Akpabio in a chat with his successor, Emmanuel

Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State and his benefactor, the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, had for over two years enjoyed a healthy relationship. But with recent developments, it appears the party is over, reports Okon Bassey

That smooth relationship was largely linked to the fact that Senator Akpabio stepped on toes to ensure Governor Udom Emmanuel emerged his successor in the 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State. The godfather and godson relationship, for many, was not too good for the state. As a good banker, the governor was seen as covering perceived wrongs of his predecessor from the public. Things like the debt profile of the state inherited from his predecessor being speculated to be within the range of N500 billion are still not revealed. The governor was also seen as being teleguided by his predecessor in running the affairs of the state. But recent events have left tongues wagging on whether such relationship between the two leaders of the state is still there.

Early this month, Akpabio at a get-together arranged by the Deputy Governor of the State, Mr. Moses Ekpo, for the people of the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District reportedly took on Governor Emmanuel administration, saying the people of his senatorial district were marginalised and gave conditions for him to support the governor’s second term bid. For Akpabio, therefore, unless Emmanuel addresses the perceived marginalisation of his district, he should forget nursing second term ambition.

Akpabio, at the meeting, expressed worry that some of the projects initiated like the multi-million naira Four Points by Sheraton Hotel at Ikot Ekpene and the dualised Uyo-Ikot Ekpene road, have not been completed.

“2018 is less than one year to election, all is not well. Don’t allow anybody to deceive you that all is well. If the hotel in Ikot Ekpene rots after so much money had been expended on the project, would that be a good thing? That road from Uyo to Ikot Ekpene is still the way it was.

“In the 2018 budget, what is the percentage for Ikot Ekpene senatorial district? My job is to say the truth, because if at this level I cannot say the truth, then I am not doing well. So, please I want us to start the hotel. Please let us check the budget to know what has been earmarked for that place. I am not interested in what I did and what I did not do. I am only interested in what I am going to do.

“The truth is that Godswill Akpabio expects us to set our path straight so that we can take one route. Even when you are going for communion, you must be in a state of grace, so let us have something from the senatorial district to use in talking about election; to use in convincing the people to stand by us. We are in opposition, we don’t have government, we don’t have police, we don’t have INEC,” he said.

But this position seemed to be confusing as he sometime last year threw his weight behind the second term bid of the governor. At any given opportunity and forum, Akpabio did not hesitate to call for support for his successor’s second term. He said so at Asan Ibibio, where the Ibibio nation endorsed Emmanuel for second term, stressing that the people of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district have no room to oppose the governor for second term.

Also, at a function organised by a foremost socio-cultural group in the state, the Mboho Mkparawa Ibibio, Akpabio reaffirmed his position for the governor’s second term bid. In October last year, when the state House of Assembly celebrated its 25th anniversary, Akpabio, who chaired the anniversary, endorsed Emmanuel for second term.

“What happen in Abuja that makes people to fight people in their states will not happen between Udom and I. We will remain together and united…In 2015, they said Udom’s right. Udom is right for 2019.”

Speaking at the anniversary, Emmanuel also insisted that nothing would separate him from the love of his leader (Akpabio).
“The banana peel in Nigeria that makes governors and their leaders fight, Akpabio and I will not match it. We have where we are going in Akwa Ibom and we will go together. That is why anything you write about us in the papers that will divide us we have ignored.”

But Akapbio’s outburst in Abak appeared to have triggered political interpretation as he was said to have planned to replace Emmanuel with a yet-to-be disclosed somebody from the Oron nation still from the Eket Senatorial District for the 2019 governorship race. However, to draw the goodwill of the people of Oron Nation to himself, Emmanuel sacked his Secretary to the State Government, Sir Etekamba Umoren, who was said to have been put by Akpabio, and replaced him with Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem from the Oron Nation.

Prior to the removal of Umoren, former Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affair, Mr. Udo Ekpenyong from Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District was sacked, allegedly due to an unpleasant encounter with Akpabio. Stakeholders from Akwa Ibom North-East (Uyo) senatorial district described the comment by Akpabio as sheer blackmail.

In a communique dated January 7, 2018, and issued about three days after Akpabio gave Emmanuel the condition to support or withdraw from the second term race, the political leaders said Akpabio’s claim on his senatorial district being marginalised was a “calculated statement of calumny, blackmail, and arm-twisting”.

The communiqué, signed by a former military governor of the state, Idongesit Nkanga, two former senators, Anietie Okon and Effiong Bob, and 21 other leaders – all close associates of Senator Akpabio – accused Akpabio of trying to cause ethnic rift in the state. The leaders in the Uyo senatorial district reminded the senator of several projects he abandoned in other senatorial districts, “despite the favourable resources he received during the eight years he served as the governor of the state”.

Some of the projects Senator Akpabio reportedly abandoned during his eight years reign in the state were listed to include the terminal building at Ibom International Airport, Ibom Tropicana Hotel, Ibom Specialist Hospital, Eket-Etinan Road and Itak Okoita-Use Ikot Amama Road etc.

But Nwoko has dismissed the assertion that there is a crack between Akpabio and Emmanuel ahead of the 2019 general election. Instead, he said Emmanuel and Akpabio’s relationship was as cordial as ever and that what Akpabio meant that all was not well in the politics of Akwa Ibom state was basically for political office holders from Ikot Ekpene senatorial district to sit up and work to satisfy the people to make them favourably disposed to the administration and the PDP.

Nwoko, who also served in the Akpabio administration in same capacity, noted that although the Uyo-Ikot Ekpene road, being a major gateway into the state truly worries the immediate past governor, the present administration has however done so much to ensure the completion of the project.

“Every good coach who wants to win the next match must tell his team not to underrate the opponent. That was why the former Deputy Governor, Engr Chris Ekpenyong after listening to the governor’s explanation declared that the people were satisfied with the governor’s explanation,” he said.

However, in what seem to have been a response to the comment by Akpabio, Emmanuel warned that as the nation enters another year of political activities, political elders in the state should stop making provocative utterances capable of igniting the state and cautioning that he would not compromise with anybody irrespective of the status.
According to the governor, with 2019 general elections around the corner people are most likely bent on changing the narrative to score cheap political points and warned that his administration would not treat statements that are bound to cause public disaffection lightly.

“This year is going to be a little bit busier in terms of politics and once you enter into a political terrain of this nature so many things come up… but let me also use this platform to warn any Akwa Ibom person that with the sacrifice we’ve made to maintain peace in the state, we won’t tolerate anybody, anybody underlined, to breach that peace. You can see that people have made a lot of sacrifices in the last three years to maintain peace in the state”.

Emmanuel posited that the country was in a phase of changing the political narrative for a new political culture and advised that people should be guided by their core values while making public pronouncements. He expressed shock at what he termed an emerging political theory, whereby excellence is sacrificed on the altar of mediocrity, saying there was need for a review of the benchmark for assessment.

“Let me also say here that it’s just a new political theory where a post-graduate student would score 100 per cent and you say it’s a mock examination and is a failure. So, if you score 100 per cent and under the new dispensation of a political theory, it is a failure, it means we have to go back to the drawing board and know what the pass mark is. If 100 per cent under the new political theory is a failure, then it holds much to be desired,” Emmanuel declared.

Emphasising that he would not compromise the peace of the state with any individual or group, the governor particularly warned opinion leaders and others to respect themselves for peace to reign in the state, adding: “I want to believe that every single individual would respect himself or herself so that peace can reign in Akwa Ibom State and that is the last warning I can give”.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Eket Senatorial District have urged elders and stakeholders from Uyo and Ikot Ekpene senatorial districts to desist from inciting comments and actions capable of generating heat in the state polity. They have also maintained that the current progress and development in the state can only be sustained if the three geo-political zones maintain their support for and cooperation with the administration.

In a resolution reached at the end of an emergency meeting in Eket titled: “Toeing the path of peace and harmony in Akwa Ibom”, the leaders decried the ongoing war of words in the media, which were “at variance with our communal disposition as a people of the same family.”

They maintained that there was no misunderstanding between Emmanuel and Akpabio, asserting that “Having noted the concerns raised in different quarters, we have a firm belief that except caution is applied, and calm restored, we may end up collapsing all the gains we had united to build as a state in the last couple of years.”

According to them, Akpabio had since gotten clarity from Emmanuel on the issues he raised, adding that it was only detractors that were fueling the issue as it was the collective support of elders, stakeholders and people from Uyo and Ikot Ekpene Senatorial districts to ensure the return of Emmanuel as governor in 2015.

The leaders recounted that Eket Senatorial district “was grossly cheated in the distribution of infrastructure, appointments etc by the two previous administrations despite our undisputed contribution to the revenue of the State.” But this neglect, they maintained, did not distract them from supporting those previous administrations, and demanded of the other two senatorial districts to lend full support to the governor.

As the alleged rift between the two leaders continues to generate tension, Akpabio has denied speculations that he was embroiled in a rift with his successor, describing such insinuations as the handiwork of political jobbers. In a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Anietie Ekong, he said so far he was satisfied with the performance of Emmanuel and added that he could not be engaged in a feud with an administration that Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District played a significant role in its emergence.

“It is obvious that the concerns raised by the Senator during the end-of-the year stakeholders meeting organised by the Deputy Governor that all was not well was misunderstood and political jobbers sought to feast on it. What the senator said was that their House should be put in order so that the votes from Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District would be put intact for Governor Emmanuel in the next election.
“Senator Akpabio is satisfied that the areas of concern raised by the stakeholders, which were further explained by the governor during the follow-up meeting with him to the satisfaction of the stakeholders present at the meeting were receiving the attention of the government,” the statement said.

Above all, the release cautioned those making inciting statements to create a wedge between the senator and the governor to desist from it as they were only doing so for their personal benefit. He sued for peace in the state and advised people to desist from politics of hatred and blackmail, which would not augur well for the unity of the state.