Akwa Ibom Political Series: A look At Paul Ekpo (1)

Paul Ekpo
Paul Ekpo

Straightnews has begun what is called Akwa Ibom Political Series. The essence is to look at the roles of key players in the political developments of the state since the return of the country and the state as a whole to democracy in 1999. The online newspaper looks at Paul Ekpo, otherwise known as “Paul Politics,” the state PDP chairman, his role and his future in the emerging Akwa Ibom politics.

Paul Ekpo, the incumbent Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Akwa Ibom State, and the National Chairman of Committee of State Chairmen in PDP has come a long way politically since the advent of the fourth Republic in 1999.

He started his sojourn in the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) with Obong Sunny Jackson of Jackson Devos fame, his uncle and industrialist, who worked with the likes of late Oloye, the late Dr. Olusola Abubakar Saraki to make the APP a formidable party, but their albatross was the acronym which was given the tag, “Abacha Peoples Party” even though the party was largely driven by former governors of the NRC/SDP era (1992-1993).

Soon after his mentors suffered a loss in the 1999 elections, Paul found his way into the Federal Civil Service through the Federal Character Commission (FCC). His stay there was short-lived as he soon found his way into the NEXIM – Nigeria Export-Import Bank, where he cut his teeth in entrepreneurship development, commerce and investments. This created an opportunity for him in 2007 as the newly formed government of Godswill Akpabio recognised his potential and brought him into government. He was appointed Commissioner, Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

By the time Godswill Akpabio was re-elected for a second term in 2011, and the party administration machinery needed to be rejigged, Paul was found most useful and favoured. From the post of Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, he resigned to contest as the State Party Chairman at the 2012 State Congress of the PDP Akwa Ibom State. Since then, he has discharged his responsibility creditably, including midwiving the process that helped Akpabio in producing a successor in 2015, and in 2019 returned the incumbent for successful re-election.

Paul, an amiable gentleman, a social mobilizer, unassuming in his disposition was re-elected State Party Chairman in 2016 and is undeniably the longest-serving Chairman of PDP, Akwa Ibom State since its registration in 1998. He has served two terms. Previous occupants of the office hardly survived the pressure from political leaders and gladiators. The late Joe Ating from Mbo (Oron extraction) could not survive the supremacy battle between the then Governor, Obong Victor Bassey Attah (Eduek Ekpe) and the generally acclaimed leader, Chief Don Obot Etiebet (Atuekong Annang).

The story is told of how the Atuekong Annang got into Abuja soon after the primary election that produced Attah, was inundated with petitions from most of the political elites across the three Senatorial districts in Akwa Ibom rejecting the nomination of Victor Attah based on consensus. The Atuekong arrived at the office of the then National Secretary, an old family friend and requested to see the petition. After perusing, he tore it and that ended the issue.

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Thus Victor Attah, an architect was retained as the valid PDP candidate for the January 1999 governorship election, though Attah did not reciprocate the kind gesture at the Jos Convention for the nomination of Presidential candidate where Atuekong was a contestant. Thus, the struggle for the control of the party structure started and for a long time, there was no definitive state Chairman of the PDP until the emergence of the late Chief Tony Emenyi.

While the struggle was on, the party was superintended by the Engr. Johnson Essien Ibok (of Ibok brothers fame) now late. He was the State Deputy Chairman.  The late Chief Emenyi’s tenure got into troubled waters in the 2005 party congresses and national convention. Parallel state congresses were held in Uyo, the state capital. One was held at the Ibom Hall grounds with the incumbent Governor Attah while the other took place at the Amity Hotel grounds. The one at Ibom Hall grounds produced and endorsed Chief Emenyi as the Chairman while the one at Amity Hotel in Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo, produced Arc. Otu Ita Toyo, a man largely propelled by Senator (Mrs.) Eme Ufot Ekaette who later compensated her with a senatorial ticket at the 2006 primaries.

The group that hoarded themselves at the Amity Hotel was unable to get their papers accepted by the then Brig. Gen. (retd) Samuel Ogbemudia led National Convention Committee quartered at the Command Guest House until they were helped by an influential political leader from the state who was at that time-based in Abuja. The acceptance of the Amity Hotel list made it difficult for delegates from Akwa Ibom State to the 2005 National Convention held at the Eagle Square, Abuja to be allowed to vote.

After the 2005 convention, the matters were resolved by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo who convened a meeting that included Senator Udoma Udoma (a chief supporter of Emenyi), Senator J.J. Akpan Udoedehe, Obong Ufot Ekaette, Otu Ita Toyo, an architect, Senator Ahmadu Ali and then Governor Obong Victor Attah. It was at the meeting that the Governor was told to work with Toyo, and Prince Perry Ntuk was replaced with Anietie Ekong as the State Secretary of the party. With the loss of Emenyi as the Chairman, Senator Udoma chickened out of the2007 governorship race.

It was with great pressure from the President that Arc. Otu Ita Toyo was inaugurated as State Chairman by Senator Col. (rtd) Ahmadu Ali, then PDP National Chairman. That inauguration brought with it another twist of fate. Ita Toyo found good support from Pastor Oyong Asukwo who at the time was Chairman of Oron Local Government Area and came to the event with many militant-looking young men. The Oyong’s presence with these young men was protested by the National Chairman, a longstanding family friend to the Bassey Attah’s family, having met with Edward Attah (now Professor of Medical Pathology) at the UCH Ibadan as students. Obong Victor Attah, the Governor,  exhibited his title Eduek Ekpe and summarily locked up Oron Local Government Council Secretariat through the instrumentality of the then Commissioner of Police, Azubuike Udah, who later supported the emergence of Godswill Akpabio as Governor.

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Toyo served as the State Chairman with the appellation TOTAL CHAIR until 2008. It can be argued that this appellation may have helped to destroy the tripod basis of the power equation of 1998. He had helped Akpabio on his way to the governorship, but could not define how to work with him amicably. It is said that “Akpabio as Governor poisoned the political waters of Akwa Ibom politics, and everyone who drunk from it could not remain the same.” Toyo was succeeded by Uwem Ita Etuk. Uwem came to the office of the State Chairman with the pedigree of his father, Chief Ita Etuk of the famed NPN- National Party of Nigeria. He left in 2012.

Enter Paul Ekpo, an Iman from Etinan as the State Chairman in 2012. He helped Akpabio as Governor to navigate the political tripod into producing an Iman from Onna as a successor to Governor Akpabio. The understanding in 1998 was the tripod of Ibibio, Annang and Oron in that order; but has since been translated into Uyo, Ikot Ekpene and Eket Senatorial districts.

Today, Paul Ekpo is in the twilight of his second term, what does the future hold?

There are clamours for him to run for the Number One office in the state, the office of Governor. Will his hold on the party structure for these past eight years be galvanised to bring him to the promised land? Will an Iman from Awa Iman consider the proposition of an Iman from Etinan (Uyo Senatorial District) to succeed him come 2023? Will the saying “good things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those whose hustle” prevail?

Even if Paul Ekpo is not interested in the office of Governor, he certainly should be interested in who becomes his successor, as he may want to return to Abuja, but this time as a Senator, after all, he was brought from Abuja to become Commissioner and a member of the State Executive Council under Governor Akpabio.