*Akpabio and the challenge of succession*
By Idara Usen-Ekong
In recent times, permutations on the likely successor of Chief Godswill Akpabio as the Governor of Akwa Ibom State have dominated political discourse in Akwa Ibom state. This is in spite of the fact that the 2015 gubernatorial election is still many months away. Expectedly, many commentators and interest groups have joined the fray to push their positions through.
This is not unexpected. Since Chief Akpabio became the Governor in 2007, he has raised the profile of the once pedestrian state to a preferred destination in Nigeria. Indeed, the tenure of the administration of Akpabio has witnessed a renaissance of sort in infrastructural development. The state has become the centre of national and international attention. Placing the state on such a high pedestal also means that the stakes are high and naturally the position would attract a lot of interest.
One issue that has dominated the succession debate is the zoning of the office of the governor of the state. While one school of thought is of the view that the race should be thrown open to anybody who can win the ticket of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), another is of the view that for the sake of justice, equity and fairness, somebody from Eket Senatorial District should be supported by the state to clinch the position.
The state Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio recently embarked on constituency briefing and town hall meetings in the 10 federal constituencies in the state. The preponderance of opinion of Akwa Ibom people during the town hall meetings was that for the unity of the state to be preserved, the next Governor of the state must come from Eket Senatorial District. Expectedly, Chief Akpabio has led the advocacy for power shift to Eket Senatorial District.
Furthermore, the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party after due consultation has lent its weight to the advocacy that the next Governor of the state must come from Eket Senatorial District. In a communiquÃ© read by the State Chairman, Obong Paul Ekpo after its expanded state executives council meeting on April 22, 2014, the party had declared: ' In line with the decisions reached at the various Town Hall meetings held in all the Ten (10) Federal Constituencies, the decisions of: (i) the Party State Working Committee; (ii) the body of Chapter Chairmen of our Party, and (iii) the body of Local Government Chairmen/Vice-Chairmen, and pursuant to Section 7 (3) of the Party Constitution 2012 (as amended) stipulating adherence to the 'policy of the rotation and zoning of Party and public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness' the meeting zones the Governorship position to Eket Senatorial District,' the communiquÃ© said.
The position of the party, which it said was without prejudice to the right of any other person from other Senatorial Districts to contest for the governorship seat, is not without precedent. In the articulation of the principle of zoning in Akwa Ibom State, therefore, from 1999 to 2007, the PDP had zoned the governorship to Uyo Senatorial District whereupon Obong Victor Attah ruled for two terms of eight years.
And in respect of the formula, the office was zoned to Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District whereupon Chief Godswill Akpabio became governor in 2007 to end his tenure in 2015. It is only Eket Senatorial District that has not tasted the plum job. Incidentally it is the Senatorial District that could be said to be the goose that has laid the golden egg not only for Akwa Ibom State but for Nigeria.
But this power shift arrangement which has been applauded by majority of the people of the state, has not gone down well with a tiny cabal in the state who over the years have stashed so much money and have vowed to use their stupendous wealth to truncate the popular will of the people. In a well coordinated campaign of calumny spiced with blackmail, hardly any day passes, without their sending spurious bulk messages and taking up spaces in local and national newspapers to lampoon the Governor and make scandalous allegations against him. Sponsored by former allies and those who not long ago had praised the Governor and his developmental strides to high heavens, Akwa Ibom people are not fooled. They know that the harvest of advertorials against the Governor is all about 2015.
Their frustration is heightened by the unanimity that in Akwa Ibom, Governor Akpabio has built an impregnable political fortress that would be difficult for anyone to become the Governor in 2015, without his blessing and input. With a dint of hard work and political sagacity, Chief Akpabio in the last few years has gained prominence in national politics as the Chairman of the PDP Governors' Forum, a member of the party's national caucus and a member of the board of trustees of the party. These positions have become a nightmare to some people whose aspirations run against the popular will of the people.
But no amount of advertorial can erase the unprecedented achievement of Governor Akpabio who has emerged as a poster boy of sort for good governance. In fairness to his later day critics though, they have not really said Governor Akpabio has not performed creditably well because his giant strides, which have gained national and international acclaim, abound in the state for all to see. Their mantra is that Governor is trying to impose a Governor on the state and bandying spurious figures either accruals to the state, or purported indebtedness of the state. To them no weapon, including lies and fabrications, is too sacred. One suspects that the aim of this massive deployment of propaganda against the Governor is to get him distracted, and perhaps in the process, they can sneak into the Hilltop Mansion, through the back door.
But the battle for the emergence of the successor of Governor Akpabio is a battle between justice and those who feel fair-dealing can be trampled upon on the altar of their stupendous wealth stashed over the years through primitive accumulation. It is a battle between good and evil. If the forces of evil succeed (and God forbid they do) a dangerous precedent would have been set about an Akwa Ibom State where some people are Lords, born to rule while others are serfs.
Mr Usen-Ekong is an Abuja-based public affairs commentator