Chief Don Etiebet At 73

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Uwem-Obong Ankak

The last time I wrote on Chief Don Obot Etiebet, it was in reaction to a sour-tasted diatribe thrown at him by some political jobbers who were too excited to please their masters. This was during the build-up to the 2015 general elections. In that unfortunate write-up, which I promptly reacted to, the writer had grabbed the worst part of his political mudsling and threw darts at the foremost political figure of Akwa Ibom State extraction, calling him names, hanging on his neck the worst of labels, and out rightly insulting him.

My reaction was impulsive. I felt the Don Etiebet we knew and read about deserved more than what those upstarts tried to diminish by painting him with a brush tainted with lies, half-truths and ill-digested briefs. Chief Etiebet couldn’t have been the man they described as jobless or an unprincipled politician. The tag of a man with a failed business empire certainly did not fit the persona of the Ikot Ekpuk, Oruk Anam, Akwa Ibom State- born business mogul whose business imprimatur can easily be located in his multi-storey edifice in the heart of Ikeja, Lagos and other places. A man described as a public service nuisance couldn’t have been a two-time Minister of Petroleum Resources (under Ernest Shonekan and Gen. Sani Abacha) whose indelible marks, milestones and reforms in that ministry are what successive ministers have built on. I have not heard of any oil bloc to his name to date or the frequent smears and scandals that occupants of that office have come to be associated with! The Chief Etiebet they so described in their warped minds must be from Mars!

And when I wrote that piece, which was published in a national newspaper, I never met with the man or had any close contact with him. In fact, the closest I got to him was sighting him, from a distance, during the launching of Hewlett Packard products at the Muson Centre, Lagos, sometimes in 2003 and listened with rapt attention to all the accolades poured on him by the directors of the American computer firm. So, my anger was sufficiently justified when I read that misplaced piece from people who thought they could just rubbish him to achieve certain political goals.

Needless to say that that piece brought me closer to him. As a matter of fact, he sent an email thanking me for the kind thoughts I had of him. I was really impressed by that gesture. That also necessitated my visiting his house at Ewet Housing, Uyo, where we had long discussions on politics, business, socio-cultural issues and all that. It was also an opportunity for me to get to know the humanness and the propensity of this great icon to develop human capital and spot budding talents. I found out, in the course of our conversation that he has had a hand in the making of some of today’s big boys, especially from my state.

To start with, how many people knew that former governor of Akwa Ibom State, and now Senator Godswill Akpabio was once a staff of one of his companies? And that he actually recommended him for commissionership in Akwa Ibom State under the administration of Obong Victor Attah, which paved way for him (Akpabio) to become the governor later? It is also true that the present Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma was his Special Assistant when he was the Minister of Petroleum Resources during the Abacha regime. The two mentioned above are just among the long list of people who have passed through political, business and mentorship of this Imperial College of London trained Petroleum Engineer, cum politician.

The truth is that Chief Etiebet, the Atuekong Annang, one of the highest titles of his ethnic Annang sub group, is a man of means who has deployed his resources to empower, develop and energize budding business talents, indigent people, orphans and the needy. He can be stubborn when he believes in a cause, though but his passion about the development of Akwa Ibom State, and indeed Nigeria and Africa as a whole cannot be faulted. Not many will forget how he single handedly promoted and funded the National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN) during the Abacha fraudulent political transition and almost lost his life. The pedigree and reach of that party has been a subject for political pundits who agreed that the party structure was too solid to be pushed aside and that, perhaps, got Abacha to send his goons after him having known that he is not a man to be so easily manipulated. He has since criss-crossed around our political spectrum. He contested the February 1999 PDP Presidential Primaries held in Jos and came out an impressive third behind Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Alex Ekweme carpeting four other contestants. He had been a national chairman of All Nigeria Political Party (ANPP) and currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the All Progressives Congress after resigning from the PDP where he was also a BOT member.

It is often said that if Chief Don Etiebet had decided to focus and deploy his savvy on only his business, he would have been one of the richest men in Africa today. He was one of the pioneers in the computing and information technology business in Nigeria. He owned the first indigenous company involved in the use, production, marketing, installations, maintenance and training, and also in developing of applications for hardware and software computer systems in Nigeria. Data Sciences, a company he incorporated in 1979 started to assemble Obodex PCs, in 1992, the first ever Nigerian brand name in personal computers which took the market by storm and became the largest computer company in Nigeria, delivering and maintaining mainframe computer systems for the IOCs, the banking sector, all the examinations bodies, power and telecommunication sub sectors in Nigeria and outside with the cutting edge technology solutions from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) of North America of which his company enjoyed unchallenged distributorship.

But, he decided to deploy his time, wealth and energy towards building political capacity and stability in Nigeria. He tells you readily that he has no regrets. He is comfortable with his contribution and impact in the murky political waters of Nigeria. He feels good about his contributions and encourages Nigerians, especially those who have something to offer the system to come out and help shape Nigeria. He often says “people should not be scared out of political contest because if you are afraid of the turf, then don’t complain when half-baked people run your life,” the quintessential Chief Etiebet, you’d say

And that is why, I was exceedingly gratified when the Prof. Patrick Utomi’s Centre for Valued Leadership (CVL) organised a colloquium for him on Thursday September 28, 2017 at the National Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) to mark his 73rd birthday in Lagos. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t attend because I had to be out of town. But, snippets of the goodwill messages, accolades and remarks that spew out of that assembly are testimony to the value and positive impact that Chief Donatus Obot Etiebet has made in the attempt to ensure we have a Nigeria where we, and the generations yet unborn will be proud of. The creme de la creme of the society who attended the one day event, and cut across the length and breadth of Nigeria ethno-religious and political divide and beyond, was an eloquent testimony to the pedigree of our revered Chief Etiebet.

Though I have not confirmed whether his state of birth sent a representative to the event or not, it would be surprising if it is to the contrary. Is it not ironic that Chief Don Obot Etiebet, CON, FNCS, FNMGS, unarguably the face of business and politics in Akwa Ibom State is not celebrated in a state where he virtually gave his all? In other areas of Nigeria, the celebration is supposed to have been a state event. Our people would rather play politics with everything. I am sure, the issue of PDP and APC must have been drawn into the mix. I can hear some lousy opportunistic state official analyse the celebration from the colour of party politics. Congratulations, Chief Don Etiebet. May you continue to soar higher and higher. This is wishing you good health and long life to continue to impact on our society.

.Ankak, a Media Professional and Public Affairs Analyst wrote this piece from Lagos