BY Alobo Eba
A Development expert and Executive Director of Prof. Charles Effiong Foundation, Mr. Obasse Okanke Ofem has declared that Engr. Ben Akak did not start his philanthropic gestures overnight as it is presently alleged by some people in Cross River. Speaking to newsmen in Calabar on the past and present antecedents of Engr. Akak, the Development expert said “Ben Akak has been displaying his philanthropic gesture from way back. He raised the funds to sustain the Margaret Ekpo foundation. Sometimes, his wife will have to bring food for us just to support what we were doing. There was never a time that we came to him and he didn’t remedy the situation. He has been that person that knows that people around him must survive. If he had not had that mind of reaching out, some of the things he did wouldn’t have been achieved. There was a time he initiated a pagentery where young women will come and display Africanism, how to tie wrapper, how to cook native soups etc. And at the end, he picked the best and supported them. That’s the kind of person he has been.”
Speaking further, he said “The Ben Akak foundation you’re seeing today, for me I see it as an offshoot from the knowledge gathered while running the Margaret Ekpo Foundation and that has made it possible that today he understands what he is doing and how to do it. It’s not been easy, but I am sure it’s worth it.
On linking philanthropism with good governance, he said “Leadership is an individual thing. It is not in what you do but in what you believe. If your belief is that when people are taken care of, it makes governance easy, why not go into that. They are related in some sort but there is no guarantee that because you’re a good philanthropist, then it will make you a good leader. But then, if you understand the interplay, you will realise that a good leader will care about the welfare of the people. What people call philanthropy is actually being conscious of the welfare of the people. To me, what this man is doing is an idea to the fact that he understands the suffering of the people and if he can with his private funds, thinks of this and do this, when he has control over Government, he should be able to do more and that should naturally make governance interesting and easy for him. The relationship too is that I understand that this person needs to eat to be able to understand what I am doing. Also, he needs water and good healthcare and hygiene and that is what he is doing so they are related.
On why some philanthropists tend to change when they get into office, Mr. Obasse stated that it is an individual decision as according to him “It is not the office that changes the person, it is the individual. For some people, you get the true picture of who they are when they get power, they show their true identity. People change not because the office make them change. The people around you when you’re governing have a whole lot to do. You may not have changed as a person, but the people around you tell you lies or maybe you believe a whole lot of things. The position does not change the individual, it is the individual that decides to change maybe because they now have certain level of power or influence and affluence as against the background when they came into power. Any good leader would not and will never change notwithstanding the powers so given. I make instance with people like Goodluck Jonathan. A lot of us are now understanding him better after ousting him out.”
Mr. Okanke stated that “We all yearn to have an administration that has regards for young persons and the entire state. That will develop Cross River economically beyond where we are today. To a lot of us, we have been on that analysis of yes, it has all gone round the three Senatorial Districts, let us begin from the South for fairness, equity and justice. We know that the South has fantastic young people and coincidentally, a lot of people have been on the social media space talking about different people and out of all these people, I can speak for Ben Akak because I have known him before today that he has a lot of boys around and people think he just came to become governor. A lot of us have known him back then when he said it as a dream. Back then, we set up a team to work for Margaret Ekpo Development foundation with Ben Akak as the Principal secretary.”
According to him “I have known him more than ten years and if anybody ask me the highest attribute I know him for, it is humility. I say it everywhere and anywhere, Ben has been that humble person I have known right from time immemorial.”
The Executive Director further said “The only difference today is that because of additional commitments, and other engagements, he cannot be as accessible as he used to be back then. For that, I can excuse him because it is only natural except you do not have conscience or respect for people’s progress in life.” Adding that “Ben is somebody who understands what he wants and goes for it. He is a goal getter.”
On some of his antecedents while working at Margaret Ekpo foundation, he said “Interestingly, the story building at Effio Ette, whenever I see it, I say this is the dream building. From the set up, Ben will come, he will sweep, put the furnishing and everything was done by Ben Akak. Though the Margaret Ekpo foundation may have had a good place but it needed a dream builder to really make it come to light. Ben was the person who single-handedly raided funds to furnish the office and pay staff. We were running, we had a strategic and work plan and everything put in place. And I remember one of our programme then was to promote women in politics, their engagement and involvement in all phases of life looking at the life and times of the great Margaret Ekpo.”
He added that “It was in the course of this, we started the annual lecture. Ben started it. We had like two in Calabar, one of it had Kanu Agabi as the chairman. Trust me,those lectures were very eventful. One of the biggest was held in Abuja. We were supposed to have the former first ladies there. It was successful and during the period, the Margaret Ekpo lecture became a rallying point for most female politicians. The lecture was to reignite the consciousness of women about female participation in politics.”
Also “I remember when we went to assess Margaret Ekpo Secondary School, and Ben Akak said we should give it a facelift. So when people begin to say Ben is an overnight philanthropist, I don’t know that philanthropism means to them because as at this time, there was nothing as incentive. Ben gave a lot of young people opportunities to benefit from the foundation. I want to say I am one of the beneficiaries.”
Speaking further on whether he sees Ben Akak as one who can be caged when given political power, he said “One of the things I have known about him is that he is not an armchair person. He has never been that type of person that sits in one place. At Margaret Ekpo foundation, we sat down to develop a strategic plan for the organization because he knew and knows that we needed a plan to follow not just sitting to say, after all I am the executive secretary. He is somebody that understands what needs to be done before an action is taken so I am very sure that Ben Akak is not the type of person that will be caged. I am not preaching for him because he is my friend. What I am saying is who I have known him to be. He is the type that will move to the street to see what is needs to be done. All the time, you will see him in one orphanage or the other. He would have as well sent people to go to those places, and they will still write his name as one of the persons who did those things but he makes himself available. Based on those antecedents, I am very sure he won’t be caged. And if he falters, I will be one of those people that will tell him the truth that he has gone astray. I believe that if you have anybody in Government, the best you can do for them is give them the needed information to work effectively. Beyond being an Engineer, the young people around him are the regular guys that we know, that’s a pointer to the fact that he will deliver.”
On the challenges that Engr. Ben may face in the race, Mr. Okanke said “If he just walk into the Government house, then it is not governance. Even Jesus Christ had opposition. If Ben doesn’t have opposition, then it won’t be worth it. He would sure have opposition because they are a lot of other people who have same ambition with him but at the end of the day, the will of God will prevail in who rules.”
On his expectations if Engr. Akak eventually emerge as governor, he stated categorically that “My least expectation will be for him to fail and my expectations generally will be a great transformation. I know a number of boreholes he has duged around the state and the market he has impacted and all of that so if he becomes the governor, he should know better. When he has a budget that he can plan with and has a state assembly that can approve of certain things, he should know how to do better. So I will expect massive development and transformation in Cross River because he has been a man of style right from time. I expect the best of the best though he will still have challenges and he is sure not going to satisfy every human being.”