Gov. Udom Emmanuel and Senator Godswill Akpabio

As the 2019 election draws closer, Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State and the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio have resolved to close the previously widening gap between them and approach the impending polls as one

From all indications, Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State and his predecessor, and Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio have apparently settled their rumoured differences. The tiff between the two leading politicians was a subject of speculation for a long time, until Akpabio brought it to the public space.

Not a few were taken aback when Akpabio blew open what had been discussed in the closet for a long time. The former governor was commended by many for coming face-to-face before Emmanuel to say what was on his mind. The scenario played out at get-together for the chieftains of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state. When he least expected it, Akpabio went for Udom’s jugular in public. He accused the governor of neglecting his District, the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District.

Following that open embarrassment last December, a wedge of separation was driven into their relationship. Akpabio had fired a clear shot in the direction of the governor. Albeit, it was a warning shot to pressurise the state’s chief executive into doing the Senate Minority Leader’s bidding. Akpabio told the governor in very strong terms that if he did not play ball, he could mobilise against his re-election. He said: “It is less than one year to the election, all is not well, don’t allow anybody to deceive you that all is well.’’ It was an unambiguous reference to what he considered a negation of an understanding between the two, particularly on the issue of completing projects started by Akpabio in his senatorial district.

It is well-known that Akpabio is still firmly in control of the political machinery of the ruling PDP in the state. Many of the state officers, local government chairmen, heads of ministries, departments and agencies, including traditional rulers, professional and trade unions owe to their loyalty to Akpabio.

Though a few members in the governor’s cabinet who were spoiling for a show down urged him to call Akpabio’s bluff, Emmanuel ate the humble pie and went to beg his former boss, in whose administration he served as Secretary to the State Government. The message in the warning was not lost on Emmanuel. He quickly sought to placate his political godfather, by making overtures and rushing to complete the projects that Akpabio complained about. Having failed, so far, to seize the moment and build a political structure of his own, Emmanuel weighed the options available to him, facing the reality that he was the weaker opponent, if he attempted to enter a duel against the obviously more politically savvy Akpabio, who has a lot of fire power in his potent arsenal to throw at the governor.

Thus, it seems, the duo have since buried the hatchet and returned to each other’s warm embrace. One of the unmistakable signs of their re-union is that Akpabio has stopped badmouthing Emmanuel in public. Both men can be seen backslapping and throwing jibes, like old times.

This is apparently responsible for the season of endorsement from different groups who want both Akpabio and Emmanuel to continue serving in their different offices.

The two leaders are enjoying the best of relationship again, for now. The future will tell if Emmanuel, in his second tenure will summon the courage to free his administration from Akpabio’s strangle hold. Throughout the period of adversity, Emmanuel maintained a dignified calm. He denied the rift at all times in the public, while working behind the scene for a quick resolution. At worst, he blamed detractors for fanning the embers of hatred between the embers of hatred between his former principal and him. He talked about an, “emerging political theory whereby excellence is sacrificed on the altar of mediocrity.”

Determined not to allow their enemies an opportunity to laugh at them, Emmanuel disclosed that he was aware of the divisive plans that could be traced to the 2019 elections. He said the whole plot was an attempt to “change the narrative in order to score cheap political points.”

Akpabio too counted the cost of producing an acceptable alternative to Emmanuel. Even if he succeeded in getting one, it was likely to alienate him from his loyalists in the other two critical senatorial districts. So, he settled to work with the devil he knows instead of the prospect of an unknown angel. One thing that was not in doubt was Emmanuel’s huge capital of trust. Akpabio knew he could take that to the bank.

Recently, in Ikot Ekpene, Emmanuel and Akpabio were jointly endorsed by the people of that senatorial district for the PDP ticket for their respective offices. It was a celebrated highpoint to a series of previous endorsements.

Also worthy of mention was the reception and endorsement rally for the former governor organised by Akpabio’s kinsmen on the platform of Abak 5, a group of ‘Ákpabio Boys’ who held plum offices and excised enormous influence during his tenure. At this event, the Senate minority leader, frequently sang the praises of the governor.

“I came as a witness to see the mammoth crowd that appreciates what God has done in Akwa Ibom State under the leadership of Mr. Udom Emmanuel.”

At another rally sponsored by Uyo Senatorial District, the former governor glorified the efforts of his anointed replacement, to the chagrin of a few who were waiting in the wings to get Akpabio’s blessings for Emmanuel’s job.

Akpabio had, at that rally, lavished the governor with encomiums, praising him for his satisfactory performance which he said would stand him in good stead when the chips were down.

He described the governor as a good and marketable product. He also assured Emmanuel of the support of Ikot Ekpene senatorial district, promising to deliver bloc votes to the incumbent governor to continue in office beyond 2019. Beating his chest, he boasted that if the governor were to introduce a prize for the highest number of votes, he was sure Ikot Ekpene would come tops for doing the governor proud at the coming polls.

Describing the governor as a bridge builder, Akpabio said peace was a necessity for progress, ‘’we need unity to make progress because it is only through peace that the government can perform. There is no other party except the PDP.’’

At one of the support rallies by the people of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, Akpabio listened attentively as many good things were said about Udom’s three years in office, as governor of Akwa Ibom State. He was apparently overwhelmed as his speech showed.

He said, “Ikot Ekpene senatorial district is challenging Uyo senatorial district with their votes. You must go out there and vote. Don’t assume that there is no other political party in Akwa Ibom State except PDP.

“In Ikot Ekpene senatorial district we are coming with bloc votes. His Excellency you must institute a prize for the senatorial district that gives you the highest number of votes. I will not leave without giving youths advice. The advice I want to give is that the Governor of Akwa Ibom state is very determined to ensure the unity of the three senatorial districts. Let no politician try to put you asunder.

“We must continue to remain united in this state, we must continue to love ourselves; we must not allow people within us or those coming in to come and cause division through ethnicity, through tribalism so that we can progress. It is only through peace that government can achieve development.”