The Little Bethlehem of A’Ibom


A prophet is honoured in his own town as Ikot Ekpene Udo, the hometown of the PDP governorship candidate, Pastor Umo Eno hosts their famous son to a thanksgiving service for past and future victories.

This community loves to wake up to the symphony of nature: noisy birds singing on tree branches in the wee hours of the day; a thousand insects chirping away in conformity as a natural orchestra, just as the cock crows persistently on the rooftop with the audacity of a timekeeper. All day, every day except Sundays, Ikot Ekpene Udo people go about their vocations and occupations quietly, farming, weeding, harvesting, and tapping the sweet juice from palm trees, the wine that gladdens the hearts of men.

But not exactly so today! Both sides of the narrow tarred road in Ikot Ekpene Udo, Nsit Ubium LGA, in Akwa Ibom State, were lined up as far as the eyes could see. Excited youths of different associations, clubs and churches, dressed in brand new T-shirts of multiple colours, waved their flags, banners and placards enthusiastically as they drummed and screamed for joy. Jubilant mothers are not left out today. Some with their babies strapped to their backs danced and shook their waist, some to traditional rhythms and others to the loud blaring gospel pop played by the local DJ. Looking more composed and comported, the men wore their unique Ibibio traditional outfits with distinctive caps that separate the elders and the titled from the untitled and unsung. Even masquerades and cultural dancers of different grades were at hand to add colour and entertainment value to the occasion.

It was a day set aside by Ikot Ekpene Udo, strictly to thank God for the famous son of the soil: the PDP governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom State, Pastor Umo Eno, who the community insist is a “divine candidate” in the 2023 guber race. Eno, a humble but successful entrepreneur without any core politicking and electioneering experience, has suddenly skyrocketed unto the political pinnacles of the State and proven to be the proverbial cat with nine lives, impossible to beat.

He has scaled many legal hurdles on his path and surmounted incredible obstacles by blackmailers and blasphemers to stay head and shoulders above all other contenders for the throne . This is the throne of the incumbent Governor Udom Emmanuel, the high performing governor of Akwa Ibom State. Eno’s enormous capacity, proven competence, serious-minded disposition and well-known humane treatment of people, have combined to practically make him the governor-in- waiting or as he is colloquially called by supporters, the incoming governor.

As the sirens and motorcade that brought Pastor Eno from Uyo, the beautiful capital city of Akwa Ibom approached the Primary School venue of the Thanksgiving programme, thousands of villagers erupted in ecstasy, poured unto the entrance of the school and besieged the motorcade. This is the homecoming of the incoming governor. A prophet is honoured in his own town.
A permanent smile fixed on his lips, the pastor turned politician had to step down midway from his black Toyota Landcruiser. In the company of his wife, Pastor Patience and running mate Senator Akon Eyakenyi, they walked the remaining distance with the bustling crowd, waving, hugging, shaking hands and dancing all the way to the seats reserved for them and the large entourage.

Presiding over matters was another gentleman pastor from Ikot Ekpene Udo, Reverend Ndueso Ekwere, the immediate past Chairman Of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in Akwa Ibom State. Pastor Eno is his nephew, the son of his sister, and he has known Pastor Eno from childhood and played a pivotal role in his upbringing. He is the one who rode the young Umo Eno on a bicycle many years ago to take the entrance examination into St.Francis Secondary school, Ikot Ataku, near Eket. He is the one who took him back to the same school on the same bicycle with a six springs bed to become a boarding student, after he passed the entrance examination. By sheer providence, the now Reverend Ekwere was there in the Government House, precisely on the head table with Governor Udom and other leaders, on that historic January 30, 2022 night, when Umo Eno was endorsed as the preferred successor to Governor Udom Emmanuel by key stakeholders in the State.

Fast forward to Ikot Ekpene Udo and the Thanksgiving programme, Reverend Ekwere thanked God and Governor Udom as well as the Umo Eno Campaign Organisation for a job well done for Pastor Eno and by extension Akwa Ibom State. He said whatever God does “shall be” and “nothing can be put to it or anything taken from it”. The chorus of AMEN was heard many villages away.

Then Eteidung Udousoro Johnson Usoro, the king of Ikot Ekpene Udo, a retired headmaster, took over the podium, full of joy. He spoke wholeheartedly the words of gratitude too to God. He went ahead to lionise Governor Udom Emmanuel. Pastor Eno himself spoke in the same vein and spent more time singing and dancing with his large entourage as well as making donations along with his friends to the community and various associations that attended the Thanksgivings programme.

The scenario today at the Thanksgiving programme was more relaxed than earlier in the year, on February 9, 2022, when Pastor Eno formally visited the village to consult and inform them about his governorship bid. On that occasion, in the Town Hall of Ikot Ekpene Udo, Eteidung Usoro was literally on fire. A strong member of Apostolic Church, he stood up nimble-footed and announced suddenly that Ikot Ekpene Udo had a gift for Pastor Eno. He summoned all his subjects to stand up with him. As all eyes turned around to see the gift, the Eteidung bursted into a powerful vernacular spiritual song and prayers for their famous son. It was the kind of prayers Nigerians call fire prayers. He prayed against ‘Judas’ in the company of their son. “I say, if it were not well with Judas, let it not be well with any Judas in Pastor Eno’s campaign team”. The AMEN was deafening.

But today was not prayer warfare. It was yet warfare by another name: praise warfare. As Ikot Ekpene Udo came alive, many guests could not take their eyes off this quiet, peaceful, lush green and serene little community known for their hospitality, cassava farmlands, palm trees and palm wine tappers. Even as the event was rounding up late in the evening and the dining and wining began to ensue, some palm wine tappers were seen dressed up for the tree top, complete with their climbing robes and calabashes.

Like most Akwa Ibom villages, virtually every home in Ikot Ekpene Udo is self-sustaining. Their houses, some mud and thatched roofs, are surrounded by farms of nearly every food, fruit and crop that they need. Cassava, yams, cocoyams, sweet yams, plantain, banana, pumpkin, afang leaf, editan leaf, atama leaf, bitter leaf, scented leaf, water leaf, pepper plants, maize plant, orange trees, mango trees, African pear trees, avocado pear trees, pawpaw trees and even lemon grass, which sometimes is boiled and filtered as a native tea, are here in abundance. This is the picture of, even, the king’s palace.

Sitting with him this cool Sunday evening, outside the terrace of his bungalow, and overshadowed by the green foliage of every tree and plant, he spoke in flawless English about Pastor Umo Eno. “To say that Umo Eno is a good man is an understatement. He is the kind of person anyone who wants sanity in any organisation would look and count on. In fact he is a man of noble character”.

As he was speaking, another man walked in briskly. Village life is simple and sweet. No need for advance notice before a visit, and this was the case this evening. Even the visit of this reporter was without any notice, in compliance with village lifestyle. The Eteidung introduced the visitor as the Village Secretary, Prince Imaikop Udosen. The man dragged a nearby plastic chair for himself and joined in the conversation immediately uninvited. These days, the topic on every lip in this village is Umo Eno. He has suddenly acquired the status of a folk hero. “His nickname in this village for almost 30 years now is governor”, Prince Udosen began to interject. “He is a very level-headed but funny man. I remember that whenever we used to tease him as governor, he would say, ‘My Brother, I am just a governor of rice and stew o’. He used to say that because of his hotel business. But now he is fast becoming the real governor”, Prince Udosen said.

Udosen was spot-on on Pastor Eno’s nickname. Most people in Akwa Ibom knew him more as governor than Pastor Eno. Even in his businesses, he was not addressed as Chairman or MD/CEO. He was called governor. The nickname originated from his wife. After he returned from Lagos in 1995 to start a small five-room hotel in Eket in 1997, he was musing with his wife one day on what should be his title in the company. He had the regular titles in mind such as Chairman, Managing Director or Chief Executive Officer. But suddenly the wife suggested governor as the best title. It clicked. He loved it and accepted it instantly because, as a Lagos boy, he remembered that Ken Olumehense, the owner of Night Shift, the most famous night club in the 80s and 90s, patronised by the movers and shakers of Nigeria, was called Governor of Night Shift. And that was it. He became the Governor of the Royalty Group which grew to become a conglomerate of six subsidiaries. Naturally, the sharp-instinct woman who suggested the title got her reward and became known and addressed as ‘governor’s wife’.

It was the same perceptive and quick-witted woman who gave Pastor Eno the now famous political nickname as the Golden Boy. It came in the wake of his endorsement by the Governor Udom-led stakeholders. The social media lynching that followed the endorsement was relentless. He was called all kinds of names including albino and yellow man. But the wife got all of that diffused instantly in the crowded auditorium of the All Nations Christian Ministries International, Eket, during the 58th Birthday Thanksgiving Service that was aired live on television and streamed online on most social media platforms. “They say my husband is albino and some call him yellow fever, but I call him My Golden Boy”. The ovation in the jam packed Church that Sunday afternoon reverberated across the State and beyond. The new name stuck instantly. Now everyone calls him Golden Boy with pride.

Prince Udosen did not only nail it on the self-fulfilling nickname of the Pastor Eno but on his character of humility and sobriety. His humility is the talk of the town not only in Ikot Ekpene Udo, but everywhere he is known. “He is a very humble, calm and peaceful man”, Prince Udosen said. It would appear this trait of humility and sobriety is the modal character of Ikot Ekpene Udo people as a whole! Udosen said yes and traced it particularly to the bloodline, descendants and enlarged family of the governorship candidate. “He is from a family that loves peace and treats people with kindness. As our elders would say: “where a child of peace is, there is peace also”.

But Eteidung Usoro disagreed slightly with his Village Secretary, Prince Udosen, on the complete peaceful nature of the community. “Like every other community, we sometimes have what I call ‘a few controllable troublemakers’, ” he said laughing. “But whenever I talk to them, they will behave themselves. I can say with certainty that 99 percent of the people of Ikot Ekpene Udo, are peace loving”.

The peaceful character of this community goes in pari passu with its hospitability. In fact, in this village they tend to cherish visitors more than themselves. “We don’t joke with our guests. Some government and company workers in Eket who live here have retired and prefer stay back and make Ikot Ekpene Udo their hometowns and we are very happy to be their host till eternity because most of them are also contributing to the wellbeing of our community”, Prince Udosen, the Village Secretary said.

So was Umo Eno contributing to the community development of Ikot Ekpene Udo before he became a politician? “Extensively” was the instant answer by the Village King. “There was no community project we initiated that Pastor Umo Eno did not contribute up to 80%. For instance, when we started work on our Town Hall that you saw on your way to my house, we could not complete it. But he took over the project personally and completed it for us in 2012 and that provided for us a decent meeting point for everybody. For him, the project is not completed yet because he says he wants to add more class to the hall, but for us villagers, it is a perfect hall…I am sure that if he was not divinely distracted by the governorship campaigns, he would have completed the hall to his taste and class by now”

Eteidung Usoro himself, in spite of his No.1 position as the king of the community carries himself with enviable modesty and grace, like his now famous kinsman, Pastor Eno. To him, the town hall that Pastor Eno helped to build was only a minor matter. “In fact, he has empowered so many youths and elders like me in this community. I am now a car owner courtesy of Pastor Umo Eno”, he said pointing at his blue Nissan Primera parked in his garage. “He declared in the Town Hall that he would derive no joy in having a fleet of cars in his house while his Village Head rides on the back of a motorcycle under rain and sun. Soon after that statement, he followed up and bought the car for me in 2017…He has been contributing immensely…”. He had just started to talk about the free medical missions that Pastor Eno has run for years even in his church in Eket, when he was interrupted by a phone call.

Of course, Prince Udosen was waiting to weigh in on the issue and quickly took over from where the Eteidung stopped. “All the projects you see in this community, including the hospital and secondary school, were established through self help initiatives. We built them by ourselves. We did not wait for the government to do it for us. We tasked ourselves and embarked on fundraising. All our kinsmen everywhere in Nigeria and beyond were involved. Pastor Umo Eno was first in Lagos. He was always the Chairman. He always brought money contributed by our people in Lagos on Ikot Ekpene Udo Day which is usually on December 26 every year. He has always been one of the biggest donors in all Ikot Ekpene Udo Days. I am talking as someone God has blessed to be an eyewitness…”.

God seems to play a central role in the life of this village. Prince Udosen himself is an Elder in the United Evangelical Church while Eteidung Usoro is a strong member of The Apostolic Church. But the ‘mother of all churches’ in Ikot Ekpene Udo, according to Prince Udosen, is Qua Iboe Church, QIC. Qua Iboe Church, which some historians believe means Akwa Ibom Church, was founded in 1887 by Rev. Samuel Alexander Bill, an Irish missionary, at Ibeno, near Eket. The church is not only the mother of all churches in Ikot Ekpene Udo but in most parts of Akwa Ibom State. Though it was the first and only church in Ikot Ekpene Udo for decades, the entire length and breath of the village today is dotted with signposts of various churches including United Evangelical Church, Assemblies of God, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Living Faith Church, Deeper Life Bible Church, African Church, African Episcopal Church, Baptist Church, to name just a few. If anyone calls Ikot Ekpene Udo The Little Bethlehem, it may not be a misnomer. Pastor Umo Eno himself was brought up by his parents in Qua Iboe Church before they changed their denomination to The Apostolic Church.

Without doubt, the influence and impact of these churches in the dominant character and ethos of Ikot Ekpene Udo is palpable. Cultural practices in this village are strictly for entertainment and exclude some dreaded masquerade like Ekpo secret society, whose members do not go to church. It is in this same moral milieu that the parents of Pastor Eno, (Bassey Eno and his wife Eka Eno) grew up and raised their children even when their career and quest for greener pastures took them around Nigeria with their young children. For the young Umo Eno, the eldest child in the house, his upbringing was even more rigid with a strict disciplinarian policeman as a father and a prayer warrior as a mother.

“Right from his childhood that boy has been a very good boy, very humble, very godly and very helpful to people, even people who were older than him,” Madam Ikoabasi, the elder sister of Eno’s mother, said in her home, opposite the palace of the late Edidem Robert Obot, the former paramount ruler of Nsit Ubium. According to the Octogenarian lady, her nephew was from youth a little wiser than other boys and blessed with a deep sense of good judgement. “He was always giving people ideas and advice on what kind of small businesses they can go into. I remember how, as a very young boy he told one pilot who was in our church in Lagos to start a business in time because he may not be able to fly aeroplane at old age and the man took the advice seriously and my young nephew helped the man to start the business…I don’t remember every detail again because I am getting more older everyday”, Mama said. She is not only the senior sister of Eno’s mother, but the senior sister of the former CAN Chairman, Rev. Ndueso Ekwere.

Talking with her eldest daughter who came visiting, Ama, by her side, Mama said Pastor Eno loves to help people. “He is the one that is taking care of us but since you people took him into politics I am not seeing my nephew again. Tell him I am longing to see him so much …I think about him every day I wake up…When I saw your car coming to my house now, I was saying `Oh God, please let that be my sister’s son…Hmmm…”

So how did Mama react when she heard the news that Governor Udom along with other political and religious leaders had drafted her nephew into the governorship race? ”I was very surprised. I was very surprised. I said ‘Ah, this boy has been a businessman all his life. Is he interested in this kind of thing? I said God has already given this boy enough wealth to train and care for his siblings and children…Then I said to myself, well, if he is interested, the God he has been serving since childhood will certainly hold his hands…”

The expectations of Ikot Ekpene Udo people from the anticipated Umo Eno Administration are very high. Rev. Ekwere expects one of the best and most successful governments in the country from his nephew. “I am saying so because I have known him since birth. I was a boy, living with my senior sister (Eno’s mother ) and helping her when baby Umo Eno was born. I babysit him…He was a very gifted child. That child learned to sit, crawl and walk within seven months. Even as a secondary school boy later in Lagos, he represented Lagos State schools in a certain debate in America and won the second prize…He is a very meticulous, very dexterous, and very knowledgeable person whose relationship skills are second to none…This is why I am confidently expecting him to make a great governor, when he wins the coming election.

Eteidung Usoro, the king of Ikot Ekpene Udo, has a different kind of expectation. He said the community has enough land for tertiary institutions as well as international skill acquisition centres and “we trust him to do more than that”. Idem Johnson, who visited from Eket, just ten minutes drive away, said there is abundance of palm fruits and palm fruit harvesters as well as cassava and cassava farmers in the village to attract many SMEs around those raw materials. Prince Udosen expects the dualisation of the main road that passes through the village to Eket. But for Mama, Pastor Eno’s octogenarian auntie, her expectation is simple: “Let him come and clear the bush in front of this my house, when he becomes governor. Mosquitoes are disturbing me too much”.

Such a sweet, hospitable village to visit!

*Anietie Usen is a multiple award-winning journalist, author and technocrat.

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