March 9 Gov, H/A Race: Who Carries The Day In A’Ibom?

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PDP, APC
PDP, APC

The heat generated by the just-concluded Presidential/National Assembly elections nationwide and indeed in Akwa Ibom had died down. The aftershocks continue to linger in the minds of people across the nooks and crannies of the society. Winners go with cheerful smiles, yet the losers put up melancholic look buoyed with baleful feelings. There were upsets in the political space. In the same manner, some predictions on the outcome of the elections were fulfilled. Some major political contenders in the race were tactically defeated. Yet, some contestants adjudged to be rookies have ascended the throne.

As post-elections analysis, it appears that most presidential and National Assembly candidates of the 89 political parties may have fizzled out after a poor showing in the last elections. It seemed the voters did not buy into their loud-mouthed or what were largely seen as populist programmes hence the paltry scores some got during the elections to prove their vulnerability. Apart from a few who broadcast jingles or talked on television and radio stations, others seemed not to embark on effective grassroot mobilisation or did not enlighten the populace- one of the critical stakeholders in the electoral success- on their programmes. Perhaps, other Nigerian factors and mostly insufficient funds which is the salt of Nigeria’s campaign helped to consign them to temporary political abyss.

As March 9 governorship/House of Assembly elections inch in, most candidates of the “mushroom parties” may have holed themselves to see how candidates of the two major political parties in the country will do the ‘dribbling’ and ‘scoring’ of the ‘goal’ (sorry for borrowing football terminologies).  Some analysts gathered that PDP and APC candidates together with their supporters have retreated to their political trenches to plot new ways and means to outfox their opponents in the March 9 elections.

In Akwa Ibom State, political office seekers of the two major parties have moved into the political field to canvass for votes and mobilise voters to actualise their ambition. Their supporters are moving house-to-house to outdo one another. Jingles are all over the air space to convince the undecided to vote for them. Newspapers’ advertisements are put out to sway support for them. In fact, the political space is hot again.

In the last elections, PDP won the three Senatorial districts and 10 Federal constituencies in the state while APC, the opposition party in the state, is still rueing in defeat. Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate for Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, won in Akwa Ibom but lost at the national level while President Muhammadu Buhari of All Progressives Congress, APC, lost in the state but got re-election ticket at the national level.

So far, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has cleared 45 governorship candidates in Akwa Ibom to vie for the plum position. In the House of Assembly, 331 candidates from different political parties will go to polls to chase the coveted crowns.

Of the 26 state constituencies in the state, Abak has 16 candidates angling for one slot, Eket-12, Essien Udim- 11, Esit Eket/Ibeno-11, Etim Ekpo/Ika- 11, Etinan- 15, Ibesikpo Asutan- 12, Ibiono Ibom- 13, Ikono-13, and Ikot Abasi/Eastern Obolo-10.

Others are Ikot Ekpene/Obot Akara- 15, Ini- 13, Itu- 19, Mbo-10, Mkpat Enin- 10, Nsit Atai- 14, Nsit Ibom- 11, Nsit Ubium-11, Okobo- 12, Onna- 12, Oron/Udung Uko- 10, Oruk Anam- 11, Ukanafun- 11, Urue Offong/Oruko- 10, Uruan-15 and Uyo- 22.

Already, Buhari who is the country’s president won again under APC which is opposition in the state while PDP said to be a state “religion” is controlling the state apparatus.

Apart from Governor Udom Emmanuel, 21 members in Akwa Ibom House of Assembly are of PDP excluding the five sacked members who defected to APC. Also, the 31 local government chairmen, board members, commissioners and personal aides to the governor are all PDP adherents.

On the other hand, APC seen as opposition party in the state has more than 30 government functionaries appointed by President Buhari. Senator Udo Udoma said to be appointed on merit as the Minister of Budget is today APC sympathiser. Chief Don Etiebet is the Board of Trustee (BOT) member to APC and Senator Ita Enang is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly (Senate).

Others bigwigs are Senator Godswill Akpabio, former Senate Minority leader, Senator James Akpan Udo Edehe, a one-time Minister of State for FCT; and Obong Rita Akpan, a one-time Minister of Women Affairs, among others are APC bigwigs. More than 30 Akwa Ibom indigenes have been appointed as commissioners, board members and directors in various agencies owned by the Federal Government. Inability of them to pull a string during the elections will be their greatest undoing to their looming political image and status.

Despite the bigwigs and Federal government appointees, the APC performed poorly in many polling units in the state. Some analysts attributed the poor performance to what many called “the so-called use of Federal might by some APC chiefs. This was militarization of politics which pains many peace-loving people of the state.This irked many in the state and made the rest to be defiant and unsympathetic to the party.

Again, some APC stalwarts were said to have sabotaged some of their candidates by allegedly going to pledge allegiance to Governor Emmanuel.”

As pre-elections stuff, APC accused Mike Igini, the Resident Electoral Commisisoner in the state for hobnobbing with PDP. It, therefore, attributed its poor showing in the last elections to INEC’s partisanship and unholy alliance with the opposition, allegedly mentioning the appointment of returning officers, electoral officers and recruited auxiliary staff who were PDP moles as some of its sins.

Though some pundits are unable to absolve INEC of the allegations, others believed that “APC was not coordinated technically, operationally and strategically. Unlike PDP that appointed vote defenders, grassroot mobilisers and vote canvassers and empowered them financially, APC went to sleep before and on the elections day. How did the party expect to win for their president and other candidates?

“It appeared APC was inadequately prepared for the elections,” another analyst opined. “Perhaps, the expected to receive magical votes to win. Most PDP chieftains were in the field canvassing and mobilising votes for their candidates but their APC counterparts were in the comfort of their rooms waiting to hear results. Even some who visited polling units could not sway eligible voters to favour their candidates,” an observer who monitored the elections narrated.

“In most polling units, APC agents were not found and where found showed lethargy while PDP agents were on alert and active and serious in defending their votes,” another observer noted.

It is alleged that money played a major role in swaying people to vote for candidates. “Even the money released to APC bigwigs for mobilization of voters was smartly cornered by the ‘collectors,” an APC agent lamented. He continued “How did they expect me to die for nothing? How did they expect me to mobilise when PDP agents were with money to catch more voters?” he added. As such their agents became aloof and apathetic to the voting resulting in the ‘disaster’ that befell their candidates.

As the March 9 elections close in, some pundits have predicted that the elections will be a battle between the PDP and APC while other politicial parties will be mere bystanders.

For instance, the governorship race in the state is between Governor Udom Emmnauel of PDP who is seeking for re-election and Nsima Ekere of APC who wants to serve for only a term.

Ekere’s campaign’s name is “One for 4” with “Change” as the slogan while Emmnauel’s organisation’s name is “Divine Mandate” with “Only God” as a slogan. Though Ekere’s change mantra sounds salable, “Only God” is divinely revolutionary and catching like fire among the people. In fact, it is said to give PDP a divine edge over any other party.

Between Ekere and Governor Emmanuel, there are some fears among Akwa Ibom people cutting across different strata of the society, which will influence the pattern of voting for governorhip candidates of their choice on March 9. For example, it is feared that many contractors who got jobs and were not paid when Ekere was the Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, are not happy with him over what they saw as “discriminatory payment.”

It is further alleged that “he awarded contracts worth multi-millions to some contractors from Akwa Ibom including APC members in the three senatorial districts but some privileged persons hijacked the jobs to the detriment of party men. Some contractors awarded the jobs obtained loans from commercial banks or financial institutions to do the jobs; others bought the jobs from other contractors. Ekere was accused of not facilitating payment of the affected contractors before the dissolution of the commission,” one of the affected contractors lamented.

Again, it is feared that most APC and PDP members in Akwa Ibom North East do not trust Ekere to do four years and hand over to them as demanded by the gentleman’s rotational principle. A source said “If voted in as a governor, Ekere being an experienced politician and after testing the office for four years may not want to relinguish the position but may want to do another four years to make it eight years. It seems there is a gang up between some APC and PDP members to frustrate him to allow Emmanuel to complete the remaining four years and hand over to Uyo Senatorial District.”

Apart, some opinion leaders including Chief Enefiok Ekefre, an APC member from Uyo are uncomfortable with APC. According to them, “Uyo Senatorial District looks like a conquered territory in that the deputy governorship slot, party’s leader and party’s chairman are zoned to Akwa Ibom North West while their district may be left with Speaker in the state House of Assembly and other offices. But in PDP, the party’s chairman and Speaker of the state House of Assembly, among others come from the district.”

It is speculated that if voted into power, Ekere could be “vindictive.” Some politicians believe that he may want to pay some politicians who contributed to his impeachment plot as a deputy governor then in their own coin. Moreover, it is rumoured that he may want to revenge some politicians who are attacking and labeling him names during the electioneering campaign.

On the other hand, critics believe that Emmanuel administration has not met the public expectations in many respects. According to them, “the administration which is about winding down has not paid gratuities to pensioners in local government commission in the state from 2012 till date, primary school system from 2012 till date and civil service from January 2016 till date including non-payment of pension arrears to retirees.”

Other misgivings include “non-payment of promotion arrears to state public servants, investments in 15 industries using the state funds without clear-cut statement on the equity participation of the state government as well as non-provision for the establishment of the industries in the state government’s yearly budget. The rest are non-payment of bursary awards and scholarships to Akwa Ibom indigenes in the tertiary institutions and non-payment of mobilization fees and other entitlements to local contractors as well as grinding poverty among the people despite the huge monthly allocations from the federation account, among others,” a civil servant hinted.

Some civil servants are afraid that in Emmanuel’s second term in the office, civil servants will ‘cry’ seriously. A civil servant doubted “If in the second term in office, the governor has not been generous in remitting our allowances and other fringe benefits to us, do you think he will change in his second term in office?” Emmanuel, it is speculated, may introduce contributory pension scheme which most public servants have been kicking against. “The state government may muzzle and whittle down the financial and administrative powers of the local government councils the more due to the fleecing joint state-local government account,” another high ranking civil servant rued.

Other critics express the fear that Udom Emmnauel if given a second term mandate will “deal” with the Annangs because of his feud with his estranged political godfather, Senator Goswill Akpabio, an Annang person. An unidentified source said “Emmanuel is unhappy that the defection of Akpabio to APC has forced him to spend more financial resources of the state to secure his second term bid. Even in his present cabinet, no Annnag man occupies any influential position.”

For instance, Mr. Moses Ekpo, the state deputy governor, Mr. Udo Ekpenyong, Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs; Professor Victor Inoka, Commissioner for Education; Monday Ebong Uko, Commissioner for Youths and Sports; Professor Eno Udoessien, Commissioner for Science and Technology; Prince Ukpong Akpabio, Commissioner for Commerce and Pastor Sunny Ibuot, Special Adviser on Political, Legislative Affairs/Water Resources are members of the state Executive Council. Other appointees are Engr. Etido Inyang, Chairman, Akwa Ibom Power Company, Mr. Ufot Ebong, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Due Process and Ntufam Udo Iyak serving as Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), among others.

“Yet, these positions are less influential in government, but mere appendages to the governor that cannot influence key decisions without the governor giving a nod. Even in civil service, has any Annang person occupies an influential position? Go to Governor’s Office and other offices, who of the Annang person controls a commanding position? None. I can tell you authoritatively that Orons may benefit more than the Annangs in the Emmanuel’s second term in the office,” a close source confided.

Going by how PDP swept polls in the last elections, analysts are optimistic that if APC does not put up a fierce fight, the party stands a chance to prove bookmakers wrong during the forthcoming elections.

Speaking with Straightnews on the chances of PDP in the March 9 elections, Comrade Iniobong Ememobong, the state publicity secretary of PDP, said “We are coasting to victory on the wings of God’s grace. The Lord who has shown Himself mighty for us will conclude the elections for us with overwhelming success.”

Nkereuwem Enyongekere, the state publicity secretary of APC, differed “Our chances of winning the March 9 elections are even more enhanced now that APC has won at the centre.

“Besides, the Akwa Ibom Governorship/House of Assembly will be more or less issues based.
It will be a contest between non payment of bursaries, promotion arrears, selective payment of gratituity and leave grants etc by Udom and the new vision of collective economic prosperity as well as other enhanced packages promised by Obong Nsima Ekere.”

“And issue of taking Akwa Ibom back to the mainstream politics in Nigeria. And we believe that Akwa Ibom people will be wise enough not to take residence in opposition any more. Thanks,” Enyongekere posited.

In 2015, APC won at the national level but PDP coasted home in the state governorship race. Before the elections, some political gladiators had proffered that as a minority state, it would not be proper to remain in the opposition. At the end of the day, the state remained in PDP, the opposition party. In 2019, it not yet known if Akwa Ibom people will continue with the swan song of  remaining in PDP, the opposition party or may want to switch camp to the ruling APC, the party at the national level. Time, according to Jimmy Cliff, a reggae exponent, will tell.