By Joseph Edgar… As I drive towards the island on my way to the druggy work place, I am once again accosted by the seemingly insulting advert campaign promoted by Airtel. The campaign depicts an Ibibio man in a very humiliating and garish sequence, where he is playing servitude to a couple obviously from, according to Airtel, a better background and pedigree.
He is ridiculed and subjected to ‘a below pedigree’ level. His costume clearly shows his near literate existence and to cap it all up, his spoken English, mannerisms and context further cements the stereotype that has always depicted people from the south eastern part of the country.
This is abuse in a pure sense, a lack of respect for the nation of the Ibibio and a continuation of a long lasting national pastime of deriding and ridiculing the Ibibio nation as a people of low lives and domestic exactitude,
I woke up to this realization during the Village Headmaster era. The legendary but late actor, Jab Adu who portrayed the Akwa Ibom man in the evergreen soap opera was a chemist, very troublesome and had a pattern in the middle of his head. He carried his own with the dignity he could muster but the creators apparently not too happy with this depiction, slammed on him the character Boniface as his assistant. Boniface was a full grown man but with stunted intellect. He went around with some mischief, derided and sometimes physically abused by the other characters. He was sub human, seen and not to be heard, clumsy in appearance and in some cases a petty thief. This was the depiction that could come to our people in a play that was expected to symbolize a microcosm of Nigeria. Fact, Oja Village was a Yoruba enclave with its own Kabiyesi and Chiefs, the village had in existence other tribes with full dignity and affluence. Sisi Clara was the wealthy seamstress who, although troublesome, was highly respected. She depicted the Urhobo woman, even Amebo the village gossip and Palmwine seller still could enter the circle of influence as sometimes she was invited to meetings at the Kabiyesi’s Palace. The Village Headmaster oscillated between the Yoruba and northern elements with the late Justus Esiri playing the role last before it was rested.
For the ibibio, we had Boniface the village clown and there lies the realization as a young mind in primary school that just maybe my people did not deserve anything better in this national contraption we call a country. I walked around seeing and hearing those deriding jokes about Ekaette and Boniface who were doomed to a life of servitude. I was told that I came from a stock of house boys and indeed some of my friends were indeed surprised when they heard I was from Akwa Ibom and an undergraduate.
We have produced some of the most brilliant minds in this country and not even the famous Udoji Awards during the Gowon regime could clean the damp smell of reputational disrespect slammed on my people. We have contributed our own little quota to the nation; we have produced some of the most respected intellectuals in the academia, business and judiciary. We have given the country till date one of the most skillful football players – Etim Esin. We have contributed strenuously to culture with our national and internationally acclaimed culinary skills yet we still are seen as second class citizens in a country where our literacy rate is one of the highest.
This Airtel slap is just one in a recent campaign of continuous derogation of a nation of highly sophisticated people. The annoyance and anger cannot be measured especially if you take into cognizance the fact that at inception before its many ownership changes, Akwa Ibom State was one of its original shareholders, thereby contributing significantly to its birth, but today, this campaign is what the firm has seen to pay us back. No wonder it has gone through so many ownership changes that it must have really lost its bearing as can be seen in its continuous loss of market influence and share.
I have reached out to the Akwa Ibom state Government to lend its weight on this campaign to stop the continuous deriding of our people and it is receiving very strong interest from the government. This must stop otherwise, we would as a people show our strength especially as it concerns their market in Ibibio land. We are a peaceful people and we will within the ambience of a legitimate protest show our massive displeasure with this campaign if it does not stop and a major apology is sent to our people by the management of this clay-footed giant.
Akwa Ibom people are nothing but very industrious people with some of the most beautiful people that can be found in this country. We are a sophisticated people with a high level of literacy. We are found within the south eastern part of the country majorly but are spread all over the country in positions of influence and stature. We also have international figures within our fold and our state capital is one of the most beautiful in the country. We house the giant American Oil company Mobil in Eket and access to the sea gave us an early glimpse of European civilization hence the predominance of Christianity amongst our people. Till date you will see the European-influenced Qua Iboe churches built in the 14th century dotting almost every village in the state.
Ripples Nigeria…without borders, without fears