On Friday the 26th of October 2018, I organized The Black History Month Celebrations at The UK House of Parliament for the 6th year in a row in conjunction with MP Alok Sharma, The UK Minister for Employment at The Jubilee Room, House of Parliament, one of our Key Speakers was the former commissioner for justice, Cross river state, Nigeria and aspiring Governor for Cross River State – Barrister Eyo Ekpo
People travelled from various cities and countries for this annual event at the House of Parliament and everyone had lots of great things to say with regards to the inspirational thought provoking presentation delivered by Barrister Ekpo
The presentation he delivered can be found below
INSPIRATIONAL PRESENTATION DELIVERED BY BARRISTER EYO EKPO AS ONE OF THE KEY SPEAKERS AT OUR BLACK HISTORY MONTH CELEBRATIONS AT THE UK HOUSE OF PARLIAMENT ON FRIDAY THE 26TH OF OCTOBER 2018
I am honored and grateful to stand before you all gathered within these hallowed portals of Westminster Palace. This is probably one of the best places to reflect on and celebrate our past, our present and our future. I am in awe of these surroundings but not overawed by them. As I share my thoughts with you, please be mindful that these are simply the musings, opinions and ponderings of a black man proud of his past, upset about his present but hopeful for the future.
I do not intend to speak with eloquence, sophisticated logic or with political correctness. Rather, I will speak from the heart, and we all know the heart can be passionate, emotional, humorous, erratic and irrational at times; but the heart is true – always!!!
If memory serves me well, I believe there is a wise character in one of my childrens cartoons who captured this best for me with the quote, “when the mouth speaks, it forgets the head, when the head speaks it forgets the heart, but when the heart speaks, it forgets everything”. Today, I intend to forget everything and speak to you.
My talk is titled: Yes, It’s Black History Month: So What?
One or two of us here gathered might want to modify this slightly by placing “Bloody” between “So” and “What”. If you’re so inspired, please be my guest.
First, though, my tuppence on the recent clamour for the renaming of Black History Month as ‘Diversity History Month’ by different sections of the public here in Britain. I think this a question that will be a good test for the rich tradition of deliberation and intelligent discussion in this country. I for one can already perceive the great difficulty that might be encountered in trying to showcase all of Britain’s diversity in just one month.
Part of that perception comes from the difficulty I had in reflecting on what to say here. I originally chose the topic “Calabar and the New World”. As I addressed that topic and sought to trace the line that links Calabar, my hometown in Nigeria, to the ‘New World’ in the context of Black History, I realised how much of an enormous task it was. Finally, I came round, having nearly completed my original paper, to the topic Yes, It’s Black History Month: So What?
I now commence my part in this celebration of our history as people of Sub-Saharan African descent by craving your indulgence to state a few of my own beliefs.
,• Contrary to the impression my caption may convey, I do revere and cherish the I deeply respect history and I have no desire whatsoever to join the sorry ranks of those who forget the past and are therefore doomed to repeat its mistakes
• I am singularly proud, in the most boisterous sense of the word to be a Black African –and here please think of vuvuzelas, talking drums, colourful, gyrating masquerades and even raucous church services.
• I am, however, plunged into deep, sorrowful introspection each time I contemplate this subject matter through the lens of our current realities as a race;
• Yet I strongly believe that whatever our realities are today, the final chapters are yet to be written and the opportunities still lie before us to write those chapters in glowing terms.
Thus, my choice of this title today.
In quiet moments, I often find myself pondering on the word – Black! What does that really mean? Is it the presence of eumelanin, our dark pigmented variant of melanin, in the epidermal layer of skin? Is it an attitude? A mindset? Does it denote any human group having dark-colored skin, due to their ancestry? Is it just a word? Are there connotations to the notion we have not even stumbled on yet? Does it mean poor governance? Severe dependency and debt? Broken governance systems? Is being black all these and more?
“If I had a thousand tongues and each tongue were a thousand thunderbolts and each thunderbolt had a thousand voices, I would use them all today to help you understand a loyal and misrepresented and misjudged people.” These were the words of Joseph C. Price, founder and President of Livingston College in North Carolina, who in 1890 delivered an address to the National Education Association annual convention, in Minneapolis, USA. Today, these words are as apt and true as they were when they were uttered. The black man is still misunderstood – by his local community, by society, his friends and neighbors, by government and institutions, but probably misunderstood above all…by himself!
Many scholars have been inclined to construe the call by Socrates, the Athenian moral philosopher, to “man know thyself”, from a banal perspective. Others see this as an admonition for knowledge of self as the basis for self-awareness, true personal responsibility and, ultimately,as the basis for mastery of self and the development of society for the overall benefit of all. I see it as a direct challenge to each of us, to know who we are, and whose we are.
Who are we as blacks? The story of our existence as a species – Homo Sapiens – cannot be considered to be complete without acknowledging the fact that this species originated from Africa, the distinct geographic and geological enclave native to “black men”. It is also a well known, time worn truism corroborated with archeological evidence that the Fertile Crescent, that is, the regions between Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq) and Ancient Egypt (in Africa) is one of the earliest cradles of civilization. This Fertile Crescent is a region where agriculture and early human civilizations like the Sumer and Ancient Egypt flourished due to inundations from the surrounding Nile, Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.
Technological advances in the region at the time include the development of writing, algebra, our current numbering system, the wheel, advanced agricultural practices and engineering and architectural marvels that, today many millenia later, still take our breath away.
I grew up learning that the Efik people, whose blood runs proudly through my veins (etymology: the people of Uruan, in today’s Cross River Basin, were said to have given us the name “Efik” deriving from a verb meaning to press or oppress, since we were alleged to be aggressive, conquering adventurers in our early days as a people) were cultured, educated, enlightened, business minded, distinguished people who thrived in proximity to the Cross River and the Atlantic and had ambitious aspirations. King Antera Duke, to name one of our ancient monarchs is famous for his desire of uniting the Efik and English thrones that he even sent a love letter in 1895 to Queen Victoria [of the House of Hanover] asking for her hand in marriage and for the commencement of trade and information exchange between both kingdom. We even had our own unique ciphers and codes as far back as 170AD called NSIBIDI which is perhaps, the earliest known signifier of an attempt at keeping written records in ciphers and codes.
Where, how and why did we get it wrong? How can we reverse the current malaise? It all starts with a conscious effort at self-reawakening, impacting the individual self and then our group consciousness as a race. We have a local proverb back home in Niger, “you are not what you are called, you are what you answer to”. It is high time, we as “blacks” decide on what we choose to answer to. Individually we are achieving excellence in various fields of endeavour; but as a people, we are yet to deliberately make a mark save for that which we have already made in ages past, and this affects how we are seen and how we are called. Sadly, a lot of our people demonstrate these false perceptions, i.e., “what we are called”, as we can observe in the typical social tendencies that too many of my people back home in Africa demonstrate (gangster mentality, prison culture, poor state of infrastructure in almost all of our African States, leadership crises across these countries, to mention a few).
So how do we consciously as a people change what we answer to? The solution I believe lies in what we do individually from this moment on. We cannot ignore the threat of systemic failure staring us in the face as a people. We must reach out and work towards enhancing our black nations to achieve a level of respectability globally (self-sufficiency, eradication of basic challenges that still plague third world countries, etc.). Despite the unmistakable influence of Yoruba and Ibo culture across Latin America and the Caribbean and the enduring contributions by people of Black African descent right across the world going back over the centuries and more apparently in the modern era, the focus on Africa in current narratives is often confined to underdevelopment and misgovernment.
While these things are, themselves, topical, I do think it important that a greater effort be made to write our histories in bolder relief. There is an ongoing effort to confirm parts of Calabar as UNESCO World Heritage sites. This effort should be seen as only the start. For example, slave ports across West and Southern Africa should be memorialised and the habits and practices of the day studied more closely to better understand the effect of the slave trade on the New World.
That would enable a much more complete understanding of the relationship between cities like Calabar and the New World.
My friends, today, I ask you, to paraphrase the famous words of one of America’s great presidents– John Fitzgerald Kennedy – “Let us deliberate on what we can do for our people”. Knowing that right here in this auditorium, we have in our hands, the power to perpetuate this cycle of answering to whatever the world calls us, or to make that change and take us back to our former glory. Therefore, we cannot in good conscience leave this task in the hands of our brethren alone – the road for them has been long and the desired end seemingly blurred. We must take up the responsibility to initiate, gestate and guide this change. I believe it is our duty to bridge that divide, reach out especially to our brethren back home and handhold them, even as we gently nudge them towards achieving defined milestones in our journey towards proper nation building, whether they be in terms of investments in human capital development, basic poverty eradication initiatives and subtle government influence to help push our “nation leaders” towards the right agenda.
Ultimately, I believe that the discussion of ourselves, our roots, our challenges and our future should not, dare I say it, be erased and dissolved into the huge medley of unique colours that would be a Diversity History Month; but is in reality a sinkhole for the disappearance of various unique and historic identities. There is no upper limit to earthly perfection and so we must continue to celebrate a Black History Month that enables us to focus on ourselves as a richlyblessed, albeit deeply troubled, people still searching for the way to embark on the journey to that “Zion” spoken of by the great Marcus Garvey.
Let me end by expressing my gratitude to the organisers of this event and my wish that Black History Month, and particularly this event organised by Tony Fernandez, will continue to afford Black people the opportunity to know themselves in that profound, subliminal way intended by Socrates.
Eyo. O. Ekpo
London, 26th October 2018
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT BARIISTER EKPO
Eyo O. Ekpo – Legal practitioner. Energy sector specialist. Public administrator
Born in Lagos, 24th June 1966 to Major-General Eyo Okon Ekpo, GCON, of Diamond Hill Village, Calabar Municipality Local Government Area (of the Atogha Family of Big Qua, and Itak Mkpa Family of Obutong, both of Calabar) and Mrs. Sabina Yetunde Ekpo (of the Idowu Family of Owu, Abeokuta, Ogun State and Ajao Family of Ondo, Ondo State). Eyo is both paternally and maternally descended from an illustrious line of dedicated public servants, traders, clerics and teachers.
Paternally, his father was a former Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Agriculture, a former Commandant of the Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna, former Military Secretary of the Nigerian Army and former Chief of Staff (military Vice-President) in the administration of General Yakubu Gowon, who played a key role in the establishment of the former South-Eastern State in 1967. After retirement from the Army in 1975, he returned to Cross River State where he became a highly respected community leader and first Chairman of the State Local Government Service Commission who laid the foundations of the highly productive local government system for which the old Cross River State was well known. His grandfather was Reverend Eyo Okon Ekpo, a teacher and cleric of the Methodist Church who was also responsible for starting many primary and secondary schools in what are today’s Abia and Akwa-Ibom States and who went on to become the Church’s first Nigerian Superintendent of Schools. His great-grandfather was Mr. Moses Eyo Ekpo, an accomplished violist, engineer and community leader who worked as a marine engineer for Elder Dempster Lines but was also a leading member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and an active social worker in his community whose home at Diamond Hill, Calabar was a well-known meeting place for members of the Calabar community.
Maternally, Eyo’s mother was also a schoolteacher, one of Nigeria’s earliest formally trained in the Montessori system of teaching. His maternal grandfather was Chief Michael Olaosebikan Idowu, an illustrious cocoa trader, leader of the Agege and Ebute-Metta communities in Lagos and lifelong leader of the Catholic Men’s Society of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Ebute-Metta. His maternal grandmother was Alhaja Wulemotu Abeke Ajao, one of the most industrious and loving woman he ever met, who was an itinerant trader who later settled in Kano City where she became the proprietor of both the largest soft drinks distributorship and clothes making establishment in Kano. An interesting point to note here is that Alhaja Ajao’s grandfather was Alhaji Abubakar Ajao, himself an itinerant Islamic cleric/scholar from Oyo who brought Islam to Ondo in the mid-19th century and settled there.
Eyo is entirely public school-educated in Nigeria. He attended Army Children’s School, An Barracks, Yaba, Lagos where he was in its first nursery school class in 1969, and obtained his First School Leaving Certificate in 1977. He passed the 1977 National Common Entrance examination with flying colours and was admitted to King’s College, Lagos but was almost immediately transferred to Federal Government College, Azare, which was one of the six (6) new FGCs established that year; and so, once again, became a member of yet another pioneering class of students. He passed out of FGC, Azare, again in flying colours with GCE O’ Levels of 6 Alphas and 1 Credit. He thereafter gained admission to the University of Calabar from which he graduated in 1986 with an LL.B. (Hons.) and was subsequently called to the Nigerian Bar on 22nd October 1987. While in practice in Lagos, he studied for and obtained a LL.M. (Hons.) degree of the University of Lagos in 1991. In the course of his extensive professional career as a commercial legal practitioner, energy sector player, public administrator and electricity regulator, Eyo has attended numerous continuing education programmes. In this vein, he is a graduate of the Lagos Business School Advance Management Programme, 2001. He also attended training programmes and received certificates in utilities regulation, strategic management of regulatory/enforcement agencies, international gas business management, international LNG management from the University of Florida Public Utilities Research Centre, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and IHRDC, Boston respectively. He has completed academic studies and is currently concluding writing a dissertation for the award of a second Master’s degree in War Studies (War in the Modern World) from King’s College, London.
Eyo started his professional career at GCM Onyiuke’s Chambers, Lagos, in August 1988, where he specialised in private law litigation and arbitration and made many appearances in various Nigerian superior courts of record. In January 1995, after serving an extensive and very rich 7-year pupillage that saw him conducting numerous court trials and arguing 18 appeals before the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, he became a founding Partner at Coram (Solicitors). At Coram, he became a trailblazer once again and developed one of Nigeria’s earliest legal practices in infrastructure financing and telecommunications law. In February 1998, Coram merged with two other law firms to form The Law Union, which later became Nigeria’s largest partner-led law firm.
In October 2001, Eyo embarked on a career in public service, joining Nigeria’s privatisation agency, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), as Team Leader, Power Sector Reform Team (PSRT) and later Team Leader, Gas and Petrochemicals. While at the BPE, he led the PSRT (2001 – 2003) in designing and starting the implementation of the electric power sector reform programme; and later laid the groundwork for the successful privatisation of Eleme Petrochemicals Limited.
In July 2003, he was called to serve his State by Governor Donald Duke and on 14th August 2003, was sworn-in as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. He stayed on to support the transition of Government and between July 2007 and May 2010 was Special Adviser, Special Projects of Cross River State between August 2003 and June 2010. In these positions, he led the modernisation and expansion of the State Ministry of Justice, growing it from 40 to 99 Law Officers within 3 years, established a Department of Citizens’ Rights and institutionalising both case and human management systems that saw discipline restored and case completion rates increase almost 70%.
Eyo regards the work of the Department of Citizen’s Rights as his biggest achievement as Attorney-General because of its deep and direct impact on the lives and well-being of Cross Riverians through its work in anticipating and resolving many communal disputes across the State, reforming the administration of estates system in the State and advancing the work of the State Council on the Prerogative of Mercy. In 2004, he was mandated by the State Governor to establish the State Reserve Fund, the first sub-national sovereign fund in Nigerian, at which time he established a formal legal and funds management system for the Reserve Fund and oversaw its growth within 3 years to a capital value of over =N=4bn with monthly contributions of just =N=50m during that time. In 2006-2007, he doubled as de facto Commissioner for Transport and supervised the establishment and development of the State mass transit system, the Calabar Monorail and the Calabar Energy City projects.
Eyo returned to the Federal Government in June 2010 to serve as Team Leader, Regulatory and Transactions Monitoring, Presidential Task Force on Power. While there, he was nominated by the President and confirmed by the Nigerian Senate as a Commissioner in the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). At NERC, he led the Market Competition and Rates Division from January 2011 until March 2015. During the period, he played a leading role in designing and implementing all of NERC’s key regulatory initiatives aimed at establishing efficient and competitive market structures and fair pricing in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry. These range across the re-setting of electricity tariffs (May 2012); support to the National Council on Privatisation in privatising the successor electricity distribution and generation companies (August 2013); successful transition of the Industry through a very turbulent Interim Rules Period (November 2013 to December 2014) to the commencement of the Transition Stage Electricity Market in January/February 2015.
Family and interests
Eyo has been married since 1993 to Dr. Oluranti Ekpo, M.D, Ph.D., a medical practitioner and public health specialist, and they have three children. He has an eclectic taste in music and is deeply interested in history/international relations, defence and national security affairs and working on improving his abysmal golf handicap. He is also active in deploying his extensive industry experience to thought leadership in infrastructure. Active on the social media circuit, he runs a blog called “Elecoblogs”, which has a modest but growing followership.