Total Chair at 70

Total Chair at 70

Mr. Etim Etim.
Mr. Etim Etim.

By Etim Etim

One of the most brilliant and profoundly thoughtful Akwa Ibom statesmen, Arc. Otu Ita Toyo, is just hours away from climbing the 7th floor on life’s journey, and his family and friends are rolling out the drums to celebrate him in a lavish birthday bash on Thursday, April 13. Fondly known as Total Chair, a nickname he acquired in his days as the Chairman of Akwa Ibom State Chapter of PDP between 2005 and 2008, Arc. Toyo is among the most intelligent and keenly insightful persons that I know.

Total Chair is in a class of his own when it comes to the use of English. His command of the language, acuity of thoughts and ability to express complex and complicated ideas in fine prose, stand him out. It was in the 1980s that fine writers like Lance Morrow, Hugh Sidney and George Will made a lasting impression on me. I have added Otu Toyo to that list. I congratulate him on his 70th birthday, and I thank him for inviting me to his party. I can imagine that there would be fine wines, good food and many tributes from political associates from across the country. TC is one of our very best and I think we should all celebrate this jolly, good man.

Total Chair studied architecture at ABU, one of the nation’s first six universities, and practiced it for a long spell of time in Calabar. Then, ABU was home to the nation’s firebrand activists like Dr. Bala Usman, Dr. Walter Rodney, Prof Ishaya Audu (who later became President Shehu Shagari’s Foreign Minister), Prof Ango Abdullahi (who became its VC in the early 1980s) and many others. The young Toyo enthusiastically soaked in the exciting moments of campus politics and the sizzling speeches and lectures of the faculty members.

If ABU gave Toyo his idealism, it was in Calabar, during the Second Republic and under the mentorship of the late Senator Victor Akan, that he came into his own. Akan was a successful QS, businessman and a flamboyant NPN Senator in the Second Republic. Toyo studied Akan like a book, admired his astuteness in politics and a sense of duty as an entrepreneur. I guess Toyo’s sartorial style and fondness for cognac and good wines came from the Senator. Calabar also provided Toyo opportunity to get close to, and learn from the late Prof. Eskor Toyo, an eminent economist and socialist who taught at the University of Calabar for decades. From the prof, Toyo understood early on why socialists are more concerned with production for use, rather than for profit and equitable distribution of wealth and material resources among all people. How the young Toyo was able to blend effectively with the Marxism of the professor and the capitalism of the wealthy senator will require further studies. But we now know the foundation on which he built his unique personae.

I first met Total Chair around January 2007 in Lagos, just a few months to the general elections of April 2007. I was then a member of a group known as Concerned Akwa Ibom Professionals in Lagos. The body was led by Mr. Udom Inoyo, then an Executive Director at ExxonMobil. The group had invited all the governorship candidates in Akwa Ibom for a briefing session in Lagos. We wanted to be informed of what the candidates had in their agenda for the state. I recall that Mr. James Iniama (candidate of Action Congress); Chris Ekpenyong (who had decamped from the PDP and was running on another party) and Godswill Akpabio (PDP) had honoured our invitation and came to brief us in details on their blueprint. From the Professionals, those who attended, to the best of my recollections, included Senator Udoma Udo Udoma; Mr Uko Udom (now Commissioner for Justice & Attorney General) and his brothers, Mfon (CEO of Ibom Air) and Essien (lawyer); Mr Aniekan Ukpanah (lawyer); Mr. Tony Ndah (a renowned QS); Mr. Paul Usoro (former NBA President) and wife, Mfon; Mr. Aniefiok Udott (now a businessman in Canada). Of course, our leader, Mr Inoyo, was in charge of proceedings. Many others were there, but I can’t remember all. It was my lot to welcome the candidates and introduce them to the podium.

When Akpabio arrived, I went out to welcome him and his small delegation. He came with Mr. Inibehe Otoho (now APC chieftain and wealthy businessman); Onofiok Luke (his PA then, now a member of the House of Representatives) and a handsome, fair-complexioned gentleman. I ushered them into a holding room at Hotel Bellissimo, Lekki, venue of the event, and briefed them on the format of the programme. Soon, I led them into the large conference hall of the hotel where the other candidates had already made their presentations. When it was time for me to introduce Akpabio to the podium, he took the microphone from me, leaned over and whispered for a long time to the handsome gentleman who was by now seated next to him. The gentleman then collected the mike from the candidate, collected his thoughts and introduced himself as Arc. Otu Ita Toyo, the State Chairman of the PDP, and went on to introduce Akpabio in glowing terms, concluding that he ‘’is the next governor of Akwa Ibom State’’. That was my first time of seeing Toyo and Akpabio in this life.

The PDP primary election that threw up Akpabio as the governorship candidate weeks earlier in Uyo was so stormy and acrimonious that it lasted three days and was held at three different venues. Fifty-eight aspirants contested, among them the son-in-law of the outgoing governor, Obong (Arc) Victor Attah. There were schemes to cancel the result and take the ticket from Akpabio, but he prevailed. The fight took an emotional toll on the candidate and Chairman Toyo, who arrived our event that Saturday evening looking drained and almost suspicious of everybody. However, between the Chairman and his candidate, there was a palpable camaraderie, and perhaps, that explained why he opted for Toyo to introduce him. As I watched the small drama unfold, I pondered the importance politicians place on form and appearances, but little did I know that Toyo would turn out to be one of the leading lights in our state and my good friend to boot.

Total Chair writes a lot about the failings of our governments and agonizes over the inability or unwillingness of leaders to use the people’s resources for the benefit of the people. It must be due to the nature of our politics that seminal thoughts leaders like Toyo are not in the mainstream of governance. Although he has since 2015 joined APC, nobody at the center seems to reckon with his talents and leadership skills. It sometimes seems as if we loathe the best amongst us.

Happy Birthday, Total Chair!

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