By Ojo Maduekwe
In May, some stakeholders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abak Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom, representing the ‘Abak Five’, asked the state’s governor, Udom Emmanuel, to replace his deputy since 2015, Mr. Moses Ekpo, as his running mate for the forthcoming 2019 gubernatorial election.
Their grouse was that deputy governor Ekpo was “imposed on us” by former Governor Godswill Akpabio. They went ahead to inform Udom that if he wanted the support of the Abak people, he must assent to their request.
It’s been five months since the supposed stakeholders made their request, and then came the news this week that Governor Udom had re-nominated the same Ekpo as his running mate in next year’s state governorship election.
Observers of Akwa Ibom politics are wondering why Governor Udom would re-nominate as his deputy – someone that was for his first tenure said to had been imposed on him by Akpabio – at a time when he has the opportunity of picking a deputy of his own choosing. The answer appears not far-fetched.
In a brief statement announcing the re-nomination of the deputy governor, Mr. Ekpo’s press secretary, Mr. Ekerette Udo explained that the governor based his choice of Mr. Ekpo on his “stability and strength of character”.
Also alluding to the popularity of his deputy, Governor Udom according to Mr. Udo was reported as saying that aside having an “unbeatable profile”, at any event, “the presence of the deputy governor cannot be ignored.”
This larger than life description of the deputy governor was corroborated by the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Hon. Onofiok Luke.
In a Facebook post after Governor Udom announced his pick to state PDP leaders, Hon. Luke wrote: “The Governor who presented him before the State Caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Government House, Uyo, said his deputy has shown resilience and capacity in the discharge of his duties.”
It was said that Akpabio had initially imposed Ekpo on Udom so that he could be his eyes in the administration, but midway, Ekpo proved he wasn’t ready to play games. His loyalty earned him Udom’s trust and confidence, the outcome of which is the governor’s decision to run with him a second time.
For those that fail to grasp the import of Udom’s decision to renominate Ekpo, it is imperative we revisit some incidents that happened this year.
It was within the period of the Abak meeting that the dispute between Akpabio and Governor Udom became irreparable, and so supporters of both men were pitching tents. Suspecting the deputy governor’s loyalty at the time, some were also attempting to drive a wedge between him and the governor.
Prior to the Abak meeting, something happened that did not help the deputy governor’s case. He had organized an annual get-together for his senatorial district, Ikot Ekpene. Since he was at the time still a member of the PDP, Akpabio like any other party member from the district was invited.
Thinking he would curry the sympathy of Mr. Ekpo in his disagreement with Governor Udom, Akpabio hijacked the rather cheerful occasion to attack the governor. Observers claim that since earlier attempts to sway Ekpo back to his camp had failed, Akpabio’s thinking was to publicly back the deputy governor to a corner and force him to choose between him and the governor.
Then three months after the Abak stakeholders called for his replacement, another incident happened.
There were rumoured reports – in what appeared an APC sponsored propaganda against the Akwa Ibom PDP – that Mr. Ekpo had defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) to join his kinsman and “political associate”, Akpabio.
Denying this at the time, Mr. Ekpo in a statement said “I have no reason whatsoever to resign or jump ship from a government that is both responsive and performing optimally, while giving practical meaning to democratic dividends for the people of Akwa Ibom. I cannot, and will not jump ship.”
It is instructive that people understand that both Akpabio and Ekpo share same Annang ethnicity, and in extension the same Ikot Ekpene senatorial district, and also that in the buildup to the 2015 state governorship election, Akpabio had singlehandedly imposed Mr. Ekpo to deputize Governor Udom.
Deciding to retain him for his deputy against every innuendo means that their relationship has transcended the man that joined them together. Observers say this was possible because of Mr. Ekpo’s character; one that is very key to the success of the administration as is currently being run by both men.
In his Facebook post, Hon. Luke wrote, “The Governor…described Mr Ekpo in glowing terms as one whose deep commitment to the Akwa Ibom project has assisted in the spate of development in the state since 2015.”
Analysts have argued how important it is for the governor to keep a winning team ahead of next year’s election to consolidate on his achievements.
Governor Emmanuel is not the only one that considers his deputy as a stabilizing factor. Several party members think of Mr. Ekpo in the same way. Even the state chairman of the PDP was said to have “spoke glowingly” about the deputy governor, “describing him as a major stabilizer in the administration.”
So what is all this talk about Ekpo being a stabilising figure, especially when juxtaposed with the administration’s first term achievements?
Politically Mr. Ekpo is seen as the stabilising factor between the governor who is of Ibibio extraction and the Annang nation where he and Akpabio come from. He represents the interest of the ‘Abak five’ people who have for many years been marginalised by other parts of the Ikot Ekpene senatorial district.
His supporters claim that he’s brought his fatherly disposition and years of experience as an administrator to bear in the administration; that he has been a key member of the implementing team of the governor’s industrialisation agenda; and he is a major part of the foreign direct investment committee.
Not only that; as the chairman overseeing one of the most complex committees in the state, the boundary committee, he’s been pivotal in settling intrastate boundary crises that normally would have escalated without his input.
To better understand the stabilising label used to describe Mr. Ekpo, let’s compare Governor Udom’s administration to that of Akpabio.
While Akpabio’s administration was characterized by instability and uncertainty in both of his term as governor, Udom’s first term has witnessed political stability.
By this time in 2011, Akpabio had had up to three deputies. Stakeholders observed how he kept changing them out of fear and, or suspicion.
He first ran with Mr. Patrick Ekpotu, but dropped him after falling out with Ekpotu’s kinsmen. Then in 2011 he ran with Mr. Nsima Ekere and barely 17 months later threw him out on the grounds of disloyalty. He would go ahead to pick Valerie Ebe with whom he later finished his second term.
Interestingly, this is the first time since 1999 that Akwa Ibom has had a governor and his deputy that have worked harmoniously together.
One of the PDP stakeholders and supporter spoken to told ThisDay that, “This synergy works for the growth and continued peace of Akwa Ibom because this is the first time since 1999 that we are having a governor and deputy who aren’t fighting themselves and who have been most productive as a pair.”