INIOBONG EKPONTA looks at the power play in the oil-rich Akwa Ibom State with the defection of Senator Godswill Akpabio to the All Progressives Congress (APC), against the background of the re-election bid of the governor.
AT the return of democracy in 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the dominant party, has subsumed a large swathe of the nation’s political space including Akwa Ibom State into its area of influence for 16 uninterrupted years.
Obong Victor Bassey Attah, the first democratically elected governor chosen from the majority Ibibio ethnic group, governed the state for eight years (1999-2007). In line with the power rotation principle, as enshrined in the PDP constitution, Attah, had envisaged a zoning arrangement that would ensure the three major ethnic groups of Ibibio, Annang and Oron, had a fair share in the power rotation calculus.
He, therefore, at the twilight of his tenure, ensured the arrangement was followed through by handing over the power baton to the next majority tribe of Annang, with Senator Godswill Akpabio, as his successor.
Like Attah, Akpabio, who was a key member of his cabinet for six years, serving in different positions including Petroleum, Lands as well as Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, was handed the power baton, and he also was in the saddle for eight years.
However, in the run up to the 2015 polls, Akpabio, apparently afraid of the Ibibio’s (the majority tribe’s) gang up – to truncate his chances of producing his successor, had to abandon the zoning arrangement, hitherto based on ethnic consideration, to choose his successor on the basis of Senatorial District.
“Originally, Oron, the third leg of the state’s ethnic tripod, would have, by right and in line with original power rotation arrangement, be next in line to produce the governor,” noted Chief Anwana Esin Anwana Jr., a PDP chieftain in Oron.
“But since Ibibio has the majority in population and they spread across 18 out of the 31 local government areas of the state, Akpabio, had to be cowed into changing the original rotational arrangement on the basis of Senatorial District.
“This enabled him to avoid all the 23 aspirants that jostled to succeed him and decided to pick an Ibibio man (Udom Emmanuel), from Eket Senatorial District, which Oron is a part, to become the next governor.
“His decision was predicated on the fact that though Udom Emmanuel, is an Ibibio man in Eket Senatorial District, his kinsman in other Senatorial Districts of Uyo and Ikot Ekpene, would not hesitate to vote for him”, he explained.
Though the choice of Emmanuel was heavily disputed by the 23 aspirants including the former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Obong Umana Okon Umana; Obong Nsima Ekere, the Managing Director of NDDC;, former Minister, Helen Esuene; former Commissioners, Effiong Abia and Ekpenyong Ntekim and others, Akpabio stood his ground to rail-road Udom to assume the mantle as his successor.
But, a little over three years down the line, Akpabio seemed to have regretted his choice, who served for nearly two years as SSG, after Umana was eased off the cabinet, for nursing ambition to succeed Akpabio.
A series of cold war instances between the godfather and his godson, hidden from public glare, came to the fore and culminated in the defection of Akpabio, into the central ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), penultimate week, give vent to Akpabio’s alarm “that all is not well in my Senatorial District of Ikot Ekpene.”
He pointedly accused Udom of neglecting some of his star projects in the zone, including the major highway for Uyo to Ikot Ekpene and the Sheraton by Four Points Hotel at Ikot Ekpene, saying these would stand against his (Udom’s) re-election, in 2019.
“What would I use to campaign for your re-election in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District?”, he had said and pointedly referred the governor to the fact that “remember, we (PDP) no longer control the centre, the security and INEC.”
Worried by the development, Udom had called for a meeting of stakeholders of Ikot Ekpene at the Governor’s Lodge and Akpabio, Senator Emmanuel Ibokessien, former Deputy governor Chris Ekpenyong and others attended the meeting and agreed to support Udom’s re-election.
But Akpabio was quick to throw another bombshell at another political forum organised in honour of Governor Emmanuel and his wife, Martha, at Ikot Ekpene, that “I (Akpabio) don’t know the party that would return me to the Senate.”
Few weeks after, Akpabio was seen hobnobbing with the leaders of the APC, including Acting President Yemi Osinbajo; national leader of APC, Senator Bola Tinubu; President Muhammadu Buhari in London and other stakeholders of the party before he finally quit the PDP at his Ikot Ekpene Stadium, penultimate week.
The heavily packed stadium had in attendance the APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole; Tinubu, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SFG), Boss Mustapha; Ministers, including Lai Mohammed and over 30 National Assembly members.
Akpabio, who defected with some State Assembly members, two commissioners, two National Assembly members and other PDP adherents, said he was leaving his former party to pitch tent with the central government to ensure “my state gets the fair share of national cake.”
“As a statesman, I can’t allow my state to remain in the opposition. I have to join hand with the Federal Government to rescue my state from misgovernance, insecurity and poverty and over three years of underdevelopment,” he said.
But key PDP leaders including the former national Publicity Secretary, Senator Anietie Okon; former Deputy Governor, Obong Chris Ekpenyong, former Military governor, Otuekong Idongesit Nkanga; PDP Board of Trustee member (Bot), Senator Ibokessien and others, were quick to fault Akpabio, saying his mission to APC “is to escape the long arm of the EFCC.”
According to them, Akpabio has over the years placed a big burden on Udom, to shield him from the EFCC over years of sleazy deals in his era as governor, pointing out that “Akpabio’s exit would give the governor the fresh air to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people.”
But according observers of the unfolding events in Akwa Ibom in the last couple of weeks, the migration of Akpabio into the ruling APC may change the power pendulum, going by the fact that “the APC has long been nursing ambition to take over some of the South-South states.”
Although Udom has been playing host to flurry of solidarity supports from PDP elders, religious organisations and youth groups, observers believe Akpabio’s factor “as a former influential leader of Akwa Ibom, may combine to alter the existing political status quo.”
“If you check the House of Assembly and Udom’s cabinet, you will discover that majority of those appointees were foisted on him (Udom) by his godfather (Akpabio) and there is every likelihood of jumping ship when the coast is clear,” said an analyst.
Currently, the governor appears to have come out of his shell, perhaps to take the bull by the horns. He has literally been dispensing more patronage to various groups and individuals. These groups and individuals have been pledging unflinching support and they cut across the three Senatorial districts of Uyo, Ikot Ekpene and Eket.
For this, the governor has received resounding endorsements for second term from the remaining 24 PDP members of the House of Assembly.
To ensure the governor confidence is fully reposed in the Assembly, the Speaker Onofiok Luke, is reported to have said he rejected a whopping N2billion dangled before him to cross over to the APC, because of Udom and PDP.
In the same, the Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN), under the aegis of Fathers of Faith for the re-election of Governor Emmanuel, said the association rejected N500million for them to frustrate the governor’s re-election.
The Prelate Emeritus of the Methodist Church, Sunday Mbang; the immediate past chairman of CAN in the state, ArchBishiop Cletus Bassey and the current CAN chair, Reverend Nduese Ekwere, are the arrowhead of the campaign.
But with the return of Akpabio to team up with other ex-horses of the PDP, including Umana, Ekere, John Udoehe, Ita Enang and others, who had earlier jumped ship to armed themselves with the Federal might, observers say the APC front could be too formidable to displace the current political order.
Only time will tell as the people watch.
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