His arrival was awaited with much anticipation by a mammoth crowd of supporters. As early as 9 am on September 23, 2015, they had defied the rain and thronged the Ibom International Airport to welcome home their hero and leader, the Minority Leader of the Senate and the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio.
Before his arrival, tongues had been wagging and the rumour mill was agog with incredible stories about Senator Akpabio following his involvement in an accident on September 1, 2015 and subsequently being flown abroad for further medical attention. Obviously, political opponents had sought to make a huge capital and score cheap political points with the accident. With glee, the opposition in Akwa Ibom clinked glasses and popped champagne that the man they dread so much was out of the way. They had prayed fervently that he should not be back to Nigeria.
But at about 2 pm, the flight which had brought him from Abuja touched down at the Ibom International Airport. The supporters made up of family members, youth and women groups and some members of the political class were thrown into frenzy when Chief Akpabio alighted from the aircraft which had brought him. They defied the rain to catch a glimpse of him. Many surged forward for a handshake. It was such a relief for them to once again see Chief Akpabio in flesh and blood.
If the scene at the Ibom International Airport was chaotic, his triumphant entry into the world class, Nest of Champion, which was same day formally rechristened Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo was simply electrifying. From all nooks and crannies of the state, Akwa Ibom people had filled the 35,000 capacity stadium to celebrate the 28th anniversary of the creation of the state. The entry of Senator Akpabio had temporarily brought the anniversary proceedings to a halt as the Master of Ceremonies announced his arrival into the stadium.
The crowd was simply uncontrollable. From the topmost row of the stadium, enthusiastic supporters who may have last seen him on the day of the inauguration of the new administration, simply jumped down to see Senator Akpabio at close quarters. It must be to the credit of the security agencies that they were not overwhelmed by the swelling crowd who followed Senator Akpabio for a lap round the VIP stand of the stadium.
Known for his oratorical prowess, Senator Akpabio did not disappoint when he was called upon to address the gathering. He started by introducing himself: “My name is Godswill Akpabio,” a proclamation which threw the crowd into another round of frenzy. And then he proceeded to thank the people for their prayers and support and also thanked God for sparing his life to join the people for the 28th anniversary celebration. “God gave me life, God sustained my life, and my life will never be extinguished until it is time. When the governor told me that we must celebrate Akwa Ibom at 28, he did not tell me he was planning to give me a surprise after coming back from the land of death,” he said.
Giving a background to the mishap, Senator Akpabio said: “When that accident happened on the 1st of September (2015), I was rushing in the morning to join my daughter who was ill in her school abroad and when it happened I lost consciousness and all I shouted was “God take care of my children and my people.” But surprisingly I woke up at the National Hospital in Abuja, and within one hour after I had regained consciousness, I saw His Excellency, Udom Gabriel Emmanuel sitting by my side. I was moved to tears,” he said.
The former governor was full of praises for his successor for his drive to industrialize the state. The media had also been awash with why the former governor was flown abroad for treatment instead of the Ibom International Hospital that he had built and Chief Akpabio seized the opportunity to address it. “Udom, when people are talking about the 20th Anniversary Hospital, they should go there and find out. Even the CT (Computed Tomography) scan that I saw in London is not up to the one that you have in Uyo. That is the one they call 64 slides. Udom, the one that you have here is 640 slides. Ten times in magnification of what you have in Europe. Why has the hospital not taken off? It is because the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria expects to register anybody who wants to work as a doctor in Nigeria.
“You cannot go to Britain and work in Britain unless you pass through the procedure. Besides the Immigration must give you the necessary resident permit for you to bring in those doctors and those doctors must in turn have at least two to three people with them in order to pass technology to them. We are not going to bring in people to work here forever. They must handover to indigenous skilled manpower trained by Udom Gabriel Emmanuel.
“You have assured your people, I’m sure you will tell them that in less than one month from today the processes will be completed. If I were to be ill next time I’m sure instead of flying me for six hours to London, they will bring me 50 minutes into Akwa Ibom International Hospital and I will be very proud to come there and thereafter stand in front of you,” he said.
Senator Akpabio was full of praises for the country’s leaders who had identified with him in his moment of pain and hospitalization. “Let me place on record the support of President Buhari who did something extra ordinary. The president called the hospital that I was in London. He called the hospital line, and said put me through to the Minority Leader of the Senate who is in your hospital. And they connected him. The room number was Room 215. And he spoke with me. He said, ‘Akpabio we are praying for you. Insha Allah, it shall be well with you.’
“Shortly after the President’s call, I received a call from Abba Kyari, the new Chief of Staff and he said hold on for the Vice President of Nigeria. Vice President Osinbajo, he spoke with me and he prayed for me. He said: ‘I’m an anointed child of God, you will come back alive to this country, you will not die.’ The Senate President also called. Almost all dignitaries in Nigeria called. But who made it possible for me to even get out of here? It was my governor, Udom Gabriel Emmanuel,” he said.
Indeed for Senator Akpabio, it was a triumphant home-coming. His Ukana, Essien Udim, country home became a Mecca of sort. Youth groups, women groups, socio-cultural associations and political associates trooped in to see and consult with him. Impromptu thanksgiving services were held to appreciate the Almighty God for sparing the life of their leader in what could have been a fatal accident.
For the four days Senator Akpabio spent in Akwa Ibom State, the people identified with their leader. He had some words for other leaders. “I have always said that when you are a leader and you hear footsteps of people behind you, you should try and look back and see whether the people are following you or running away from you. With the caliber of the people who have thronged here since I returned, I can say that the people are following me,” he said.
Mr Ekong served as a Special Assistant on Media to the former Chief Godswill Akpabio