By: Israel Umoh
The 2023 governorship race in Akwa Ibom State had begun. As many were campaigning for the re-election of Governor Udom Emmanuel, some politicians were busily plotting graph on how to grab and occupy the coveted Hilltop Mansion in Uyo.
The Hilltop Mansion is highly eyed seat by many a politician. Like honeycomb, the mansion drips with oily honey- it could be perceptible money or juicy appointments- such that the occupant squeezes honey from the seat and gives whom he pleases.
Under a gentleman’s agreement, Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District started the race under the fourth Republic democratic dispensation. Obong Victor Attah was found worthy and was subsequently handed the baton to rule the state from 1999 to 2007.
Like a relay race, the baton was passed to Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District. Chief later Senator Godswill Akpabio occupied the driver’s seat for eight years.
To complete the cycle, Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District took its turn in 2015. Deacon Udom Emmanuel currently on the saddle was given the royal diadem and the tenure of his office is expected to expire on May 29, 2023.
In zeroing down, it can be argued that it is only Itu/Ibiono Federal Constituency that has not produced an elected governor since the creation of the state in 1987.
According to them, Etinan/Nsit Ibom/Nsit Ubium Federal Constituency produced Akpan Isemin; while Ibesikpo Asutan/Nsit Atai/Uruan/Uyo Federal Constituency produced Victor Attah.
There are no valid explanations to back, though many political actors are divided that such argument should not be used as a yardstick in zoning to any Federal Constituency deemed to have missed out.
From the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), some key contenders are rumoured to be keeping their eyes on the ball – governorship.
With time, other interested persons from other registered political parties will show up to battle for the position, but perceived losers from the two major parties will haggle for appointments. In the meantime, contenders from the two major political parties dominating affairs in the state- PDP and APC – are the two elephants pouching other animals and tilling the political soil.
Obong Bassey Albert Akpan, 48, is the Senator representing Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District in the National Assembly. From Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area, he has been a member of the Senate since June 2015. Before now, Albert had served as Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance from 2007 to 2014.
Though he is seen as a popular contender, some political analysts have differed on his possibility to emerge as a candidate for the position.
According to the analysts, OBA as he popularly known has huge fans and supporters. He is generous and passionate to people. In fact, he built his support base when he was the Finance Commissioner as he used the position to award more inter-ministerial jobs to his supporters. It is said that some political appointees in the Udom Emmanuel administration are loyal and sympathetic to his cause.
However, it is rumoured that Governor Emmanuel may not support his ambition even though during Emmanuel’s travail following the exit of Akpabio, he had described Senator Albert in the presence of many Senators as his leader that he could follow to war blind folded.
A source close to the governor says this hinges on his alleged membership in a secret cult, though others have dismissed this as a non-issue. Again, OBA has a case with EFCC bordering on money laundering while he was Chairman of Inter- Ministerial Committee on Projects.
This, some analysts believe, could jeopardize his chance of emerging. It is possible that other strong contenders could seek to influence the process in the judiciary. “The EFCC may pull a legal onslaught to jail him hence truncating his ambition,” another stated.
Unconfirmed source hinted that he is clandestinely having a sizzling political romance with Senator Akpabio, his erstwhile boss. In short, it is alleged that he may defect to APC, if PDP downs his political ambition.
Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, 57, is the incumbent National Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He represented the Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District from 1999 to 2003, and also served as Minister of State for FCT from July 2007 to October 2008.
Though he had previously promised to support the then Governor Akpabio for 2011, his premature exit from the Umaru Musa Yar’adua cabinet following the fallout at the PDP 10th anniversary celebration in Uyo, hosted by AKSG, made him desire to be Governor in 2011.
He aspired for Governor in 2011 under defunct Action Congress of Nigeria and 2015 under All Progressives Congress but he lost both attempts.
His current position as member/Secretary of the National Caretaker and Convention Planning Committee (NCCPC) of the APC has put him on a pedestal that he has been able to dole out patronage.
Many of his ardent supporters have been given national party assignments. He is now well- known alliance with Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, which has made Governor Nyesom Wike seek to deride him, may be a big plus to securing the party governorship ticket.
Amaechi had previously been in alliance with Sir Nsima Udo Ekere for the 2019 race. Many pundits feel he is a man whose time has come. He is now an Apostle, and pastors a congregation.
Senator Effiong Bob: A PDP helmsman, he is an old horse in the political turf. He has tested elective and appointive positions both at the state and at the national levels.
From Ubium in Nsit Ubium Local Government Area, he had served as a councilor, local government chairman, House of Assembly member, before he was appointed Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Akwa Ibom.
The 61-year-old was a member of the Etukudoh Ekpro’s political family. He outsmarted Senator Anietie Okon for the Akwa Ibom North East Senate seat in 2003.
Courtesy of President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007, he was returned to the Senate in 2007 despite the controversy that surrounded the party primaries which was publicly known to have produced Chief Ime Albert Akpan, senior brother to now Senator Bassey Albert Akpan.
The conspiracy of Chief Godswill Akpabio and Obong Umana Okon Umana denied him the opportunity to return to the Senate in 2011 but he found solace in his appointment as Chairman, Governing Council and Pro-Chancellor of the University of Benin, Benin City, Edo State.
A PDP stalwart, he could behave like a political squirrel in that he does not indicate interest in the position but he is on the lookout for any opportunity to jump in and carry the day. In terms of experience, he has it. In terms of political mobilization, he is politically suave and legally adept.
He is a great grassroots mobilizer despite his difficulties with a section of the elites. And with his vibrant radio station- Comfort FM, a strong mobilsation tool, he would create unusual impact in the prospective position.
Obong Umana Okon Umana is the Managing Director of Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority. He was the Secretary to the Government of Akwa Ibom State (SSG) from June 2007 to July 2013.
Upon his denial of ticket in the PDP, he cross carpeted and in 2015 was the governorship candidate of APC. He is also eyeing the plum job. He had been anointed for Governor by his friend, Godswill Akpabio until things fell apart in 2013.
By 2014, he saw that the race for the governorship in PDP was steeped against him, so he jumped ship and wrestled the APC ticket from Akpanudoedehe. At the 2015 governorship election, he lost.
In 2019, he was purported to have supported Nsima Ekere, but his foot soldiers may have acted otherwise. Should he decide to throw in his hat into the ring the shadows of 2014/2015 and 2019 may come to haunt him.
Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke, 42, is the PDP member representing Etinan/Nsit Ibom/Nsit Ubium Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. He is the Chairman, House Committee on Federal Judiciary.
He was a two-term member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly from2011 to 2019 and the 11th Speaker of the House from 2015 to 2019.
Though he does not come out openly, he is said to be working behind the scene for the plum job. He is rated as ambitious and smart person.
“When he gunned for a second term in the house of Assembly, Governor Akpabio did not support him. He worked hard and subverted the plan.
Again, Akpabio did not support his plan to become a Speaker, but he worked hard and became one. So, he knows what to do,” an analyst recalled his political exploits.
It is feared that he may work harder to benefit from OBA’s structure in event of OBA being entrapped in the legal booby trap. “In case of OBA suffering a legal onslaught, Luke could negotiate for OBA’s structure and use such to show his war chest in the race,” an analyst said.
Others are of the opinion that while he could do well as a governor but his time has not come and house be considering returning to the Federal House of Representatives. Should he heed their proposition, he has Chief Kenneth Okon, the Isantim to contend with. Giving room to their previous political relationship they may easily resolve any conflict of interests.
Senator Ita Enang, 58, is the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger-Delta Affairs. From Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area, he previously served as Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to President Buhari on National Assembly Matters (Senate) from August 2015 to May 2019.
Enang represented Itu/Ibiono Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2011 and the Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District from 2011 to 2015. He has been previously called Udo Mfoniso, but he needs more than mother luck to make positive impact.
In 2011, then Governor Akpabio and Obong Umana conspired to frustrate Senator Bob who wanted to return to the Senate for a third time. Today, both Akpabio and Umana are APC’s chieftains, will they relinquish their personal interests to support him?
To Be Continued