Joe Effiong, Uyo
Handing over power in Akwa Ibom has never been an easy task because taking over the mantle of leadership has not also been a cup of tea. The incumbent and the successor always sweat in the process like a lamb led to the slaughter.
In 2023, Udom Emmanuel and whoever would succeed him would not find the transition easy either Yes, because the normal cloud of uncertainty, choice equivocation, dog-eat-dog syndrome, cronyism and even ethnicity have already started to rear their ugly heads before the game even began.
As far back as 1999, it took diplomacy, browbeating, promises –utopian or real- and other political engineering for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to produce a governor in the person of Obong Victor Attah. The party had to send the cerebral late Chuba Okadigbo to Akwa Ibom to manage the cataclysm to which the gubernatorial aspirants almost subjected the party.
Attah himself almost got a bloody nose in 2003 from the late Dr Ime Umanah of the defunct ANPP during and after the general elections.
To succeed Attah in 2007, Akwa Ibom produced an array of gubernatorial aspirants most of them from PDP which resulted in protracted primaries before the fatigued national exco of the party had to subject the decision to near doctrine of necessity to settle for Godswill Akpabio.
But Akpabio was to equally have it rough in 2011 when he wanted a second term. Fighting a dual battle, one from his former friend, Sen John Akpanudoedehe in the then ACN, whose following was near cyclonic, especially, among the youth of Uyo senatorial district, and the other from his party where Frank Okon and Imo Udo caused the primaries to be repeated. Okon later went to court asking to be declared winner of the primaries since there were several procedural lapses. That action put the state on edge; and till date, some still believe, though funnily, that Frank Okon would be granted his prayers in the court.
Learning from history and experience, Akpabio didn’t give room for another legion of aspirants angling to succeed him in 2015 to have a grip of the proceedings and the PDP primaries which produced the incumbent governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, as the primaries were conducted in a commando fashion at the Nest of Champions; now Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, which allegedly shut them out.
But Udom was to also get a raw baptism of fire of succession in 2019 when his political godfather and mentor, Senator Akpabio jumped ship and aligned with the federal forces in Abuja to sack him. Miraculously, he survived by winning convincingly.
So as the bell to start the 2023 gubernatorial race is being rung, one thing is sure; willy-nilly, Udom must hand over to a successor in 2023. But who will that person be?
As a background, Akwa Ibom since its creation, or specifically, 2007, had adopted the unwritten chatter of equity to let the gubernatorial seat go round the three senatorial districts ethnically or geographically called Uyo or Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District; Ikot Ekpene or Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District; and, Eket or Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District. Obong Victor Attah is from Ibesikpo Asutan LGA of Uyo federal constituency of Uyo Senatorial District. After him came Godswill Akpabio from Essien Udim LGA of Ikot Ekpene federal constituency of Ikot Ekpene senatorial district; while the incumbent, Mr Udom Emmanuel comes from Onna LGA of Eket Federal Constituency of Eket senatorial district.
Now the seat having gone full circle, Uyo senatorial district, is already seen as the crown prince of the 2023 gubernatorial poll. And that definitively, has been the reason for the governorship gladiators from the senatorial district beginning to size themselves up before even squaring up against the other. While it is understood that nearly if not all the registered political parties in the state would field candidates in the guber election, the focus for now is on the two political Tom and Jerry: the PDP and APC, because anybody who runs or would ever run for a political office in Akwa Ibom, must have cut their teeth in the PDP.
And now here come the gladiators.
Onofiok Akpan Luke
In terms of rating, he could rightfully belong to the first batch of those seen as serious contenders.
Luke currently is the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary. A two-term member of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly culminating in his being the most popular speaker of the state House of assembly in the state. Still on his credentials is the fact that he is a former speaker of Nigerian Youth Parliament even before he became the House of assembly member. He is currently the president of the University of Uyo Alumni. He is feared even by the government of the state because all attempts to stop him from returning to the House of Assembly in 2015 failed. Another attempt to stop him from being speaker of the state house assembly the same year also failed.
His strength lies in the fact that he has a mass following especially among the youth and women, and he is considered a grassroots person but also as someone who can dine with kings anywhere in Nigeria. His generosity is legendary and having been in the executive, when Akpabio was governor, he must have garnered enough experience for the job.
What may however work against him is the assumption that the establishment does not want him, and another assumption that the governorship seat should be micro zoned even in the Uyo senatorial district, to take care of any federal constituency that has not enjoyed the governorship seat since the creation of the state. How that would work out is yet to be seen, especially as Etinan Federal constituency that he comes from has also claimed the right to produce the next governor since Obong Akpan Isemin’s tenure was truncated by Abacha’s coup in 2003, just after 17 months in office.
But without the state government’s backing, he may not have the deep pocket to finance the expensive primaries of the PDP.
Senator Bassey Akpan
Another person that is making waves is also in the national Assembly; Senator Bassey Albert Akpan whose campaign name is OBA. Albert was Akpabio’s finance commissioner for about seven years before they parted ways in 2014 when he wanted to contest the governorship race against Akpabio’s preferred candidate, the incumbent Udom Emmanuel. He later settled for a senatorial ticket which he is running for a second tenure currently.
Albert is believed to have enough funds to bankroll the usually expensive gubernatorial election in the state, having held lucrative government positions in the state and at the national level for nearly 16 years. It is also rumoured that if the structure at the ward, local government and state levels of the party would be allowed to decide the PDP primaries, then his opponents are already in trouble because he is believed to have vicariously installed nearly all the ward, and local government executives of the party in the state. Coming from Itu/Ibiono federal constituency considered a gubernatorial orphan since they never produced any governor, military or civilian, since the creation of the state may also be a plus.
But inside sources say that despite his and Onofiok Luke’s contributions to dispel the political tsunami which almost swept Udom Emmanuel away in 2019, the governor is surprisingly not disposed to any of them taking over from him. In fact, any government official associating with them, especially OBA, even at the local government level is considered committing political suicide. It was learned the government is ready to do anything, just anything, including, sponsoring an obtuse law against cultism, with the belief that any of the two would fall a victim.
Senator Albert was so miffed by the cult allegation that he openly said that he was “a cultist for Christ”, especially when religious leaders coming on the platform of Fathers of Faith and led by former prelate of Methodist Church Nigeria, Archbishop Sunday Mbang, told the press that Akwa Ibom would not vote for anybody who doesn’t come out to address the press on their occultic status.
If he could navigate through the laid mines by the state, then he is a candidate to beat.
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Before Luke and Oba actually raised their voices, the former vice chairman of ExxonMobil, Udom Inoyo, a lawyer like Luke and also from Nsit Ubium was touted as the preferred candidate of the incumbent. But it seems his ambition has suffered some hard starting as is yet to fly.
Senator Effiong Bob
Former Senate committee chairman on services, Effiong Bob, is also in the race. He is one person who is very calculated and the most experienced among all those seeking the PDP gubernatorial ticket. So, before he expressed his desire to contest, he must have weighed the odds and found them to be in his favour. He is a grassroots man and a very generous man. He is also from Nsit Ubium.
Mr Umo Eno
Nsit Ubium ironically appears to have tipped the scale in terms of the number and quality of aspirants for now. The current Commissioner for Lands, Mr Umo Eno, assumed to be one of Gov Emmanuel’s props, cannot be pushed away. He is one of the new entrants that has really attracted a lot of attention. It is left to be seen whether the sudden following is a fluke to please the governor or whether he can stand his ground when the heat starts coming.
Mr Akan Udofia
To finish Etinan Federal constituency’s angle is also a new and young aspirant, Mr Akan Udofia, an international businessman, but a political neophyte. It is however not clear which party he would pitch his tent as there are speculations that he may be contesting on the APC platform. The young Nsit Ibom politician seems to be weighing party options.
Mr Ini Emembong
If the micro zoning would strictly be adhered to, then the battlefield would be Itu/Ibiono federal constituency, and if Senator Albert fails, the next person that may grab the ticket is the current Commissioner for Information and Strategy in the state, Mr Ini Emembong, who is also from Ibiono, just as Senator Ita Enang (APC) and Dr Iniobong Essien are equally in the race.
Emembong, probably the youngest of them all, appears to have attracted so much attention, naturally, right from when he was the state publicity secretary of PDP. His upgrade as the state’s information boss expectedly, enhanced his reach. He is loved by the media, valued by the party, appreciated by the youth and women and feared even by the opposition.
It’s not yet known if the governor would throw his weight behind him when the time comes, because even though he has yet to declare officially, everyone knows that unless there’s a serious distraction elsewhere, then it’s just a matter of time.
It will also be interesting to see him slug it out against his “uncle”, Onofiok Luke. Their natural and political interests appear to always intertwine to help each other. Will 2023 tear them apart?.
Still from Itu/Ibiono axis is one of the longest serving commissioners in the state. Mr Akan Okon, currently manning the ministry of economic development and deep seaport, has been harbouring the governorship ambition for long. It seems the time is now ripe for him. But if the governorship race were to be won on popularity, it would be a hard task for him, unless he is a chosen candidate. That again is doubtful. But in politics, anything can happen.
John James Akpanudoedeghe
Akpanudoedeghe will definitely have a field day in 2023 on the APC platform except the party denies him ticket for whatever reasons. So whoever will emerge from the PDP, will have Udo, as he is popularly called, to contend with in the general election.
Apart from the rumoured ambition of Mike Enyong of the PDP, Udo is the only potential candidate from Uyo LGA. His capacity to mobilise the masses is cyclonic. He is the only candidate who can command a large crowd without spending much. Godswill Akpabio had to fight him from all fronts in 2011 to retain his governorship seat. If the people still go with the same mindset, PDP will have a problem. Maybe times have changed.
The problem will not only come from Udo or the opposition, even within the PDP, the refrain is, let Udom hands off the primaries and tidy his papers to leave, because any attempt to force his choice on the people would backfire.
Some of the aspirants mentioned above have no business to even dream of being in the race if the governor had not allegedly tried to prop them up.
But one of the party elders told our correspondent; “ Udom is not Akpabio. He doesn’t have that clout, that love, that goodwill. And he pretends not to have the funds now. This is not his second term bid that everyone united to ensure that he was re-elected based on so many considerations and calculations. He is now a lame duck governor. When he brings the money now, he will be surprised to see us collect it for the arrears of work done, and drop his preferred candidate in advance.
Accepting his candidate would amount to having another Udom for another eight years. Nothing can be more disastrous. We would rather vote for APC.” The party elder who is from the same local government area with the governor said.
The governor himself appears either confused or confusing. Every month, new names and faces pop as his preferred choice. But he is yet bold enough to stamp his authority in the race unlike Akpabio since 2013. Rather, in the confusion, he seems to wait upon God to give a successor.
Speaking at Sen Akon Eyakenyi’s 60th birthday, the governor had said, “So in Akwa Ibom State today, I don’t have any power to anoint any man. But my prayer is; ‘God, whoever you want to succeed me, reveal the person to me so that I don’t waste my time on the wrong person. Let God show me who to queue behind.