As the Legend Goes Home: A Tribute to Etubom (Elder) Michael Effiong Mbaba

‘E-u-u, Etubom Mbaba is dead,’ the modern town crier announced and the world was instantly transformed by a rude shock into sadness and grief. The women’s hands flew to their bosoms to comfort their hurting hearts, the men bowed their heads, acknowledging their powerlessness over the event of Fate, and the children wailed an ocean of tears. It was a mourning that traversed time and space, for Etubom Mbaba was a great chief. They were a hybrid of grieving hearts for Etubom Mbaba led many nations and tribes, across vast expanses of geographic space. They gathered in their various quarters both in Nigeria and Cameroun, recounting the epic deeds of a man who gave his all in the leadership of his people. They recalled his kindness, his integrity, his simplicity, his love for justice and his hate for oppression. They eulogised a self-less leader, a folkloric Knight who did everything in his power to protect his people against their enemies. Now that he is gone, will they have another?

The foregoing is how I would have loved to remember Chief Michael Mbaba if I had had the courage and the creative foresight to fictionalise his demise in Alien Citizens, my novel about the Bakassi tragedy published in 2013. But at the time of writing the novel, my imagination could not venture so far. As published by his eminent son, Pastor Michael Bush, across the social media spaces, Etubom Michael Mbaba lived between 1945 and 2021. He was the president of Nigeria Union in Bekumu, Bamusso Sub-division, Ndian Division in the Southwest Province of the Republic of Cameroon. He had also served as Chief of Ekpene Ukim Quarters in Cameroon.

The reason I write this piece is to expose the leadership qualities of Etubom Michael Mbaba, with the hope that contemporary leaders would learn a lesson or two from his life, as it is obvious that we are in dire need of good leaders in our clime. My encounters with Chief Michael Mbaba began in my childhood when I usually travelled to Cameroon to stay with my parents at each end of school term. I remember Chief Mbaba as a man who commanded influence and authority, feared and respected, loved and revered by his people. Yet as a child, I also remembered Chief Mbaba as a man who was kind to children and the vulnerable members of society. Whenever I went to greet him, he would call me by name, warmly welcome me, rejoice over my visit, ask me kind questions about my schooling, siblings and parents, and gift me fish on my way home. And I can say that this was not a selective kind of treatment. He was known for his generosity and passion for people.

  Chief Mbaba’s most outstanding character trait was humility, which allowed him to relate with people of all classes. Chief Mbaba never looked down on anyone. His words were spoken to lift people up. He hated oppression and spoke against it with the loudest pitch of voice. He was just in how he decided cases. Everybody who had an issue with anyone would want Chief Mbaba to judge their cases because they knew that they could trust his decisions. He was impartial in his dispensation of justice and everyone usually went home satisfied. This explained why his palace was always full of people who sought redress in all matters of life, from business debt to family quarrels.

Chief Mbaba ruled over a people who were constantly brutalised by the Cameroonian gendarmes. I am a witness to how Chief Mbaba made the people of Ekpene Ukim to be respected and well-treated by the gendarmes. And when he became the president of the Nigeria Union in Cameroon, the impact of his leadership was felt throughout the realm of the Bakassi peninsula. I believe that leaders should use their positions to protect their people against external enemies, instead of oppressing them.

Let me recall an incident that demonstrates one of Etubom Mbaba’s leadership qualities. A fully-loaded boat that was about to leave for Nigeria had sunk, due to a rift in its hull. It was such a huge tragedy because the goods were worth millions of naira even in today’s exchange rate. Etubom Mbaba did not wait for the town crier. He picked up the gong himself and, despite being advanced age-wise, ran across the entire quarters like a youth, alerting the people about the danger that the boat was in. This was how everyone rushed to the creeks to help rescue the goods from the destructive waters.

These are the lessons of leadership that we should learn from Etubom Mbaba as he goes home this week. I have always marvelled at his ability to mobilise, organise and galvanise his people around a certain goal or action. Someone should have understudied Etubom Mbaba; his leadership principles and ideologies should have been documented and preserved for future generations. As a creative writer, I have fictionalised Etubom Mbaba’s leadership legacies in my novel, Alien Citzens and will continue to document the lives of our people which serve as good examples of leadership in society so that they can be emulated by future generations. I would like to end this piece by rendering an excerpt about Etubom Mbaba from the novel as a way of paying my last respects to a man whose actions continue to touch hearts.  

For ten years Etubom Michael Mbaba had been the chief of Ekpene Ukim people living in Ubenekang Island of the Bakassi peninsula until two years ago when he was elected the President of Nigerians in Cameroon. He did not cease to be chief over his people, quite against his will, but his burden and responsibilities quadrupled. He now had to look into not only the domestic squabbles among his people but also those of the other ethnic groups – the Ijaws, Afikpos, Orons, Okobos, etc, all scattered in their respective quarters throughout the length of the Island. But his greatest headache was the task of uniting the people of the island and helping them to live in peace with the Cameroonian gendarmes who held the entire island in hostage. He had always defended them against the incessant and the unnecessary brutality of the Cameroonian authorities. But with each passing day, the tension and the friction between the people and the authorities grew, what with the age-long conflict between Nigeria and Cameroon over the ownership of the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula. . .

Besides, Chief Mbaba had his own family business and domestic issues to take care. After all, as the saying went. . . any man incapable of ruling his family had no business ruling others. He had pleaded with his people to choose another leader among the Etuboms, but they would not hear of it. To them, no one was better at advocating or rescuing them from the claws of the hostile and the often-bloodthirsty gendarmes.

Etubom Mbaba was not complaining. He was familiar and well experienced with the itineraries associated with his office. And he liked doing it for his people. But he thought it was time the people had started getting used to another Etubom as chief. Who could tell the mischief of time? And in any case, the pressure of age on his shoulders was becoming more burdensome with each passing day, thanks to the full boat of complaints and cases that poured at his feet every moment of the day. He would raise the issue one more time at the meeting of the Etuboms in the evening. . . And come to think about it, Etubom Mbaba had always nursed the thought of returning home finally to be with his people. Home? What an unwary thought! He had always regarded the island to be his home. Or was it the extension of his home? (Culled from Eyoh Etim’s Alien Citizens, Pages 8 and 9).

Adieu, great Chief of Ekpene Ukim people. May the path never close.   

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One thought on “As the Legend Goes Home: A Tribute to Etubom (Elder) Michael Effiong Mbaba

  1. Wow! What an eulogy for a legend. May his soul rest in perfect peace.

    Sir, I so much like your writing abilities and the wisdom you have to create them. I wish I’ll one day write like you or more than you since you’re the one teaching me these things.

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