Saturday, February 26, 2011

All hail Ghana; former Gold Coast is 54, 6 March

A feel of Ghana’s pulse, and more
Welcome to Accra, capital city of Ghana; formerly known as Gold Coast. This is Accra, where the aborigines speak a language different to their own. Ga is the language of Accra’s natives, but they; like the majority of Ghanaians you are likely to meet, speak the Ashanti tongue; called Twi.

Although Ghana boasts many indigenous tongues; such as Ewe, Fanti, Hausa and Waa et cetera, many tourists are wont to believe that Twi has more or less evolved into Ghana’s indigenous lingua franca. A former British colony, Ghana’s official language is English; but, Twi is so widely used that some newspaper articles end up as what one might call “Twi-glish”, a sort of amalgam of Twi and English.

As with the print media, so the language from Accra’s ever increasing radio stations; where you can intuitively follow the often heated debates between numerous listeners on one hand, and the programme presenters on the other. When we came this way late last year, the Ghanaian President John Atta Mills was the butt of strident criticisms over scarcity of cooking gas.

Given the prevailing mood then, it would have been difficult to convince any one that, if an early election were called; Dr. Mills would have returned to the presidential villa. Such was the anger in the voice of commentators on various call-in programmes on different radio stations that one didn’t need to understand Twi to guess how unhappy some Ghanaians were with their rulers. For confirmation, however, we often asked the driver of the taxi we were riding in to clue us in; and, usually, the translations merely proved us right.

Fortunately for President Mills; in spite of another increase in petroleum product prices, which came into effect from Monday, 3 January 2011; his (unofficial) approval rating had notched many points up during our latest trip to Ghana. At least two reasons are responsible for the restoration of Dr. Mills’ popularity; the recent lifting of Ghana’s first oil export and enviable endorsement earned from an international monitoring group readily come to mind here.

Ghana is Gold Coast again
Ghana is rolling in gold again; except that the gold is black and liquid this time. The old Gold Coast has finally taken its place among the world’s petroleum-exporting countries. To be candid, many of Accra’s streets are still littered with destitute, and you couldn’t miss the occasional sight of some famish-stricken mendicants or people that seem lost, completely carried away and engrossed in monologues, all in a world all their own; walking past you.

For want of words, we had described them as collateral damage from Ghana’s war with poverty. Apart from these poor and homeless Ghanaians, light skin and curly-haired vagrants, believed to be immigrants from neighbouring Chad, Niger, Mauritania et cetera have come to further swell the population of beggars you encounter in the streets, here.
In any case, my latest arrival in Accra seemed well-timed enough because I was in Ghana before the first vessel to load oil from FPSO Kwame Nkrumah at the Jubilee Field berthed in these parts. That ship, Mt. Spike, docked at the Anchorage of Tema Ports in the early hours of Monday, 3 January, 2011.

A report in the Ghanaian government owned Daily Graphic newspaper, identified Messrs Hull Blyth limited as the local agent of Mt. Spike, which is registered in Malta. It is worth noting that this vessel’s last port of call, Libya, was documented. Interestingly, even though Muammar Khadafy’s country is a major oil-exporter; Mt. Spike was not allowed to simply glide into Ghanaian waters to lift oil without prior checks by Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) to confirm she passed international safety standards for carrying out such functions.

Confirming the vessel’s arrival in Ghana to Daily Graphic, GMA Communications Director, Mrs. Eleanor Pratt, stressed her agency’s commitment to ensuring that only ships that met international benchmarks in the oil industry would be allowed to lift processed petroleum products at Jubilee Field.

Barely two weeks earlier, on 15 December, 2010 to be precise; President Atta Mills, had performed the rites of turning the wheels at FPSO Kwame Nkrumah signalling its formal launch. According to reports, Dr. Mills had on that occasion re-echoed his promise of transparent governance and prudent management of the oil revenue for the benefit of all Ghanaians.

Paradoxically, however, the official launch of the flow of Ghana’s oil would be remembered by many because it coincided with an increase of 25 to 30 percent in the pump price of refined petroleum products at local filling stations. In fact, the same edition of Daily Graphic, Tuesday, 4 January, 2011; which reported the arrival of Mt. Spike on its back page, actually ran “Petroleum prices up” among its front-page stories.

“The National Petroleum Authority (NPA)”, the Graphic stated; “has announced petroleum price increases of between 25 and 30 percent as a result of rising world crude prices”. Consequently, the prices of petrol had gone up from 113.98Gp (Ghana-pesewas) to 152.07 Gp, while that of diesel rose from 118.05Gp to 153.4Gp.

According to Daily Graphic, increase in the debt recovery levy, from 2Gp to 8Gp, recently approved by the Parliament was also responsible for the rise in fuels’ pump prices. Interestingly, some Ghanaian commercial vehicles’ operators had tried to cash in on the price increases, akin to the situation in Nigeria, where bus and taxi operators quickly seize the excuse of fuel price hike by government to rake in huge profits for themselves.

However, whereas the margin of increase was pegged at 18percent, some bus conductors or “driver’s mate” as they are known here, had tried to squeeze more out of commuters. This had resulted in street fights and other ugly scenes uncommon in Accra because most passengers simply refused to be robbed.

Returning to a more cheery note, however, the Ghanaian authorities deserve to be commended for their sentience and stance to abide by good conscience; for, while pledging to deploy revenue earned from oil export to the development of all Ghanaians and every part of their country; the government, apparently having learnt from the Nigerian tragedy, where after mining oil in the Niger Delta with blatant disregard to basic ecological considerations, which leave the environment devastated; the oil-bearing communities are most of the time completely side-tracked in the wealth-sharing and political empowerment processes.

The Nigerian state also stole billions of dollars from Niger-Delta communities through such obnoxious throw-ups as “Off-shore/On-shore Dichotomy”, and practically murdered its own citizens to please notoriously criminally-minded executives of at least one international oil giant. Finally, even the worm was going to turn; and, when it happened; some were going to make sure that militancy in the Niger-Delta becomes a never-ending story since it has become another way of siphoning more revenue from the national treasury.

It is worth noting that for more than a year, before the first oil export took place; there had been series of workshops and seminars on oil exploration and exploitation as well as carrying along members of oil-bearing communities across Ghana; all aimed at averting the tragedy, which criminally-minded Nigerian leaders have turned their country to. Ghana seems wiser; if Nigeria had committed even 10 percent of the oil proceeds to developing the Niger-Delta; everyone would be happier for it.

Aside selling crude oil, Ghana is complementing oil receipts with money from natural gas. Yes; the same gas that Shell and others have, through collusion with senseless Nigerian leaders, been flaring and destroying the environment. We go back to Daily Graphic, whose screaming headline, “$1.2bn GAS PROJECT ON TRACK”, for its lead story is preceded by a kicker that claims “All bottlenecks cleared”.

More grease to President Mills’ elbow
Another plus for the old Gold Coast: Ghana’s President John Atta Mills and four others rated high in the African Presidents Index. In the rating, which measures performance and leadership styles of leaders in the continent; the Ghanaian president scored an A alongside Prime Minister of Mauritius, Mr. Navinchandra Ramgoolam; President of Cape Verdes, Pedro Verona Pires; President of Botswana, Seretse Ian Khama; and, President of Namibia, Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba.

But, this African Presidents Index is like a coin; which has an obverse side. Taking up the rear are those, whose scores ranged between zero and 30 percent in the African Presidents Index; and, not surprisingly; Sudan’s notorious President, Omar Bashir shares this category with his opposite numbers in, among others, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea.

Inside the Ghanaian capital
Standing at Kwame Nkrumah Circle, for example, and hearing the yelp of “Accra”! “Accra”! “UTC”! “Accra”!!; from bus drivers’ mates; the impression this leaves on a first-time visitor is that this “Circle”, seen by many as the very heart of the Ghanaian capital is located outside Accra. However, although Kwame Nkrumah Circle is part of Accra North Constituency, it wasn’t originally part of ancient Accra.

The original Accra lay at Ayawaso, many kilometres away from today’s Ghanaian capital; and, the Accra these bus operators refer to nowadays starts around Makola Market and extends beyond the GPO (General Post Office), which is located vicinal to an antique storey building called WATO (West African Trading Organisation) and all the way to the Palace of the Ga Mantse and beyond. The palace of the Ga monarch is a few minutes’ walk from the city’s maximum prison.

That supreme goal started as James Fort and stands less than 3km from Ussher Fort. James and Ussher are two of Accra’s three historic fortresses; Christiansburg, now Osu Castle completes the trio. Christiansburg Castle, James and Ussher Forts were built by Danish, British and Dutch traders/explorers respectively. Interestingly, James Fort now serves as a maximum prison, whereas Christiansburg morphed into Ghana’s State House.

It is worth recalling that Ussher Fort had earlier served as maximum jailhouse before that role passed on to Fort James. Ussher Fort is now headquarters of the Monuments unit of Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB). Ussher Fort complex also boasts a museum nowadays; but, when we first toured this heritage site in 1997, as part of our trip to cover Ghana’s 40th independence anniversary; we were shown, among others, a small spot, where prayers were said for condemned persons before their execution. We were also reminded that Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings and others were at some point detained here before their loyalists freed them after another coup, which eventually paved the way to Ghana’s social and political renaissance.

Welcome to the Ghanaian capital, where many shops operate round the clock. Some sections of Accra never sleep; Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Danquah Circle and Tudu are just three of the 24-hour/7 neighbourhoods of this Ga settlement. Two major avenues, Kojo Thompson Road and Kwame Nkrumah Road connect Kwame Nkrumah Circle and Tudu. Both roads run through Adabraka in Accra North constituency, and at Tudu as well as Kwame Nkrumah, the tourist is sure to see Accra in all its allure and warts.

Where to stay, where to go
Before you leave Accra, visit the local National Museum on Barnes Road. Ghana’s National Museum stands a walking distance from the country’s National Theatre, and both venues often offer much to see. Interestingly, these houses of entertainment and culture are located vicinal to numerous hotels and lodges. At least a dozen hotels and inns, including Novotel Hotel (the uppermost limit, price wise), followed by Niagara Hotel and Beverly Hills Hotel as well as moderately priced affairs like Eclipse Hotel, Hotel de California, St. Sam Hotel et cetera all stand within 3km radius from the National Theatre.

For reliable comparison, we spent three consecutive nights in three different hotels: It cost 25Gcedi (roughly N2,500), 20Gcedi (approximately N2,100) and 38Gcedi (barely N4,000) at Pacific Hotel, Hotel de California and Eclipse Hotel respectively. Although each of the lodgings had toilet/bathroom en suite as well as TV; interestingly, the N4,000 room at Eclipse Hotel also offered an air-conditioner, and was also much roomier.

The Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum; Ussher Fort; Artists’ Alliance Gallery around Labadi on the Old Tema Road; The Loom, Accra’s first art gallery around Kwame Nkrumah Circle; African Markets in Osu; WATO House opposite the GPO; Danquah Circle, which throws up numerous bars and clubs including Indigo; are among Accra’s other attractions.

If the tourist is too fagged-out to trek, say after a busy day sightseeing or having had too heavy a meal, for example; a taxi ride comes relatively cheap in Accra, where you can travel some 10km in a chartered taxi for roughly 5Gcedi, the equivalent of less than N600. The tourist even has a cheaper option travelling in a tro-tro; where the fare could be as little as 40Gpesewas (less than N50).

Images of Pa Effiong Ukpong Aye

 Above and below: Pa Effiong Ukpong Aye in pictures. PHOTO: MAURICE ARCHIBONG. Copyright reserved.

Encounters with a grand old man called Pa Aye

‘Your report cost me my peace’
Says 92-yr-old Pa Aye, who can’t cope with celebrity status foisted on him by Travels

“Look here, my friend; what do you want again? Since you published that report on me, I have known no peace. I have not had a moment’s rest, you’ve robbed me of my peace”, he charged. 

I was about letting off a thousand apologies; shaken by the realisation that my report had left a beloved elder distraught, when; suddenly, a smile broke out on the old man’s face; and, he whispered; somewhat conspiratorially, “I got my pension for the first time in many years after your report. It’s like the whole world has been visiting; even, Pensions’ Office people, too”. 

Truly, Pa Effiong Ukpong Aye is now a celebrity of some sort. Pa Aye, author of 10 books and retired lecturer; who has not tasted meat for 40 years and does not celebrate his birthday; because, according to him, he has not found a place in the Bible, where Christ ate meat or marked his day of birth; will clock 93 years old on 15 June, this year.

“Churches, journalists, film-makers, TV crews and so on have been visiting me non-stop”, he remarked. In deed, some filmmakers claiming affiliation to “Nollywood” as well as others purportedly linked to foreign producers have visited the revered senior citizen. At some age, something as ordinary or reflexive as walking takes up the role of elixir and Pa Aye enjoys a dose of sauntering down some avenue in the evening. 

In the past, Pa Aye could walk the streets incognito, and he didn’t mind the anonymity; but, now; all that has changed. After our story, Pa Aye has been featured on Cross River TV, NTA International and several other media. Consequence: he has to respond to salutations from people on both sides of some streets, every time he sets out for the so-called constitutional. 

Swaying his right hand back and forth, Pa Aye drew an arc in the air, thus drawing our attention to a collection of victuals; packs of bottled water, provisions, geriatric drugs and other items on the floor; and, added; “See all these? They are all presents; people, including many of my former students, bring to me nowadays”. 

Pa Aye was however quick to point out that unlike the anonymity he enjoyed before my story was published; these days, he often has to stop to respond to greetings from many people, some of them complete strangers, in the street. “Before, I could take my walk unnoticed and stroll as long as I wished. When I felt I had had enough exercise, I simply started walking back to my house, or if I felt the need, I boarded a bus. But, nowadays that privacy is no more; people visit me at home and I enjoy affectionate greetings in the street, inside a bus and everywhere”, he remarked.

Returning to the issue of his regular constitutionals, Pa Aye lamented that now he had to be more concerned about what he wore because you never know who you might run into in the street. As he intoned; there seems to be TV people, journalists and all sorts of researchers everywhere nowadays as far as Pa Aye was concerned. But then, celebrity like talent has its price; and, for Pa Aye; now endowed with all, he has to take it in his strides; we mused.

“Yes, I got my pension after your report came out, Pension Office workers came here, and; interestingly, one of their Verification Officers was once my student. He knelt down to greet me, he was so delighted; and, I was very happy, too. And I told him to get up; for, he was now a middle-aged man already”. Yes, some peace you can afford to sacrifice, if that’s what it takes to get paid your pension; we mused.

A graduate of Latin/Classical History, Pa Aye is Fellow of Historical Society of Nigeria; and, during our latest encounter in his Calabar home, Pa Aye turned his neck some angles and looking at the book-laden shelves behind him, muttered ruefully; I fear I am the only one in this country who can read them now. His archive includes books written in not only Greek, which is still extant; but, also Latin, which like its original speakers, the ancient Romans of the Caesar era has virtually gone the way of the dinosaur. 

Author of 10 books, Pa Aye is still writing on the verge of 93. In deed, his latest book, King Eyo Honesty II, though not yet formally launched, has already been printed. Aye’s other books include Akpabuyo in Transition (Glad Tidings Press, Calabar; 1994), dedicated to Akpabuyo Development Union; Old Calabar through the centuries (Hope Waddell Press, Calabar; 1967), Hope Waddell Training Institution: Life and Work, 1894-1978 (Paico Limited Press and Books; 1986), Presbyterianism in Calabar (Wusen Press, Calabar; 1987) and Efik Origin: A refutation" Glad Tidings Press, Calabar; 2006).

Although he spends most of his time reading and writing, Pa Aye confided that unlike many years ago, when he could practically read or write all day and all night, if he wished; these days, he often needs to take a break intermittently. 

An outstanding personality by every noble parameter, Pa Aye is an alumnus of Hope Waddell Training Institution (HWTI). Hope Waddell or Howad as this elite secondary school is also fondly called was founded in 1895; and, like Pa Aye; one of the many distinguished citizens it has helped to groom since it was established by the Presbyterian (Church of Scotland) Mission; is an uncommon school. 

Expectedly, Pa Aye would take us on an excursion through his alma mater during our visit to his home. Although Howad is the third oldest college in Nigeria, after CMS Grammar School and Methodist Boys High School, both in Lagos; the Diamond Hill, Calabar-based Howad was the first of its kind in the entire area that made up the now defunct Eastern Region. 

The late Rt. Hon Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first president; Eze Akanu Ibiam, physician and one-time premier of then Eastern Region; Otunba Adeniran Ogunsanya, a former Commissioner of Education, Lagos State; Vice Admiral Edet Akinwale Wey, a former Chief of Naval Staff and later Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters; Dr. Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe, late political juggernaut and Chief Torch Taire, art collector extraordinaire and MD of Stanley Torch Limited are among Hope Waddell Training Institution (HWTI) alumni.

Traditionally, appointment to the office of Hope Waddell Principal was an exclusive preserve for an old boy of this prestigious institution. However, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, this age-old custom was apparently infringed with the appointment of Mr. Ukpong Ekefre, who had his secondary school education at Igbobi College, Lagos. When we sought Aye’s explanation of this apparent breach of tradition, the venerable old man said Mr. Ekefre’s appointment was permissible because the man’s father was an alumnus of Howad. Apart from having his secondary school education at Hope Waddell, Ekefre’s dad had also served as a teacher at this school and later held the office of national President of Old Boys’ Association of Howad, we were told.  

Aye’s sojourn in Hope Waddell began in 1939, when he was admitted to that institution’s teachers’ training college. After successful completion of his studies in four academic sessions, he was engaged as a junior teacher. When asked to compare Howad of his student days with what obtains there currently, this is what Chief Aye had to say; “What an interesting question. Well, when I was there, it was a very different place. From Reverend Thompson, the founding Principal, to his immediate successor; Reverend Luke, the man; who brought the game of football to Nigeria; almost the entire teaching staffs were either Europeans or non-Nigerians”.

The historian in Chief Aye surged to the fore at the recall of Reverend Luke. Hear this retired educator; “Although most of you may not know this, the first game of football to be played in Nigeria took place on Hope Waddell grounds in Calabar. In fact, until the 1930s, football was commonly referred to as ‘Calabar Game’ by Nigerians in other parts of this country”. 

But, when asked to tell us the year that soccer premiered in Nigeria, Chief Aye, who could not immediately recall that historic year, referred us to one of his books, “Hope Waddell Training Institution: Life and work”, for details. However, in the course of our interview, the face of this elder again lit up as he remembered, “Football came to Nigeria in 1902, a year after Mr. F.A. Foster, a West Indian, brought the game of cricket to Calabar in 1903”. Expatiating, Aye added, “Mr. Foster was at that time, head of the secondary school section of Hope Waddell; and it was from Calabar that these two games spread to other parts of Nigeria”.   

In the beginning, Hope Waddell Training Institution had an infant (Kindergarten?), a primary school and teacher’s training college, alongside a printing press, a bakery, block-making and haberdashery et cetera. The haberdashery section had a tailoring unit, the block-making section produced building components for the Public Works Department (PWD), the printing press published The Calabar Observer, the bakery made bread and other pastry sold in Calabar; while the teacher’s training college groomed prospective educators. Evidently, unlike today’s Nigerian universities, whose faculties of agriculture rely of food crops from petty farmers, and civil and electrical engineering departments fall back on barely trained technicians for basic jobs; Howad, in its original form, met its fundamental responsibility to its host community. 

Sadly, by the time Aye was leaving Nigeria for Britain in 1950, Howad had whittled drastically: The teacher’s training college that was established in 1911 had been relocated to Afikpo (in today’s Ebonyi State); the infant and elementary schools had been phased out; while the vocational sections had been completely scrapped. 

Consequence: Hope Waddell, probably Nigeria’s first polytechnic in the practical sense, had been reduced to another “Grammar” school, where students were groomed to come out confused, and the community groping for trained tradesmen.

Pa Aye again: “I served Hope Waddell as Principal two times, from 1974 to 1979 and, again, from 1985 to 86”. An “Award of Honour” hanging on one of the walls of the room that doubles as his study and tea-room is testimonial of appreciation and gratitude from the countless students, whose lives Aye helped to mould.


No part of this report or any item on may be reproduced by any means without the expressed consent of the Author, MAURICE ARCHIBONG

 * Below is Part 1 of my report on Pa Aye; originally published in my column, Travels, in Daily Sun, 17 June, 2010:

 ‘Christ neither ate meat nor celebrated birthday’
 …‘My pension is not paid because corruption is all over the place’
…‘Wait till I die before you write my biography’
- Says 92-yr-old author of 10 books and retired lecturer

Pa Effiong Ukpong Aye is one of perceived few Nigerian academics, whose teaching career traversed all tiers of education, having taught primary, secondary and university students; some of whose doctoral theses he supervised. Interestingly, 92-year-old Chief Aye is author of 10 books; holds the National Honour MFR (Member of the FederalRepublic) and twice served as Principal of Hope Waddell Training Institution, one of the most famous high schools in Nigeria
Despite his decades-long sojourn in the academia, the 10 published books he has written and his uncommon age; which also makes Pa Aye an embodiment of history, this grand old man remains relatively obscure because of his self-effacing propensities. Though known among scholars, especially students of history, whose forte is or involves the study of Old Calabar; Effiong Ukpong Aye is still not a famous name in the popular sense of the word. 

While Pa Aye, who clocked the ripe old age of 92 years on 15 June, 2010 has written copiously on countless issues and subjects; comparatively little has been written about him. The reasons are not far-fetched; it is akin to the experience of pre time-setting-camera era photographers, whose pictures are very rare or even non-existent because they were forever busy documenting other objects. 

Furthermore, Aye’s dislike for fefe-riti, a slang probably coined by Lagos Yoruba speakers, which roughly translates as elaborate fanfare; must have also taken its toll on this author’s fame. Moreover, Chief Aye is Efik; he said the people of his ethnic nationality are not given to attention craving, Uwut idem, which the Yoruba describe as Ka ri mi. Also, the man is forever writing; at 92, even with 10 books in the kitty, Aye is still writing. Truly, old authors never die; they just scribble away. These and more mean that Pa Aye does not grant interviews often. He, in deed, warned us that he prefers to be left alone; he would rather stay out of public glare. 

Hear him: “Someone is writing my biography, even against warnings from me. I’ve told this person, a former student of mine, whose doctoral thesis I supervised, while I taught at University of Calabar that she should wait until I die before writing my biography; but she won’t listen. I strongly suspect that you people prefer to disturb me because it makes your work easier. Even after my death, if you conduct good research, which is the essence of scholarship; you will have enough materials to write on me”.

We, however, countered this view of the revered elder by submitting that getting first-hand information, would guide one as we went about verifications for accuracy. Thanks goodness, our plea and perseverance paid off, and when Chief Aye opened up, it was an uncommon harvest, the kind that only a man of his age, experience and scholastic inclinations could yield; and more. But, for starters, let’s celebrate Pa Aye’s uncommon age and attempt an insight into the secret of such longevity.

Key to longevity
It is in deed interesting that in Africa, a continent, where some studies have put the average life-span at roughly 45 years, Pa Aye has lived more than double this projected figure. But, what is the secret of this man’s longevity? Pa Aye’s reply to this question was; “I have no idea, I have no idea”. After a brief pause, he added, “God alone is behind it; so, I thank God”. 

Perhaps, aspects of his lifestyle may help clue one in. Chief Aye told us that he eats sparingly. Moreover, he has not tasted meat for 40 years! Is meat poison then? “I have no idea, no idea”, he re-echoed. Does vegetarianism prolong one’s life, then? “I’m not a vegetarian because I eat fish. I eat fish as well as various sea foods, and a lot of vegetables”, he explained. Then, teasingly, Pa Aye remarked; “I eat fish because I never learnt of Christ eating meat”.

Want to live into 90 years and above? All things remaining the same, blotting out meat from the menu, eating fish and various sea foods as well as plenty vegetables could help. Interestingly, however, you also probably want to know that Chief Aye does not celebrate his birthday. In fact, he took offence, when members of his native Creek Town, Calabar community sought to mark his 90th birthday in 2008. 

Although he eventually buckled under pressure, or “surrendered”, as he put it, following pleas from countless well-wishers that he should consider the fanfare as Thanksgiving to God, after all only a negligible percentage of the world population live to reach 90 years old; Pa Aye still cannot understand what the fuss and hoopla about birthday is all about. Like his aversion for meat, because he cannot find a place in the scriptures, where Christ ate meat; Chief Aye said he is still searching for that part of the Bible, where Christ celebrated his birthday.

“Celebrating birthday is un-Christian; it was common among Egyptian Pharaohs and later Roman Emperors but Christ did not celebrate his birthday; it is humans that started doing it for him”, Aye reasoned.

At 50, Nigeria is dashed hopes
Born in Adakuko, Creek Town, Effiong Ukpong Aye was the younger of the two sons of the now late Madam Nsa Essien Eyo. The elder brother, Asuquo Essien Eyo died in 1996. It is worth noting that Asuquo Essien, who had earlier worked with the UAC (United African Company), later went into politics and was elected Member, House of Representatives, for Calabar. Despite the involvement of his brother in politics, Pa Effiong Aye detests the supposed statesman’s engagement because of the prevailing survival of the fittest or wildest (Ike kite orie, as our Igbo brothers say) mould; which politics has morphed into in Nigeria

We had hardly finished asking him, if it ever crossed his mind to venture into politics; when Pa Effiong Aye interjected, and exploded: “Never! Never”! When asked to explain this apparent revulsion for politics, the senior citizen declared: “I don’t like it; I don’t like it. Now, Nigerians cannot rely on their politicians because these characters are very slippery”.

A glimpse of Pa Aye’s curriculum vitae would help shed light on this man’s disdain for Nigeria’s pseudo-statesmen. A scholarship from the Church of Scotland Mission aka Presbyterian Church, founders of Hope Waddell Training Institution, where Effiong Aye studied and eventually was employed, first as ancillary teacher; enabled him live in the United Kingdom for 13 years shared between England and Wales. He did post-graduate studies in Swansea, after taking a bachelor’s degree at Cambridge University

Having lived in both UK and Nigeria Aye should have cognate experiences to draw upon. Hear him: “Less than two weeks after my arrival in Britain for the first time, somebody came knocking on my door. When I opened the door, I met a man greeting me; ‘Welcome to England Mr. Aye. I am the Member of Parliament (MP) in charge of this constituency; that is why I want to know you’. After I told him my mission in his country, which is that I was here to further my education; the man said, ‘Please, any time you have any problem, let me know. And, looking around, if you see anything suspicious in this neighbourhood, just tell me, and I’ll take the issue to Parliament’”.

When asked to juxtapose this experience with the one in Nigeria, Aye remarked; “I don’t even know the person representing this area of Calabar, whether at ward, state or federal level. I want to let you know that in UK, the politician works for the public, and they are eager for the public to appreciate their efforts. Although I can’t say what obtains in Britain today; while I was there, there was all-round orderliness. I was very happy in Britain because of this orderliness and control. There was total enforcement of the law in every facet of life. But, here in Nigeria; it’s ‘do what you like’, as if there is no law. I have never seen any nation so completely stripped of discipline as this”!

We visited Pa Aye thrice in four days during our visit to Calabar. On each occasion, the ambience of his book-studded study could have been better. Although the space was already over-crowded with books, the study-cum-library also serves as tearoom. With windows and doors offering cross ventilation, the study should have been comfy enough but owing to Nigeria’s never-ending power crisis, and given the number of people in the room, we all wished the ceiling fan were working. However, Pa Aye and I as well as others were more frustrated by the inability to read some documents and books due to the darkness than by the far from vernal ambient temperature. 

The trying situation apparently prompted this rue; “You see your country”, from the old man, who went on to add that “In Nigeria, nothing is sacred. The rulers and the led respect neither themselves nor each other; that is why they don’t pay my pension. Yet, in 2000, I was honoured with MFR”. Asked, if the National Honour yields some honourarium or other form of welfare support, Pa Effiong Aye muttered, “I don’t want anything from them; all I want is payment of my pension. After serving my country diligently for many decades; at 92, I’m still working to survive because my pension is not paid regularly. So, I have to keep working. I don’t get my pensions because there’s corruption everywhere”.

As to what his pension was worth, Pa Aye expatiated: “The federal government is supposed to pay me N37,000 each month, while Cross River government owes me N13,000 monthly. Put together, that will give me N50,000, and I could manage with that. Unfortunately, I don’t see the money because only Cross River state manages to pay me from time to time. But, how far can N13,000 take me? At my age, I have drugs to buy. With this perennial power outage, N13,000, even N50,000 cannot buy fuel to run a small generator for seven days; and, then there’s food to buy because I have six mouths to feed, and water bill to pay. That is why any time you come here; you’ll meet me at work.
“When the Europeans were here, you enjoyed electricity round the clock. Now, 50 years after Independence, won’t you prefer that the colonial government was still in charge? I wish they were here, because pensions were always paid, when we had responsible leadership. Fifty years after Independence, something as fundamental as discipline, we don’t have. Uninterrupted electricity, which is necessary for the survival and growth of industries, and by extension, more jobs; remains a mirage. The educational sector is in a shambles…What have we achieved?

“Your shameless politicians have turned Nigeria into an embarrassment for the black race. Money that should have been used to develop the country and its teeming able-bodied and intelligent youth has been looted for decades. To me, the only thing these so-called politicians are interested in, is grabbing; and, they have been looting as if there’ll be no tomorrow because, given a free and fair election they will not win. So, they want to steal as much as they can, while they can.

“These bloody characters that are always scrambling for power have no commonsense! If Nigeria is fixed, and the people taken care of, and brought together in unity; this country could be very great. Nigeria has a huge population, and her people are very intelligent but useless politicians continue to abuse religion by using it and sectionalism as well as tribalism to keep Nigerians divided, so that they can continue to steal what ought to be used for the benefit of all”, Pa Aye charged bitterly.

For one, who was over 43 years old by the time Nigeria attained independence, couldn’t Aye have stayed back in the UK? Now, 47 years, since his return to Nigeria; does he regret his homecoming?
“I had to return because I went to the UK through scholarship. In fact, I got two scholarships; one for Cambridge, and the other for Harvard University. My professor, who specialized in the Civilization of the Hittites, got me these scholarships”.  

After successful completion of his studies, Aye had returned home in October 1963. He had been away for 13 years, and a lot had changed in that period. When Effiong Aye left his beloved mother to travel to England by sea in 1950, he couldn’t have imagined that it was the last time he would see his mom. The lady had passed on in 1961, while Aye was preparing for his final degree exams, but the people he left behind chose not to inform him for fear the news could break his heart and consequently affect his studies.

On getting home, in October 1963, Aye was in high spirit and eagerly looked forward to reuniting with family and friends again. Sadly, no one needed to tell him something terrible had happened, while he was away: Upon sighting Aye entering the family compound, everyone burst into tears. That’s how Aye eventually learnt of his personal tragedy. 

It is worth noting that Aye’s 13-year sojourn in the UK was not bereft of pains. Before his ancient Greece specialist professor got Aye a scholarship, this Efik-born Nigerian practically lived from hand-to-mouth. The young man had left Nigeria with a scholarship from the Presbyterian Mission, but due to his refusal to sign an agreement that bound him to serve his sponsors for 20 years after graduation; the bursary was withdrawn. Aye said he decided not to sign the agreement, following a meeting with Dr. Alvan Ikoku on board the maritime vessel on which he was sailing abroad. 

“I never knew that Alvan Ikoku was also on the ship; it was his greeting, Da, aka mmong (buddy, where are you going) that drew my attention to his presence on that vessel. You probably didn’t know Alvan spoke Efik language fluently. He was some years older than I, and his mother was the daughter of a royal Efik house; so, Alvan had eloquent grasp of his mother-tongue.

“After I told him I had a scholarship to study abroad, he had asked on what terms and I had shown him the agreement that the then Hope Waddell principal gave me to sign. Alvan Ikoku was shocked, and advised me against signing it, because such scholarships only tied the recipient to five years service to his sponsors upon return. So, I refused to sign the document”.

The result was non-remittance of funds, which left Effiong Aye unable to pay his hostel fees. Interestingly, Aye recalled with nostalgia that he found a friend in a Ghanaian, Mr. Kofi Tatsie (could also be spelt Takye, depending on which area of the Old Gold Coast the fellow hailed from) during his hour of tribulation. Takye, who was a student of dentistry those days, offered to pay Aye’s hostel fees until when the Nigerian could find his feet again. However, aside lack of money for accommodation at the hostel, Aye also had no money to buy books and frequently went to bed on an empty stomach.

The long and short of this is that he failed that session’s examination.  “My friend, I failed flat”, he lamented. For someone, who scholastic aptitude made him the toast of various teachers and his high school principal culminating in Aye getting a scholarship in the first place; the fellow was expectedly devastated. “My friend, I cried for many nights”, he recalled with a wry smile.

As to how his friendship with Kofi eventually evolved, Aye’s facial expression mirrored the pain in his heart, when he muttered, “Kofi died, while doing his internship, I learnt. I was a very sad development for me”.  

Owing to the difficulties he faced after the stoppage of his bursary’s remittances, Aye was forced to take a job in order to pay his way through university. The stress of working and coping with studies cost Aye his social life. Yes, the girls, pretty babes were all over the place; but he had to stay focussed. Thus, by the time he satisfied his quest for education, Aye was well over 40 years old. 

With his mom gone, and all his mates already married, no sooner had Aye returned to Calabar, when pressures from relatives mounted on him to get married. Pa Aye finally joined the family circle after he found a wife in the person of then Miss Miranda Ekpenyong, now Mrs. Miranda Ekpenyong Aye. The couple’s union was fruitful, and there’s no doubt that, with virtually all his age-mates gone; Pa Aye values the companionship of members of his nuclear family and the grandchildren.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

The late Amb. Lawrence Akindele

The late Ambassador Lawrence Akindele, who died on Thursday, 03 Feb. 2011. PHOTO: MAURICE ARCHIBONG

Akindele, Nigeria's envoy in Cotonou is dead

Akindele, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Benin Rep is dead

Nigeria’s Ambassador to Benin Republic, Lawrence Akindele, is dead. The passage was confirmed to members of the Cotonou chapter of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), when the body visited the local Nigerian Embassy Thursday morning. 

Pa Abdul-Lateef Olujobi, NIDO General Secretary in Cotonou, who was at the Nigerian mission said a condolence register had been opened there for people to record their tributes. For many Nigerians, thrown into anxiety since news that Ambassador Akindele had taken seriously ill filtered out; the non-opening of Nigeria International School (NIS) for classes on Thursday was first sign that something was amiss, and when news of the top-flight diplomat’s transition was confirmed; many broke down and wept uncontrollably.

Akindele died at the age of 52 years, and his body has been deposited at the local university teaching hospital, Centre National d’Hopital Universite, (CENHU) opposite the State House in Cotonou. Ambassador Akindele succumbed to ailment suspected to be stress-related and died in Cotonou about 1am on Thursday, 03 February 2011; when plans had been concluded to fly him to Germany for treatment, after he took seriously ill a few days ago.

In a telephone conversation with NIDO, Cotonou President, Chief Emmanuel Uko Elendu, who said the community had already paid a condolence visit to the Nigerian embassy, added that he would relay further information to us after further contacts with the embassy.

When contacted, Chief Ebuka Onunkwo, Leader of Igbo Union in Benin Republic; described Ambassador Akindele’s passage as a terrible blow to the Nigerian community. Speaking further on what he also described as “a disaster to Nigerians in Benin Republic”; Chief Onunkwo lamented: “His death has created a gaping vacuum because Ambassador was a very good man. Apart from being an outstanding diplomat, he also stood out as a humane and very humble personality”.

Concluding, the Igbo leader remarked: “He ran an open-door policy and all Nigerians came to see in Ambassador Akindele; a friend, a brother and a father. In fact, words cannot describe the way I feel”.