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Echoes From Akwa Ibom Town-Hall Meetings

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By Akang Ufot
Ahead of 2015 general elections, politicians are garnering supports from the electorates and are not leaving anything to chances. It is time to form support groups, alliance, re-align, decamp to other favourable party and seek for relevance.

It is also time for those who engage in dirty politics to smear their opponents and rivals and indulge in name-calling in a bid to score cheap political points. Expectedly, some governors will be demanding for second term, while others will be shopping for their successors. Those aspiring for the Senate, House of Representatives and State Assemblies would not be left out. In Akwa Ibom, like in other states, crucial issues about 2015 politics, particularly, succession came to the fore at the recent town hall meetings/constituency briefings by Governor Godswill Akpabio across the the 10 federal constituencies of the state. The constituencies are Eket, Etinan, Ikono/Ini, Itu/Ibiono, Abak, Ikot Abasi, Ukanafun/Oruk Anam, Oron, Uyo and Ikot Ekpene. Although, over 500 completed rural projects were commissioned by the governor as part of the activities, the constituents were more interested in the succession plan.

At the inaugural town-hall meeting at Eket Federal Constituency, Akpabio said as an intrinsic part of democracy, the meeting was an opportunity for the government and the people to gather, engage in useful dialogue and take a concrete decisions for future of the state. He was right. For that was the classical method that the Greek city states adopted at the beginning of what has today been termed democracy. The idea was to allow the majority of citizens to have a say in government. Town-hall meeting is therefore a cardinal democratic instrument!

One subject that dominated the meetings recently in Akwa Ibom was the issue of Akpabio's successor. The points, arguments and submissions of the speakers on the subject matter varied from one federal constituency to another.

While some wanted zoning on the bases of senatorial district, some others called for recognition of ethic platforms as the formula for power sharing. For instance, while the former Minister for Lands and Urban Development, Rt Hon Nduese Essien called for zoning to Eket Senatorial District, (following Uyo and Ikot Ekpene Senatorial Districts) the former Deputy Governor, Chief Etim Okpoyo, from  Oro tribe, preferred consideration on ethnic basis. Essien specifically suggested that Eket Federal Constituency should be favoured in the zoning process. However, one important point on which many agreed upon was that there must be zoning. Hence, Chief Okon,Osung, quoting section 7, 2c of the PDP constitution said in pursuance to the policy of rotation and zoning, the party at various levels must recognize zoning.

 For him, the more compelling reason for the argument he advanced was that politics in Nigeria today is not based on population, or land masse but on what was on the table to be shared. He claimed that Oro ethnic nationality accounts for a substantial percentage of derivable fund from oil that comes to the state.

At Etinan Federal Constituency issues of Akpabio's successor also dominated the meeting. Speaker after speaker spoke on the need for equity, justice and fair and equitable distribution of elected positions in 2015.

Senator Effiong Bob in his submission said while the issue of zoning of governorship was being canvassed, the position proposed for Uyo Senatorial District should be clearly spelt out. Bob commended Akpabio for his development strides, noting that history will judge him (Akpabio) not on how he started but on his successful ending. He advised politicians to eschew bitterness and rancor and what he called “tortoise politics”, characterised by deception.

Canvassing zoning of the governorship position to Eket Senatorial District, the former military administrator of the state, Otuekong Idongesit Nkanga said the position of the PDP should be over and above other personal considerations. “In 2011, I was in this field in Etinan to present Chief Godswill Akpabio as the best saleable product for the governorship race and today I am proud to say that he has not disappointed us. The legacies he would leave behind would speak for.” Nkanga said.

The traditional rulers who were expected to maintain neutrality in the affairs of politics however, gave their fatherly advice at the town hall meetings. The paramount Ruler of Etinan, Edidem Ime Dickson Umoette made reference to the 2011 “Asan declaration”, explaining that the  Ibibios through the traditional fathers gave Akpabio a royal blessing with the assurance that  he would return power back to the Ibibios by 2015. However, as one observer quickly noted, the Ibibios are spread all over the three Senatorial Districts so by zoning power to Eket Senatorial District, the Ibibios could still grab the governoship.

As the town hall train berth on the Ikono/Ini Federal Constituency, the cradle of Ibibio, political chieftains in the area apart from lending their voices to the call for the return of power to Eket Senatorial District canvassed for the 2015 Senatorial seat for Governor Akpabio.

Chief Otu Robert, an astute politician in the constituency, after extolling Governor Akpabio for the development of the state tendered an apology on behalf of the people of the area for what he termed “betrayal of confidence by Senator Aloysius Etuk.

 The former member representing Ikono/Ini Federal Constituency, Bar. Iquo Inyang in her comments said as one of the aspirants in the 2011 elections, she was in a better place to explain the roles played by Akpabio towards the emergence of Etok as Senator for Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District. “I know what happen at Ikot Ekpene Stadium so I can counter every bit of falsehood written against the governor by Senator Aloysius Etok”, she said.

At the Itu/Ibiono Federal Constituency meeting, the Senator Representing Akwa Ibom North-West, Senator Ita Enang was of the view that the 2015 Governorship be thrown open to aspirants from all the senatorial districts so that the people of Uyo Senatorial District would not be excluded from the contest.

Majority of the speakers including a former commissioner for Agriculture, Professor Etok Ekanem, Senator Anietie Okon, Mr. Mfon Udeme and Mr. Idongesit Ituen called on the people of the Federal Constituency to support Eket Senatorial District for Governor in 2015 in the interest of justice and fairness. The main point is that Uyo Senatorial District produced a two-term governor in Obong Victor Attah; Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District has produced a two-term governor in Akpabio. Hence many argue that justice demands that Eket Senatorial District should produce the next governor.

The discourse on the 2015 governorship got heated up as the town hall meeting progressed. At the meeting in Ikot Abasi federal constituency, the former Commissioner of Finance, Obong Obot Etuk Afia in his analogy said since Senator Udo Udoma from Ikot Abasi, Mrs Eme Ufot Ekaette from Onna  and Senator Helen Esuene from Eket have taken the senate position, it was justifiable to let Oro Federal Constituency take the Senate slot in 2015.

Affia argued further that, “Since Eket Federal constituency had produced two governors for the state, the governorship for 2015 should be zoned to Ikot Abasi Federal Constituency. The former Deputy Governor, of the state Obong Nsima Akpan who corroborated the position being canvassed for Eket Senatorial district said the zone has produced three Deputy Governors who have understudied governor Akpabio and were in a better position for the governorship slot in 2015.

In Ukanfun/Oruk Anam, and Ikot Ekpene Federal Constituencies, speakers at the meetings passed a vote of confidence on the governor and through voice-votes declared their total support for Akpabio's senatorial ambition in 2015. The Deputy Speaker in the state house of assembly, Elder Udo Kerian Akpan, Senator Itak Ekarika, Mr. Saturday Akpan and Iniobong Okonko from Oruk Anam Federal Constituency in their various speeches said Akpabio has taken the state to the national lime light and would be a strong voice for the people of the senatorial district in 2015.

At the end of every town hall meeting a motion in support of the zoning of Governorship to Eket Senatorial District was moved by a House of Representative member from the respective constituencies and was subsequently seconded by a House of Assembly member from the areas. The motion was adopted through voice-votes by the stakeholders at the meetings.

Akpabio in his final words to the people thanked them for taking such positions and assured the stakeholders that the sate PDP led by Obong Paul Ekpo, who was part of the town hall meeting, was taking note of all their submissions on the 2015 governorship in the state.

Akpabio assured that for peace, justice and equity, “the party, PDP, at the state level will meet with other stakeholders at the end of the town hall meetings in the ten Federal Constituencies to attempt the zoning of key political positions ahead of the 2015 elections so that all the senatorial district will be effectively represented”.

. Ufot is a journalists and public affairs analyst based in Uyo