By Anote Ajeluorou
She is his grand daughter-in-law, who found the life and times of her grand father-in-law such colourful and rich subject she undertook to write his biography. Indeed in the book, He Dared: The Story of Okuku Udo Akpabio, The Great Colonial African Ruler, Ofunmbuk Akpabio, a lawyer and writer, paints the panoramic political, economic and cultural landscape in which the father of former Premier of old Eastern Region, Ibanga Akpabio, grand father of current governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, and other prominent sons, who was a Warrant Chief for the colonialists and leader of his people in Ukana clan operated. The book will be launched on December 20, 2012 in Uyo. In this interview, she gives insight into her fascination for her subject:
The book is something that came about as a result of curiosity. I was really curious because there is so much about the legend, because his is a legend in our part of the world. So, I decided to find out more about him just beyond the stories that were being told about Okuku Udo Akpabio.
One sad thing was that I couldn’t really find a book that chronicled his life and times unlike in the West, where you find so many things about great men, so many articles and books written about George Washington, for instance. But we couldn’t find much; just a few materials in the Calabar Museum, where I found an excerpt from a book written by one Margery Perham; she was a British writer. She stayed in Nigeria in the early 1920s.
She wrote a book about 10 Africans and she wanted to find out about the most remarkable Africans who had done so much for their people and for the British. So, she earmarked 10 Africans and out of that was Okuku Udo Akpabio. So, there is an excerpt of her book at the Calabar Museum and a photograph of Okuku Udo Akpabio.
So, I started poring over the articles, books and journals of these colonial administrators to try to find who knew him at the time he lived. So, that is just about how the book came about. But the book actually is on a man who lived in the late 19th century and early 20th century. This was a man that dared where others dreaded. He was somebody who had intriguing insight; he was someone who was filled with wisdom and was able to steer the affairs of his people very cleverly and acted as a bridge between the indigenous people, the Anang people and the colonialists.
So, they found him very remarkable and useful in terms of maintaining the peace. Before he became a Warrant Chief, a chief by government Warrant, he was already a Paramount Head or clan head in Ukana. He was able to steer the affairs of his people remarkably well.
Now, what was remarkable about this man was that he had this leadership quality right from when he was small. He was not supposed to be the clan head by lineage, but because of his wisdom and interaction with many other groups because of his business interests. When it came to choosing a leader, the people felt that this was a man that had traveled widely and gained a lot of experience in dealing with people and that this was the man they wanted to lead them in the clan.
So, they made him a clan head and he was able to manage things very well. Remember, we’re talking about the time of slave trade. Despite the fact that this man wielded so much influence, he refused to be sucked into the greed of the slave traders. While the British and Americans had abolished slave trade, it became a hot commodity; you know, anything that is contraband sells more. So, the slave traders that were coming from the Oyo axis and the hinterland wanted to get more slaves to sell to the unscrupulous white men and local collaborators still doing it.
One or two of them approached him urging him to use his great influence to do the business; but Udo Akpabio told them he would never lay his hands on another fellow human being and sell him or sell his brother for money and he made sure that nobody did that around his enclave. He completely frowned against it, preached against it yet he was not even a Christian or moved by Christian beliefs. He was moved by the traditional beliefs that one must be the others’ keeper.
Ironically, although he was not educated, he encouraged his sons to gain Western education. He was intrigued by the white man; he felt that if the white man is somebody that know so much, then he saw the sense in his sons learning the ways of the white man. The governor is not the first prominent Akpabio we are having; he is building on history. If you remember Ibanga, the Minister and Premier in the former Eastern Region, who passed the motion for the setting up of University of Nigeria, Nnsuka, when he was the Minister for Education in the Eastern Region. Akpabio Hall is named after him in that university. That was one of the man’s direct sons.
There are several Akpabios, great professionals; I just wanted something of a legacy, what makes this family thick. In my opinion, the Akpabios are the largest stock of one single entity with great professionals, with leadership qualities and attributes in everything that they do. So, I’m saying to the world, ‘look at the man, look at what he did’. He was a farmer, who had a lot of farmlands; he cultivated them and traded with the produce.
But what made him great was that he was a leader; he was Justice of the Peace; he was a judge in the colonial court. The colonialists wanted someone who had a structure already on the ground, who could influence people and they made him the President of the Native Court. He was the first Paramount Ruler of Ikot Ekpene area; indeed, he was a very powerful man.
He dared because these were things that were not common, not usual at the time; he wasn’t hindered by boundaries. He wanted people to move beyond the frontiers and embrace Christianity; his children went to Methodist School; he dared because he rose beyond the traditional norms. He strengthened these institutions for his own use. The book also talks about the traditional institutions at that time. How did they work? How was the culture of the people shaped? It’s a book that talks about the advent of the British and how the people managed the advent of the British.
A biography talks about a person; this is my own perception of the man from the materials I have gathered. I just told the story as I know it. The book is not all about his greatness; it’s also about his weakness as a normal human being. He had challenges and many ups and downs. The larger picture is that this was a man that left an enduring legacy, which you can see today in his offsprings.
Writing a biography is very challenging. Fortunately, the Aro people have more books written about them. So, what I had from them and from Rev. Grooves, a white missionary of the Methodist extraction, who came during the time of Okuku Udo Akpabio; he had a very detailed account the Africans. I took Rev. Gooves’ book and those of the Aro people; I didn’t make any judgment about what happened. I just wrote the account about what happened. I just want people to look at this book and make their own judgment about it.
But more importantly, I just loved Okuku Udo Akpabio because at that early time, he saw the need for education and he encouraged his people to go to school. You see that it has helped. He inspired people to go to school; even one of his daughters at that time went to school in spite of the ridicule. He had the insight to do what was right.