Nostradamus had earned for himself through the ages, the coveted title of the man who saw tomorrow, because of the veracity of his many predictions, referred to by some people, as prophecies. In our clime, especially for Pentecostal Christians, prophecies or clairvoyant capacities are the exclusive preserve of ecclesiastical workers and a sign of near proximity with divinity. Obong Paul Ekpo not being a clergy, will obviously not readily come to mind as one who can or should see the future. But as events, which we now seek to chronicle will show, he indeed saw tomorrow.
Obong Paul Ekpo was elected State Party Chairman in 2012, immediately after the second term election of then Governor Godswill Akpabio. Paul was at that time a commissioner in the ministry of local government and chieftaincy affairs, having previously served at the ministry of commerce and industry. Weeks before the state congress, arguments and counter arguments contended in the power room as to whether the incumbent chairman, Crown Prince Uwem Ita Etuk should be given a second term or a new chairman should be selected. The pendulum tilted in favour of the later; the primary consideration for refusing the former being the fear of the independent mindedness of then incumbent Chairman and his open aversion to the prevailing successor sentiment at that time. Done with that, the search for a new Party Chairman commenced, and as expected people threw in various names and gave many justifications. At a point, a gentleman from Ibiono Ibom who was then serving at the party looked like the preferable choice, until some relatively younger elements of that ‘Big Brother’s House’, out of fear for the existing rivalry and power dragging contest that emerged from Ibiono Ibom, opposed the nomination and instead nominated Obong Paul Ekpo. Immediately he was nominated there was total silence in the room. The nominators pushed two powerful arguments in Favour of their nominee, first was that he was a chronic and unrepentant loyalist, who is focused and unidirectional . The second reason was his people and resources management style which they readily pointed to his stewardship in the very turbulent ministry he led, which as at that time, He was the longest serving Commissioner there. The ministry was complex, considering its combo nature and only few commissioners were able to please the combo stakeholders. Either you pleased the LG chairmen and displeased the Paramount Rulers and Traditional institution or reverse was the case. And these two institutions are very critical to the running of government and therefore issues from them are very sensitive. But Paul effortlessly managed them both, without undue complain and pressure heading towards the Hilltop mansion.
Now back to the story, there was a near consensus with the nomination of Obong Paul Ekpo, but there was a big problem, who will break the news to him? Why was that a problem, you may be thinking. How would you relieve a man of the command of a big ministry with a huge budget and strength and saddle him with the responsibility of managing the party? Especially at a time when going to the party seemed like one had fallen out of favour with the system(except for one person, who was sent as the system’s eye in the party). The tough call was made by the big boss himself, but there was no reply from the other end, because as we later learnt from Paul himself, quite unusually he had slept early that day. So the difficult discussion was moved to the next day. Intriguingly, when the bomb was dropped, to the surprise of all present and those who were told later, Obong Paul Ekpo did not argue, rather the first statement that proceeded out of his mouth was, can I go to the office and pack my personal belongings and when do I submit my letter of resignation as the commissioner?
He resigned and contested unopposed as Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party. Not long after, he suffered a fatal decline in health, resulting in an overseas trip which seemed unending and unyielding. In fact, newspapers wrote that he had passed on in Germany, where he went for medical treatment. After a long while, he returned home with a different physique, the robust and bubbly Paulo came back unbelievably willowy and not too jumpy, but people never knew that his psyche had not undergone any change. It took the 360 switch from the formerly preferred successor and the governorship primaries, for people to realize that the illness had not affected Paul’s loyalty quotient. He midwifed the party processes that birthed the Udom Emmanuel candidature in 2014 and successfully led the party to the subsequent elections in 2015.
To be continued…
Next on The Paul of Yesterday, who saw Tomorrow- Breaking the jinx