By Udeme Nana
IN a country where most politicians are selfish and killers of the dreams and aspirations of their constituents, one man stands out as a lone star in the arena. He drips hope and a commitment to help in the remaking of the society.
His complete identification with the Uyo Book Club initiative which meets in The Shakespeare’s Hall of Watbridge Hotel, a one-stop hospitality facility, where he serves currently as the Advisor, shows his natural inclination to intellectualism and public service. Otherwise, how does one explain that Watbridge has been the leading and most consistent sponsor of activities of Uyo Book Club, which is perhaps the fastest growing intellectual hub in these parts? The naming of facilities in the hotel also betrays his bent as a bibliophile.
Apart from Shakespeare’s Hall that readers and writer gather regularly to read and interact, there is a library in Watbridge Hotel named in honour of the celebrated Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who now lives in exile in the United States. Other prominent African writers are celebrated also in that environment. There are life-size portraits of iconic African writers like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ayi Kwei Armah, Chimamanda Adichie, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ngugi, etc. His Watbridge Hotel facility is arguably the only literary-themed hotel in Nigeria, with both a Library for Guests and a rich bookshop. It takes someone who is passionate about a hobby to be so obsessed with intellectualism.
On Wednesday, September 21, 2022 which was the 56th birthday of Ekong Sampson Akpan, as usual, the only item on his agenda was to visit a school or two to read with the students, teach and interface with the younger ones. Last year, this volunteer visited Excellence College, Ikot Unya, where he donated a borehole to the school after his engagement with the students. He also taught at Community Secondary Commercial School, Esa Ekpo and moved over to the secondary school, Ndon Ibotio to teach the students after which he donated much needed teaching kits to the school. This year, he volunteered to move into another inner local government area, Mbo to engage the students in Community Secondary Grammar School, Ebughu.
Who does this among political actors or top public servants in Nigeria? The path which Sampson has chosen to walk is not common to people of his ‘class’!
In fact, during a recent tour with delegates who attended the National Conference of Book Clubs in Nigeria to Topfaith Schools and University at Mkpatak, the Chairman of Topfaith Schools, Dr. Emmanuel Abraham kept asking this writer about Sampson: How does he combine it – politics with such a passion for books? This one isn’t a typical Nigerian politician, the man enthused. He is extraordinary, one agreed.
Sampson is not the regular run of the mill politician. He is a poet whose satirical products include ‘The Medalist,’ a poem dedicated to the late Niger Delta environmentalist, the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, ‘Rain at Reigners,’ a powerful outpouring of his thoughts concerning the unfortunate collapse of a newly built church auditorium in Uyo which killed several worshipers, ‘Market Outside the Market Place,’ ‘A Feast with Termites,’ ‘Season of Handshakelessness,’ and ‘The Returning Officer,’ among other works which elicit laughter and tears all at once! His rich and growing ouvre also includes books like Parliamentarianism in Nigeria: An Odyssey in the Niger Delta, Law and Statesmanship – The legacy of Sir Udo Udoma, among other books.
His flair for writing and passion for reading and public service which form his triple essence comes natural to him. He emerged as one of the best students in some of the schools he attended and graduated with a Distinction in Mass Communication from The Polytechnic, Calabar in 1985. He proceeded to read law at the former University of Cross River State and was called to the Bar in 1991.
As versatile as they come, Sampson connects easily with people, he listens and empathizes with people. No doubt his community and the 12 local government areas in Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District which he seeks to represent at the Red Chambers as Senator from 2023 are marching on the same lane with him to actualize his aspiration. They see his dreams as their collective dream. They saw and watched him function diligently as Chairman of Mkpat Enin Local Government Council, as a member of the State House of Assembly, as Special Adviser and later as Commissioner. An indigene of the area, Sam Udoma is of the view that ‘one of the strengths of this bookworm is that he connects with people easily’.
In the past four years since Uyo Book Club took up residence at Watbridge Hotel, Dr. Ekong Sampson has not missed a reading session. He has not missed any activity which involves the club, be it conference, colloquium, or book presentation. He shows up, sits through, reads and shares his experiences and insights with the members and folks who show up for the meetings. This was unarguably why he was installed as the Patron of Uyo Book Club – a well deserved status to which he has warmed up to creditably. This has helped set the club on a very solid foundation and catalysed its expansion into several outposts beyond Uyo City.
Sampson has won the nomination of his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to contest the 2023 general election into the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and methinks he would bring his intellectual depth, his penchant for details, his wide experience, his bonhomie attitude and open-minded philosophy to bear on his engagements at the distinguished assembly. Neither a resolution nor a Bill will escape his scrutiny before adoption and passage. That would mark a radical departure from the crowd which went on a mental flight of fancy when the 2022 Electoral Bill was on their laps to engage.
* Dr. Nana is a media scholar and founder of Uyo Book Club