By Emmanuel Ndon
As campaign for the 2019 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State hots up, an analyst takes a look at the issues that will shape the outcome. The contest for the Hilltop Mansion promises to be a tough one. There are many aspirants gearing up to challenge Governor Udom Emmanuel for the coveted seat – almost all the political parties are fielding candidates for the election. Expectedly, a large chunk are pretenders while only a handful are contenders. Either way, the governorship election, and indeed all other polls, is expected to be a two-horse race-between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the optimistic All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the run up to the campaigns, a lot of changes have displaced initial permutations. There have been alignments and realignments, as well as defections from one party to the other. But the unfathomable movement of former Senate minority leader, Godswill Akpabio from the PDP to the APC was perhaps the biggest upset. Next to Akpabio’s is the mass defection of former APC stalwarts from 16 local government areas to the PDP last Tuesday. Although the APC leadership has tried to play down on the loss, the focus of this piece is to assess the factors that will determine which party or candidate carries the day. Beyond all others, four factors will play an important role in deciding where the pendulum swings in next year’s election.
In most democratic settings, the strength of a party most likely underlies its ideology – the party’s cardinal principles, its beliefs and philosophy. Thus, the manifestoes of aspirants/candidates always fall in line with the objectives and expectations of the party. Those who are endeared to such principles/manifesto will count for the party at the poll. However, in our clime, where there are no clear-cut ideologies, the party’s strength is measured in terms of size or population. Other than this, the strength of the party is determined by the rulership at the centre. This particular consideration was responsible for the many electoral heist in the state when PDP reigned supreme. As can be seen in recent elections conducted in Ekiti and Osun states for instance, the Abuja influence played a critical role in the final outcome.
Here in Akwa Ibom, the PDP would be having her first clean sweep under a fair contest. She will do so not necessarily because the state is PDP since 1999, but as a result of the realignments following the defection of Senator Godswill Akpabio who, many believe is the worst act of betrayal not only to the sitting governor, but the state in general. This accounts for the very few people he was able to uproot to the APC. 90% of his loyalists are still in the PDP. In terms of size, the PDP’s strength has been bolstered and the followers tend to be content with the performance of Governor Udom Emmanuel so far. They are groaning the use of “federal might” through harassment and intimidations to put them on the defensive ahead of the polls.
The APC on the other hand had some followers. Analysts are of the view that majority of them joined the party to benefit from NDDC’S patronage whose managing director is the party’s flagbearer in the forthcoming polls. Similarly, there are indications that rather than Nsima Ekere’s manifesto, party loyalists strongly count on the alleged “federal might” to hand them the victory. This much finds expression in Senator Akpabio’s recent outbursts when he, apparently mocking his successor’s campaign slogan, said in his country home that “only God could have made it possible for someone who was never a party member to become governor. Only God could have made it possible for someone who has no party card or know what is called a ward to become governor”. This alludes to the creeping malfeasance which took place in the past as well as a pointer to the fact that ‘anything is still possible’. This writer had reported earlier that this is why the APC may be pushing for an election “that is not left on the ground”.
Some of the APC members who decamped to the PDP last week were quoted as reminiscing the past in Akwa Ibom State. Certainly, events of the past – of individuals in particular, will shape, to a large extent, the outcome of next elections. One of them, Joseph Ama, a former chairman of chairmen of APC said, “we quit the APC today because we are children of peace. We were very comfortable in the party and suddenly three killers who didn’t allow Akwa Ibom to exist peacefully some time ago defected to the APC and started their kidnapping again”. Ama said they left the APC because they were threatened by the memories of insecurity, kidnapping, politically motivated killings and other vices which characterized the political space of Akwa Ibom State during a former state governors reign.
Another decampee and former chairman of APC in Itu local government area, Sunday Uyire said it was “practically impossible for me and my exco members to remain in the same party with those who in 2011, plotted to kill us”. He was referring to the violence which erupted in Ikot Ekpene during a campaign rally by Senator John Akpan Udoedeghe, then ACN governorship candidate. Interestingly, majority of the defectors are supporters and loyalists of Senator John Udoedeghe who kicked against Udoedeghe’s decision to join forces with Nsima Ekere. Earlier, another of his staunch supporter who is still with the APC but also refused to work for Ekere said even though he is still with the party, “it is Udoedeghe who’s supporting Ekere, not me”. This is an indication that still within the APC fold, there is a lingering bitterness among members which has made some of them apathetic to the coming polls and may count against the party’s chances.
Another fraction of members are also aggrieved at the alleged manipulations of the primaries and are yet aloof to the polls. A similar scenario played out in 2015 when still Udoedeghe’s supporters refused to support Umana Umana who came out from the PDP to contest the primaries against Senator Udoedeghe. Even though Umana got the party’s ticket, he became the butt of the ‘foundation members’ of the party and still went ahead to lose the election to Udom Emmanuel. This has adversely affected the party’s cohesion. We are today having similar scenario except the change of leadership in Abuja. Overall the prevailing peace in the state as opposed to the past administration will surely become a factor.
The historic betrayal by the minorities during the days of Ibibio Union and subsequently the sordid part they played to dethrone the late Dr. Clement Isong who was seeking a second term as governor of erstwhile Cross River State may come into reckoning in the 2019 polls. Isong, reputed as one of Nigeria’s finest economists was denied a second term ticket by his National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in favour of the late Donald Etiebet from Oruk Anam through what elders of the time called “Annang-Atam conspiracy”. As it turned out, it was major General Buhari’s coup de tat that ousted the three-month-old Etiebet government.
Coincidentally, Udom Emmanuel, an Onna man as the late Isong, is facing a similar “conspiracy”. This ONNA-Ibibio factor may be used to make a statement on Akpabio. This issue is not lost on Akpabio himself. This informs why he went for Bishop Samuel Akpan during the build-up to APC primaries. A source said, he bankrolled the Bishop’s campaign until it dawned on him that Nsima was “already on the ground”. Most of the party men from the area were not favourably disposed to Nsima’s candidature and would have voted against him under a free primary election. This too perhaps, may also be responsible for the defections in the party in recent time.
Still, the Ibibio traditional institution would likely attempt to prove a point peeved by the frequent denial to have a say on who becomes the governor from the stock. In 1999 it was Don Etiebet (Annang) who ‘surrendered’ the ticket to Governor Attah, in 2007 neither Attah nor Ibibio was able to produce a successor just as in 2015 when Akpabio (Annang) singlehandedly installed not only the governor, but the entire political officers in the state.
Until the twilight of Senator Akpabio’s administration in 2014, the zoning arrangement in the state did not appear to be cast in stone. In 2007, aspirants from all three senatorial districts contested when it was said to be for Ikot Ekpene, from where Akpabio came and eventually won. Nsima Ekere (Eket), late Arc. Okon Inwang (Uyo) among others were in the race. But when governorship was zoned to Eket in 2015, Akpabio barred Umana (Uyo) and ensured Ekere and Helen Esuene lost to Udom. Since 1999, Uyo has always been the opposition stronghold. Even in the fiery contest of 2011, the then ACN still managed to produce a house member. In 2023, Uyo senatorial district is expected to take its turn for the governorship seat and the fear is that if an APC man from Eket wins, he would want to run for a second term in 2023 thereby truncating the zoning arrangement. Thus, the promise by Nsima Ekere to run for one term is not taken seriously by the people of Uyo. By their calculation, Uyo is ‘safe’ under Udom who is constitutionally barred from recontesting. This is why it becomes a serious issue as 2019 draws near. In the light of this, Uyo senatorial district, as the largest of all, remains the battleground for all aspirants who want to win the election.
Both Udom Emmanuel and Nsima Ekere are form Eket Senatorial district. The former is the incumbent while the later presides over the allocation of nine states in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). In other words, they have the requisite financial muscle to prosecute the campaigns. Whichever factor will count for the contenders, the fact remains that only one winner will emerge.
Good luck to them.