Akpabio’s defection boosting Emmanuel’s home support
Incumbent leverages on achievements
What will play out in next year’s gubernatorial election in Akwa Ibom State is nothing short of a possible ‘battle of ego and a must win’ between Governor Udom Emmanuel and his predecessor and benefactor, Senator Godswill Akpabio.
While the incumbent is seeking re-election for a second term in office, the senator, who represents Akwa Ibom Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district, is likely to battle for another term in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly.
Although, Akpabio will not be on the ballot for gubernatorial poll, his participation will most likely bolster the chances of whoever picks the ticket of the major opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), to which he defected recently.
Emmanuel is staying back in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the platform on which he won his first term mandate. PDP is also hoping to retain control of the oil-rich state, where it had established dominance since 1999. The election will be a career-saving or stalling contest for Akpabio, just as APC will be rallying around him (Akpabio) and his political structure to displace PDP as the ruling party in the state.
However, contrary to expectations Akpabio’s defection to APC has been generating massive home support for the incumbent governor. Since he became governor in 2015 the relationship between Emmanuel and his erstwhile boss, has been icy and sour, despite their persistent denial of any such rift. That pretence gave way as soon as Akpabio formally dumped PDP for APC at a well-attended ceremony at Ikot Ekpene Township Stadium recently.
Again, although the ceremony attracted big names like President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha; national leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole and a huge crowd of the party faithful, it did not change the general perception in the state that the senator was merely trying to mortgage Akwa Ibom for a selfish purpose.
Next year’s election will therefore, determine the real political clout and future of Akpabio and his successor. Observers claim that if Akpabio fails to stop the governor’s second term bid and deliver Akwa Ibom to his new party, he would have diminished his political relevance and credibility in the state.
They cited the instance of the incumbent Minister of Transportation and immediate past governor of Rivers State, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, saying he has been a shadow of himself ever since he left PDP to APC in 2014.
Beyond that, Akpabio might also lose the chance of a return to the senate, should Emmanuel leverage on the bourgeoning home support for his ascendancy after his former boss jumped ship.
Will the governor use his political machinery and the wide power of incumbency to shoot down the senator’s reelection? The likelihood of such a possibility is becoming apparent.
The sentiment out there is that the federal constituency from where the former governor hails was not the zone expected to produce the senatorial ticket in 2015, but the consensus was to reward him with the ticket for resisting APC’s scheme to oust the ruling party in the last gubernatorial poll.
Now, Akpabio’s defection to APC is stoking alignments and realignments even in his senatorial zone, where Emmanuel and the PDP are building political synergy with various women and religious groups in search of a fitting replacement.
It was gathered that Abak Federal Constituency is in strong contention, because the town is yet to produce a senator. Sources said out of the 360 federal constituencies in the country, Abak is about the only zone that is yet to produce a senator.
At present, many in the state believe that rather than the ruling PDP falling for the APC in 2019, it is the latter that would burn its fingers, once it denies people like Chief Iniebehe Okori, who has been at the fore front of the agitation for the Senate ticket. This, they argue, could breed so much bad blood.
There is also the perception that with what Akpabio has done to the state, in terms of projects that he failed to complete after monies were appropriated and paid out, the average Akwa Ibomite has become incensed at the former governor for his show of ingratitude.
Sources disclosed that most of the senator’s aides, including some members of his family are really unhappy with his decision to dump the party; as such they refused to join him in APC, thus reinforcing the fact that the fight to keep the state in PDP’s care is without ethnic colouration, but for the Akwa Ibom Project.
Power of incumbency versus federal might
There is also the growing likelihood that the famed power of incumbency and federal might could clash during the election. The governor might deploy the incumbency factor to mobilise support across the state and resources, while the senator and his party’s standard bearer may try to enjoy the backup of federal might, similar to what it was said to have done to Governor Ayo Fayose and the PDP candidate, Prof Kolapo Olusola Eleka, during the July 14 Ekiti State gubernatorial poll.
Some stakeholders in the state are already expressing concern and also vowed to stand firm against any undue external interest in the election, particularly in a situation where the likes of Tinubu, Oshiomhole and some northern powers are set to use the senator’s political structure as a means to extending their political tentacles to the oil-rich Niger Delta region through Akwa Ibom.
Another sentiment against Akpabio is the speculation that he has probably entered into an agreement with some leaders of the APC to manipulate the resources of the state, particularly oil, if they are able to win the election.
Intervention of religious leaders and power of prayers
The Christian communities in the state are really not taking the development lightly on the perception that Akpabio has allegedly set out to mortgage the destiny of the state because of his personal ambition and ordeal.
Subsequent to the Ikot Ekpene ceremony where Akpabio formally defected to APC, the Christian leaders held a meeting after which they issued a communiqué directing all the faithful in the state to support Emmanuel.
The communiqué signed by Prelate Emeritus, Methodist Church Nigeria, Dr. Sunday Mbang and Chairman, Akwa Ibom chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Dr. Ndueso Ekwere, said the spiritual fathers of faith have agreed to support the governor for a second term.
The eight point communiqué reads: “That the Christian fathers and heads of Churches in the state strongly resolved to stand on the March 15 2018 endorsement of Governor Emmanuel for second term and that in accordance with subsisting zoning arrangement, which favoured former governors Obong Attah from Uyo senatorial district, Akpabio from Ikot Ekpene to serve two terms, the Church leaders have stated their position that the incumbent governor deserves to serve for eight years for the sake of justice, equity and fairness.”
They also resolved that the Church must not adopt the sit and watch approach to the political situation in the state, but must be involved at all levels to engender good and godly governance. They also stressed that the Church will not be misled by the singular decision of an individual (Akpabio) to sell the birthright of their people, while urging all Christians in the state to rise up in support of the reelection bid of Emmanuel in 2019, who himself is a practising Christian, whose emergence as governor in 2015 has brought peace, transparency, accountability and even distribution of development projects across the state.
The leaders also affirmed that Christians in the state have ‘covenanted’ themselves to ensure the return of the incumbent governor in 2019 to complete his second term just like his two predecessors.
The communiqué also stressed that no Christian should in anyway collect any financial or material inducement from any politician to vote contrary to the position of the Church, adding that all heads of churches have resolved to mobilise their members tom pray, register for PVC and vote enmasse for Udom in the next election.
With this position clearly stated, the incumbent governor seems to have an edge over his political enemies in Christian-dominated Akwa Ibom State ahead of the next general election.
On a final note, the achievements of the incumbent governor since he assumed office in 2015 would also play out in the coming election.
An average citizen of Akwa Ibom is already comparing what Akpabio did in eight years with the achievements of Emmanuel in four years.
The incumbent believes his works would speak for him more than any other factor before the electorate in the next election.
For instance, the governor’s five-point agenda on job creation, poverty alleviation, wealth creation, economic and political inclusion, infrastructural consolidation and expansion have set Akwa Ibom on a sailing path.
The projects achieved under the leadership of the incumbent governor include major roads construction and dualization like the fly-over at Ikot Oku Ikono junction; upgrade of infrastructure, urban remodeling and renewal projects as well as commercial agricultural schemes.
They also include free and compulsory education policy, free healthcare service for pregnant women, children (0 -5 years old) and the aged as well as the numerous welfare packages, including the less privileged, people living with disabilities and victims of natural disasters.
Intervention on gully erosion ravaging Calabar – Itu Road at Enen Atai, Itu Local Government Area by Direct Labour Work. Emergency intervention on gully erosion ravaging the School of Nursing, Anua by direct labour, construction of 3.5km Ikot Udom Road with a 15m span bridge in Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area, construction of 5km Ikot Usop – Ikot Edeghe – Ikot Ekpuk road with 30m span bridge in Mkpat Enin Local Government Area; and construction of a 5km Mkpok-Okat Road in Onna Local Government Area and others.
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