On Tuesday, November 27, 2018, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly was on fire, literally.
Five Members of the House who had earlier defected to the All Progressive Congress (APC) stormed the premises of the Assembly in the company of dare-devil thugs. That was while Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke was serving as Speaker in the 6th Assembly, the 11th in ascendancy.
As findings showed, the ultimate intention of the defectors was to take over the leadership of the House and speedily mastermind the impeachment of Governor Udom Emmanuel and kill his second term ambition in the 2019 election.
Tuesday’s siege was clearly a smokescreen to scare and weaken solidarity for the Governor amongst PDP Members of the House.
But Luke, young and daring, cerebral and sure-footed, ever patriotic and undaunted, stood his ground, held the bull by the horn, and received the missiles on behalf of Gov. Udom Emmanuel.
Further investigations revealed that there was nothing on earth Hon. Luke was not offered and promised to sell his conscience and loyalty, provided Gov. Udom Emmanuel’s dream was crushed.
Against Luke’s defiant resistance, situations even became worse and more frightening with rising apprehension over possible invocation of what was touted to be “Federal Might”.
Federal Might would have meant the Presidency using all available weapons and scare tactics to force Luke into compliance. It was a fight between Goliaths and a David.
Eventually, in the cascading heat of the moment, the dissidents saw the handwriting on the wall as they gradually retreated and surrendered.
All scheduled elections were held. Gov. Udom Emmanuel held sway at the Hilltop Mansion. The former Speaker triumphantly moved up to the National Assembly. He conquered. The people won.
By his stonewall rebuff, Luke did not only put his life on line but also his political future, just because he already had pledged and therefore was unruffled in giving everything in ensuring that Governor Udom Emmanuel completes 8 years of two terms like his predecessors, their Excellencies, Arc. Obong Victor Attah and Chief Godswill Akpabio had, without being short-changed for any measure of gratifications or politicking.
Like other feats that have proven his ingenuity, resilience, bravery, integrity and leadership capacity, this unforgettable event further launched Hon. Onofiok Luke as a lover of fairness, reliable ally, loyal defender of democracy and one of the trusted and strong platforms upon which Gov. Udom Emmanuel shot to his present second term in office.
The Governor himself knew how much people like Luke mattered to him in the council of stakeholders! With little or nothing that Gov. Emmanuel would have done in the increasingly precarious circumstances, with Akpabio having disowned and abandoned him to his fate three months earlier as discernible in his defection on Wednesday, August 8, 2018, commentators held that Gov. Emmanuel most likely would have been a casualty of the palace coup had Luke and others chosen to play ping pong.
Beyond arguments, the House of Assembly, resolutely led by Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke who stood like the Rock of Gibraltar, was the strongest source of resistance against external influences and fountain of hope to Governor Udom Emmanuel. Luke did not pretend about anything and did not leave anybody about his unshaken resolve.
In one of his prognostic press statements, the Speaker boldly pointed to the fact that the pre-election fracas visited on the House was “a script written by some unscrupulous fellows in position of authority who had made up their minds to give wrong impressions about the State, spill blood of innocent Akwa Ibom persons, and throw the entire State into chaos than have a peaceful election where votes of the people shall count.”
Prior to the incident, those who didn’t really know or who for any reason may have doubted Hon. Luke’s integrity and unwavering loyalty to Gov. Udom Emmanuel whose interest he has vowed to protect, came to see in the klieglight of the absurd drama a conscientious politician, trustworthy lawmaker, Speaker and rights-defender they must love and celebrate.
By biting the bullets and inhaling the fume of the memorable infamous political inferno, Luke was not fighting his own fight but was simply carrying the cross of a governor to whom he had vowed never to betray even at gun point.
He was also fighting for democracy, for the collective interest and peace of Akwa Ibom people, significant percentage amongst whom had already resolved to follow his lead and allow fairness to reign.
Of course, that wasn’t the first time Luke would stand on the side of the masses even though hated by the disgruntled. He was not yet a Speaker in the House of Assembly when he was the only voice who vehemently opposed the outrageous Pension for Former Governors of the State, an obnoxious Executive Bill authored by His Excellency, Mr. Godswill Akpabio.
In his days as President of Student Union Government at the University of Uyo, Luke became the sacrificial lamb whose intellectual activism, justifiable audacity and unquenchable knack for justice became a model against the whims and caprices of authoritarianism in the Ivory Tower.
Therefore, when late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua appointed him the pioneer President of the Nigeria Youth Parliament, it was apposite reward for iconic leadership.
Hon. Onofiok Luke has been a homeboy who has weathered storms to become a recurring decimal and critical team-player in every leadership discourse and matters of growth and development at State and national levels.
As a leader inspired by his agrarian background, rooted in the masses, sensitive to the people’s feelings, and allowing no valleys in between, Luke knows practically every village in Akwa Ibom State, remembers by face and calls by house names everybody he ever has met or accosted at any point of his life and dealings with the people.
Therefore, when he is cheered wherever he goes today as “The Peoples Man”, “The Champion of Common Cause”, “Grassroots Mobilizer”, “The Integrationist”, “The Paragon of Leadership”, “Pride of Akwa Ibom Youth” and “The Face of Tomorrow”, the reason is self-evident.
Perhaps the greatest latter-day assets Luke has acquired over the years is his consistent tutelage and reciprocal mentorship in leadership and representation, assets that have become incentives for confidence and his aspiration to higher responsibilities.
Throughout his years of life and cumulative record of impeccable public service, Rt. Hon. Luke has demonstrated positivism, altruism, camaraderie, capacity, trustworthiness, dynamism, and potential for better days. When he gives you his word, you can go and sleep.
Except one decides to be hostile to truth, it is impossible not to acknowledge Luke’s tremendous contributions to the auspicious consequence of the 2019 elections in favour of Gov. Udom Emmanuel.
Nevertheless, two years after the episodic ugly drama in the House of Assembly, and many other instances hitherto, it is hard to tell how Governor Udom Emmanuel, the principal beneficiary of Hon. Onofik Luke’s costly and selfless sacrifices, has or is planning to appreciate him.
Good enough, as vicissitude and personal dreams would have it, having gone through the ropes, tested in capacity and trusted in service delivery, given his best in leadership dynamics, demonstrating loyalty and team work at their best, Onofiok Luke has indicated unpretentious interest in the 2023 Akwa Ibom Governorship race. Popular will is already in his favour.
The fireworks have begun, with familiar drumbeats and suspicious dance steps in certain quarters.
There is the argument that beneficiaries of goodwill in politics easily forget the past when in vantage positions. Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke has international email. Will he be rewarded or repaid with a bad coin?
*Akpama Akpama, a Political Commentator and Journalist, writes from the rustic village of Mbiabam Ididep, Ibiono Ibom, Akwa Ibom State.