It is obvious and the chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council, Nigeria (IPAC), Alhaji Muhammed Lawal Nalado, said it loudly at the 3rd Anniversary event of Naija Times online newspaper that when a man is at peace with himself and humanity, he is bound to gather strength and good health at old age. He was referring to His Excellency, Obong Victor Attah, who during the event helped the Master of Ceremonies, Ohi Alegbe, to state his age.
Ohi knew Obong Attah was more than 80 years old, but was not too sure of the addition. As a veteran on the ceremonies’ stage, he started counting from the late 70s to 80 and stopped at a convenient point after 80. Obong Attah helped out and proclaimed 85. He had climbed the podium effortlessly, delivered his message frankly, descended elegantly and walked majestically back to his seat on the front row, amidst a standing ovation. That was on Thursday, October 19, 2023.
There is something unmistakable about Obong Attah. Always encircling him is peace that defies understanding; the kind of peace that comes from inner satisfaction, uncommon knowledge and absolute confidence. A father! There is a saying that ‘success has many fathers’. But some fathers have not just many but monumental successes. From all angles positive, Obong Attah is a personification of fatherhood. He is a father and a father figure. That is one of the reasons he is being referred to as the father of modern Akwa Ibom State.
Obong Attah went into governance, not politics. A least not the type we know in this clime. He was not, and up till now cannot be classified as a politician. He was in politics no doubt, but never played politics. Those who expected to reap the “dividends of politics” during his time as governor because they travelled with him on the road to Government House were sorely disappointed because he was only interested in delivering the dividends of governance. He did, and his signature is all over the state today.
When it was time for him to step out of political governance, he did majestically but did not walk away from the state. He kept an eye like a good father would, to ensure that the state was not vandalised by wayfarers. He remained a father without the appellation ‘god’ added. He guides, not control. When he left the arena formally, he indicated that he would remain non-partisan, and has tried to live by his words though walking that path in Nigeria could be an extremely difficult venture. Isolation is never really possible.
Those who know him closely would readily agree that he is a man of his word. His words come softly, slowly but firmly. He has a voice like no other: calm, soothing, but authoritative. Although very accommodating, he does not suffer fools gladly. When he is set on something, he counts no personal costs, but the long-term gains to the commonwealth. He sows goodwill. When he gives a promise, take it to the bank. He shares the same attributes as the Swiss clock. For him, time is of the essence. He believes in it, he keeps to it and does not waste it. Those who do not have respect for time have no business with him.
He was governor of Akwa Ibom State for eight years – from 1999 to 2007. It was a period the state witnessed some kind of renaissance. The state was created in September 1987 and had a line-up of governors and administrators – civilian and military – who all did their bit the best way they could. Obong Attah came and took a good look at the state and said this place could be more beautiful. And we have to make it so! He initiated the move and drew the master plan, a roadmap which others after him followed to berth what today stands as one of the best planned states in Nigeria. He is a world-renowned architect, and it shows in his footprints.
He was not the everyday governor we see around here. He went into governance as a satisfied man with deep experience, wide intellect and well-cultivated integrity. He is an administrator who carries discipline like a wrist ban, and you would not expect the business-as-usual people to like him. They did not. And he did not give a hoot!
Akwa Ibom State sat on really good money but did not have much of it. Obong Attah defied all odds, including the potentate, President Olusegun Obasanjo, to haul money to the state through the abrogation of the on-shore/offshore dichotomy which he fought to the Supreme Court and triggered the move for a political solution. Thereafter the state witnessed real development on a quicker pace.
More than 16 years after he had left office he still remains relevant in the leadership loop of the state, not as a godfather but a leader whose role remains fundamental in every material particular. He makes himself and advice available when sought, but never hangs around any administration after leaving office. He lives a simple life which was apparent even when he was a state governor. His colleagues in the Nigerian Governor’s Forum noticed not just his leadership attributes but fatherly disposition and made him their leader between 2004 and 2006. He maintains a very good relationship with his set of governors and they regard him highly. It is from that set that the current President, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, belongs.
Obong Attah, a great leader lives by his favourite hymn “It is well with my soul” which was written by Horatio Spafford. As a devout Catholic, he lives his life fully and satisfactorily because he holds strongly to the belief that when peace like a river attends his way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever his lot is and would be, that God has taught him to know and believe that it is well with his soul.
The original lyrics produced by Philip Bliss and first printed in 1876 flow thus:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
At 85 today, Monday, November 20, 2023, the reading of the lyrics of this song rings loud in the life of His Excellency, Obong Victor Bassey Attah; and the saints join in saying it is well with you and all that pertains to you. Congratulations Sir. Happy birthday.
- Akpandem James, a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, lives in Abuja.