By The Evangelist News Edition, May 22, 2023.
Matthew Koffi Okono, popularly known as Citizen MKO, a human right activist and founder, Open Forum Care for Humanity Foundation had embarked on a 7-day hunger strike to protest alleged injustice the agents of outgoing government of Mr Udom Emmanuel meted on him, as well as other vulnerable ones in Akwa Ibom State. In this exclusive interview with this paper in Uyo, Citizen MKO revealed why he chose that path and his expectations from the government. Excerpts!
Few days to the exit of Gov Udom Emmanuel’s administration, you embarked on a 7-day hunger strike to protest alleged injustice. Why did you choose this path (starving yourself) to register your grievance?
I chose this path as a last resort. I am a very peaceful person and my peculiar family background will not allow me to be violent; more so my status in the society does not give me room to misbehave. I am the Secretary-General of Ibibio elders’ forum, which is the highest socio-cultural and development organisation of Ibibio people.
I am also a certified ambassador of peace by the Universal Peace federation; I am also an elder in the body of Christ, so there are things I cannot do, I can’t engage in violence. With these, I’m bound to tow the path of peace. This action was as a result of seven years of affliction and fruitless appeals to the Governor and others to intervene in clear cases of oppression and injustices without any form of action.
You said hunger strike was the last resort, What were the efforts you made so far to ensure the issues were addressed?
I actually sought mediations, I reached out to some leaders for the issues to be resolved amicably, but it did not work out. Where it required going to the police, I’ve done that, where it required going to court I did that, it did not really work out. That was why I said this protest was a last resort.
Can you explain some of these injustices that you claim to have suffered?
Not just me, there are some persons who have been unjustly treated, interestingly when I started this advocacy, the lame, the blind, the traumatised and others joined me at the entrance to the Government House and Akwa Ibom State Traditional Rulers Council Secretariat to cry to Gov Udom Emmanuel to give his attention and address inhuman oppressors afflicting us in the state for almost eight years.
In my own case, the Chairman of Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation, AKICorp (a state government owned agency) gave me a contract to execute without giving me a job order; when I requested, he said I should go ahead with the job as it was very urgent. I complied and executed the job, which was very difficult because I took a loan using my house as collateral.
Some people that know people and believe in me went ahead to collect loans using their names in their cooperatives and gave the money to me so that I can meet the target for the job. Unfortunately, the man did not keep to terms. He denied me the job order to foot the bills when I should. The job was done in October and bills were put in January because I forced him to do so. I told him that my creditors were at my throat and my interest was running. I have the evidence (presenting some documents) that I executed the job. I have lost my house, the people that took loans in their names and gave me money are on the run, some of them arrested, yet the state government is doing nothing about that.
Also, I am a victim of a politically motivated attack on July 14, 2018, at Ibedu, Nsit Atai Local Government Area where my car was burnt, two people were killed and I miraculously escaped being killed, all my literary works of about five years all gone that day. There has been a sustained threat to my life which I’ve reported to the police with no resolution of issues surrounding the attack.
Not only that, what we call “Akwa Ibom Identity”, (the state logo) was my brainchild and the state government hijacked it without any form of attribution or compensation. I brought the idea to this government to mark the first 100 days in office.
I First met with the deputy governor who took it to the governor in 2015 and he came back and shook my hand saying the governor was impressed about the initiative and had agreed to do it. I waited but nothing happened, in 2019 I met another person, by this time, the governor’s elder brother who took it to the governor together with establishment of Akwa Ibom State Council of Chiefs proposal and he came back and said His Excellency was impressed, that it was a brilliant idea but there is another brilliant person that I should work with, that is, the Special Assistant to the governor on Brand Management, Sam Idoho, at first I was not comfortable with that.
But Nkanang said a symbol of identity, flag and Anthem fall under his office. I told him that I didn’t need an SA because I’ve already gone to the House of Assembly to get sample bills and the two ideas I have needed a legal backing. The establishment of the Akwa Ibom Council of State will provide an avenue where former governors, former members of state executive council, former military administrators of other states, former Chief justices, people at that level will play advisory roles so that we can end this open letters by former governors just because they don’t have access to sitting governors.
Right before me, Nkanang called Sam Idoho and said that he was sending someone to him. I felt bad but I still went to see him in his office. When Idoho saw the proposal, he said it was a fantastic idea but said he would take it as his personal idea at a fee. At that point, I was so angry, I said no, this is my initiative and I would like you to take it to the governor. He said he will not until it is agreed that it is his (Sam Idoho) idea, at that point I left and went back to the governor’s brother and narrated everything that transpired, the governor’s brother only told me that his hands were tied and it was only the SA that would help.
I came back home dejected and told my wife what happened because she is from the same community as Udom. I told her that I won’t take it lightly to see the state government if they use that idea without my consent. I told my wife that I will react any day this idea is stolen and that was exactly what happened.
In 2019, after the elections, while I was leaving for an education summit, I saw on social media that the state government was preparing to have a state identity. I called my wife and told her, your brother has done his worst. They announced the competition for the school of identity just like I proposed. The idea was that I should set up a committee that would appraise, amend and come out with a suitable identity for the state, because we are a symbol of federalism.
My wife sent a text to the Governor, that the husband’s idea has been taken without his consent. It was after two days that the governor replied that it was an insult to him. My wife told him that it wasn’t an insult and begged if we will be allowed to execute at least any part of the job, but none was given to us. I later sent a letter to the governor and there was no response. So I went to court to seek a redress.
Afterwards, the Oku Ibom, our revered royal father, the highest traditional stool in Ibibio land, Ntenyin Solomon Etuk called me and Dr Akpanobong to his office and asked me to withdraw the case against the Governor and the state government. He said nobody will treat the case better than him, that I should tell them I want to settle out of court. I told Ntenyin no problem but we need to have an understanding before I do that but he replied that he was giving me an order to remove the case as the Oku Ibom Ibibio. Well, I cannot say no to Oku Ibom, no one does that.
I met with my lawyer and told her the new development. She said legal matters are not done that way and asked who will pay her legal fee, I said I will pay because I held onto the words of my king. She said I will put it into writing which I did and the suit was withdrawn from court. Meanwhile, time was going and my interest rate was accumulating. The lawyer has sent two demand notices for the payment of her legal fees which as I’m talking to you, I’ve failed to do. Her fee is Five Million Naira because I slammed the state government Five Billion Naira.
During one of the meetings of the elders forum, Oku Ibom called me and said I should forget about the whole thing and look for something else to do. He said when he mentioned my name to his Excellency, he said he wouldn’t want to hear that name that I was being sponsored. I was so shocked and shattered. I said sponsored? by who? how?
My life is at stake, people collected loans for me to execute a project for this government and the police are after them. I’ve lost my house, I’ve lost my car, my literary works, everything I have, and all these years, you kept reassuring me that you will do something about it. Ntenyin, I will look for justice.
At that point, Dr Akpanobong was trying to calm me down and Ntenyin said I should respect his seat, which I sincerely do, it was out of respect for his throne that made me withdraw the suit from court and signed an undertaking with my lawyer because I thought my father will keep to his words.
What are your expectations in the whole adventure?
I really need my life back, I’m dying here, I can’t sleep with my two eyes closed. My health is deteriorating because after the Ibedu attack where two people were killed, I developed a spinal cord injury which had sapped my little resources and there is no money to continue with my treatment. I’m a dying man, but won’t die in silence, I want his Excellency to intervene in my matter. The governor has seen me here several times about four times where I will be waving at him but he will just pass.
I want a payment of my outstanding wages by Nsit Atai Local Council where I served as Transition Committee Secretary and Supervisor for Education (2016 – 2017) and the withdrawal of the case from the EFCC and compensation over the loss of my vehicle and research works during the July 14, 2018 Ibedu mayhem, investigation of further threat to my life and possible reconciliation with key political actors in Nsit Atai LGA for peaceful coexistence.
I also want compensation for my initiative on Akwa Ibom Identity that was used without my consent.
I appeal to people and organisations of goodwill to intervene by calling on Gov Udom Emmanuel to look into my case to save me, my family and others from endless trauma. I just want my life back.
Que: Now that you’ve concluded your 7-day hunger strike, is there a positive response from the state government?
I can say there was no positive response from them, the state government is still adamant but I’m not deterred. I will be going to court to follow the matter to a logical conclusion. (Daily Post).