Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that Senator Godswill Akpabio’s attempt to re-invent himself and change the narrative may be fraught with tell-tale gaps
There is no doubt that Senate Minority Leader and immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio is over the moon with all the uproar going on around his personality because he has switched politicial party loyalty from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Since he first tasted the vehemence of popularity as the speaker of the students’ union parliament as a law student at the University of Calabar, he had become drawn to power as water is to fish. Calabar was where he apparently perfected his enterprise of being the garrulous and became an adept at saying more than he has done and convincing many people to believe him. It is not impossible that he imagines himself a great orator. That is fine if you love listening to a broken record, repeating the same irritating sound over and over again.
His next major outing as the spokesperson for owners of telecommunication businesses in Nigeria gave him an enhanced capacity in a section that covered a significant part of the country. He returned to Akwa Ibom from Lagos, some argue, on the recommendation of the late Lady of Songs Christie Essien-Igbokwe who was very close to then Governor Victor Attah. Akpabio was made the Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources. The ministry was dear to Attah’s heart as the former governor was in the heat of a struggle for 13 per cent derivation of oil revenue to host states and the abrogation of the on-shore-off-shore dichotomy. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was so enraged at the audacity of Attah that he withheld the monetary allocation for the state in a futile attempt to force Attah to repudiate the struggle.
Akpabio was the first and only commissioner who served in that ministry. It looks like Attah created that ministry specifically to bring Akpabio on his team in 2002. His stay in the ministry apparently opened his eyes to the huge financial opportunities in the oil and gas sector. Apart from the former governor and state’s finance commissioner, Akpabio was the other person who had a good clue to the state’s funding profile. Perhaps, Attah got a hint that Akpabio knew too much. He was moved to the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. More than any other posting, Akpabio quickly converted the chances as he made friends with all the local government chairmen and strengthened ties with natural rulers across the state. While Attah travelled frequently outside the state, Akpabio combed all the 31 local government areas seemingly on tour of duty, but he was building formidable support for himself at the grassroots. His next appointment to the Ministry of Lands and Housing only served to fire his ambition to rule the state.
Attah unwittingly played into his hand when he attempted to impose his son in-law as a successor. His plan met stiff rebellion. An unprecedented number of 57 contestants indicated interest in the job he was quitting, but it was Akpabio who breasted the tape ahead of others in a keen contest. Once he had the knife and yam in his hand, Akpabio consolidated on his position so well that he had virtually everyone in the state eating out of his hand. He brooked no nonsense and wielded power in the most brazen and ruthless manner, earning for himself the title of the Akwa Ibom governor who has exhibited the greatest callousness; depending on which side of the argument one stood. To many he was the God-sent messiah who carried out a phenomenal make-over of infrastructure in the state and even changed the orientation of the people by giving them a sense of self-worth they were not accustomed to. Others saw him as the devil incarnate who provided an environment for ribaldry, ostentatiousness, gangsters and a lot of blood-letting. Before Akpabio became governor, Akwa Ibom was the most peaceful (and even docile) of the Niger Delta states. No sooner he took the reins of governance than frequent cases of (some say state sponsored) assault, kidnapping and assassination became the order of the day and emergency millionaires whose wealth could not be traced to any manufacturing or service industry emerged on the scene. Their only claim to fame and the accompanying affluence was being family members or associates of Akpabio.
The former governor kicked the behind of all the elders in state who issued a dissenting opinion to his style of governance. Many of them like Attah, Chief Don Etiebet and former military administrator Sam Ewang kept their distance from Akwa Ibom while Akpabio kept watch over the state. Many remember Attah walking away with his head bowed at the commissioning of the Ibom International Airport, a project he initiated, but reached a reasonable level of completion under Akpabio. Attah felt so humiliated, even the least courtesy of recognising his presence was not extended to him. Akpabio is still going around with an air of importance and a feeling that he does not need the APC elders in the state. He entered the party from the top; getting the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Senator Bola Tinubu. His army in Akwa Ibom was ready and it is a dedicated army; dedicated to Akpabio. So, the former governor’s coming to the APC in Akwa Ibom is for the downfall of many and also for the rising of many. Even the PDP has no response. It would have been better for Governor Udom Emmanuel if many who claim to be with him summon the courage to ditch him outright like a few have. The tragedy of Emmanuel is that he has no army of his own. He would be trying to use an army that Akpabio created to fight him. Is that possible?
This is to state an example of the conspicuous show in an attempt to impress others that the former Senate Minority Leader celebrated. His wife, originally from Anambra whose name was Unoma suddenly became Ekaette. It could have been done to make her more acceptable to Akwa Ibomites. But his predecessor was married to a Caribbean and the people did not crucify Attah for his wife’s nationality. While the right to a change of name is one’s prerogative, Ekaette was one of the common names for the emblematic ‘Calabar’ house help and inexplicably tied to the paternity of the bearer. Abruptly, it dawned on the former governor that he had made his wife a symbolic house girl. The worry created around the former First Lady’s name was absolutely unnecessary. It wouldn’t have mattered much if her name was Nnenna. Nobody would kill her for it. But God brought this Ekaette to pronounce freedom to all Calabar house girls wherever they were! Around this period, every Ekaette became haughty, after all their mate was a first lady. And Akpabio rubbed it in. He told whoever cared to listen that he had removed the house help stigma from his people (thanks to the coincidence of his wife’s name). The world of the Calabar girl had become so positively transformed that famous celebrities like 2 Baba Idibia thanked his lucky stars for getting married to one of them. Akpabio was at their wedding to gift them with pristine cars and hundreds of thousands of Dollars.
But deploying phony schemes had been Akpabio’s thing for a long time. Throughout his tenure, he thought nothing of commissioning projects that were at 40 per cent completion state. Many of these painted sepulchers looked prim and proper on the outside but were filled with the bones of dead men. In fact, it became an absurd essence of his existence-a seemingly good looking man with many skeletons in his cupboard. This perception did not matter to the former governor as long as a memorial plaque with his name was affixed on the sham projects and he could exploit the opportunity in the media. Akpabio had so much money to play around with, as all the monies due to Akwa Ibom that Obasanjo held back were released by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. Oil was doing well in the global market and Akwa Ibom was Number One on the Federal Revenue Allocation table. The former governor started envisioning a pan-Nigerian outlook for himself by meddling into issues away from his jurisdiction, because money was not his problem, but how to spend it. Every social club and professional group struggled to host their meeting in Akwa Ibom for the chance of getting a generous monetary donation from Akpabio.
With stupendous wealth at his disposal, Akpabio exhausted the list of things money could buy. Left with nothing else, he started buying human beings. He bought journalists, judges, human rights activists, the clergy and trade unionists. This led to a series of changes that had major implications in Akwa Ibom. It set an agenda in which many had a vaunted image of themselves. If Akwa Ibomites were no longer house helps, Akpabio did not put in place a sustainable support system that would systematically elevate them to the position of a master. What could have been his outstanding achievement as he tries to re-invent himself is the presence of an organised and institutionalised support system, but these are lacking on the slate of his purported achievements.