It is our national prayer as a nation that our heroes’ past shall not be in vain. This is a familiar line in the Nigerian national anthem.
And I want to believe, it was in the realisation that there is no future in isolation of the past, that the custodians of our national dreams and aspirations brought this to the fore. Nations of the world live by this reality.
The Brits will not subscribe to any account of the WW2 that does not reverence the heroics of Winston Churchill, whether the argument is that the bombing of Hiroshima actually brought the war to an end or not.
The Jews will not end the celebration of their annual Passover Feast without dedicating a substantial part to recollecting the uncommon feat of their leader and hero, Moses, in Egypt, not minding whether it was the shepherd or another who finally led them into the Promised Land.
This is the legacy that gives verve to their pedigree. And they will not lose it for anything in the world. And understandably so. It is a medal of honour they will always wear with pride. The same way blacks in the US walk in the shadow of Martin Luther King holding their heads high, not for the skyscrapers he built in New York but for the things he said on their behalf.
Like the reverend gentleman, another King, this time in black Africa, Rev. S. J. King, as he was popularly known, is equally a man of great history, whose shadow covers our paths, not for the lands he acquired in Uyo but for the things he did on our behalf while he had his time.
Very early in life, Mr. Samuel John King returned home after completing his studies in Essex, England, to a life of public service and nation building in the many spheres and critical sectors of the Nigerian nation.
To underscore the character of this young patriot, Mr. King was found worthy to be trusted with the sensitive office of Principal Private Secretary to the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon GCFR in 1967, at a time when national trust was in deficit and mutual suspicion was palpable between the Federal government and the people of the Eastern region.
To further confirm the patriotic zeal and intellectual depth of this superlative technocrat, King was chosen on several counts to bear the responsibility of briefing notable great minds and world leaders like Pope John Paul II and the British Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson on the delicate intricacies of the Nigerian Civil War dominating global discourse at the time.
S. J, as he was fondly called by friends and admirers alike, was a bright mind who did not shirk his responsibilities and was never out of ideas. His former boss and later, friend, Yakubu Gowon, said this much on the occasion of Nigeria Prays interdenominational service held in 1997 at the Qua Iboe Church Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo Way, Uyo.
The INSIDER Newsmagazine, in its report on the Bakassi peninsular legal tussle before the World Court, listed Mr. King alongside a certain Mr. Coker amongst others, as the representatives of the Nigerian government in the high-powered federal delegation that brokered the Bakassi negotiations with the government of Cameroon, where King had once served as Nigeria’s Consular in Biu.
It is also on record, that the then Military Administrator of Akwa Ibom State, Colonel Yakubu Bako, had visited the elder statesman at home in his hometown of Ekpene Ukpa, on this score. Looking very closely, it begins to look like this diplomat par excellence and powerbroker, had his imprints and left his fingerprints on every key decision and decisive moments that shaped the Nigerian State.
It was believed at a time in some quarters, that Mr. S. J. King, a principal officer and a key member of the kitchen cabinet of the Gowon administration, was one of the cerebral minds behind the strategic creation of the 12 States in lieu of the 4 Regions, which threw spanner in the works of secession that was building up against the unity of the largest and most populous black nation on earth.
A firm believer in the unity of Nigeria and a proponent of unity in diversity, Mr. King, a known humanist, was not only specially gifted and cerebral, he was equally very liberal in his thoughts and worldview. This made it easy for him to make and keep friends without any form of inhibitions, be it racial, social, ideological or religious. This can be situated in his celebrated friendship with the likes of Alhaji Hamza Rafindadi, Chief Emmanuel Inwuanyanwu, Senator D. D. Etiebet and others across the political space of Nigeria.
A chieftain of the ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN, Mr. King while serving in different capacities, never lost thought of his roots, as charity, they say, begins at home. He was known to have used the goodwill of his many offices while in service to better the lot of his people. By the instrumentality of his offices, more than a handful of Ibibio sons and daughters had the opportunity to go abroad and study under the federal scholarship scheme and many others got recruited into either the State or Federal Civil Service.
Humble and unassuming, Mr. King is believed by many of his peers to have had an exceptional heart for his people. This assertion was collaborated by no less a person than the former governor of the old Cross River State, the late Chief Donald D. Etiebet at Mr. King’s funeral in 2008. Chief Etiebet while giving an account of his chance meeting with the late diplomat at a Post Office in Lagos, described Mr. King as a handsome, simple and friendly personality.
At his funeral, where the then governor of the State, Gov. Godswill Akpabio, was ably represented by his deputy, Chief Etiebet told the gathering how he approached Mr. King and told him of his challenge in reconnecting with his family, who where cut off on the other side of the divide. He said, without delay Mr. King got to work and in a matter of days, he was dining with top military brass hats on a naval ship sailing to the East. He said he was accorded great privileges and nicknamed Gowon Boy because of the note that introduced him from the presidency.
And on how it later became possible in 1983 for Senator D. D. Etiebet from the minority Annang tribe to come to power and hold office as the governor of the old Cross River State, Mr. Emmanuel Peter Akpabio, a veteran journalist and an aide to the then Senator Etiebet, is of the opinion that having Mr. King on the team made all the difference.
As Secretary of the Mainland State Movement; a group of eminent Akwa Ibom persons, agitating for the creation of the State from the old Cross River, King was of the conviction that it was only a fair share of opportunities to the topmost office, which required a great amount of sacrifice on the part of the majority Ibibio nation, who held the deciding votes in the politics of the Mainland, that can allay all fears of marginalisation and assure the minorities of their stake in the proposed State and in turn extract their full commitment to the struggle.
A selfless and dogged advocate of the principle of live and lets live, Chief Etiebet made it abundantly clear that after he had won the governorship elections in 1983 and had taken the oath of office, that Mr. King turned down his offer of Office of the Secretary to the State Government made to him. This was vintage King. He was hardly ambitious. He found satisfaction more in the success of a cause than in its fruits.
After helping to get a headstart for the newly created Southeastern State from the central government, it took the direct intervention of the C in C for Mr. King to accept to take up office as the Cabinet Secretary in the new government. And again, because King was involved, the U. J. Esuene administration left behind a worthy legacy in the annals of political administration in Nigeria. And like in Geneva, Biu and Lagos, Mr. King’s past is not in vain in the Municipality. It has been well documented and acknowledged.
But the closest you can ever get, to hear of this great mind in his home state of Akwa Ibom, that he doggedly fought for alongside others, is in a pamphlet where Mr. S. J. King is listed among others as one of the Forgotten Heroes of Akwa Ibom State, published by an indigene of the State, who had the moral courage to question our reward system as a people.
Sadly, this unkind cut is our collective loss, just like when Mobil International notified the Abacha government of its decision to put forward Mr. King; a great friend of the oil giant who helped in immeasurable ways to get the company to set up shop in Nigeria, as its first indigenous Chairman in Nigeria and a certain retired General from our oil backyard led others to sign a petition that King was not one of them and that his little town of Ekpene Ukpa was not producing oil.
And after losing that golden opportunity, that entailed a lot of possibilities for us as a people, are we not struggling to this day just to get the American firm to move its corporate headquarters from Lagos to the State without much success? The future has never been kind to a people who forget their history and allow their heroes’ past to be in vain, obvious reason why King David sought for and allowed the cripple Mephibosheth to sit at the king’s table. It was done to fulfill all righteousness in honour of the sacrifices of Prince Jonathan.
As the family of the late S. J. King gather on the 13th day of May
2017, to bid farewell to the widow of the late Iman political icon, Prophetess (Mrs.) Bessie S. J. King, I share the sentiment of many that this is another golden opportunity for the government and good people of Akwa Ibom State to bend backwards and pay due respect to the memory of their son and hero, late Apostle Samuel John King before his 10th memorial anniversary coming up in 2018.
Nseabasi S. J. King
Social Commentator & Former Head of Media, Office of the Deputy Governor, Akwa Ibom State.