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Monday, March 9, 2020



By Kenneth Jude

A few days ago on Facebook and on some other media platforms, a picture of two individuals standing side by side caught my attention. I pondered on the exciting comparison it brought to my mind. It was the pictures of former Defense Secretary of the United States, Chuck Hagel and a Member of the House of Representatives of Nigeria, Onofiok Luke. According to the post, the image was shot at the famous American Gallup Inc in far away United States of America.

My imagination travelled to what truly defines this pair and makes a common ground for both. I have read a lot about both men, particularly Senator Chucks Hagel. As a matter of fact, the stories behind Colin Powel and Chucks Hagel piqued my interest into the American politics of war and economy. Let me cruise into unveiling the men Hagel and Luke, perhaps it will help situate this narrative properly.

Who is Chuck Hagel? Born as Charles Timothy Hagel 1946 in Nebraska, an American military veteran and a successful businessman who joined politics and served as a United States Senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2009. Despite being a Republican, he was appointed the 24th United States Secretary of Defense from 2013 to 2015 under the Obama administration.

As a Republican, Senator Hagel under a Republican administration led by the 43rd President of the United States George W. Bush, condemned the war against Iraq. His fierce criticism of President Bush’s administration over the Iraq War and opposition to the 2007 troop surge generated lasting resentment among his fellow Republicans, yet the man stood by his conviction.

When in 2013 President Obama nominated Hagel as Defense Secretary, his nomination suffered severe setback and attack mostly from Republicans during his screening. Hagel at some point wanted to turn down the offer. He was however confirmed in a narrow 58-41 votes that was mostly along party lines. Only four Republicans voted in his favour.

On August 30, 2013, the U.S. military was poised for war against Syria. President  Barack Obama had publicly warned Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad that his regime would face consequences if it crossed the “red line” by employing chemical weapons against its own people. Assad defied this warning. As Defense Secretary,  Hagel had spent the day approving final plans for a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missile strikes against Damascus, when President Obama instructed him to stand down the planned attack. Although he listened to order, Hagel was convinced the order did not speak well for the image of the office of the President. According to him "A president’s word is a big thing, and when the president says things, that’s a big deal."

Hagel faced tougher times even with the cabinet but stuck to his conviction on several matters. He had accused the White House of trying to destroy him. After his turbulent times as Defense Secretary, Hagel in 2015 resigned his position.

What of the other gentleman, Onofiok Luke?  Born in 1978 in present day Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria. Bagged an LL.B from the University of Uyo. The enterprising  Luke ventured into students' union politics and rose to become the President of the Students' Union Government.  Fearless and outspoken, he led a peaceful protest against the school authorities for increasing school fees and was subsequently rusticated by the same institution on the accusation of causing unrest in the school.

Convinced that he was on the right path of advocating for the people, he was not deterred. Providence threw an opportunity for him to complete his education at the same institution which he grabbed and pursued with vigour.

He became the pioneer Speaker of the Nigerian Youth Parliament. In secular politics, by his conviction and sense of equity, he supported power shift to Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District in 2006. At a great political cost and uncertainty, he defied the lure of supporting a candidate advanced by the incumbent but chose to pitch a tent with the aspirations of Godswill Obot Akpabio without minding the attendant political consequences.  He mobilised support from the grassroots and the youth base to see to the emergence of Mr Akpabio as the candidate of the People's Democratic Party in the 2007 Governorship election and subsequently winner at the general polls.

In 2011, he sought election to represent Nsit Ubium State Constituency and emerged victorious. His displeasure for injustice and constantly speaking truth to power made his reelection bid in 2015 a herculean task. Even when he supported the government of the day into power, he constantly did not hesitate to point out some inherent unpleasant circumstances in that administration and this of course, did not go down well with the powers that be at the time. He was fought with resources at the government's disposal to deny him the ticket but the force of the people whom he had rather sought to pitch his tent with came to his rescue.

Just like Chuck Hagel, Onofiok Luke is constantly accused of being too independent-minded, stubborn and refuses to play by the 'rules of the game' - whatever that means . Why our politicians and select elites in government prefer having a completely dependent and docile leader in authority baffles the mind.  Why is it difficult for people to understand that conviction and conscience are the hallmarks of leadership especially in this day and age where courageous leadership is mostly required? Why do they need leaders to be like "zombies"? These are pertinent questions that failure to provide answers have impeded the rise of competent men and women to leadership positions. And until the narrative changes, we continue to grope in the dark as has manifested virtually at all levels of leadership whether at the federal, state or local levels.

Having been successfully reelected to the House of Assembly, the tussle for who would become the Speaker of the 6th Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly threw itself up. Again, as it were, the powers that be at the time insisted it was not going to be Onofiok Luke. It succeeded though only for a time.  But God in His own divinely orchestrated plans, time, circumstances and providence, raised and presented him in December 2015 as the Speaker of the 6th Assembly to wide acclaim by the people.

In the build-up to the 2019 general elections, a major incident occurred in August of 2018. One of the leaders of the party in the state,  who contributed immensely to building the current structure of the PDP, a former commissioner,  former governor, serving senator and Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, defected to the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress. This came as a shocker to many in the state and beyond.

According to Luke, based on the stories he told during the 2019 election campaigns, turned down all enticements and inducements in cash and promise of higher position to stand by his conviction that it was fair and equitable for Governor Udom Emmanuel to be reelected for a second term. By his own argument, when power came to Uyo Senatorial District, it was in the hands of one man for 8 years. The same when it went to Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District. It is not now that it has moved to Eket Senatorial District that it will be different, he insisted. He added that he would not want to be remembered in history as a sitting Speaker of the State Assembly that betrayed a sitting governor of his own state.

Standing by this conviction,  Luke campaigned and mobilised vigorously in support for the governor, which saw to reelection of Mr Udom Emmanuel for a second term in office.

Elected as Member representing Etinan/Nsit Ibom/Nsit Ubium Federal Constituency in the 9th Assembly, he stood by his conviction yet again to support Mr Femi Gbajabiamila to emerge Speaker even when his party, the PDP had another candidate it supported, Mr Mohammed Umar Bago. This action offended some leaders of the party but he stood by what he believed would be for the productive good of the 9th Assembly and Nigeria as a whole. I listened to him during his recent townhall meeting when he obliged to explain to his constituents the reason he supported the speakership of Femi Gbajabiamila.  "I never made any request to be given Chairmanship of any committee or any reward for my support. I laid before the Speaker requests bordering on legislative support for Ibaka Deep Sea Port, NCAA licence for Ibom Air, University status for Maritime Academy in Oron and other benefits for Akwa Ibom," Luke said.

Given these backgrounds, the similarities between Chuck Hagel and Onofiok Luke are very evident and quite interesting. I wouldn't know if these two know of the striking similarities between them or if the picture was a deliberate act. One thing is certain: both men have been fought by the very people or government they belonged and assisted.  Both men's political careers have been driven by their strong convictions and overall good of the common man. Both men have been outspoken not minding whose ox is gored. Both men are highly cerebral. Both men are respected even amongst the people that despise them.

As the nation goes through this challenging times and our people gradually being disadvantaged and short changed in the Comity of states, the Akwa Ibom of our dream and collective future needs a courageous,  positively-stubborn-to- anything anti-Akwa Ibom and bold leader who stands by his convictions without compromising the fate of her people for his private benefits, the very traits that define Chuck Hagel and Onofiok Luke.

So when the photograph of both men surfaced recently, for me, there could'nt have been a better caption: TWO OF A KIND.

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