By Amb. Unyime Ubong King
Elder Eno Benjamin Ikpe, who frequently referred to himself as, ‘Ufot Udo Nkasang,’ a nickname which pointed to his birth order as the 4th of 5 brothers, would fondly refer to his children as ‘ndito Ufot Udo Nkasang’ (the children of Ufot Udo Nkasang) and would teasingly call his wife ‘akanawan baby’ (old woman, baby). Himself, he described as ‘the plant that flowered late.’ He ascribed this late flowering to the ‘inhibitions of time and circumstances.’ Indeed, he may have flowered late, but in the short span of time that God allowed him to serve humanity, he affected a lot of people in ways that would impact upon their lives for a very long time.
WHEN I WAS A CHILD…
Eno Benjamin Ikpe was born on the 17th of January 1940 to late Madam Aggie Isaac Eshiett (nee Akpadiagha Uko) of Nnung Otuoyo (later Nnung Udoinyang) family of Etinan, and late Elder Benjamin Akpan Ikpe of the great Ekpuk Nnung Ukpong family of Ikot Ebiyak, Etinan Urban. His father, Elder Benjamin Akpan Ikpe, was an avid diarist and writer who kept impeccable family records. In his childhood days, when other homes boasted of the gramophone, Aladdin or Tilley lamps which were elitist items in those days, theirs boasted of newspapers and magazines like Daily/Sunday Times, the Eastern Outlook, and the Eastern Express. His father Elder Benjamin Akpan Ikpe had served the Qua Iboe Mission and church in various capacities as teacher and preacher in many stations of the church field including Etinan itself, from about 1920 to 1966 when he voluntarily retired from active service owing to failing health, his last station having been Ikot Ubok Udom in Nsit Atai area of Akwa Ibom State.His maternal grandfather, Akpadiagha Uko, later christened Isaac Eshiet by the missionaries, is reported to have been among the company of paddlers that conveyed the personal effects of Etubom John Kirk, first Qua Iboe Missionary in Etinan, from Ibeno in 1897. His mother, Aggie Eshiett was the grand-daughter of Chief Udo Ema, whose name cannot be left out of any account of the Qua Iboe Mission in the Etinan area.
…NOW, I AM A MAN
Eno Ikpe (as he was called for short) began his educational pursuits at the John Kirk Memorial School, Etinan from1947-1955, after which he proceeded to Etinan Institute for a brief stint from 1957-1958, before he completed his secondary education at the Enitonna High School in Port Harcourt from1960-1962. He obtained his West African School Certificate (WASC) in 1962 with a Division II grade. He worked briefly in the Department of Customs and Excise in Lagos; then as Air Traffic Control Assistant in Lagos and Kano, before leaving to commence a series of courses in secretarial studies at the Federal Training Centre, Lagos, between 1964 and 1969. He worked as an official reporter at the Parliament buildings in Lagos from 1963-1964. He also worked at the Federal Ministry of Transport as a stenographer in 1968 and was adept at writing in shorthand. He transferred to the South Eastern State (Cross River State) Civil Service in 1972, and between 1979 and 1983, served as Hansard editor in the Cross River State House of Assembly. He spent the summer of 1980 at the Legislative Improvement Centre, Denver, Colorado, USA, on a six-week study tour to the US Congress and selected Capitols in the USA. He also served at the Political Department of the Cabinet Office in Akwa Ibom State.After Eno Ikpe transferred to the South Eastern State Civil Service in 1972, he achieved a number of feats. He established the Official Reports Unit in the Office of the Military Governor, and at the Cabinet Office, Calabar. He was part of the Justice Nasir Boundary Adjustment Commission in 1976, Customs and Usages Commission of Inquiry, 1976, and conducted a crash training for would-be legislative staff of the first Cross River State Legislature, where he served as its first Deputy Editor in 1970. He headed the Committee on Verification of Alleged Omitted Clans and Villages in Cross River State, and was involved in the processing of the recommendations of traditional rulers from traditional councils for government recognition.On creation of states, Eno Ikpe returned to Akwa Ibom State Civil Service, where he served as a staff of the State House of Assembly, Akwa Ibom State as its first editor-in-chief in 1990. He continued his work verifying alleged omitted clans and villages in Akwa Ibom State under the political department, and processing of the recommendations of traditional rulers from traditional councils for government recognition from the verification exercise. He was an editorial staff attaché to the Constituent Assembly, Abuja, headed by the retired Justice Balonwu. In 1989, he was involved with the delineation of wards in Akwa Ibom State, and in 1992, he was the officer-in-charge when the Legislative Affairs Department resumed verification of omitted clans and villages in Akwa Ibom State after the military take-over.
As part of his work experiences, he was selected for outstanding assignments owing to his brilliance on the job and part of those assignments included the coverage of Military and Civilian Tribunals, local and international conferences, commissions, boards, and committees of inquiry, notably. He also covered the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Summit in 1969, OAU Summit, Lagos, 1970, meeting of the Federal Government with the International Committee of the Red Cross Societies (ICRC- Top Secret) in 1968, the University of Ibadan Disturbances Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Boonyamin Kazeem in 1971, and the Industrial Arbitration Tribunal from 1971-1972, among several ad hoc assignments. His ad hoc assignments while in service included the writing of notable speeches such as the address of Akwa Ibom Traditional Rulers on a ‘thank you’ visit to the then President Ibrahim Babangida in 1988. He also contributed to the inaugural address of Governor Idongesit Nkanga to the people of Akwa Ibom State in 1990, and he was an Instructor at the Civil Service Training Centre, Calabar in 1977.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Eno Ikpe believed in constant self-improvement and participated in a number of professional trainings in the course of his life. He attended the Aviation Training School, Ikeja in 1963, the Federal Training Centre, Lagos from 1964-1965; 1967-1969, and from 1968-1969, and did a correspondence course in Journalism from the Writing School of London. His professional affiliations include: Ordinary and Advanced Certificates in Secretarial Studies (1965), Certificate in Official Reporting and Legislative Practises (1969), Certificate in Legislative Studies (Denver, Colorado, USA, 1980), Certificate in Legislative Management and Procedure (May 1989), and an ASCON Certificate in Legislative Management for Clerks and Editors-in-Chief of the National and State Assemblies (1989).Eno Ikpe had charted a brilliant career path in the civil service and in 1998, he closed the door on his public service career by retiring after 35 years of unblemished service to the government.However, there is no hiding place for the gold fish, because after he had retired, he was appointed Special Adviser to the then Speaker- the Right Hon. Peter Linus Umoh on Legislative Matters from May 2003- May 2004, and was co-opted as a member of the Publicity Sub-Committee on Governor Victor Attah’s re-election in 2003, under the leadership of Mr. Parchi Umoh, who was Commissioner of the Akwa Ibom State Ethical and Attitudinal Re-orientation Commission (EARCOM). He did a lot of commissioned writings of notable syndicated advertorials and pull-outs, as well as information brochures on local government by local governments on the achievement of the Attah administration from1999-2003.
RETIREMENT IS NOT THE END OF LIFE
Eno Ikpe’s flair for writing developed quite early and he wrote a number of newspaper articles, a lot of which he published under pseudonyms. He stood tall in the pen profession and was a walking encyclopedia; his mind was a rich repository of the past, and his articles were a treasure trove of delights. He was a mentor to many young writers and his impact on the writing community in Akwa Ibom State, is immeasurable. On retirement from the civil service, he gave full expression to his creative juices, and they flowed unhindered. He began to write several feature articles for the Pioneer Newspaper and had a syndicated Column called ‘Prisms’ in several newspapers in Akwa Ibom State like- Insight, Facts, Sensors Newspapers, and Community Shield. He was guest columnist for Rainbow Magazine, Echo Magazine, Facts Weekly, Weekly Update- all published in Akwa Ibom State. His outstanding publications comprise of:- Qua Iboe Church, the First Hundred Years, The Next Jubilee (1987)- A Country Boy at King’s College- A Biography of Obong Charles Akpan Ekere OFR, First African Permanent Secretary of Erstwhile Eastern Region of Nigeria (in print)- A Farewell to Calabar and other Essays: A Critique on Ethnic Relations In Erstwhile Cross River State (in print)- Highways to Panya: Reminiscences of Village Childhood (in Manuscript).- Qua Iboe Church: Century-Old Church in Name-Change Debacle: An Appraisal of the Issues Involved (restricted circulation).
IT IS NOT GOOD THAT A MAN BE ALONE…
A little over 43 years ago, the young Eno Ikpe, then 33 years old, met the then Miss. Ekaette Etim Uko, a nubile 23-year-old Annang woman from a respected family in Abak Itenghe, Abak Local Government Area of Akwa State. He was introduced to her in Calabar by his younger sister who was her friend – late Mrs. Imoh Umoh – and his interest was piqued, especially as her father happened to be an elder of the Qua Iboe Church and her mum, a deaconess and the first female President of Qua Iboe Church, Nigeria. His romantic interest in her culminated in the solemnisation of their union at the Qua Iboe Church, Calabar on the 15th of December, 1973 in a ceremony which began at10:15am and was officiated by Rev. I.F. Umoren. The union was blessed with 5 children, one of whom died in 1992.Eno Ikpe was a man who exemplified the virtues of a stable family life. He was very fond of his children and grandchildren, and he continuously thanked God for the privilege of watching them grow. He had been quite sickly as a young man, so he never took it for granted that he lived long enough to see his children and grandchildren grow. In a world where a lot of marriages barely survived the first year, he kept his commitment to his wife of 43 years and once eulogised her in a church service at Odoro Ikot, for standing by him through sickness and all the upheavals in his life.
IN THE MASTER’S SERVICE
The late Elder Eno Ikpe did not only become a Christian by virtue of being born into a home where his parents dedicated their lives to the Lord’s service. He made his faith a personal walk of trust in God, and always at every achievement- small or big, significant or insignificant – attributed all to the hand of God upon his life. He never described himself as a ‘self-made’ man; he saw himself as a ‘God-made’ man, who would have been nothing without God’s help- a fact he continuously drummed into the ears of his family.In fulfilment of one of the doctrines of the Christian faith, the young Eno Ikpe was baptised, as an outward expression of his faith, on the 18th of December, 1956 at the Qua Iboe Church in Ikot Ekpene Udo and that marked the beginning of a walk with God that was unwavering until his presence was required of his Master. His faith and beliefs played out and found expression in his dealings with other people. Regardless of who he was relating with, he did so with fairness, compassion and kindness. He never hesitated, as far as it was in his power to do so, to extend a helping hand to anyone in need. He was humane and he made himself God’s hand extended to his immediate community.He was ordained a deacon and later on, an elder of the Qua Iboe Church, where he was a member of Nka Ufon at some point, and later on, played a frontline role in the move for name change of the church from Qua Iboe Mission Church, to the United Evangelical Church. Until his death, he remained an active and vocal participant in the activities and programs of the local parish of the United Evangelical Church at Odoro Ikot, where he gave of his time, talents and substance to ensure that he stood in defence and support of the Lord’s work. It would be a near impossibility to capture in words or mere paper, the essence of his service and involvement with church, which was like an anchor to his soul.He served in several capacities and was in the choir at some point; he loved to sing and would often be heard humming hymns under his breath as he went about his daily activities. It can be said, with all confidence, that he kept the faith.
OF FRIENDSHIPS AND CAMARADERIE, SOCIAL AND CIVIC RESPONSIBILITIES
Late Elder Eno Ikpe was a passionate lover of home and country, and would often tell his children to ensure that their own children spoke and understood their indigenous language. He was a rich repertoire of culture and history and kept accurate records of historical occurrences in his archives. Part of his civic responsibilities included:- Clerk of Ikot Ebiyak Village- Member, Etinan Elders Forum- Member, Ibibio National Union- One time President, Etinan Federated CouncilIt is said that true friends constitute one of life’s treasures and the man who has true friends is blessed. The late Eno Ikpe understood that one does not need a large number of friends, but just a number of friends one could be certain of. He valued his friendships and was aggressively committed to them. While still working at Calabar, he was one of 10 friends from Etinan, who came together under the name E-10 (Etinan 10) to discuss and share matters of common interest. They held regular meetings, which they rotated around each other’s homes and had annual Christmas get-togethers with their families. The other E-10 members were: the late Inyang Ema, late Samuel Akanekpo, late Okon Ekwere, Obot Akpabio, Ifiok Etuknwa, Ime Ema, Joe Ema, Otto Essien, and Dr. Koko Udoh. It was a close-knit circle of friendship which spilled over to the wives and children, who more or less saw each other as family. This is in no way representative of the rich friendships and camaraderie that he enjoyed with many other friends, in-laws, and relatives, to whom he was fiercely loyal. Eno Ikpe taught his family friendship and loyalty in their truest meanings. He had a dry sense of humour and was an expert at word play. He would tell a joke and keep a straight face and it behooved his listeners to look for the humour in the contradiction between words, the delivery and the context to find the joke funny. Often, he would have his listeners in stitches as a result of a witty thing he had said, but would keep a straight face himself- a trait which endeared him to his family and friends, and made discussions with him engaging and fun. After the death of his other siblings and older brothers, which left just him, a nonagenarian sister and a younger brother, he assumed the role of a big brother to his only surviving brother- a role he carried gracefully without complaints; he catered for his older sister, to whom he was both brother and son, dedicatedly, and was responsible for her upkeep until death called. Because of the old woman, he made the difficult choice to stay more in the village at Etinan, and shuttle between Etinan and his family home in Uyo- a huge sacrifice that would not go unrewarded. He watched out for the children of his late siblings and friends, and being a peaceful, simple and unassuming man, he was a rallying point for peace among his family and friends. He was not one to bear grudges, and after he had honestly expressed his grievances, would call the concerned party back and make peace. Indeed his departure leaves a huge gap in the family and with friends.
THE CURTAIN FALLS- BETTER THE END OF A MATTER…
When Eno Ikpe complained of shortness of breath just a little over a week before his death, little did anyone know that the homeward journey had begun and he was about to heed his Master’s call. He was in hospital for a little over a week, and just as his family were about to heave a sigh of relief that he seemed to be getting better and would come home, he gave in to the heavenly call, and breathed his last at about 4:45am on the 8th of May, 2017, at the Teaching Hospital in Uyo, a few hours after he told his youngest son, who had called him on his mobile at about 10pm on Sunday night, ‘Ekom, I am fine. I am at the reception.’ He was a peaceful man in life and he went home to glory as peacefully as he had lived. In those final days, when his family did not realise that the curtain was about to be drawn on his time here on earth, he had said, ‘I am 77 years after all- if anything happens to me, I am a fulfilled man.’9 The word ‘fulfilment’ was a recurring mantra on his lips and without a doubt, his was a fulfilled life and his character is certainly bigger than his death.Indeed, death is certain for all flesh- it is only life that offers no guarantees. Elder Eno Ikpe has passed on, but it can be said that he emptied himself of his gifts and talents in the service of humanity and the results of his impact would be felt for a long time. He may be gone, but his memories live on in the hearts of the people he loved and held dear, and in that way, he will never die. In the words of William Shakespeare,“Death makes no conquest of this conqueror, For now he lives in fame though not in life.”