Years after supervising his public beating, Akpabio celebrates Akwa Ibom Speaker as ‘son’

Senator Akpabio prays for Mr. Onofiok Luke during a church thanksgiving service

After he was humiliated and beaten publicly four years ago under the watch of the then governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Onofiok Luke, now appears to be enjoying the best of relationship with Mr. Akpabio.

Mr. Akpabio, who is the Senate Minority Leader, said on Sunday “Onofiok Luke is my son and I’m proud of him”.

He made the remark at the Full Life Christian Centre, Uyo, during the speaker’s thanksgiving service to mark his 40th birthday.

At the church, the senator laid his hand on the speaker’s head and prayed for him. He said since he left office as governor, Mr. Luke stands out as one person who has continued to publicly acknowledge and appreciate him as his benefactor.

The senator placed advert on two national newspapers on Sunday, saying his wife was Mr. Luke’s “mother”, and his children, Mr. Luke’s “brothers”.

“Your sterling leadership qualities have vindicated the stands of the National Assembly that the youth who can vote are not too young to run,” Mr. Akpabio said of Mr. Luke, in the advert.

The church service was attended by top government officials and political leaders in the state, including Governor Udom Emmanuel, the Deputy Governor, Moses Ekpo, and a former governor of the state, Idongesit Nkanga.

In November 2013, in an incident that almost tore the State House of Assembly apart, Mr. Luke, who as at that time was the chairman, House Committee on Finance and Appropriation, was assaulted by Mr. Akpabio’s loyalists at a burial ceremony in Etim Ekpo. Mr. Akpabio stood by to watch the attack.

The lawmaker’s offence was that he publicly opposed Mr. Akpabio’s attempt to use the burial ceremony to rally some lawmakers against one of their colleagues, Victor Udofia, whom he wanted suspended from the House.

Mr. Luke was later removed as the chairman of the House Committee on Finance and Appropriation and made to head a “less powerful” Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The then chairman of Essien Udim Local Area, Nse Ntuen, was reported to be among those who were involved in the public humiliation of Mr. Luke.

Today, Mr. Ntuen is a state lawmaker, representing Essien Udim, where Senator Akpabio comes from.

The incident showed how deep the rift was between Mr. Luke and the then governor who was behind his quick rise in the state politics.

Mr. Luke, a former president of the Students’ Union Government, University of Uyo, was a personal assistant to Mr. Akpabio before he was elected in 2011 to represent Nsit Ubium State Constituency in the House.

In 2014, Mr. Akpabio, apparently still angry with Mr. Luke, almost stopped the young lawmaker from getting the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP’s return ticket to the House, despite defeating Mr. Akpabio’s preferred aspirant at the party’s primary.

He was only allowed to contest the election as the PDP candidate after he was forced to publish an apology to Mr. Akpabio in a newspaper.

“It is common knowledge that since 2002 I have enjoyed a very deep and beneficial father-son relationship with Your Excellency,” Mr. Luke said in his apology letter.

“However, in the last one year, that relationship of 12 years has suffered seriously due to actions and inactions attributed to me.

“As a political son, I hereby take responsibility for the comments, unfavourable words, positions, ideas and ideology espoused by me which may have contradicted Your Excellency’s disposition.”

Mr. Luke continued, “I apologise for the harmful toll which these may have caused Your Excellency. Specifically, I apologise for the use of the phrase, ‘admonish the Governor’, in my open letter to Akwa Ibom people, entitled, ‘At a time like This’.

“As a younger person, I can’t admonish an elder in our culture. All these are sincerely regretted,” he said.

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr. Akpabio’s media aide, Anietie Ekong, he said “All those things are political conjectures”.

Mr. Ekong said, “Hon. Onofiok Luke is close to the Akpabio family as a whole. I am aware that the senator’s wife still calls him my son.

“I was not in the church, but from what I have read about the thanksgiving service, Onofiok Luke acknowledged that Senator Akpabio has made him what he is today.

“Akpabio sponsored him to become the pioneer speaker of the Nigerian Youth Parliament. Akpabio also assisted him to go to the House of Assembly,” he said.

He said he was not aware that Mr. Luke was forced in the past to offer public apology to Mr. Akpabio.

Franklyn Isong, a journalist in Akwa Ibom, told PREMIUM TIMES that four years is long enough to heal the wound, for Senator Akpabio and Mr. Luke.

“To me, what the senator and the speaker have done shows what the character of a true Christian should be. For the Senate minority leader to come out and publicly re-anoint the speaker is like a father forgiving his son, as we have even seen in the story of the prodigal son in the Bible,” Mr. Isong said.

PREMIUM TIMES could not reach the speaker for his comment as at the time of doing this story, as he did not answer calls made to his phone.

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