By: Israel Umoh
The February 16 came and went with a whimper: ‘Oh! my party would have won. Oh! We would have won.’ The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, threw the spanner into work by shifting the presidential/National Assembly elections nationwide to February 23.
A cursory look shows that the race to Aso Rock is between the two septuagenarians- President Muhammadu Buhari of All Progressives Congress, APC, and Atiku Abubakar of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The presence of other 89 political parties in INEC’s register seems to be razzmatazz as they have not fielded most candidates in the forthcoming elections.
Since the return to civilian rule in 1999, Akwa Ibom has remained under the firm grip of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. From inception, the state has been voting massively for PDP presidential candidates- Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan.
However, the defection of Senator Godswill Akpabio to APC on August 8, 2018 has thrown up some challenges for PDP. The rift between former Governor Godswill Akpabio and his estranged political godson, Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel is deepening. Following the unexpected decision by the former, who was also the Minority Leader of the Senate at the time, to dump the PDP and pitch his tent with the APC, the political permutations in the state have changed drastically. Akpabio who is seen as a game changer has strong following in the political circle.
Straightnews visited the political marketplace to feel the pulse and the intrigues of the political class to knowing the chances of President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar in basically the swing battleground local government areas of the state. A periscope will be used to mirror some local government areas that are regarded as shopping areas. Another scale will be used to measure the chances of candidates vying for Senate and House of Representatives under APC and PDP in the Saturday’s elections. Straightnews x-rays 10 local government areas regarded as battleground and one shopping area that politicians must alter their brinkmanship in the horsetrading business before Saturday in order to get good results.
Abak local government area has 89,928 voters with 11 wards and 125 polling booths. In the PDP are Mr. Moses Ekpo, the state deputy governor, Hon. Imo Ibokette, a one-time member for Abak state constituency; Rt. Hon. Friday Iwok, member for Abak state constituency; Aniekan Umanah, PDP candidate for Abak-Etim Ekpo-Ika Federal Constituency; Okon Obot, a one-time Commissioner for lands and Housing; Udeme Otong, candidate for Abak state constituency; and Imo Williams, Abak local government chairman, among others.
In the APC are Uwem Udoma, special assistant to Nsima Ekere, the immediate past NDDC Managing Director; Dr. Emmanuel Udosen, ex-Transition Chairman of Abak and Koko Abia, Human Resource Consultant, among others.
Given a level playing ground, both parties are on ground and can sweep the polls. Depending on the popularity, the two presidential candidates run neck-to-neck. The House of Representatives candidate has to win at home first. Then, he needs the support of Etim Ekpo and Ika to beat Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Ekon, an incumbent from Iwukem in Etim Ekpo seeking for a third term in the office.
Seen as a battleground, the local government area has 11 electoral wards with 159 polling booths. The thickly populated area has 114,867 voters. Since the return of democracy to the state, the area is a PDP domain. The emergence of Godswill Akpabio as a governor in 2007 added pep to the party’s stranglehold.
However, Akpabio’s exit to APC has set him off-balance with his political godfather and some of his godsons. Chief Michael Afangideh, the PDP political leader, Prince Ukpong Akpabio, his cousin and Commissioner for Trade and Commerce; Sir Isobara, a one-time state accountant-general; Rapahel Isobara, local government Chairman; Ese Umoh, aspiring for House of Assembly, Martin Umanah, Hon. Ndifreke Idung and Emmanuel Ibah, among others are still in PDP.
Akpabio now a Senator resigned in 2018 as Senate Minority Leader to contest under APC. Those who have joined him in from the area are Etekamba Umoren, the immediate past Secretary to the State Government; Ibanga Akpabio, ex-Commissioner for Labour and Manpower Development; Augustine Afangideh, ex-Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources; Dr. Christopher Akpan, and Arc. Ubokutom Nyah.
Others are Dr. Etido Ibekwe, a one-time member House of Assembly, Hon. Nse Ntuen, the immediate past member in the state House of Assembly and Isong Akpabio, the erstwhile manager, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, among others. It is interesting battle because the political heavyweights flood both parties. Given a conducive scenario, the APC has upper hand in Saturday’s elections in the area.
Going by performance in the Senate, Godswill Akpabio rides higher. He has tarred four roads in the four Federal Constituencies in the Senatorial District; gave scholarship to more than 300 students in the tertiary institutions, gave empowerment to more than 200 across the state of between N150,000 and N250,000; built two secondary schools- one in Ibiono Ibom local government and another in Udung Uko local government area with solar water and light. In fact, he has given the district effective representation. Unlike his challenger, Chris Ekpenyong, a one-time deputy governor of the state, Akpabio is towering. Except politics of hatred and rancour and party loyalty is introduced, then Akpabio may suffer a brush. Without that, analysts see him having an upper hand in the Saturday’s election.
This is one of the core oil producing communities in the state. Yet, it has huge votes. Eket has 11 electoral wards with 56 polling booths. It has 101,038 voters. Already, Nduese Essien, a one-time member, House of Representatives and Minister of Housing and Urban Renewal is the PDP general in the area. Bar. Assam Assam,a one-time Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice; Hon. David Lawrence Udofa, the Eket House Assemblyman and Frank Archibong, the council’s boss give more muscle to the party in the area.
In the APC’s train are Hon. Aniekan Akpan, the chairman of local government chairmen in Akwa Ibom and Dr. Emem Wills, a one-time commissioner for Health, among others can equally pull a string for the party. Though some voters in the local government area complain of non-completion of a stadium by PDP government in the state and muddling up of Eket Urban Renewal Scheme, the political class speak a different language on the party’s performance. At the end of the day, if APC relaxes, PDP will wrestle power from it and give to Atiku.
This is one of the local government areas with huge votes. With 85,130 voters in its kitty, the area boasts of 10 wards and 117 polling booths.
Among the PDP chieftains is Obong Victor Attah, a one-time Akwa Ibom Governor. Hon. Uwem Ita Etuk, a one-time Commissioner and state PDP chairman is said to be the arrow of PDP in the area having succedded in installing many persons in positions of authority. Hon. Aniekan Uko representing Ibesikpo Asutan in the House of Assembly is seeking re-election. Mr. Linus Nkan, the Commissioner for Finance is big wig of the party. Obong Emmnauel Obot, a one-time House of Representatives member, is a staunch player.
In the APC flank are Engr. Efiok Akpan, the APC leader in the area; Dr. Ita Udosen, a one-time member in the House of Assembly and the state deputy chairman of the party; Dr. Ekpe James, a one-time local government chairman while Dr. Itoro Noah is the APC candidate for Ibesipok Asutan.
However, there people play rotational politics. It is viewed that Aniekan Uko from Ibesikpo clan should concede to Dr. Noah from Asutan since a one-term tenure is given to each clan in the area. Reports from the area have that PDP has moblised a lot while some boys campaign from hous-to-house for the party.
There are reports of threat to life and intimidation to vote for a particular party, which this may affect the emergence of popular candidates. Without adequate security, there may be skirmishes due to a high level of desperation among some politicians in the area to reclaim political power at all cost. APC and PDP are neck-to-neck in popularity.
This is one of the political nests in the state due to incubation of a high calibre and experienced politicians. Ibiono Ibom local government area has 90, 826 voters with 11 wards and 161 polling booths.
In PDP are Senator Bassey Albert Akpan (OBA) representing Akwa Ibom North East in the Senate, Obong Ignatius Edet, a one-time speaker, Akwa Ibom House of Assembly; Dr. Iniobong Essien, Commissioner for Environment and Mineral Resources; Barr. Ime Okon, House of Assemblyman; Ntieyong Inyangmme, one-time PDP secretary; Daniel Udoh (North South); Nicholas Andy, a political juggernaut and Iniobong Ememobong, the state PDP publicity Secretary, among others.
Among the APC helmsmen are Senator Ita Enang, Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly (Senate); Barr. Edet Ikotidem, House of Assembly candidate; Dr. Effiong Etuk, the state APC secretary; Emmanuel Udoh; Barr. Edet Okpoto, Monday Akra and Engr. Edem Eyo, among others.
In the Senate, OBA has performed well. He has impacted on many lives and has huge following. His challenger is Bassey Etim (BAFIL) is a man of huge goodwill. As a one-time member in the House of Representatives, he assisted many in gaining employment. He is a popular politician. Yet, OBA has an edge, though he can torpedo the popularity rating. Political pundits in the area believe that if APC does not work harder, OBA may deliver the area to Atiku on Saturday.
The presidential/ National Assembly elections in the area would be exciting. Since the resurgence of APC led by Don Etim, the then Commissioner for Works under ex-Governor Godswill Akpabio and Senator Emmanuel Ibokessien on one hand, the politicking is incredibly intriguing. A PDP- stronghold, Ikot Ekpene is also a battleground based on the huge votes at its disposal.
APC further boasts of Chief Sunny Ibanga, the erstwhile Chairman of PDP Chapter chairmen in the state, Uyo Nathaniel, Special Assistant to Nsima Ekere, the then NDDC Managing Director; Essien Ibokessien and Emmanuel Essiet.
On the contrary, PDP also parades such heavyweights as Prof. Nse Udoessien, Commissioner for Science and Technology; Engr. Etido Inyang, Chairman, Ibom Power Company; Rt. Hon. Nsikak Ekong, candiate for House of Representatives; Idongesit Etim Ntekpere representing Ikot Ekpene/Obot Akara in the House of Assembly and Pastor Sunny Ibuot, Special Adviser on Political/ Legislative Affairs and Water Resources.
The rest are Unyime Etim, Ikot Ekpene local government boss; Leo Leo Umanah, Director, Internal Revenue Service; Engr. Sam Inyang of Sanyang Construction Company; and Elder Daniel Udo (Commando) and Ntufam Udo Iyak, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Inter-ministerial Projects and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), among others.
With 83,120 voters, the area has 11 electoral wards with 104 polling units. In free and fair elections, these array of political heavyweights are capable of turning the applecart to favour Atiku Abubakar and PDP member gunning for Ikot Ekpene-Essien Udim-Obot Akara Federal Constituency.
Beyond rhetoric, major political leaders are ready to show their strength. The battle is between APC and PDP. For years, Mkpat Enin has remained as a PDP traditional home. To rout the party, APC has to do overtime in the grassroots mobilization. Apart from Rt. Hon. Ekong Sampson, the Commissioner for Economic Planning, a factor to be reckoned with, there are other poltical gladiators who will give APC a running battle for their money. Also in the team is Chief Richard Umoren, the pioneer chaiman of Mkpat Enin, capable of wooing more voters to his party.
On the other hand, Rt. Hon. Bernard Udoh gunning again for Ikot Abasi-Mkpat Enin-Eastern Obolo Federal Constituency is also a hard nut to crack in political machinery of the area. As an APC bigwig, he is an old horse in politics of the area. Udoh had under PDP turned a landlord having represented the constituency thrice in the Green Chambers. He has the capacity to turn the political table in favour of Buhari and himself on Saturday.
Otobong Ndem a member who represented the area in the House of Assembly defected from PDP to APC. His seat was declared vacant. Given the right atmosphere and mentality, he can rock the boat for APC.
In the political configuration, Mkpat Enin has 14 electoral wards, 68,101 voters and 122 polling booths for grabs. If APC is not serious, PDP has put in place a machinery to crush the opposition on Saturday.
Oruk Anam local government area has 13 wards, 106,243 voters with 167 polling booths. It is a PDP stronghold. Senator Itak Ekarika, Rt. Hon. Udo Kierien Akpan, member representing Oruk Anam State Constituency; Dr. Udoma Ekarika, Dr. Effiong Udongwo and Hon. Sunny Okoko, among other politicians.
In the APC are such heavyweights as Don Etiebet, one-time BOT member, PDP and APC BOT member; Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Ukoette, representing Oruk Anam/Ukanafun Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Dr. Amadu Atai, Deputy Governorship candidate; and Noah Noah, House of Assembly candidate.
Generally, the electorate is not at home with Ukoette, their son in the House of Representatives. They feel that he chewed more than he could swallow in that he has not attracted constituency development projects to the area.
According to some of them, he has been hiding under one to emerge a winner and they feel it is time to pay him back in his coin. Most voters in Ukanafun/Oruk Anam Federal Constituency are ready to sway their support to Unyime Idem, a PDP candidate from Ukanafun. By implication, they may vote for Buhari. Even PDP bigwigs are set to throw their support for Engr. Chris Ekpenyong, the Senatorial candidate.
Onna local government area has 12 electoral wards, 69,130 voters with 131 polling booths. It is a major battleground in that Governor Udom Emmanuel, the PDP candidate seeking re-election hails from the area. Apart from the fact that some indigenes of the area are bitter with him, some think he sited all the industries in Awa Iman, his hometown and that he made Awa sons and daughters major political appointees to the exclusion of other clans in the area.
In the selection of a Paramount Ruler for the area, some people are still biter with him. In terms of location of basic infrastructure such as roads, the people flow in a different page.
However, Patrick Ifon gunning for Eket Federal Constituency seat and Hon. Owoidighe Ekpoattai, the outgoing member representing Eket Federal Constituency and Nse Udofot Essien (Idomie) representing Onna in the House of Assembly can pull a string for him. Though civil servants, Dr. Nathaniel Adiakpan, Permanent Secretary, Governor’s Office, Uyo; Pastor Uwem Essien, the state Accountant General and Mrs. Ekerebong Akpan, Head of Civil Service, among others are able to pull a string for him politically.
However, APC has Bishop Samuel Akpan from Abak Ishiet who operates like a submarine can wreck political havocs for the governor during the presidential/National Assembly elections. Noted for organizational and mobilization prowess, Akpan who was the leader of Akwa Ibom Peoples Forum (AKPF) under the reign of ex-governor Akpabio. Mr. Samuel Frank, the immediate past NDDC Commissioner, another APC bigboy from the area, will show his political chest that can muscle PDP.
This is a major shopping ground comprising Mbo- 10wards with 58 polling booths; Okobo- 10 wards with 84 polling booths; Oron- 10 wards with 62 polling booths; Mbo- 10 wards with 58 polling booths; Udung Uko- 10 wards with 45 polling booths and Urue Offong Oruko- 10 wards with 47 polling booths.
In terms of voters, Oron has 51,627, Okobo- 54,454; Mbo-52,495; Udung Uko- 30,864 and Urue Offong/Oruko- 38,903 respectively.
Key PDP players include Ekpenyong Ntekim- one-time Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice; Peter Umoh- one-time member, House of Representatives; Hon. Felicia Bassey, deputy speaker house of Assembly; Effiong Okon Bassey for Oron/Udung Uko state Constituency; Asuquo Edet Archibong representing Udung Uko/Oruko state constituency and Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, Secretary to the State Government.
Others are Dr. Akon Eyakenyi, PDP Senatorial candidate for Akwa Ibom South; Orman Esin, Commissioner for Transport and Petroleum Resources; Chris Abasieyo, one-time Commissioner for Information and Culture; Hon. Uno Etim Uno, Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, among others.
APC heavyweights in the area are Senator Nelson Effiong, representing Akwa Ibom South in the Senate; Dr. Esio Okwong Udoh, a one-time member, House of Representatives; Engr. Ben Ukpong, Commisisoner, National Population Commission, NPC; Arc. Ita Otu Toyo (Total Chair), Ita Awak, director on Airworthiness to National Aviation Authority; Samuel Asuquo Ufuo, member in the House of Assembly.
Others are Prince Victor Antai, the immediate past Commissioner for Culture and Tourism; Okon Osung, ex-chairman of Akwa Ibom Local Government Service Commission; Prince Effiong Abia, ex-PDP governorship aspirant, Prince Nkereuwem Enyongekere, state publicity secretary of APC and Barr. Bassey Eyo Edet, immediate past APC state publicity secretary; among others.
It is believed that Oro are still sad over their inability to produce a state governor. So, their voting pattern may be basically protest votes as a way of venting anger on what they see as “perceived marginalisation” of the area in the scheme of things. Even the appointment of an SSG from the area has not really assuaged their ill feelings as PDP government is seen to be the architect of their marginalisation.
Except there is a bandwagon effect, the Oron may vote for APC. Given the PDP momentum in the state, Oron may collapse for PDP during the presidential/National Assembly elections.
Uyo local government area has 11 wards with 176 polling booths. Uyo has 212,077, being the largest number of voters in the state. Apart from being a state capital, the area is swing with huge votes. Some PDP kingpins are Hon. Michael Enyong representing Uyo Federal Constituency; Obong Rita Akpan, a one-time Minister of Women Affairs; Monday Eyo Okon, member of Uyo State Constituency in the House of Assembly; Enobong Uwah, Chairman iof Uyo Capital City Development Authority, UCCDA; Imoh Okon, Uyo local government Chairman, Dr. Val Attah, Chairman of Akwa Ibom Local Government Service Commission; Hon. Cyril M. Ekiko, and Anietie Eka, gunning for House of Assembly, among others.
In the APC are Senator James Akpan Udo Edehe, one-time Minister of State for Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Ekerete Ekpenyong, House of Representatives candidate; Perry Ntuk, a one-time Special Adviser on Political/Legislative Matters; Barr. Umoh Umoh, House of Assembly candidate and Professor Chris Ekong, university don, among others.
Political pundits believe that APC has more crowd pullers and happening politicians in the area. Apart, some voters are residents who may travel to their local government areas of origin to vote for candidates of their choice. Some analysts think that PDP administration being opposition in the state now has not done anything for the municipality. In addition, some APC adherents believe that Governor Udom has not completed the Ring Road and other major projects in the state capital compared to what ex-governor Akpabio did in the area. It is their belief that Buhari has appointed many of their indigenes into boards and commissions.
In previous times, the opposition party used to sweep the polls. Saturday’s elections may not be a surprise if APC cast more votes for President Buhari in Uyo.
CONCLUSION: The Saturday’s elections will be a litmus test to March 9 Governorship/House of Assembly elections. The party that carries the day on Saturday will use the same resolve and verve to cart home victory in subsequent elections.
Straightnews discovered that some APC and PDP members were so lethargic. Given free and fair elections, their candidates would have been wounded during the botched February 16 elections.
The money politics introduced into the elections by the two major parties will alter the voting pattern owing to the level of poverty in the society. In vote buying, there were allegations that PDP bigwigs paying N10,000 each carrier of of Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC). In fact, in Uyo Senatorial Dsitrct, a aprticular candidate is said to be paying N10,000 to 20 voters in each of the 12 local government areas. In the same district, the candidate is alleged to be paying a village head N10,000; headmaster/headmistress- N20,000 and village chairman-N10,000 monthly.
During the botched February 16 elections, a particular party allegedly doled out N500,000 to each of the 2,935 polling units in the state while another was said to have given N2 million to each electoral ward. It appears that APC did not rise up early to enter the grassroots to mop up support while PDP has full grasp of the grassroots support. Without riggings, APC may gnash teeth because some of their members are yet to be coordinated.
Unfortunately, many politicians in the state have not read the INEC’s Guidelines on the elections takless of knowing how to comply with the provisions. The use of smart readers’ cards will sound political funeral to many parties and their candiudates because most of them thought that INEC would depend on incident forms so that they could compromise the electoral process. The re-configured cards in many areas will open the flank of parties for defeat as they may not be able to influence the electoral process.
It has been discovered that reliance on some big names for winning could be the greatest undoing of some parties even some lazy candidates. So, the postponement of the elections is a wake-up call to many politicians or parties that want to win the February 23 elections to campaign vigorously and put their axes in place.
Political analysts believe that APC’s protest for the removal of INEC resident Commissioner, Mike Igini, is defeatist, admisison of lack of preparation and an attempt to stave off imminent defeat. It is the affirmed stand of pundits that any of the two major political parties in the state- APC or PDP- that works harder in the remaining few days is bound to deliver its presidential and National Assembly candidates on Saturday, February 23.