By Israel Umoh
Since the defection of Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio to All Progressives Congress in August 2018, the political configuration of Akwa Ibom State has been significantly altered.
The defection has shattered the walls of hitherto unipolar political leadership in the state and has created a gulf in the political algorithm between two persons seen as the political masqueraders of the two major political parties having strong following up to the ward level unlike the rest with shrinking membership. While Akpabio is the gladiator in APC’s train, Udom Emmanuel takes charge of the PDP stronghold.
Without equivocation, Emmanuel, the fourth democratically elected governor, in the prevailing circumstance, becomes the Man Mountain, the crowing cock indeed the presiding priest of PDP at the state-level while Akpabio holds the fort at APC.
So, in the emergence of party men to man the engine room of the party, the incumbent governor is the last man standing and the main decider to determine the loyalty and other qualities expected from the prospective aspirants to clinch any position in the party’s hierarchy of the state.
Since when the late President Musa Yar’adua, against all permutations, got Prince Vincent Ogbulafor who was considered (rated) an outsider in the race to become the National Chairman of the PDP, the party has essentially operated a predictable schedule of tenures especially at the state levels.
Unknown to many, Prince Ogbulafor had two dispassionate referees: former President Shehu Shagari (late) and Oloye Dr. Olusola Abubakar Saraki (late).
In Akwa Ibom State, the party has overcome the crisis that almost got the Uwem Ita Etuk tenure to be truncated by the decision of the Board of Trustees to order a fact-finding committee to harmonise the party structure following protestation by the then immediate past Governor of the state, Arc. Obong Victor Attah, a trustee of the party.
Victor Bassey Attah, an architect was not comfortable with the emergence of Uwem Ita Etuk, a scion of Chief Ita Etuk of NPN (National Party of Nigeria) fame and at that time a traditional ruler in Ibesikpo. His protest was pretty of a strategy to truncate Godswill Akpabio’s ambition for a second term.
While Obong Attah got tremendous support from the then Board of Trustees (BOT) Secretary, a former Governor of Nassarawa State, Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, Godswill Akpabio’s only voice was the presence of the only Akwa Ibom signatory to the formation of PDP from the six legacy political associations in 1998, who was easily recognised by the BOT Chair, former President Olusegun Matthew Obasanjo (GCFR). The rest is history. Akpabio survived the ambush onslaught and gained the opportunity of hosting PDP 10th Anniversary which gave the window to oust Senator J. J. Akpan Udoedehe from the Federal Executive Council.
The point is that the 2008, 2012 and 2016 state congresses were essentially on course and on time. In 2012, Paul Ekpo was elected State Chairman at the State Congress held in Uyo Township Stadium. In 2016, he was jointly proposed and supported for the re-election by Governor Udom Emmanuel and his predecessor in office, Chief Akpabio. Although Akpabio brought in Ekpo from civil service/development bank work to be a member of his State Executive Council and finally got him elected State Chairman of the party, Akpabio like Ekpo was not at the formation/foundation of PDP. Both became high profile beneficiaries of a house they did not contribute to the building.
However, after the defection of Akpabio to another party, he chose to swim and sink with Emmanuel, his Iman brother and a deacon of the Qua Iboe Church. Their choice of slogan, “Only God” was heavily backed by heavenly voices and were victorious in the 2019 general elections with Udom Emmanuel being re-elected for a second term.
Ekpo is in the twilight of his second term tenure. A journey he began in 2012 will be ending soon, having served four years each, barring any crisis that may lead to prolongation of tenure. Several gladiators have emerged to step into his shoes. The party in keeping with the founding principles of the party on rotation/zoning has indicated the direction to Ikot Ekpene (Akwa Ibom North West) Senatorial District, which comprises four federal constituency areas of Ikono/Ini, Ikot Ekpene/Obot Akara/Essien Udim, Abak/Etim Ekpo/Ika, and Ukanafun/Oruk Anam.
The Rumoured Chairmanship Aspirants
Barrister Goddy Umoh, the State Legal Adviser of the party from Ikono/Ini Federal Constituency, and a University lecturer is rumoured to be seeking the office of State Chairman but his passion for his profession may have caused him to have a rethink. Some political analysts said he is seeking an avenue that will avail him the opportunity to enrich his professional profile to be elevated to the Senior Advocate of Nigeria- silk class of practitioners. Maybe, he would be reviving his fight to become Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice which he lost out to Ekpenyong Ntekim in the Akpabio era. There is a school of thought that he would have been backed by his political godfather- Ephraim Inyang-eyen, the state commissioner for Works.
From Ukanafun/ Oruk Anam axis, are such personalities as Hon. Udo Sam Ekpenyong, Valuer (Hon.) Sunny Udom and Prince Akpan Ikim.
To many core PDP members (people who have remained with the party since 1999), estate valuer Sunny Udom is seen as a returning member of the party, having taken a misadventure in 2014/2015 into the APC. Upon his return, he definitely may not be rewarded easily for what some see as his impatience and rebellion. He certainly is an experienced political party administrator, having served as Senatorial District Chairman and previously as a member of the Federal House of Representatives.
Prince Akpan Ikim, not much is known of him politically except his background in the security circle. His closeness to the first lady may be more of name-dropping. Yet, there is a school of thought that he may be having the support of one of the Governor’s brother-in-law.
From the grapevine, Ikim is said to have staunch support of some members of what is known in the political circle as Brotherhood also known as Family mostly in the state House of Assembly and in the State Executive Council.
Hon. Udo Sam Ekpenyong, a 1984 graduate of Microbiology from the University of Benin, Benin City, Edo State. He cut his teeth in business and politics with the now late Dr. Ime Sampson Umanah of the Imesco Enterprises and A-Z Industries fame. A foundation member of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) in Akwa Ibom State in 1998. He changed course at the end of the 1999 elections and joined PDP and was recognised by Victor Attah’ s administration and appointed Special Adviser, Political and Legislative Matters. His exit from that administration after Obong Attah’s chieftaincy installation by the then Alake of Egba land, Oba Lipede was rather controversial and suspect.
When Godswill Akpabio became a governor, he found favour again and was largely a liaison to the national hierarchy of the PDP as an ex- officio where he emerged the National Chairman for all the state excos. But in the current government, Udom Emmanuel’s roots in Ukanafun has brought him into the greater reckoning. Ekpenyong is probably banking on the pedigree that Paul Ekpo’s success is because he held sway at the Ministry of Local Govt and Chieftaincy Matters, so he is really encouraged to go for the overdrive.
From Abak/Etim Ekpo/Ika; we have heard mentioned, Hon. Friday Iwok and Hon. Savior Enyiekere.
Hon. Friday Iwok is a two-term member of Akwa Ibom House of Assembly for Abak state constituency and a one-time state chairman of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM). He had attempted to become the chairman of Abak LGA in 2017 but lost out to the eventual candidate supported by the incumbent State Deputy Governor, Moses Ekpo of the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) fame. Some pundits see his prospect for State Chairman office as greatly flawed because the Deputy Governor comes from the same local government area though a different clan.
Savior Enyiekere from Ika LGA, a former Council Chairman is quoted to be interested in the position. Yet, an anonymous political commentator noted that he would have easily had an advantage but for what was seen largely seen as his misadventure in supporting the drafted Senator Ali Modu Sheriff faction during the PDP crisis of 2016-2017. Some pundits are of the view that he may have been misled by a statement made by Ali Sheriff during his first visit to Akwa Ibom State to discuss the zoning of national offices of the party. Senator Sheriff had opened talks in the high-level meeting with Governor Udom which had Senator Godswill Akpabio in attendance, whereby Sheriff counselled Akpabio to channel all his requests to the national leadership through Governor Udom whom he recognised as the leader of the party in the state (perhaps having learned a lesson from the pains he caused his former Governor, Alhaji Kachalla, who had to abandon APP for Alliance for Democracy). Akpabio’s countenance was said to have sunken while Udom Emmanuel felt elevated and vindicated in the build-up to the botched Port Harcourt convention of March 2016. At the material time, Enyiekere was a darling to both Udom and his eldest brother, Nkanang. His closeness with the eldest brother of the Governor would have seen him through but the indiscretion is said to have dimmed his chances.
From Ikot Ekpene/ Obot Akara/ Essien Udim axis, two strong contenders have emerged. But a dark horse is expected before the close of the window.
Monday Ebong Uko, a former local government Chairman in Obot Akara, elected in the parliamentary system, employed in 2004 by the AKHA and Obong Victor Attah. He became Chairman of the Committee of Local Council Chairmen of that era. He subsequently became one of the key personalities that drove the “Victor Attah for President” project of 2006/2007.
When Godswill Akpabio became Governor, he was kept on the sideline until the exit of the late Barrister Augustine Udo Mbeh during the second term of Akpabio. Uko was appointed Commissioner for Youths and Sports. He has remained in that office even to this second term of Governor Udom Emmanuel. Uko, a knight of the Methodist Church, a lawyer by training and an investor in the hospitality business, is a grassroots mobiliser.
The story is told of how during the build-up to the 2018 primaries and the general election 2019, Governor Udom declared at several points in Abuja, that OBA was” his leader that he could follow blindfolded to war.” The Senator was at that time exposing the underbelly of his former benefactor, Godswill Akpabio under the euphoria that he would be supported by the incumbent for 2023 governorship race. Uko can be said to now suffer mozzarella damage for being guilty by association.
Uko is still seen by some PDP members as a faithful disciple of Akpabio. An unconfirmed report had it that during the funeral service of the mother of Emmanuel Inyangettor, one of the personal aides to Akpabio in Essien Udim recently, he in the company of Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, Emmanuel Enoidem, Hon. Onofiok Luke and Paul Ekpo, among others, attended it in what some political analysts saw as political re-negotiation and fence-mending mission with the “Father” probably to put ax together for the 2023 governorship race.
It is viewed that with the perceived altercation between OBA and the governor against the 2023 governorship race, his aspiration may enter stagnant water.
Sunyiekekere Inokon, a native of Afaha Ikot Ebak, the headquarters of Essien Udim LGA is seen as another dark horse in the race. He has been in the PDP since 1998, serving in many capacities, first as Secretary of the Essien Udim LGC, under the Chairmanship of Hon. Martins Michael Umanah. In 2003, he became Senior Legislative Assistant to the late Hon. Barrister Nsini Umossoh, the member who represented Ikot Ekpene federal constituency. At the death of Umossoh, Inokon was nominated by the PDP and he contested and filled the vacant seat in 2006 as a member of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria until June 2007.
In 2014, he was appointed Senior Special Assistant to Governor Akpabio on Election matters. Governor Udom Emmanuel in 2015 re-appointed him Senior Special Assistant, but on Industrial Relations. He served in that capacity until the exit of Mr. Godwin Afangide, who was the state Deputy Chairman and chose to move to APC alongside his benefactor, Godswill Akpabio in 2018. Thus from 2018 to date, he has served as the State Deputy Chairman of PDP. For the position, his strength is yet to be tested.
There are other candidates in the federal constituency of Ikot Ekpene/Obot Akara/Essien Udim, largely seen as dark horses, who may pull surprises.
In all, Governor Udom may want to show courage and determine the political direction. The recent success in gathering the big wigs of Nigerian political and business circles irrespective of their personal inclinations at the obsequies of his father could be brought to bear in this transition of leadership in the party.
The dynamics seem interesting and intriguing. Some aspirants appear to have the support of some groups and flaunted the same to Emmanuel for a trade-in deal. Others are steeped in name dropping. Yet, Emmanuel has hidden his candidate (real or imaginary) for the coveted position in the party and like a magician may pull out the political masterstroke at the last minute to the consternation of many pundits. Rightly or wrongly, his covert move in trying to outmanouvre his opponents in the seeming political gamesmanship is to enable him to put a structure that will facilitate the emergence of his successor in the 2023 general elections in the state.
The political series of Akwa Ibom State continues.