked through the bush to watch football league at St. Mary’s Science School Ediene Abak. “Ever Green Stars” and later Everbright International was Abak’s team. I was informed then that the team was sponsored by Late Dr. Ime Umanah. That was another recorded stride in sports and youth development.
In the field of education, Late Dr. Umanah also registered his presence and contribution. The first private law institution built in Nigeria was the Ime Umanah College of Law, situated in Abak. Although the institution was later handed over to the government, one lesson must be taken home – that he decided to build the institution in his home town, Abak, rather than Lagos, Abuja or other big cities. Atleast his kinsmen could attend the school, could work as staff in the school. Today, the campus is the only fragment of University of Uyo’s presence in Abak Local Government. He could only have done this because of the love he had for his people. He was indeed a great son.
Industrial wise, he was an international businessman, and during the period he had it easy, he established some cottage industries in Abak. I could link the then A – Z industries to him, Palm mills Industries etc, eventhough they later became moribund.
While he served as a Chairman of Abak Local Government, I am told that some of the streets that are now un-passable were tarred by him. I may not need to mention more. But I fairly believe that if he had held a more significant public office in his lifetime, it is very likely that the people of Abak would have benefitted much. This is because most of the services and help he rendered to the people came from his earnings as a Businessman, not a politician.
I could only say, that in the little that he did, Dr Umanah was one of the greatest sons Abak ever had. Quite unlike our present day politicians, who though privileged to hold public funds, discriminate in philanthropy, and give only to those who are connected, related or have carried out one form of political servitude assignment for them, Late Dr. Ime Umanah stands as one of the greatest sons Abak had ever produced in the last two decades. May God rest His soul and give to Abak more of such precocious sons.
Annang has lost a voice
Akwa Ibom State is undeniably a convocation of three major ethnic creations (Ibibio Annang and Oron). Nothing gives a man a sense of self-worth like seeing his fellow men respect his identity, culture and heritage. In Annang land, where Late Dr Umanah came from, he was one of the greatest voices that battled for the survival of the soul of the Annang nation.
From the creation of Akwa Ibom State, till date, there has been a surge in cultural consciousness geared towards ensuring a sense of equity in the administration of the State. Many consider such consciousness a desirability to alert the government of the day to be attentive to allocation of political appointments in a manner that none of the ethnic formations would feel side-lined. In a State where the Annangs were initially seen as part of the minority, Late Dr. Umanah pressed on till he was able to carve out a niche for the Annangs, and cracked down the unseen stronghold that nearly swept the unique identity of his tribe through administrative and political annihilation. I will cite just two examples. First, there was a time news broadcast was aired in Ibibio, Annang and Oron dialects. The drive was propelled by Late Dr. Umanah. Although many criticised him on the grounds that airing news item in different dialects was an attempt to fan the embers of ethnicity in the State, I disagree, and see it from a different perspective. Far from the erroneous perception, to me, it was a reminder of the fact that the State was created on a tripod, hence the need to register at that early stage a consciousness for mutual respect, administrative equity and filial regards. This, perhaps, was necessary to checkmate the always unseen sociological virus that characteristically exudes a fluid of marginalization or perceived marginalization that could crack a sustained human groupings. Interestingly, the ill feelings were at the time addressed through that medium, as there was no cry of a group dominance over others in that regard. Such effort could as best be that of social engineering.
Second, Late Dr.Umanah was one of the Annang voices that called for a rotation of political governance between the three ethnic creations for justice, equity and fair play. In 2003, he felt that after a stint in the government house by His Excellency (Late) Obong Akpan Isemin (May God bless his soul), and a subsequent period by our very vocal Architect – His Excellency Arch.(Obong) Victor Attah, there was a need for other tribes to have a feel of the government house. Consequently, in 2003, he threw in his hat in the gubernatorial race under the Platform of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and wielded a large crowd of supporters throughout the State. Although Late Dr. Umanah was not the declared winner in the election, he had asserted that the then incumbent government rigged and manipulated the election in their favour. He gave a big fight to reclaim the mandate but was not successful at it. Significantly, he alleged that the Election Petition Tribunal that heard his petition collected bribe to thwart the justice of his case. He alarmed the National Judicial Council, and the Committee of investigation set up by the National Judicial Council confirmed the allegations made by the Late Dr Umanah against the Tribunal. Consequently the chairman and members of the Tribunal were dismissed from service as reported and published in the Guardian Newspaper of 16th March 2004. Late Dr. Umanah’s contest in 2003 election was a drive for equitable balance in political governance.
In all modesty, and without prejudice, may I say that for the then Tribunal to be bribed by whoever did it, in order to quell the possibility of an unfavourable verdict, the petition put up by Umanah was weighty and had a significant chance of success. May I also say, from the circumstance, that had the Tribunal not received a bribe, the 2003 Gubernatoral election result in the State would have been nullified. In such a situation, there would have been two possibilities – a rerun election or, Dr. Umanah would have been declared the winner and sworn in as a Governor. If he was declared a winner by the Tribunal, he would have been the first Annang man to be the Governor of Akwa Ibom State. But fate did not make it so. However, his efforts in the race was a road map for the subsequent emergence of an Annang son as a Governor. In 2007, Governor Attah decided it was imperative in the interest of equity and unity of the State, to hand over power to an Annang man. For this course, he supported an Annang man of his choice, but by sheer providence and grace, another Annang man, His Excellency Obong (Dr) Godswill Akpabio, picked the Peoples’ Democratic Party ticket, and eventually succeeded Attah in office. This probably would not have been possible but for the step initiated by Umanah in 2003. I therefore regard him as the forerunner who championed the cause that paved a way for rotational governance in the State. With the outcome of the 2007 Governorship election, I believe Late Dr. Umanah was elated. He attended the inauguration of his elected tribesman who became the Governor, and would probably have been satisfied that power was alternated. Whatever later made him fell apart with this other great Annang voice is a secret known only to the two of them. No amount of information circulated in the print media can give a true picture of what actually transpired between the two leading voices. I myself cannot speculate!. But with his demise, Annang has lost one great voice, and a generous philanthropist.
Akwa Ibom mourns a Statesman
If there is one fact, which seems quite unassailable, it is that Late Dr. Ime Sampson Umanah was a Statesman. A man does not become a Statesman merely because he is in politics, or was in politics. A Statesman is an appellation attributed to a skilled, experienced, and respected political leader or figure. Yes, Late Dr. Umanah was such a respected figure right from the then Cross River State. He was respected in the national circles even during the Military regime, and was one of those on whose laps Akwa Ibom State was delivered to, in 1987. Late Dr Umanah had openly asserted at different fora that he was instrumental to the creation of Akwa Ibom State during IBB’s regime. I do not think this assertion has been factually challenged by anyone while he was alive. We can only once again thank him for whatever role he had played for the creation of Akwa Ibom State, that we now celebrate.
Other than this, Late Dr Umanah was one of the personalities that shaped the contents of politics and democracy in Akwa Ibom State. In 2003, he was the flagbearer of ANPP, in 2011 he was a running mate of the governorship aspirant of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). He might not have won any of these contests, but he played his role in this regard in an amiable way. I have heard many of his kinsmen criticised him for always playing opposition politics. I do not think such a criticism is sound, because in a civilised democratic setting, the fear of opposition party is the presser that squeezes the juice of democracy from the dry pot of an insensitive ruling party. Playing opposition party is a matter of principle and ideology that very few men can master. It is the real politics sustained through strategy. Ofcourse, people like Tinubu, Buhari were always in the opposition, till they hit the head of power. Let us not crucify Dr. Umanah for playing opposition politics. Let us even assess some of his kinsmen who had been following the ruling party since 1999, or the last four years and see whether any one of them has, in the appointment or position held, done better than Late Dr. Umanah as a philanthropist. I will like to know one such person with an extra-ordinary liberal heart, if none, then case closed, because the criticism is based on self-interest rather than communal interest. With each little opportunity, every man should show how much he can impress and affect lives, then we are certain that such a person could do more if opportunity beckons.
Before bidding Late Dr. Umanah a final farewell, I wish to remind the State of one of the very precocious contribution that he had made – the development of legal education for the benefit of his people. He was not a lawyer, but gave an institution that produced many lawyers for the State. As a lawyer, I know how competitive it used to be to gain admission to study law. When Umanah handed over the resource of his private law institution to the government, it gave birth to the Faculty of law in the then University of Cross River State (UniCross). Imagine that there was no law faculty in UniCross, hundreds of Akwa Ibomites who were privileged to study law in Unicross and subsequently Uniuyo would have been struggling in other States with overwhelming number of applicants for admission. How many could have succeeded in the competitive admission process? That is exactly the message I am passing here, because most times, quota system favours the unmerited than a merited applicant. Today, we have a fully accredited law faculty. While thanking the government for making it so, history would commend Late Dr Umanah for his contribution that ensured the attainment of this status. Yes, the books he donated formed the nucleus of the then law library. I read them while studying law in Uniuyo, and I believe many others yet to be admitted will still read them. Death may bury his body, but his contributions while alive has been written on a golden slate that cannot be erased years to come.
He lived and left evidence of his passage. It is a momentous loss, many had wished he had lived longer than the seemingly ephemeral period, a true philanthropist, a rare bred in most communal settings. With the demise of this Ufan Ndito Ubuene (Friend of the poor), Abak has lost a son, Annang has lost a voice, and Akwa Ibom State mourns a Statesman
Otobong Umoh is a Lagos based Legal Practitioner.