The picture of the gubernatorial contest to choose a successor to Governor Godswill Akpabio in Akwa Ibom State in 2015 is becoming clearer by the day.
On April 28, 2013, a meeting of stakeholders of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Uyo Senatorial District was held in Uyo to, among other things, discuss zoning of political offices in the state, as the 2015 elections draw near.
Many believe the meeting was a counter to an earlier one held in Eket by stakeholders of the party in Eket Senatorial District, a zone that is laying claims to the governorship of the state, based on the principle of zoning and rotation.
Though later refuted by his media team, the meeting was said to have been held to drum up an endorsement for the governorship aspiration of Mr. Umanah Okon Umanah, the incumbent Secretary to the State Government, the only Uyo man in the race and who is believed to be the anointed candidate of Governor Akpabio.
Though the governor is said not to have publicly declared support for Umanah’s ambition, sources close to Government House say he has told close aides and top politicians in private to work for the actualisation of Umanah’s ambition.
It is believed that the ‘job’ is anchored by his brother, Sir Emem Akpabio. Umanah himself has not yet declared his intention but he is known to run a campaign structure built around a South South Zonal Officer of the party and former Deputy Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Aniefiok Thompson.
Thompson’s group is allegedly responsible for the registration of other groups, which, sources claim, are over 50. Such groups include Ibom Renaissance, run by Umanah’s aide, Inyang Unya, and the Greater Akwa Ibom Project, GAP, led by former House of Representatives member, Abom Tony Esuh. Another anchor of the project is Abuja-based frontline broadcaster and presenter of the Bush House, a current affairs programme aired on the national network of Radio Nigeria, Mr. Mike Bush.
Bush’s group, The Medallion, also registered other groups and is seen as the intellectual arm of the campaign structure. The Uyo meeting, many still believe, was held to rally support for the sole candidate of the Senatorial District, Umanah, who was present at the meeting. However, his media consultant, Iboro Otongaran, in a widely publicised statement, said those who claimed the meeting was held to endorse Umanah were on a smear campaign against the SSG.
According to him, “the meeting was a routine meeting of the party” and was called at the behest of the Senatorial District’s PDP chairman to discuss affairs of the party in the Senatorial District.” Curiously, he also stated that the “meeting took appropriate notice of the national consensus against zoning in the filling of elective political offices, based on the wishes of Nigerians across all the political zones of the country, as collated in the report of the House of Representatives Constitution Amendment Committee, which visited all parts of the country to gauge the feelings of Nigerians on zoning.
The meeting then aligned itself with the national consensus against zoning by unambiguously rejecting zoning and unequivocally relating its position that elective offices in the state should remain open, as they have always been for interested persons to freely contest.
The support for a free-for-all-contest in the coming election is believed by political observers to be a ‘hidden’ endorsement of the SSG, who is the only one from the district, vying for the office. He has opposition mainly from Eket Senatorial District of the State, which insists the governorship of the state should rotate among the three Senatorial districts of the state.
According to the stakeholders of Eket Senatorial District, the first post-1999 governor, Obong Victor Attah, was from Uyo Senatorial District and governed the state for two terms. The present governor, Godswill Akpabio, from Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District is serving a second term.
The only indigenous military governor of the state between its creation in 1987 and 1999 was also an ‘Uyo’ man, then Wing Commander Idongesit Nkanga. Nkanga, who later commanded the Presidential Fleet and retired as an Air Commodore, is, at present, a top ally of Governor Akpabio and Chairman of the Ibom Airport Development Company.
He is said to have attended the Uyo meeting and spoke against zoning. Also, we learnt the first civilian governor of the State, the late Obong Akpan Isemin, was also from Uyo Senatorial District.
After its meeting, the Eket Senatorial District, which prides itself as the oil-producing zone of Akwa Ibom State, asserted their unalloyed commitment to satisfying the yearnings of their people to produce the next governor for the state. They called on all their sons, lobbying to be deputy governor to other aspirants from another zone to drop such ambitions.
They went further to set up a 13 man National Executive Committee to pilot the affairs of the stakeholders. The committee headed by former Minister for Lands and Urban Development, Nduese Essien, has Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Greece, Etim Uye as deputy.
Other members are former Ikot Abasi Chairman, Obong Amaete Ntuk, Okon Essang, Douglas Ekperikpe, former Commissioners, Chris Abasi-Eyo, Imowo Udobia and Ime Ekpoattai; former House of Assembly Speaker Bassey Essien, Prof. Eka Uwe, Prof. Abang Isangedighi, Joshua Mbiam and Bassey Nkanang.
Essien who called for support for Governor Akpabio to continue with his transformation agenda, also appealed to the conscience of the other Senatorial Districts to shift power to Eket Senatorial District “as the district has not produced any governor, elected or appointed since the creation of the state in 1987.”
Further investigation shows that the race for the Governorship may actually be between Umanah and Eket people. The Umanah camp is said to be working to ensure zoning, or rotation is not made a national party policy.
A top politician from the state (names withheld), says he believes Akwa Ibom politics is ‘coloured to resist imposition.’ According to him, “it happened in 2007. Governor Akpabio emerged because Akwa Ibom people rejected imposition.”
On zoning he said, “the Governor was a product of zoning whether he agrees or not. If he thinks others voted for Nsima Ekere and Larry Esin, at the primaries, why did over 80 percent of the delegates vote for him and Dr. Udoma Ekarika who is also from his zone.
It is because everyone knew the direction of zoning and rotation. He should not bite the fingers that fed him”. He further said the current clamour against zoning is “because of Umanah as a person. No other person from his zone is contesting because they know the truth. If Umanah withdraws from the race today, the whole charade will stop. How can the whole of Akwa Ibom be held to ransom because of one person.”
Our investigation, however, reveals that Senator Effiong Bob, from the same local government area as the SSG, may soon join the race. Bob is believed to have been stopped from returning to the Senate for the third time in 2011 because of the “activities of the SSG”. Another possible candidate from Uyo Senatorial District, we learnt, is the Commissioner of Finance, Bassey Albert Akpan.
Said to be a nominee of Umanah into Akpabio’s cabinet, Akpan has of recent, been having a running battle with Umanah over the race. Akpan is said to be well grounded among the youths through the patronage and empowerment he has been doling out to them as Chairman of the State Inter-ministerial Direct Labour Co-ordinating Committee.
Though he hasn’t yet declared his intention in the race, sources say he may eventually do. If he doesn’t, the same sources say, he will ‘put all his machinery-material and financial- on an Eket Candidate and become the Deputy or SSG thereafter, if they succeed.’ Nobody from Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District is in the race at the moment. Sources say the project to install the SSG as Governor is getting desperate. Opposition to the scheme is said to have divided the State Executive Council into two camps.
Opposition EXCO members, are said to have been tactically grounded in the performance of their duties. Sources say moves by the SSG to remove some opposition Exco members through a cabinet reshuffle have been consistently rebuffed by the Governor. Source further add that the reshuffle has become a subject of town gossip and that when an Exco meeting is called, people always expect the outcome to be its dissolution. Many believe that if the Exco is dissolved, only loyalists of the SSG will be returned.
The resignation, last year, of the former Deputy Governor, Nsima Ekere, was seen by many as a warning to those who want to contest the Governorship to be wary. Ekere is said to have built political structures and openly declared intent to contest the elections. Marked for impeachment, Ekere narrowly escaped by resigning and many believe, he will still join the race later.
Those in the race from Eket Senatorial District are: Senator Helen Esuene: the urbane former first lady of the defunct South Eastern State (present Akwa Ibom and Cross River State) and former Minister in Obasanjos’ administration is said to have consulted people over her ambition. Many believe that gender and her upper class distinction may stand in her way to clinching the ticket.
She is however, loved for her humility, straight forwardness and business acumen. She is also said to be from Uyo by birth but married to an Eket man, the late Brigadier General U.J. Esuene. Dr. Sam Udonsak: The Port Harcourt based University of Ibadan graduate of Medicine is a veteran governorship aspirant having contested in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 race.
Though a fine gentleman, many feel he is disconnected from the people and too elitist for a position that needs political maneuvering and negotiations with grassroot political leaders. Patrick Ekpotu: Though he hasn’t declared his intent in the race and ‘may not’, according to close sources, he is under extreme pressure to join the race. The Engineer, first term Deputy Governor to Governor Akpabio, is well loved as a principled, highly cerebral, focused and humane leader.
His undoing may be the fact that he is not a politician but what people call a political activist, having come from student activism background. The first non-indigenous Student Union President of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology and a former Commissioner, will, however change the tide of the race if he eventually declares.
Okpolupm Ette: At 43, the youngest of the contestants from Eket Senatorial District, the graduate of the Federal Polytechnic, Oko is the longest serving member and leader of the State House of Assembly. From the popular Etteh family of Ibeno, the base of Mobil Producing Nigeria, Etteh whose elder siblings include Nigeria’s first Professor of Physics, Prof. Akpanuluo Etteh; E. I. I.
Etteh of foremost Civil Engineering Consultancy, Etteh Aro and Partners, believed to be the ex-husband of former House of Representative Speaker Patricia Etteh and Esoetuk Etteh, former Executive Director, Projects of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, is believed to be the rallying point of the younger generation and grassroot politicians in the race.
Many believe the former FedPoly, Oko National Association of Akwa Ibom State Students (NAAKISS) President, is the only grassroot contestant among the Eket possibles. Said to be very outspoken, principled and straight forward, the grassroot mobilizer, once an Akpabio ally is said to be a bit distanced from the Governor at the moment because of his interest in the race and his perceived role in stopping the impeachment of former Deputy Governor Nsima Ekere.
Asuquo Okpo: By far the most visible of the contestants from Oron, Okpo is not well known within the State. Other than the fact that he is from Oron, not much is known about the aspirant as a party man or public figure. The anchoring of his aspiration on the ‘tripod’ theory of zoning the Governorship to the Orons may work against rather than sway sympathy for him. Nsima Ekere: Ekere, who resigned from office as Deputy Governor last year to avert impeachment, is said to be oiling his ‘gun’ for the race.
A former close ally of the Governor as Chairman of the State Investment Commission and Ibom Power Company before being appointed Deputy Governor, the Estate Surveyor, went out of favour with the Governor over what many believe was his declaration to contest the Governorship race. Ekere, with a huge financial war chest, may be another rallying point for Eket people if he finally joins the race.
Senator Udoma Udo Udoma: The two-time Senator and renown Lawyer is said to be well-connected at the Presidency and may eventually join the race. What may eventually work against him is his seeming disconnection from the people. Many believe he is too elitist and ‘foreign’ for the politics of a complex state like Akwa Ibom.
Son of the late renowned jurist and one of the founders of the state, Justice Egbert Udo Udoma, Udoma is known to have printed materials for the 2007 Election but bowed out in deference to the zoning policy of the party at that time. Effiong Abia: Current Commissioner for Local Government is said to be a close ally of the Governor and once declared interest in the race.
Sources say the lawyer stopped campaigning for the office of Governor to save his job. Cool, humble and simple, Abia’s undoing may be his commitment to the alleged plan of the Governor to support Umanah and then pick the Deputy Governorship if it sails through.
Prof. Richard King: said to be a close ally of President Jonathan. King serves on a presidential committee on the NDDC. From Eket, King is said to be using his closeness to the President as a campaign tool, a tool many believe, may not work for him in a State like Akwa Ibom. Senator Eme Okon Ekaette, Chief Assam Assam, SAN, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Russia and Prof Ita Ewa Minister for Science and Technology are said to have also declare interest in the race. •Edem, a political affairs analyst contributed this piece from Uyo.