By Etim Etim
Two morally reprehensible events that happened in Akwa Ibom State over the weekend have left me weakened, petrified and rattled. For the first time, I lost faith in the future of our society and its ability to sustain itself in a morally sound manner. The decadence amongst our people is too much for me to bear. This is not the Akwa Ibom of my dream. In the first incident, Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, the governorship candidate of YPP, who was sentenced to jail on Thursday, December 1, 2022, by the Federal High Court, in Uyo, for money laundering and other criminal charges, was endorsed by a group of clergies led by Bishop Cletus Bassey, on Sunday. The picture of Senator Akpan (well known by his nickname, OBA,) a convict, who had actually spent over a month in Ikot Ekpene prison before he was released on bail for medical reasons, kneeling down before these so-called men of God, made me to puke. I have never seen something so morally upsetting, reprehensible and nauseating.
How could people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ and preachers of the gospel assemble to promote the candidacy of a convicted felon? What could have been responsible for so much decadence in the church to the extent of a bishop presiding over such a macabre drama? Is it the lure of money or the insatiable cravings for power? What exactly does the church represent now? I have heard of stories of some pastors in distant places praying for armed robbers, drug barons and other criminals to succeed in their operations, so that they could return with hefty donations to the clergies, but this is my first time of knowing the principal characters in such a ghastly event. The Constitution is very clear that a convicted person can never assume the Office of Governor and President, so what is this bishop trying to prove?
Bishop Cletus Bassey has always been a divisive cleric with a history of dabbling into political controversies. He is the founder and owner of a big church in Uyo known as Destiny International Chapel and, in addition, he runs an organization known as Akwa Ibom Christian Assembly (ACA) that was deeply involved in the campaign for the election of the incumbent governor in 2015. That created a strong bond and close friendship between him and the governor until around 2018 when the two fell out over some controversial reasons. The governor went his way with another set of clergies he refers to as Fathers of Faith, led by Primate Sunday Mbang, the 86-year-old Prelate emeritus of the Methodist Church, while Bishop Bassey moved on with his ACA, followed by some Pentecostal pastors. Bishop Bassey’s political activities actually started in 2009 when he spearheaded the campaign for the reelection of Governor Godswill Akpabio. In an endorsement ceremony that year, the bishop placed a large key on the head of Akpabio who was kneeling before him. The action attracted many discordant commentaries, laced with insinuations and interpretations, some bordering on superstitions. Akpabio went on to win the election, and the bishop continued unfazed with all the controversies that trailed his every action, some being accusations of financial misdemeanors and embezzlements. But the man seems to be enjoying the spotlights, and is never in a hurry to back away from politics. However, his endorsement of Bassey Albert over the weekend has done more damage to his reputation than all his previous endeavours.
Our Constitution specifically bars a convicted person from occupying the exalted office of Governor, Deputy Governor, President and Vice President. How does OBA, convicted for 49 years on all the seven-count charges preferred against him, expect to be sworn into office on May 29, even if he wins, when his appeal has not even been heard? Many lawyers believe that that unless the conviction of the YPP candidate is set aside by a superior court, he cannot assume office. But his followers think otherwise. They reason that if he is elected on Saturday, he would be sworn in on May 29, and his immunity would kick in, thereby foreclosing further trial and a return to prison. Many disagree. ‘’If Bassey wins, and this is very unlikely, the other candidates would challenge him at the Election Petition Tribunal, and the court judgement that convicted him would be tendered as evidence, and he would be disqualified’’, says Chief Solomon Johnny, a journalist, lawyer and politician. In a lengthy article he wrote soon after the pictures of Senator OBA’s endorsement hit the Internet, Johnny noted that OBA’s continued campaign for governor despite his conviction is ‘’a classical display of how weak and lame our institutions have become, and the depth of our moral bankruptcy as a people’’.
The second incident that stinks to high heavens and repulsed me to no end this weekend involved the state governor and his party, PDP. The governor had doled out N20,000 to each of the about 13,000 NYSC members that would serve as election officials in the state during the March 11 governorship polls. He also gave N10,000 to each of the other ad hoc staff of INEC. In addition, Gov. Udom Emmanuel personally paid $200 to each of the current 329 Councilors and another $200 to each of the 329 PDP Ward Leaders. Gov. Udom Emmanuel has also sent N500,000 to voters in each of the 4,584 polling units in the state. The governor also gave out huge sums of money to some churches. In a trending video, a church lector is heard announcing ‘’this is N50 million from the governor’’ after the bundles of the new banknotes were displayed on the floor, and the congregation applauded accordingly. How, on earth, did the governor come about the new banknotes that are unavailable to the public? What a country! What a shame! In all the governor is said to be spending close to N10 billion in a massive vote-purchase scheme for the March 11 election.
In another picture trending on social media this weekend, a PDP chieftain is seen on a church podium, campaigning and pointing to PDP symbol, telling the congregation how to vote, a clear violation of the Electoral Act which forbids campaigns in worship places. This is the first time in our history that political campaigns are being taken inside the churches in Akwa Ibom State. The most repulsive incident was the PDP in the state sharing out a few grains of rice to some women in the villages. I was shocked to see pictures of women lining up to obtain small quantities rice that would barely fill a small tomato tin. It is the height of sadism, humiliation and meanness for a party in government to share a few grains of rice to the hapless women in our hamlets. How could the PDP be so cruel, callous and nasty? How can this government be so unkind, uncaring and unfeeling to the extent of humiliating these women so callously? Even at the refugees’ camps during the civil war, our people were not treated so mercilessly. In the first place, vote-buying is a crime, but to give someone, a hapless housewife and mother, a few grains of rice order to induce him or her to vote for you or your candidate, is more of humiliation than an act of generosity.
Etim is a Journalist a Political Analyst , lives in Abuja