RACE FOR THE HILLTOP MANSION
Anietie Usen writes that Onofiok Luke’s endorsement of Umo Eno, the PDP governorship candidate, is a big boost
Many pundits saw it coming. Yet when it landed, the impact reverberated with shock waves across the political landscape. Politicians are still weighing the significance and magnitude of this tremor on their Richter scale. But there is no doubt that the endorsement of Pastor Umo Eno, the PDP governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom State, on August 2, 2022, by his former rival, Hon. Onofiok Luke, will have wide ranging and far reaching consequences on who becomes the next governor of Akwa Ibom State.
“I have to honour my people, my fathers, the traditional rulers and the PDP which gave me a platform to serve the people. I will work for the emergence of Pastor Umo Eno as the Governor of Akwa Ibom State come 2023”, Luke vowed in a carefully chosen words, inside the palace and presence of the Number One traditional ruler of Akwa Ibom State, Ntenyin Solomon Etuk, the paramount ruler of Nsit Ubium, Oku Ibom Ibibio and President General of Akwa Ibom Traditional Council.
A calm Eno who was barely able to subdue his joy was present to hear one of the best news he has heard in recent weeks. Luke’s speech was a melody to his ears. He had been working hard quietly and prayerfully for this critical moment. Whenever and wherever he sighted Luke at any public function, he would go for him and both would hug warmly as photographers feast on the scene. At one recent function, Eno and Luke went beyond hugging. Eno was photographed pulling Luke aside for an intense heart-to-heart discussion as Luke listened obviously attentively. Many phone calls, not just from Eno but other key stakeholders, would have buffeted Luke’s telephone lines day and night, for this endorsement.
Now overwhelmed by the fruition of these efforts, Eno’s response in the palace of the Oku Ibom was somber and laced with latent biblical vows. “I will work with you with an open mind. I am your senior in age but God has raised you as my senior brother in politics. I will never take this (endorsement) for granted. Help me reassure your teeming supporters that your people shall be my people”, Eno said to the applause of the overjoyed audience.
To be sure, Luke may be young as Eno said, but as Eno also said, Luke is a senior politician (SP), not just in Akwa Ibom but in Nigeria. A former Number Three Citizen of Akwa Ibom State at the tender age of 37 and now the Chairman of the important Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives at 44, Luke ranks among a few youths that have broken the glass ceiling to excel in Nigerian politics. When he became the Speaker of the House of Assembly, he did so in a way no other young man had ever done in Akwa Ibom. He defied all odds and contested stubbornly against the wishes and candidate of the powerful governor of the State, Godswill Akpabio. He defeated both of them hands down.
That victory consolidated his political stature and raised his profile as the symbol and champion of youths’ participation in politics. Said Godwin Utin, a PDP youth leader from Etinan: “Onofiok has lived the dream of a typical grassroots youth in Akwa Ibom…He grew up like all of us local boys, with low income parents. Then he made it and now embodies the experience of impoverishment we young people have gone through. Yet, he has been able to turn his stumbling blocks into stepping stones. That’s why he is important to us as a role model, without a track record of violence or crime… Anybody else who says he is the youth leader in this State is a pretender to the throne”.
Another PDP youth activist, Ekong Bassey, however added a caveat, and Utin agreed. “It doesn’t mean that we (PDP) would not have won the coming elections without Onofiok, but his endorsement of our principal (Umo Eno) has strengthened our hands more than before and attracted additional respect for Onofiok”. Bassey was saying almost what Ntenyin Etuk, the revered traditional ruler of the Ibibios, who brokered the reconciliation and endorsement had said with a proverbial touch: “It is like a farm. With more hands the weeding is easier….”
When Pastor Eno and his running mate, Senator Mrs Akon Eyakenyi, took a drive to the PDP headquarters for a thank you visit barely 24 hours after the endorsement, he described the endorsement as a ‘historic moment’, while the State Party Chairman, Hon. Aniekan Akpan, described Luke as ‘a wise and faithful party man’ who knows that the structure of PDP in the State is ‘unshakeable and cannot be shaken by the ambition of one man’.
The only regret for some PDP supporters is that the endorsement came a bit late. According to Dr. Udeme Udofia, associate professor of environmental pollution and toxicology: ”If he (Luke) had done this earlier, he would have returned to the National Assembly unopposed as a ranking member and would have given Akwa Ibom State a more effective representation as a top House Officer”. Dr. Udofia’s view speaks to the tremendous respect Luke enjoys across the political space. Said Prince Chris Abasieyo, a PDP stalwart and former commissioner of information in the State: “His (Luke’s) coming on board means the coming on board of Akwa Ibom youths because he is the beacon of hope for youths more than any other politician in this State, not to forget the elders he has charmed with his humility and generosity”.
It could well be the turning point of the Umo Eno campaigns scheduled to begin in earnest several weeks from now. For a predominantly PDP State like Akwa Ibom, it could well mean also that the election of Eno as the next governor of Akwa Ibom State will turn out to take the character of his nomination: stress free.
It had been speculated that Luke would easily pick up the Labour Party ticket and ride the waves of ‘Obi-dient’ sensation to the Hilltop Mansion, the nickname of Akwa Ibom State Government House. Opponents of PDP had even prayed he joined forces with a visiting political party known in Akwa Ibom State as ‘Young Something Something’. But he did the opposite. He chose the path that is more sagacious than his age and became the instant darling of all PDP faithfuls.
At the beginning of the governorship race, there were four aspirants from Nsit Ubium LGA: Senator Effiong Bob, Udom Inoyo, Onofiok Luke and Umo Eno. It is believed in political circles that the four converged in Senator Bob’s residence one Sunday and agreed that anyone of them that eventually emerged as the PDP candidate would be supported by the remaining three. Senator Bob fulfilled his pledge on the spot on January 30, 2022, when stakeholders led by former Governor Victor Attah and incumbent Governor Udom Emmanuel endorsed Pastor Umo Eno. It is believed that Udom Inoyo, the former ExxonMobil Vice Chairman and Pastor Eno are talking. Now Onofiok Luke has kept his side of the bargain, with perfect timing.
For all PDP stakeholders therefore, it’s a win-win scenario. Daniel Etokidem, a journalist and teacher of journalists invented a word for it: “masterstroke”. QED.
Usen is a Journalist and Author