Akwa Ibom 2015: As the Zoning War Rages

05 May 2013

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Attah and Akpabio

Okon Bassey, in Uyo, looks at the tension being generated by the zoning debate in Akwa Ibom State ahead of the 2015 governorship election

The oil-rich Akwa Ibom State is one state the national leadership of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party would not want to toy with as the country goes towards another general election in 2015. PDP has controlled both the executive and legislative arms of government in the state since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999. Ahead of 2015, when the incumbent governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, will complete his second and final statutory term, a debate has broken out over where the governorship pendulum would swing.

There are two schools of thought on the question of the next occupant of the Uyo Hill Top Mansion. Some politicians and opinion leaders are canvassing that it is the turn of Eket senatorial district to produce the next governor based on an alleged extant formula on zoning. Yet there are those who argue that no arrangement like that exists in the state, hence any of the two senatorial districts, Uyo and Eket, can vie for the governorship. These are the two positions that define the current debate over the 2015 governorship election in the state.

Geopolitical Calculation
The immediate past governor of the state, Obong Victor Attah, from Uyo senatorial district, was in power for eight years. His successor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, from Ikot Ekpene senatorial district is doing his second term of eight years. The people of Eket senatorial district expects to have one of their own on the governor seat in 2015. But the calculation does not seem to be that easy. The race is generating much interest and intrigue, especially in Uyo senatorial district, where some people seem to be preparing to throw their hats into the ring.

It is believed in some quarters that the zoning of the governorship to Ikot Ekpene senatorial district by Attah was just to enable his in-law, Dr. Bob Ekarika, to emerge as successor in 2007. When it became glaring that Ekarika could not pick the PDP ticket at the primary, Attah was said to have embarked on a serious scheming to frustrate Akpabio, who eventually got the ticket.
Attah was alleged to have supported the candidate of a rival party, who was from Uyo senatorial district.
So the argument is being made in some quarters that the emergence of Akpabio, who comes from Ikot Ekpene senatorial zone, was never the result of any zoning arrangement.

Besides, it is being argued that even the Eket senatorial district was not in total support of the incumbent governor during the PDP primary in 2006. Fifty-eight governorship aspirants from across the three senatorial districts were said to have contested the primary.
Anti-zoning Rhetoric
The 2015 governorship race, thus, promises to be a difficult one, as both Eket and Uyo senatorial districts appear set to sponsor aspirants.

The Ibibio ethnic nationality, which mainly populates Uyo senatorial district, is the largest ethnic group in the state, followed by the Annang in Ikot Ekpene senatorial district, and Oro nation in Eket senatorial district.
The argument over zoning became tenser when the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Samuel Ikon, recently called on indigenes of the state to abandon the idea and politics of zoning or rotation of power if the state must unite and move forward. He said he was not a fan of zoning.

“I am a fan of effectiveness, efficiency and capacity because today in this state the executive governor has come to show that even if somebody is not from your state, he can still touch your life.
“At the federal level we have a president that is from the South-South, what have you seen that is so special about the South-South. So it is not a function of where somebody comes from. You must leave primordial issues, it does not make sense.
“If we want the state to move forward, let us look at efficiency, effectiveness and capacity. Who has the capacity to deliver, that is the issue,” the speaker stressed.

Ikon said, “Governor Godswill Akpabio has shown us that the governor does not need to come from my village. He has come here and distributed developmental infrastructure evenly. That is what we should look at.
“In advanced democracies like the United States, you don’t need to come from Akwa Ibom State to be governor of Akwa Ibom. What you need is constitutional requirement. We have seen two brothers being governors simultaneously, father and son being presidents, that is what we should look at…

“We have these presidents from the South, starting from former President Olusegun Obasanjo and now, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and I ask, what has been that very significant difference that you can say we have?
“This thing can quietly be assigned. It does not have to be put on a table as means of negotiation, or amplified and used as a basis of division.”

In Support of Zoning
But a group in the Eket senatorial district, the Ekid People’s Union, maintain that Akpabio is a product of zoning, saying it is time for Eket to be given the opportunity to produce the next governor. National president of the group, Abong Okon Ekpo, said Okon himself is a product of zoning and wondered why he should now kick against zoning when all the other senatorial districts in the state had used their turns in the Akwa Ibom Government House.

Ekpo said, “It is our strong believe that every society survives on equity and justice, even in the sharing of political and economic positions. We wish to state categorically that Eket senatorial district must as a matter of equity and justice be allowed to produce the next governor of the state come 2015 because we have supported people from other senatorial districts to realise their collective economic and political ambitions.”

The body called on the National Assembly to reflect zoning of political positions in the country in the ongoing constitution review exercise for the protection of the minority groups.

Perhaps to reduce the tension over zoning, Akpabio was quoted to have recently said he was not averse to zoning, during a courtesy call on him by a socio-political group in the state, Akwa Isop Amaisong Ibibio.
“Let me reiterate that by 2015, we would increase the positive history and make positive things to happen in the state,” the governor said. “I am not against the zoning system of governorship among the senatorial districts, rather we need an Akwa Ibom person that can perform. At the level of our development, let’s look for a governor who will develop and move the state forward. So, I call for love among our people and for acceptance of the next government, for no society can survive without peace and harmony.”
Akpabio’s intervention was received with delight Akwa Ibom South (Eket) senatorial zone, as the people viewed it as an endorsement of the zoning arrangement.

Rising from a crucial delegates meeting, under the umbrella of Eket Senatorial District Assembly (ESDA) in Ikot Abasi, the people said, “We stand by the governor’s pronouncement that he was not averse to zoning.” They said the pronouncement “stands him out as a statesman, gentleman and a peace maker in the state and Nigeria at large.”
The group said the comment was in the spirit of fair play, equity and justice to ensure that the 2015 governorship dream of Eket senatorial zone was realised.  It said Eket senatorial zone “has more than enough competent hands to continue with the lofty programmes and projects of Governor Godswill Akpabio.” 

The group urged all the political parties in the state to consider picking their governorship candidates from Eket senatorial district in the spirit of the zoning arrangement.  
However, the chairman of Eket Senatorial District Forum, Senator Etang Edet Umoyo, urged Akpabio to clarify his statement and specify his preference.
“We request His Excellency to take that extra step and douse the political tinder by pronouncing on the district of his preference,” Umoyo said.

But Akpabio’s seeming doublespeak on the zoning issue appears to exacerbate tension in the state. Just few weeks after declaring that he was not opposed to zoning, the governor said recently that he was not a product of zoning, stressing that the issue of zoning is in God’s hand.

Akpabio was said to have made the comment while responding to a question on his succession plan during a town hall meeting as part of events to mark the end of the good governance tour of the state.
“If you ask me, I will tell you that I am not a product of zoning. I am a product of the people. In 2007, 58 people from Uyo, Eket and Ikot Ekpene senatorial districts all contested the primaries and after the people had spent five days on the street, they finally voted who they wanted and said, let God’s will be done,” Akpabio was quoted as saying. He also emphasised, “For 2015, zoning is in the hands of God.”

Analysts say such statement by the governor was a clear indication that he was not in support of zoning the governor seat to Eket senatorial district.

“The governor has today told the world that there will be no zoning of the governorship seat in Akwa Ibom come 2015 so that anyone who believes that he has what it takes to govern the state, no matter where he or she may come from, will be free to contest the primaries,” one analyst who preferred anonymity said.

Frantic Pursuit
The people of Eket senatorial district are not leaving anything to chance in their quest to produce the next governor.  Series of meetings and open rallies are being held regularly on the zoning issue, with most prominent indigenes of the zone always in attendance.

At one of such meetings, one of the governorship aspirants for the 2015 race, Mr. Michael Okpo Onofiok, cautioned the people of Oro, being the third largest ethnic bloc in the state, to resist any attempt by people from other ethnic groups to deprive them of their own turn to produce the governor. Speaking during a national youth summit, tagged “Oro Youths and the Unfolding Socio-political Issues,” Onofiok, a maritime expert, warned that Oron youths and the entire Oron nation should not gamble with their destiny but should resist pressure from any quarters to stop Eket senatorial district from producing the next governor of the state. 

“If you, youths, don’t take the bull by the horns, resist being deceived, rejecting the attempt to be bought with money, and allow this your turn to produce the state governor to slip out of your hands, you will not have the turn again until after 20 years,” he said.

He urged the people of the state to abide by the agreement reached some 30 years ago, when the likes of the late Senator Victor Akan from Oron, made former Governor Donald Etiebet from Annang ethnic clan of the state to be governor, and re-engineered by Obong Victor Attah, an Ibibio son, which informed the power shift to Annang. “We are, therefore, only bound by that understanding, and not what people are trying to use their money to secure today.”

The people of Oro ethnic nationality, the largest group in Eket senatorial district and third largest in the state, insists that they should be allowed to produce the next governor. They regret a situation where Akwa Ibom South senatorial district, which is said to be the largest senatorial district in Nigeria with 12 local government areas, has not produced any governor, military or civilian.

“The concept of senatorial platform for the determination of power rotation presupposes that after Akwa Ibom North Central (Uyo) senatorial district and Akwa Ibom North (East) senatorial district had taken their shots, power should go to Akwa Ibom South (Eket) senatorial district,” a spokesman for the Oro nation and chairman of Oro Think Tank, Comrade Okon Osung, said.

“Enshrined in the PDP constitution, section 7(2)(c), is the principle of zoning and rotation, which states inter alia: ‘In pursuance of the principles of equity, justice and fairness, the party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices and it shall be enforced by the appropriate executive committee at all levels.”

The Minister of Science and Technology, Professor Eta Ewa Bassey Henshaw, reiterated the above position at a rally held at the Civic Centre, Oron, recently. He said since the state was divided into three geopolitical zones, and if the other two zones had taken their turns, then the turn of Eket senatorial district in 2015 could not be compromised.

Chief Etim Okpoyo, a former deputy governor in the state, said there was no dispute over the 2015 governorship race, as the zoning arrangement clearly favours Eket senatorial district. Okpoyo revealed that Attah emerged as a product of zoning in 1999.
Okpoyo, however, cautioned that despite the validity of their agitation, the people of Eket should not expect to get their due on a platter of gold, as they may need to fight to claim their right. Mr. Bassey Essien said Uyo and Ikot Ekpene senatorial districts had altogether produced three former military governors and three civilian governors, while Eket senatorial district had produced only deputy governors since the creation of the state in 1987.

A former national lawmaker, Hon. Nduese Essien, charged the elders of the district to take their sensitisation campaign to the grassroots, and advised youths from the area to refrain from dancing to the drumbeats of the antagonists of zoning. According to him, the people of Eket had graciously handed over the position of deputy governor to Uyo senatorial district, adding that nobody from Eket senatorial district should accept anything less.

President General of Oro Union, Mr. O. D. Okon, while quoting section 14 of the Nigerian constitution, said for the sake of social justice and democracy the rest of the state should rally round Eket senatorial district to produce the next governor for the state.

For the state chairman of PDP, Chief Paul Ekpo, in order to ensure peace and continued coexistence of all sections of the state even after the 2015 elections, the party will strictly follow its guidelines on the selection of the governorship candidate of the party at appropriate time.

“The PDP, being a well organised political party, has guidelines guiding its operations. In 2015, it is these guidelines that will decide if there will be zoning or not,” he declared.

As the intrigues and political alliances continue to raise tension in the state, the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih, during his recent visit to the state tasked Akpabio not to gamble in the choice of his successor. Anenih said the state was very dear to the party.

Anenih, accompanied by other chieftains of the party from the national level during a courtesy call on the governor Akpabio in Government House, Uyo, urged him to ensure that a responsible person succeeds him in 2015.
Judging by Akpabio’s body language, it appears zoning may not be a serious factor in the choice of the next governor of Akwa Ibom State.
pics: akpabio.jpg, GovernorVictor attah.jpg and Etuk.jpg

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