Godswill Akpabio and Nsima Ekere
The recent resignation of former Akwa Ibom State Deputy Governor, Mr. Nsima Ekere, has not only changed subsisting equation, but also heightened the temperature of political calculations in the state towards the 2011 governorship election and in a familiar fashion. Okon Bassey writes
With the sudden resignation of Mr. Nsima Ekere, former Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State, the oil producing state in the South-south geo-political zone appears to have carved a niche for itself as one with three deputy governors within a period of two terms of the Governor administration. Between 1999 and now, five deputy governors had served the state. Compared to what is obtainable in some other states of the federation, people are worried about political development and its import on the polity.
In 1999 when former Governor Victor Attah came to office, his first term ended with a high profile plot to impeach his deputy, Obong Chris Ekpenyong who came from Obot Akara local government area in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district. Top PDP hierarchy then at the national level had intervened and the impeachment plot was dropped while Ekpenyong was forced to resign.
While some linked Ekpenyong’s sin to some contract scam, others said it was his ambition to challenge his boss in his re-election that cost him his position. However, when Attah won his second term, he naturally picked another deputy in the person of Mr. Michael Udofia, who ran the second term with Attah seamlessly.
By 2006, Akpabio, then one of the Commissioners in Attah’s administration indicated interest to run for governorship of the state. His journey to the hill top mansion was however tough. He met stiff opposition during the PDP primary because Attah wanted to install his in-law, Dr. Bob Ekarika, also a commissioner in the administration as his successor. Series of things happened including Attah openly opposing Akpabio’s emergence as the party’s flag bearer for the 2007 governorship election.
At the time, Akpabio had embraced Nsima Ekere because of the role he played for Akpabio to clinch the ticket. Ekere who was also in the PDP primary race later withdrew and handed over his political structure to Akpabio. Through Ekere’s connection and that of former Secretary the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette, Akpabio settled for Ekere as his running mate in 2007. Both Akpabio and Ekere worked together. At the kick-off of the national zonal campaign in Port Harcourt, Akpabio and Ekere wore same cloth and were presented with the party’s flag for the election.
When this happened, Attah was alleged to have threatened to work against the party in the election unless he was allowed to choose his successor. But stakeholders, both at the national and state levels, mediated in the feud. At the end, Attah was given the free hand to pick a running-mate with Akpabio. He therefore named his former Commissioner for Information, Patrick Ekpotu as his choice to run with the governor.
Following this compromise, Akpabio’s first choice as running mate, Ekere was dropped and Ekpotu emerged the Deputy Governor who won the 2007 governorship election with Akpabio.
Ekpotu had worked with Akpabio in laying the foundation of what is now called the uncommon transformation in the state. He was said to be loyal to Akpabio, almost to a fault. In fact, it was gathered that Ekpotu was at a point pushed to make uncomplimentary remarks on Attah because the latter was said not to be in support of the Akpabio government. This was allegedly done to ensure Ekpotu was not planted to leak activities of government to the opposition.
He successful served the first term with Akpabio without hitches. If his loyalty was anything to ponder, nobody would have thought that Ekpotu would be dropped during Akpabio’s second term. He was not considered ambitious or from an opposition camp to frustrate the government. But Ekpotu left office a frustrated person since he could not make the second term of Governor Akpabio. All his efforts and “one love music” to show how close and loyal he was with Akpabio were swept aside as Akpabio dropped him in the second term.
Ekere who had been primed for the office ab initio however succeeded Ekpotu in the second term. That was to show that he didn’t lose out totally in the political manipulations that characterised the first term. In addition, he was appointed chairman of one of the juicy parastatals in the state, Akwa Ibom Investment Company (AKIPOC) and Chairman of Ibom Power Plant (IPP) for five years (2007 till 2011).
There had been speculations that Ekere was not quite comfortable with Ekpotu while in office. He was alleged to often confided in Akpabio, the sins and some of Ekpotu’s wrongdoings, particularly while he should not continue in office with him the second term.
Ironically, Ekere’s tenure as Deputy Governor was the shortest. He served only for about 17 months. He was said to have been picked by Akpabio in the second term because of the relationships both had cultivated in the past. But on October 31, 2012 Ekere tendered his resignation letter to the Governor, an action that took the people of the state by surprise.
During his short stay in office, he was also seen as loyal to the governor. He didn’t allow his ambition for 2015 to affect his relationship and work as deputy governor. Though, cautious in his strategies as far as the election is concerned, his belief was that it was too early for one to make his ambition known publicly.
His two-paragraph resignation letter read: “pursuant to Section 306(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). I kindly notify you of my resignation from the Office of the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State forthwith on personal grounds.
“I want to thank you immensely for the opportunity to serve Akwa Ibom State and wish you and the good people of the state well in the remaining years of your administration.”
Ekere’s resignation letter was later communicated by the State Governor to the state House of Assembly. In the letter dated October 31, the governor wrote: “Mr. Speaker Sir, in pursuant of the above (resignation) I wish to further inform the House that His Excellency, Mr. Nsima Ekere’s resignation from the Office of the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State has been accepted.”
But THISDAY gathered that Ekere’s resignation may not be unconnected with the fall out of political intrigues and some tortoise politics in the state as 2015 governorship election inches close.
Ekere was said to be an early victim of such political maneuverings playing out in the state. His problem with Akpabio was said to have only started recently and has been quickly resolved through his resignation. Part of his problems with Akpabio was that Ekere had gone into secret romance with the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, on the 2015 governorship project. Ekere is said to be closed to Amaechi, both having been old time Port Harcourt friends. He was said to have been assured of full support by Amaechi who was said to have even taken him to the Presidency and the PDP national hierarchy as the next to succeed Akpabio.
The Development was said to have been brought to Akpabio’s notice including moves by Ekere to dismantle the governor’s political structure at the local government level. The said relationship with the Rivers State Governor was seen as no confidence in Akpabio to install Ekere as his successor. In the same vein, Ekere was said to have also learned that the Governor had held a secret meeting with some of the state lawmakers and top political bigwigs to endorse the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, as his successor, hence the move to take his destiny in his hands.
As a result of this, Akpabio and Ekere were said to have confronted each other at a meeting arranged by Akpabio with some stakeholders to clear the air in the series of the political manipulations and tortoise politic that were going on in the state. The meeting also had in attendance, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mr. Samuel Ikon and Umana among others. The meeting which started October 29 was said to have ended in deadlock and was rescheduled for the next day, October 30.
At the last meeting, another issue was said to have cropped up with the Speaker who is said to be in the same political camp with Ekere told to resign his position. But the question some are asking is: why ask the Speaker to resign? An attempt to the question is that the Speaker was seen as too close to Ekere than Akpabio and Ekere was said to have been confiding in the Speaker on the political permutations in the state toward the 2015 more frequently. The Governor was therefore said to have lost confidence in the Speaker’s leadership and that his continued stay in office, a threat. Many of the lawmakers were also said to have lost confidence in his leadership.
Following the call on the Speaker to resign, Ekere was said to have stood up at the meeting and questioned the Governor’s decision. His explosions reportedly rocked the meeting as everybody who attended the meeting was shocked. They least expected such reaction. He was said to have looked at the governor eye ball to eye ball and advanced towards him as if he was going to physically assault him. He was however prevented by some participants at the meeting.
As the situation raced out of control, Ekere was right there advised to go and resign or face impeachment. Before his eventual resignation, 20 out 26 members of the State House of Assembly were said to have indicated interest in his impeachment already slated for November 1. Having got wind of the development by the lawmakers, Ekere knew the game was over and put in his resignation letter.
The name of his successor, Lady Valerie Ebe, was forwarded and cleared by the State House of Assembly on November 2, and sworn into office November 3. Ebe, 65, became the fifth deputy governor in the state since 1999.
A lawyer by profession, widow and grandmother, Ebe was a former Commissioner on the Board of State Ethical and Attitudinal Reorientation Commission (EARCOM) and PDP State legal adviser during the time of Attah. She had also served as a Commissioner in the Ministries of Culture and Tourism as well as Environment under Akpabio. When she was removed from office, she formed a strong women group, Akwa Ibom Women League (AKIWOL), a platform she had used to mobilize women to support Akpabio’s government.
Interestingly, Ekere has since congratulated his successor on her appointment. In a statement, Ekere expressed delight with Ebe’s elevation to the number two position in the state. He said given the new Deputy Governor’s pedigree, education, exposure and experience, he was confident that she would deliver on her new assignment. Mr. Ekere called on the good people of the state to give her the necessary support to enable her succeed in her new assignment. He also used the opportunity to wish the Governor and the people of the state well in the remaining years of the administration.
But in spite of the array of developments, the battle for 2015 has still not begun. What looms in the march to 2015 promises to be either novel or at the very least, a repeat of history.