AKWA IBOM: MEN AND FORCES THAT'LL RULE THE STATE

By NBF News
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Gov. Akpabio
Akwa Ibom State was created on September 23, 1987, by the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd). Numbering about 3.92 million (2006 National Population Provisions), they are known for a homogenous culture with common identity and linguistic heritage. There are three main intra-ethnic groups -Ibibio, Annang and Oron.

Ibibio language is widely spoken and understood by all the people of the state. The adopted catch-phrase is 'The land of Promise,' while the traditional occupation of the people include farming, trading, raffiawork, carving, poultry, cane-work, blacksmithing and craft.

Akwa Ibom has a coastline of 129km and a landmass of 8,412sqkm known for high culinary taste, their food ranks among the best in the world. The present administration is the 9th and the third democratically elected.

Leadership paradigms
When the state was created in 1987, it had only 10 Local Government Areas (LGAs). The dispersals among the three sub-ethnic groups are as follows - Ibibio (Uyo axis) 6, Oron (Eket axis) 1, Annang (Ikot Ekpene axis) 3. Today, the state has a total of 31 LGAs; with the Ibibio having 18, Annang 8, and Oron 1. In national political demography, Annang is known as Akwa Ibom North West, Ibibio as Akwa Ibom North East, and Oron as Akwa Ibom South.

Ibibio, which is the dominant ethnic group, has since the creation of the state demonstrated leadership direction, providing four of the six governors that had ruled the state.

The late Brig. Gen. U.J.Esuene, who governed the South East State (Akwa Ibom and Cross River) between 1967 and 1975 hailed from Eket (Ibibio). Between 1979 and 1983, the late Dr. Clement Isong from Etinan (Ibibio) governed the old Cross River State (Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers).

Also, the late Chief Akpan Isemin, from Etinan (Ibibio) ruled the state between 1991 and 1993, while Chief Victor Attah from Ibesikpo (Ibibio) governed the state from 1999 to 2007.

The incumbent governor of the state, Chief Godswill Akpabio from Essien Udom, is the second Annang man to rule the state. No one from the Oron/Eket axis has ever ruled the state. This statis has engendered keen competition and consciousness amongst the three zones, and that has become the melting point of the politics of the state.

New beginning
When the ban on political activities was lifted in 1998, after a long military interregnum, two major political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the then All Peoples Party (APP) now All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, were in keen contention for the political control of the state.

The two parties had between them all the leading political leaders in the state. When the PDP, led by Victor Attah, took over the reins of government in 1999, the state witnessed a combative opposition from the ANPP, up to 2003, when a combination of intra-party strife, massive defections, and insolvency decapitated the party, leaving it prostrate to the machinations of the ruling PDP.

This weakening of the ANPP and the registration of many 'mushroom' political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, provided the base for the prime ascendancy of the PDP as the numero uno in the politics and leadership of the state.

Today, the state is known as and referred to as a 'PDP state,' a situation that has elevated the contest for positions in the party to a frightening dimension. Although, there is still an amorphous group of registered political parties operating in the state, they are widely perceived as inconsequential irritants, whose bogey value has in the main, been in the sustenance of support for the PDP-led government in the state.

Already, as in the past, the parties which have a platform known as Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) has already endorsed the second term bid of the PDP government of Chief Godswill Akpabio. A faction of the group is however contesting the purported endorsement.

Even with the imminence of the next round of general elections, there is no known single political office aspirant at any level in any of the political parties. This situation has conferred on the PDP, the unfettered leeway to perpetually show the political direction of the state. In the 2007 governorship elections, 61 aspirants contested under the PDP. Of the 31 LGA chairmen, ANPP controls only one. In the 10 Federal constituencies in the state, PDP has 9 of the House of Representatives members while the Action Congress (AC) which managed to get Ini/Ikono, has lost it as their man, Prof. Ini Udoka, has decamped to the PDP.

Across the state, there is a perceptible entrenchment of the PDP at all tiers of government and in the palpable appropriation of state resources. The state Commissioner for Information and Social Re-orientation, Mr. Aniekan Umanah, gave further vent to this calculation when he told Daily Sun, 'what can you do without PDP in this state?'

But has the PDP justified its largely unchallenged dominance? The state chairman of the Council of Traditional Rulers, Edidem Dr. P.P. Enodiem rationalizes it thus: 'if they want the state to be calm, they have to know what politics is all about. The good of the greatest number of people. If they know what is good for the state, they will support an achiever. If they want us to waddle along without any focus, or anything to show for the people now or in the future, they should not just go anywhere, but the man, they know has achieved much for them.'

The raging battle
With the approach of the 2011 elections, a battle of immense proportions is raging within the inner confines of the PDP in the state. The soul of the battle is who will fly the banner of the party in the governorship race? Pitched against the incumbent governor, Akpabio, is the immediate past governor, Victor Attah, whose desire to abort Akpabio's second term dream is barely concealed. The battle has thrown up all the residual factors and permutations in the political configuration of the state.

Akpabio's trumpcard is in his celebrated life size achievements in office. These achievements, which cut across roads, infrastructure and education have heavily quickened the transformation of the state and ensured for the people a stake in the future.

Realizing his status as a governor from the minority Annang sub-ethnic nation, which has only 8 of the 31 LGAs, Akpabio has proceeded to empower many Ibibio indigenes politically, who, he has deployed to the field as foot soldiers. These foot soldiers, who occupy leading positions in government and the party, are his armour bearers, whose message of unity, understanding and cohesion is permeating every fabric of the oil-rich state. This tactic has been handy and effective in neutralizing the effusive strains of Attah and his henchmen in making a domino-capital of the majority status of the Ibibio nation.

At the endorsement of Akpabio for second term by the Ibibio people on October 12, last year, the mammoth crowd that attended the occasion was not only unprecedented, but defied all the divisive tendencies in the state, and the yo-yo efforts and strategies of his opponents.

Factional chairman of the Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA, in the state, Mr. Anietie Eshiet, contends that the unfolding events in the PDP have demystified the cant and barriers to political leadership ascendancy in the state.

'It is a mark of political brinkmanship. He ceded very high positions including party chairman, leader of the House, secretary to the government and so on to the Ibibio nation, which gives the people a false sense of belonging, it is working, so far'.

In his road development plan, Akpabio has also ensured that the Ibibio ethnic nation benefited immensely.

In fact, of the more than 205 roads covering more than 600km he has done, Uyo has taken the lion's share. These include a N13.8billion underground drainage for flood and erosion control, dual carriage ways for all roads into the state capital, the Uyo urban renewal and regeneration project, installation of modern digital traffic lights, three flyovers etc.

These strategies have cooled the governorship aspirations of many people in the state, who rightly or wrongly believe that it is a foreclosed affair in the PDP for Akpabio. But a governorship aspirant, and former minister of state of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Senator Johna Akpan Udoeghedoghe believes Akwa Ibom State is bigger than PDP.

He said: 'we thank the President because he has given us confidence that elections will be free and fair. The people will speak at the polling booth.' Apparently, making a veiled reference to the acerbic ethnic political division in the state, he said, 'Akpabio will go. When you give power to your younger brother, he will feel insecure and will do anything to retain it, unless you snatch it back by force. The people are not going to be sucked in by party. That time is gone. Watch and see.'

He raised two issues as crucial to the emergence of a governor in the 2011 polls. These, according to him, include security and poverty alleviation, regretting that with N800 billion total federal revenue allocation to the state in the last three years, the vast majority of the people wallow in disease and squalor.

'The South West people are developed and ask questions about governance in their state(s) and are not locked up by security agents. We want to bring that to Akwa Ibom State. We need to do that and be given answers, and not detentions. We live in fear. Kidnappings everywhere. Poverty is on the increase. Unemployment is high in spite of the heavy revenue allocation. These are the issues; not party, not ethnic divisions,' he explained.

The forces
There is a conscious belief amongst many people across the major urban centres of Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, Abak, Eket and Oron that Akpabio's return for second term in office next year is a fait accompli. This strand of consensus is even given further push by the various billboards by different groups proclaiming his victory, adorning strategic points in these cities. Some of them read 'Continuity is a must'-Uyo Solidarity Group, PDP core supporters' group-Total support for Godswill Akpabio, No man can stop the hand of God-United Group for Akpabio.

These 'graffitis' or even patois, which emanates largely from the PDP, have not detracted from the muted discontent within. Attah, who is the arrow head in the quiet rumble, was at the formal declaration of the governorship aspiration of Udoghedoghe where he not only raised his hand but served notice of attending the declaration of other aspirants, excluding Akpabio. He said: 'when I contested in 2003 for my second term, there was opposition. So, he should not expect it on a platter of gold.'

Generally seen as the father of zoning formula in the state, Attah had upon concluding his second term in office, zoned the office to the Annangs, and put up a futile effort to instal his son-in-law, Dr. Bob Ekarika as his successor. Most politicians interviewed by Daily Sun insist that Attah's failed gambit is at the root of the current succession troubles in the state.

The general belief is that he was less than altruistic when he insisted on Ekarika succeeding him, and upped the ante when he cited marginalization of the Annangs in the political scheme of things as raison d'etre. Thus, marginalization, which hitherto was sublimated in fluidity and expediency came to the fore and became a weapon of political campaign. Attah, has therefore become a victim of his own creation.

For instance, the Eket/Oron axis are now agitating for a quick access to the pie. This has put a wedge in the governorship dream of Udoeghedoghe as it is viewed narrowly as an unwanted disruption of the unwritten zoning arrangement. The thinking amongst them is that allowing Akpabio a second term will pave the way for the emergence of an Oron/Eket man as governor in 2015.

This feeling is even accentuated with the rumoured ambition of the secretary to the state government, Chief Umana. O Umana in succeeding Akpabio in 2015. Umana is from Uyo senatorial district. A quiet and smooth operator, Umana who served as Commissioner for Finance under Attah is perceived by many people as the 'godfather of Akpabio'. He is said to have contributed a large chunk of the Campaign funds of Akpabio in 2006 as they served in Attah's government.

His hold on the government is tenacious and his influence boundless. He has provided tacit support for Akpabio in checkmating the roaring political strengths of Chief Don Etiebet and Senator Utak Ekarika, who are Akpabio's kinsmen. Both men have had a towering political structure and influence in Annang before the emergence of Akpabio. The governor has had a smooth sail since 2006 till date.

Although the governor controls the structures of the party down to the wards, nothing should be ruled out. According to a political leader in the state, Mrs Eshiet, 'if Udoeghedoghe can mobilize from all the local government areas, even within the PDP, then there is a political track down within the PDP.'

The other political parties in the state, which are fledging are hoping to reap from an expected schism in the ruling PDP, which they hope will bolster their chances in the entire exercise.

The AC chairman, who is also the chairman of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), Comrade David Ekanem, says, 'the plan is to weaken any possible forces of coercion against the PDP leaders. Other political parties in Akwa Ibom State have come to the realization that if we allow the parties to go into the election the way they are, certainly it will be difficult for any one party to defeat the PDP, because they have the tendency of dividing the ranks with peanuts after impoverishing the people and making them to stay hungry for too long.'

He continues: 'What we have done is that we have selected progressive political parties in Akwa Ibom State and we are trying to work together. Right now, we are exploring the possibility of presenting a common candidate through the Action Congress. Most of the political parties have accepted the leadership of the AC. Everything begins and ends with the leadership. If the leadership is corrupt, certainly the followers will be corrupt. If the leader is forthright, those who are working with him will either decide to kill him or leave the party. We are consulting among ourselves to make sure we present a very solid, popular, respected and accepted candidate through our party. I believe with that plan and modality working out, PDP will be sent out of Akwa Ibom State.'

But, would this plan effectively cage Akpabio and the PDP and for the first time provide a viable opposition? Many people in the state believe this is a tall dream, which has no basis with the facts on ground. According to the pundits, those angling to give PDP a good run lack the personnel, membership strength, logistics, funds and other ingredients to achieve the goal. Special Adviser to Governor Akpabio on political and legislative matters, Barrister Jerry Akpan, describes the postulation of the parties as laughable.

He wonders where the impetus for the dream came from because, 'it is not in tandem with their position right now. Maybe they are expecting a miracle. Miracles don't just come. There can be no force that will be greater than the people's power. This PDP government has touched the people. And when we go to the polls, we don't need to tell them much beyond what they already know.'

He advised the parties not to waste their time in the race but rather go back to the drawing board and plan for the 2015 elections.

The keyboard
With the firm belief that the state is in the firm grip of the PDP, the entire politicking in the state is concentrated within the party. So much is the partisanship in the party that it rubs off on its wheels of process. Many stakeholders in the party believe that the ticket of the party is a direct access to Government House, with or without much ado. It has therefore heightened the values and elevated the interests.

The national secretariat is daily besieged by interest groups to intervene in so many sundry matters that ought to be left for the State Working Committee (SWC) to decide. The end result is that key decisions affecting the people and the party are almost always taken in Abuja. This meddlesomeness took a leap for new heights in the last few months, following the gradual beginning of campaigns.

The two major groups -Akpabio, and Attah have virtually relocated to Abuja where the party's national leaders are falling over themselves to dispense directives. This has fuelled the belief in Uyo that whoever will fly the party's banner would be the direct decision of Abuja. Again, Akpabio has the upper hand for now. Not only is he among the governors that enthroned Chief Vincent Ogbulafor as National Chairman of the party, he has been one of the stabilizing forces against the push by a group known as 'PDP Reform Group' led by former Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani, to ease Ogbulafor out of office. Whichever side the pendulum swings in the Ogbulafor saga, the emerging invincibility of the 'governors forum' in who replaces him cannot be understated.

Again, apart from Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju in Anambra, who for obvious reasons of entrenched interests in the state by some powerful godfathers, PDP is known not to have ever denied a second term ticket to its governors. With no celebrated godfatherism in Akwa Ibom today, Akpabio is apparently primed for the party's ticket even with his stride of not leaving anything to chance.

Akpabio also has other edges against his challengers for the party ticket. He has age and suavity. A law graduate of the University of Calabar, his governorship has been touted roundly as a generational shift. He is also seen as a master strategist, whose ambition to become governor predated his commissionership days under Attah.

In fact, it is said that he deliberately worked his way to the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, which enabled him to have easy access to the grassroots and with the royal fathers, erecting the ladder of his ambition and the nest in which it was eventually hatched. Attah, it was learnt had intended making him his successor until Ekarika married his daughter and the equation changed. Despite the odds, he fought on and had providence on his side until Attah, unexpectedly was vanquished. Attah, was just one of the full term PDP governors that was unable to install a successor of choice on first line charge.

Akpabio, on assumption of office, had successfully dismantled Attah's structures and replaced them. This, therefore, put the ex-governor in a fix on how to reap from his whirlwind political influence in the state, which includes being one of the founding fathers. To sweep the carpet off Akpabio's feet, his challengers have resolved to heaping allegations of corruption and nepotism on him.

He is said to have embarked on elephant projects as a conduit pipe to siphon the funds of the state, and that he runs the state as a private estate. His opponents readily point to the Akwa Ibom Industrial City Development Company, which controls a multi-billion-naira budget and which they claim is chaired by his brother who is on the staff of Shell Development Company Ltd, Port Harcourt.

Some of the politicians also kick against his preference for foreign owned construction firms as against patronage of indigenously owned ones. This situation, which the Information Commissioner, Umanah rationalizes as being in the interest of the state because of the high quality content of their delivery, is at the core of the muffled discontent in the party. They allege that 'politicians have not been empowered in this regime.'

Akpabio is also accused of engaging in unbridled showmanship and the trivia. Udoeghedeghe says, 'he is a governor that comes to Uyo when there is allocation to receive. After that, you will not see him again. There is no proper planning, but the media is always praising him. How can you have a governor that goes about making donations.

If he is passing by and sees a wedding ceremony, he stops and donates'. These allegations, in spite of their propensity for misguidance, have not taken the shine off the governor's campaign. They also believe the facts of his gargantuan achievements, which has ensured for him, immeasurable popularity within the state.

The gladiators
John Udoeghedeghe (PDP) : A former Senator and Minister, he has also served as a local government chairman. He is seen as a political bulldozer, whose network reaches down to the grassroots. He is also a bold and courageous politician who calls a spade by its name. He is politically astute and has the financial war chest to oil his political machine for a fight.

His disadvantages largely stem from the fact that he is from Uyo, which has dominated the politics of the state for a long time. The Annangs and the Oron/Eket people feel that they are unwittingly using their majority status in the state for exclusive use of power. Udoeghedoeghe's style of politics is not very acceptable to the vast majority of the people, which draws down his popularity rating. Some people accuse him of being unpredictable. He is also criticized as a self-serving politician whose tenure at the FCT as Minister of State brought undue odium to the state owing to the protracted infighting he had with his boss, the minister.

Bob-Ekarika, who is being positioned as his deputy is also seen as a minus to his ambition as some people are yet to forgive Attah for attempting to impose the same son-in law on the state. The new move is believed to be Attah's plan B to get Ekarika in at all cost.

Chief Frank Okon
He was Attah's Special Assistant on Technical Matters. He is yet to set up his political structures even with the nearness of PDP primaries. Some people therefore see his ambition as a joke especially as he currently lives in London. Besides, he has not got the necessary political clout to galvanize the electorate to his side. The only advantage he has on his side is that he is from Eket, an area agitating for power shift.

Ekong Udonwa(Marine Engineer)
He is from Etinan (Uyo Senatorial District) an area, which though controls the state numerically, lacks the muscle to angle for the governorship seat in 2011. Besides this, Udonwa is a green horn in politics and has not held any major political office before now. Although he has a well-appointed campaign office in the city, there is nothing on ground to suggest he has the wherewithal to make any difference or upsetting the cart.

Group Captain Sam Ewang (rtd) ANPP
He was ex-military administrator of Rivers and Ogun states. He contested the last governorship race on the platform of the ANPP and lost. Although he has not made any formal declaration or intention to contest again, he is rumoured as the consensus candidate of the alliance of political parties in the CNPP. His drawback, however is in the fact that he is from Uyo senatorial district. Again, he is considered to be too elitist and private for a politician. He is also not on ground, with no visible structure.

Gov Godswill Akpabio (PDP)
He has the incumbency advantage and controls the PDP structure down to the grassroots. He is credited with ground breaking achievements in the last three years of his administration. His free education scheme from primary to secondary school levels has eliminated the ugly syndrome of house help which the state is reputed for. Akpabio has the odds in his favour to return to office for a second term on virtually all counts. The state is a one party state-PDP. He can only lose out if he is disqualified by the party.

Attah in the mix
Attah, as ex-governor and founding member of the PDP, has a political clout that looms larger than life in the state. So much is his relevance that he is well sought after by aspirants for endorsement. For now, he has not placed his fingers squarely on a particular aspirant. All he wants is someone that will rout Akpabio out of office.

Attah would like to use the impending elections to showcase his political clout and relevance in the political scheme of things in the state. With age not on his side (over 70) any loss or miscalculation this time around may lead to his gradual descent to the political abyss. His associates, (they are many) are waiting in the wings and are fanning the fire that will bring all of them back to political reckoning.

Last line
The road to Government House in Uyo, is not perilous. It is not undulating and hardly has any sharp curve. Every tendency points to an easy victory for the PDP. The battle is more within the PDP than outside. It has all the trappings of a grudge war. A sitting 'general' on the saddle will be difficult to dismantle.