Former Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio’s political weight and influence are currently being called to question with his recent defection to the ruling All Progressives Congress, writes Okon Bassey
When the news first filtered out that a former Senate Minority Leader and immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio had defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the people of Akwa Ibom had initially received it in disbelief. The Akwa Ibom chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the elders in the state had said it could not be true, because Akpabio never hinted at such an adventure let alone consulted them.
However, his formal declaration to the APC on Wednesday, August 8, 2018, appeared to have partially caused panic in the state. Many of the citizens, who were at the Ikot Ekpene township stadium, actually went there to see and also confirm the defection story of Senator Akpabio to the APC.
Akpabio came to political limelight, when he contested and won the governorship race in the state in 2007 and succeeded to do a second term in office in 2011. Although he had been a commissioner in the state for eight years, his emergence was not an easy task following a strong opposition by his predecessor, Obong Victor Attah, who would rather someone else.
But elders in the Eket and Uyo Senatorial Districts, prevailed on Obong Attah to allow Akpabio emerge as the governor of the state. Attah saw reasons and gave up the fight. On board now as the new governor, Akpabio, knowing that he had no godfather in the state following the experience of his emergence, had quickly built his own political empire across the state. And for the period he reigned, he was generally described as a generous giver.
The support given to him mostly from the Ibibios ethnic group culminated in many decisions he took to build the state and to produce Governor Udom Emmanuel as successor to the proponent of uncommon transformation of the state.
Since Emmanuel came on board, he had tried to ensure that his predecessor and benefactor, Akpaabio was not a victim of witch-hunt given his perceived misdeed as governor. The opposition APC had on many occasions demanded of Emmanuel to publish statements of accounts of the state left behind by the former governor, to which he allegedly declined each time he was faced with such requests.
Curiously, the relationship between Akpabio and Emmanuel started to grow bad last year, when Akpabio laboured to find fault in the administration of the state, including alleging that Emmanuel had abandoned some projects he initiated. Little did Emmanuel know that Akpabio was planning his exit from the PDP, and needed to justify his decision.
Thus, while announcing his decision to join APC, Akpabio started by saying he was first a nationalist.
“People are saying why APC? You need to know that I am a nationalist. In trouble times like this when a country is at war, all hands must be on deck to salvage the situation. This is a difficult time in Nigeria, when insurgents are attacking us from Bornu, all the way to Plateau, through Benue to Taraba, Adamawa and even up to Akwa Ibom. In a period of a national emergency, everybody should put hands together to support the government, to bring peace to the people”.
But reacting to Akpabio’s defection story, Emmanuel said he was not perturbed by his predecessor’s action. At a solidarity visit by local government chairmen from the 31 council areas of the state, vice chairmen and councillors, the governor noted that every person was entitled to exercise his fundamental human rights of free association.
“The political atmosphere is helping to deepen democratic governance and reinvent the consciousness of the PDP that every member would be proud of,” he said.
Since Akpabio’s defection, pressure groups have continued to pay loyalty to Emmanuel.
The State Chapter of PDP also appears not shaken by Akpabio’s defection. On the contrary, the party urged its faithful not to take Akpabio’s defection as serious, because of who he is, even as he has not attempted to remove his name from the party register in his ward, Ukana West 2 in Essien Udim
“For the few persons (all of whom were his personal staff, relatives or former employees) whom he showcased as co-defectors, their respective ward chairmen are charged to immediately delist them from our register”.
The party disclaimed the story that the entire members of the National and state assemblies were joining him, describing it as either a very expensive joke or an outright lie.
“The Speaker and other 24 members of the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly are intact” he said, except two who defected with him, adding that the two members of the House of Representative, who defected with him, might have serious challenges returning in their constituencies.
The party also announced the resolve to commence legal action to activate the provision of section 68 of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended) as it relates to the erring legislators.
“Nigerians are watching keenly to see how the actions of the defectors will match their defection sermon. But did we hear Senator Akpabio well? When he mentioned Tropicana? We hereby demand that Senator Ben Bruce accept the challenge thrown by the former Senate Minority leader to either complete the Ibom Tropicana or give reasons why it could not be completed, in addition to why it took so long
Also, the leaders of the state, who spoke under the umbrella of Akwa Ibom State Leaders Vanguard, said Akpabio’s defection was a big relief to the Emmanuel administration, noting that with his exit, a new era for the state administration had commenced.
They described Akpabio as a defiant senator that Emmanuel had over the years tolerated his overbearing influences, huge debt burden left behind, uncompleted projects fully paid for and other negative legacies he left behind.
Spokesman for the group, Senator Anietie Okon, said Akpabio’s defection to the APC called for celebration by every genuine lover of Akwa Ibom State.
“It calls for celebration, because finally we have the biblical Jonah out of our boat of progress. Henceforth, Governor Udom Emmanuel will fully focus on the development of Akwa Ibom State with every financial resource at his disposal instead of being distracted by a so-called political godfather with huge basket of demands.
“His decampment is a welcome relief to the PDP, both at the state and national levels. This is because of the moral and political burden of managing a party member, who was daily facing threats of prosecution, a development that brought shame and reproach to the party. It was unbearable. By divine arrangement, God has lifted that opprobrium from us and had taken it elsewhere.
“Governor Udom Emmanuel will no longer spend meagre resources of the state in endless legal interventions whenever anti-graft agencies move against Senator Akpabio,” he said.
The leaders also announced the withdrawal of the recent endorsement of the people of Ikot Ekpene senatorial district for Akpabio and declared his seat vacant, stating that the action was not a sign of anger or disappointment but necessary, because Akpabio failed to consult the people, whose mandate he is holding.
They further disclosed that Akpabio left the PDP, because he had become dissatisfied with what he was getting from the state administration, declaring that the burden of PDP had been taken over by APC.
Commissioner for Information and strategy in the state, Mr. Charles Udoh, said the governor still remained focused as the defection of Akapbio would not cause major changes in the state executive council, although Akpabio’s nominees are the highest.
On how the state government received the news of his defection, Udoh said, “The signs were clear. The governor shows respect to his predecessor. This government is not playing politics with governance. You will never hear him abuse the minority leader and he (Emmanuel) acknowledges him severally”.
Explaining why the governor sacked two commissioners, an action being interpreted as fallout of the Akpabio defection, Udoh merely debunked claims by Mr. Victor Antai, former Commissioner for Culture and Tourism and Barrister Ibanga Akpabio, former Commissioner for Labour and Productivity that they resigned and not sacked and left it at that.
Truth is that Akpabio’s defection is not being taken kindly by the people of Eket and Uyo senatorial districts especially, when recalling what happened in 1983. It was another political disappointment, when the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District was said to have betrayed their son, Clement Isong from Onna LGA in Eket Senatorial District to pick second term ticket as the Governor of then Cross River State.
Emmanuel is from Onna and Eket Senatorial District of the state. Akwa Ibom is traditionally PDP state the defection may only reduce the winning streak of the party in 2019 and not alter it completely.
Emmanuel’s Show of Strength
In a move designed essentially to balance whatever threat that Akpabio’s defection constituted to the chances of the PDP in the state especially, his rally, the PDP too had immediately announced a formal endorsement rally to honour Emmanuel.
Tagged ‘Eket Senatorial District Mega Endorsement Rally’, the event for Emmanuel has been scheduled to hold tomorrow, Monday, August 20, at the Onna Township Stadium, the same venue as Akpabio.
The Media and Publicity sub-committee jointly headed by member of Mkpat Enin state constituency, Hon. Otobong Ndem, and Mr Ekerete Udoh, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, stated that the occasion would be chaired by Sir Etim Okpoyo, former Deputy Governor of the state.
“Among reasons cited for the celebration of the Governor by his senatorial district are his ingenuity, which has led to numerous industries, job opportunities, free education with WAEC fees, stability in power supply, improved healthcare delivery, affordable and sufficient food supply and security, and lots more,” read the statement.
Recall that the Ikot Ekpene and Uyo senatorial districts had recently rallied support in separate endorsement ceremonies, where Emmanuel was unanimously put up for a second term.
However, ahead of tomorrow’s rally, women in their thousands and drawn from the three senatorial district, last week, marxhed through the streets of Uyo, the state capital in support of Emmanuel’s re-election.
The women, who sported different traditional attires, sand and danced around the streets before berthing at the Government House, where they declared loyalty and support for Emmanuel and also vowed to mobiloise support for him, while at the same time throwing shades at Akpabio.
The current power standing in the state would put to serious work, the strengths and weaknesses of both leaders, more so that the difference in the voting capacity of their people is about one hundred thousand. As a result and because the state is traditionally PDP’s, Akpabio has to first double his efforts with a view to leveling up before he is able to duel competitively with the governor.
Indeed, there is a general admission amongst the people and analysts alike that Akpabio’s defection might have made Emmanuel’s re-election much easier than it could have been as well as further entrench the foothold of the PDP in the state.
But whilst such remains in the realm of speculation, there is every opportunity for this extrapolation on both sides to be brought up to reality and that opportunity would be made possible during next year’s general election.