By Jonathan Ugbal: Government House Correspondent
It was all tears and emotions as the late lawmaker representing Obudu in the Cross River House of Assembly, Mr. Stephen Ukpukpen was on Saturday laid to rest at his native Bedia community in Obudu local government area.
Ukpukpen’s death brought the sleepy community to life as family, friends, associates, political and business colleagues all trooped in for the burial with those who said their tributes eulogising the late lawmaker.
Former Cross River Governor, Liyel Imoke who is viewed as Ukpukpen’s mentor described the late lawmaker as “a good man that has died young.”
A very emotional Imoke averred that: “Stephen was someone who spent so much time with me over the years. Someone who I saw grow up, someone who I nurtured, someone who I nurtured, someone whom i had great hope for the future of Nigeria, someone who I thought was one of the promising young leaders that we have for the future of Cross River State and indeed Nigeria but God knows best and God has called him; he fulfilled his mission on earth.
“I think that there are many things that we can take away from Stephen’s life. Stephen was meticulous, Stephen was gentle, Stephen was just a man who was a jovial human being. He was one person who will come into a room and will spend hours with me, we dont have to talk but when we talked, we talked meaningfully.”
Imoke then told the story of Ukpukpen’s medical travails where he was misdiagnosed and told he had pancreatic cancer instead of gull stones; a situation which Imoke said got him very worried.
However, Ukpukpen is said to have been given a clean bill of health by medical professionals a month before his death; a which Imoke said made his demise even more painful.
“When for no reason I heard of his death, it wasn’t as a result of cancer, it wasn’t as a result of gull stones, it was just that he went out to exercise, it was very painful, very very painful for me and it still is very very painful for me,” said Imoke who also charged natives of Obudu to always be very supportive of their own.
His successor and incumbent governor, Senator Ben Ayade who spoke in Bette first called on the people to pray to God to forgive sins committed as it was a taboo for a young man to die.
Speaking later in English, Ayade went characteristically philosophical and averred that Mr. Ukpukpen’s exit reflects “a true story of the vanity of life, the fallibility of knowledge, the invincibility of man, the nothingness of life. Shame unto death to take a young man at his prime. Shame unto death because he has no idea that he has taken someone polished and a polite gentleman.”
Ayade who warned that one cannot “elicit negativism and expect positivism,” maintained that the lawmaker had lived well and had gone to a better place.
“We all are born to die because even the greatest researchers have not been able to define death. But today, Steve has given us a better definition because he knows the hereafter more than anybody here.
“Even those who are professors of theology, the priests, the greatest researchers only believe by faith but the real experience of life after death is better experienced as proven by Steve.
“Steve is ahead of all of us and therefore death itself is success.
“Steve, you have gone to rest. You have rested from social tension, political tension, the pressure from family, pressure from home, pressure from all the tribulations and banalities and vicissitudes of life; that has come to end, life has come to an end.
“Perhaps, you are here to mourn Steve, when you are done, prepare to mourn for yourselves because we have not learnt a lesson; the same material struggle, the same hatred for each other, the same struggle for physical wealth that drives us into early death and we turn back and accuse God,” Ayade said.
Furthermore, Ayade sued for more brotherliness and stated that: “There is a conflict between your belief and the truth; if you were born into a Muslim community, you will be a Muslim; if you were born into Tao Tao, you will be a Taoist; today you are a christian, a Catholic most likely so you believe in catholicism.
“But, in all euthology, in all theology, in all anthology, it is very evident that your soul, your attitude to fellow man determines your life.
“Can we hold back ourselves just one minute; 2019, 2023, you may not get there. Enough of this hatred.”
Earlier, a relative and the clan head of the late lawmaker’s community, Chief Tony Undiaundeye in his tribute said that Mr. Ukpukpen was the first Bedia native to aspire for the House of Assembly as well as the first state lawmaker from Obudu to be reelected for a second term.
Commending those who turned out for the burial, Undiaundeye who apologised for the irregularities preceding the burial, averred that: “As I mourn and look at the array of people that are attending this burial today, I am satisfied that Stephen is not dead.”
For the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Honorable John Lebo (PDP Abi) said that: “Stephen was one of my closest friends. He was always the first in my office and the last person in my office.”
He said that the lawmaker’s death had taught him not to be scared of death and commended Mr. Ayade as well as Mr. Imoke for their interventions which saw him been given a clean bill of health a month before his death.
Lebo who also disclosed that the late lawmaker was his “political twin” given their relationship to Mr. Imoke, said the Assembly had resolved that his family will receive all remunerations till the end of the eight assembly.
Others who eulogised the late lawmaker included Senator Rose Oko whom he served in her campaign team despite not being a native of her Ogoja/Yala federal constituency, the chairman of the people’s democratic party in the state, Ntufam Inok Edim.
Notable amongst attendees were Mr. Ayade’s wife, Dr. Linda Ayade; his deputy, Professor Ivara Esu; Mr. Imoke’s wife, Obioma Imoke; his deputy, Barrister Efiok Cobham, Senator John Owan-Enoh, Honorable Jarigbe Agom, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar, Professor Zana Akpagu; a gubernatorial aspirant, Honorable Paul Adah and Dr. Peter Oti, a former gubernatorial aspirant.
Ukpukpen, according to the biography read by the commissioner for solid minerals, George Oben-Etchi was born on December 26, 1968 in Lagos.
A graduate of accounting from the defunct Polytechnic of Calabar in 1992, Ukpukpen is said to have worked over a decade in the private sector and got the first opportunity to serve in public sphere when he was appointed as a member of the transition committee of Mr. Imoke in 2007.
He later contested for, and won the position of the lawmaker representing Obudu in the state House of Assembly in 2011 and was reelected in 2015.
He died in the early hours of May 30, 2018 after he slumping during a routine morning exercise CrossRiverWatch had reported.
He is survived by his wife, Abbey and three children; Gideon, Stephanie and Jada.
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