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Fresh Issues in Akwa Ibom Gubernatorial Race

21 Oct 2010

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The governorship race of Akwa Ibom is assuming a new twist with the race witnessing a new measure of dynamism by the day. Omololu Ogunmade writes

In Akwa Ibom State, the political atmosphere is currently charged both for the right and wrong reasons. For right reasons, because the political tempo of the state in preparation for 2011 general election has been heightened with a number of aspirants warming up for the 2011 governorship race. And for the wrong reasons, because incessant cases of kidnapping have put the state on the spot with politicians pointing accusing fingers at one another.

Newspapers have in recent times been awash with allegations and counter allegations over the increasing spate of kidnapping in Akwa Ibom. While some politicians have alleged the involvement of Governor Godswill Akpabio in the act, his supporters have been quick to absolve him from such nefarious acts, describing the allegation as spurious.

The height of the menace was the recent kidnap of Mrs. Comfort Ewang, wife of a governorship aspirant on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Group Captain Sam Ewang. While Ewang, according to media reports, looked for the release of his wife by her abductors after reportedly paying the demanded ransom, another member of his family was again kidnapped last Monday. Given the recurrent onslaught against his family, Ewang has alleged political undertones in the kidnap.

There is the insinuation that the incessant spate of kidnappings in recent times in Akwa Ibom, moreso with aspirants as victims, is the fallout of desperate clash for the Hilltop Mansion Government House in Uyo. Some political enthusiasts have argued that the desperation for the plum job in Akwa Ibom State might not be unconnected with the huge revenue accruable to the state. Akwa Ibom is one of the states which draw whopping sums of naira from the federation account because it is a notable oil rich state.

Ethnic Rivalry
In the past years, there has been a struggle for relevance among the three ethnic groups which constitute the Akwa Ibom State. They are Ibibio, Annang and Oron. While Ibibio which is the largest group in the state had a shot at the governorship position when Obong Victor Attah ruled between 1999 and 2007 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it was the turn of Annang in 2007, when the incumbent Akpabio took over the mantle of leadership following the keenly contested primaries prior to the April 14, 2007 election. However, almost four years after, Oron has alleged marginalization, just as Annang did in 2007, saying it is the only ethnic group that has never had the opportunity to take charge of the governance of the state.

Gladiators and Kernels of the Conflict
Since his emergence as governor, Akpabio who had served as commissioner in the previous government of Attah, has positioned and repositioned himself with a great deal of media coverage through which he has showcased himself as a performing governor. Through his acclaimed records of performance, his archive appears to be full of awards and countless honourary degrees, many of which have raised an observation about the governor’s love for publicity.

Nevertheless, there is the belief that Akpabio has brought Akwa Ibom into the limelight with his numerous projects to the extent that he is viewed as a formidable gubernatorial aspirant, whose influence at the forthcoming elections cannot be undermined. With a huge purse from the federation account and notable internally generated revenue, Akpabio championed the completion of the construction of Akwa Ibom Airport project, and a number of other abandoned projects as well as road construction works within Uyo and its environs. He is also said to have embarked on commendable projects which have been linked to the huge financial bowel of the state. Akpabio hopes that with his celebrated performance, his return to Government House next year should be an easy ride.

Senator John Akpan Udoedeghe
However, the rising wave of opposition against Akpabio since the inception of his administration, has continued to put his re-election bid under threat. Although the governor has faced stiff opposition from his predecessor, Attah, who was hurt by his inability to have his son-in-law, Bob Ekarika, as his successor, the most recent opposition to Akpabio came from his erstwhile close associate, Senator John Akpan Udoedeghe, who recently declared his ambition to run on the platform of the opposition Action Congress  of Nigeria (ACN).

Udoedeghe, a former federal minister, is of the Ibibio clan. He was the Chairman of Godswill Akpabio Campaign Organisation in the build up to the 2007 general election. On account of his unflinching support for Akpabio, he was nominated by the Akpabio administration for a ministerial position in the government of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007.  Eventually, he became the Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). But he was dropped two years later during a cabinet reshuffle. He is said to have a huge influence in Ibibio clan, one of the factors believed to have worked in favour of Akpabio during his election in 2007.

THISDAY learnt that the cordial relationship between Udoedeghe and Akpabio collapsed following his inability to get a re-appointment back to the federal cabinet. This, it was learnt, propelled him to join forces with Attah to oust Akpabio from the Hilltop mansion in 2011 and expectedly, Attah has stood solidly behind the aspiration of Udoedeghe, vowing that  Akpabio would be swept out of power next year.

Larry Esin
Besides Akpabio and Udoedeghe, Mr. Larry Esin, former National Chairman of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) is  another notable aspirant in the race. Esin hails from the Oron ethnic group in the state, a clan that is alleged to have been marginalized in the scheme of the state’s affairs since its creation in 1987. Although Esin, unlike many other aspirants in the race is yet to publicly declare his ambition to contest the governorship election, his interest in the race is not debatable. He contested the PDP primaries in 2007 along with countless number of aspirants and to the surprise of many who undermined his worth, he came third after Akpabio and Ekarika, who came first and second respectively. The 2007 primaries of PDP was contested with no fewer than 19 gubernatorial aspirants. 

As at now, Esin is said to be having consultations with elders and stakeholders of Akwa Ibom about his ambition. But what is yet to be clear to many about Esin is the platform on which he will run as well as his source of his support having been removed as the National Chairman of PPA. Some enthusiasts have argued that he may wield a big influence, judging from his performance at the 2007 primaries and proceed to give the incumbent governor and the senator a big run.

The general suspicion among stakeholders in the state is that the race may be a big fight between Akpabio and Udoedeghe because of the power of incumbency and the opportunity to hold a political appointment at one time or the other respectively. Yet others believe that Esin may command a good support from persons who might be sympathetic to his course as a result of perceived marginalization of his ethnic group. There are some others who hold the opinion that the imminent clash between Akpabio and Udoedeghe may be so stiff to the extent that it may invoke a rekindling of the Sir Michael Otedola syndrome in Lagos in 1991, when he, as the governorship candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC), reaped from the fight between Social Democratic Party (SDP) gladiators, Dapo Sarumi and Femi Agbalajobi who fought each other out of the race.  If this scenario plays out in the state, Esin may be the reaper.

A similar episode also played out in Anambra in 2003 when incumbent Mr. Peter Obi later became the beneficiary when Chris Uba and the then incumbent Chinwoke Mbadinuju fought each other to a standstill. Nevertheless, all hands are on deck to watch the scenario as they play out in Akwa Ibom governorship race.

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