Opposition to Akpabio’s 2015 ambitions mounts Governor Godswill Akpabio until recently appeared to be on top of the political situation in his state. Our correspondents examine why he seems to be losing grip on the home front.
Whether it was deliberate or otherwise, the fact that most of the political engagements of the Akwa Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio, have revolved around national issues, has served to prop up an image of a politician totally in control of his base.
Analysts believe it was due to this image that when it became expedient to create a PDP Governors Forum, that the lot fell on Akpabio to be appointed chairman and when the Nigeria Governors Forum could not agree on a chairman, it was he who rallied the opposition to create a faction.
It is also believed that he was so influential that it was when he withdrew support to the former PDP national chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, that the ground around Tukur began to cave in.
But if recent happenings in Akwa Ibom are anything to go by, then Akpabio’s case could be likened to a man who went to fight his neighbour’s battle when his house was on fire.
Within the spate of one year, so many things have cropped up that have punctured the widely held picture of a man ahead of the political dynamics of his state.
The first had to do with the altercation with the deputy governor, Nsima Ekere, on account of nursing a governorship ambition which led to the resignation of the latter. Even though Akpabio had the upper hand, he has not been able to stop the ex-deputy’s ambition. Then not quite long after that, when Akpabio made public his intention to go to the Senate after the expiration of his tenure in 2015, the incumbent, Aloysiuis Etok protested, saying he is not relinquishing the seat and challenged Akpabio to face him in the party’s primary. So far Akpabio has not been able to anything about that.
With the issue currently raging, Akpabio might have succeeded in stepping on the toes of others in the bid to appoint a successor.
The belief in Uyo is that Akpabio, had all the while given support to his then Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Umanah Okon Umanah to succeed him, only for him to change his mind when the latter had gone far in reaching out to actualize the dream.
This has led to a crack in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state as many prominent elders in the party, have come out to oppose him insisting that they must have a say in who becomes the next governor of the state.
A group, the Akwa Ibom Elders and Stakeholders Forum, made up of prominent indigenes of the state are championing this cause and doing all to drive home the point that they are not with the governor in that bid.
But the governor had explained that he is only trying to be fair to the people of the state by zoning to Eket zone which has not produced a governor since both Ikot Ekpene where he hails from and Uyo zones have had it.
But the PDP elders at a recent gathering chaired by former minister, Dr. Ime Okopido, said the claim to fairness is an afterthought as they say Akpabio has never supported zoning and did not do so when it concerned his senatorial zone.
They said based on that they would not condone zoning for the governorship seat but would rather support the policy of the PDP national chairman, Alhaji Ahmadu Adamu Mua’zu which is for the nomination of candidates through a fair and free contest.
Those ready to confront Akpabio on this include; Senator Aloysius Etuk , a three time member of the House of Representatives, Bernard Udoh, former PDP secretary in the state, Anietie Ekong, Nelson Effiong, former Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Uwem Udoma and Okon Uwah, former deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly.
The group also has the chairman of Uyo Senatorial district elders council, Otuekong Sonny Jackson, Dr Morris Ebong, Senators Effiong Bob, and Senator Ita Enang.
The group in a recent statement says it also has over 40 former local government chairmen, 45 former House of Assembly members, over 20 former members of the House of Representatives, and several past party state officers behind it.
Various persons who spoke at the stakeholders meeting expressed disappointment with how things are going within the PDP in the state.
Both Senator Etok and Okopido said it is only the people that can through elections choose who will rule Akwa Ibom and vowed that never again will elections be decided outside designated venues.
Immediate past Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State Government, Umanah Okon Umanah whom the group seems to be supporting to be the governorship candidate also opposed the idea of zoning.
He said he has watched the events in the state and found that the lieutenants of Governor Akpabio are making it look as if the governor is going to be a candidate in the 2015 governorship race.
He said.’’ the governor will not be a candidate in 2015, I am interested in becoming the governor in 2015 and anybody who is interested should not hide behind the shadows of the governor but should come out and campaign and present themselves to the people.”
To drive home the point, the elders threatened to proceed to court to assert the right of “every qualified party member to contest the party’s primary in the state pursuant to the 2015 governorship election.”
A notable member of the group and former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the state, said that the option of a legal action was on the card if the governor and his appointees decides to go against the party’s declaration to have an open contest.
Akpabio in a move seen as a counter to those opposed to his ambition, also convened a meeting of party officials and the meeting he convened it was agreed that the party would respect zoning.
The elders however, derided the meeting saying the governor must have convened the meeting to railroad the party into formalizing his plan to ensure zoning in the state.
“It is suspected that the governor himself may have decided to personally uphold his wish on the party through any means possible, including the stick and the carrot approach. The governor has not hidden his desire to produce a successor that would do his bidding while out of office,” they stated.
To worsen matters for Akpabio, when the adviser to the President on political matters, Ahmed Gulak visited the state, he was said to have paid a visit to Umanah.
Umanah’s supporters have made capital out of that saying it is a clear indication that the Presidency may be in support of Umanah’s aspirations.
But the Akwa Ibom State PDP in reaction called a State Executive Council meeting and at the end of the meeting, warned Gulak not to interfere in the politics of the state.
The meeting which had Governor Akpabio in attendance PDP chairman, Paul Ekpo as well as the senators and House of Representatives members from the state called on President Jonathan to caution his aides whom it claimed are bent on causing ‘disaffection in the various states of the federation’.
The state chairman of the party, Mr Paul Ekpo in a communiqué read to party supporters also advised Gulak to concentrate on sorting out PDP problem in ‘his Adamawa State rather than bothering about Akwa Ibom and other states in South/South which had no problem with President Jonathan campaign.”
“The meeting condemned the ignoble and contemptuous role of Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, the Special Adviser to the president on political Affairs, who visited the state recently, threw all known protocols overboard in purporting to inaugurate a sectional and unknown Support Group in favour of our dear president,’’ he said.
The party reiterated its decision to zone the governorship position to Eket Senatorial district.
Ekpo said pursuant to section 7 (3) of the party’s constitution 2012 (as amended) stipulating adherence to the ‘’policy of rotation and zoning of the 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.’’
This has not gone down well with the elders who insisted they will not yield to any form of imposition.
“We reject, as it is totally alien to the provisions of the Constitution and tradition of our great party, the use of stage-managed “Town Hall Meetings” as the platform for the adoption of the party’s flag-bearers for the 2015 General elections. The so-called Town Hall meetings are seen by party members and the generality of Akwa Ibom people as a thinly-veiled ruse to exclude certain people and segments from participation in the political process and will cost the party dearly at the polls,” they stressed in their communiqué.
How the two sides would resolve the matter is left to be seen as both seem stuck to their positions.