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2023: Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom and challenges of succession

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
15 May 2022   |   4:21 am
Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, and his Ebonyi State counterpart, Mr. David Nweze Umahi, are two of a kind. They are among the few state governors that have pursued development in their states with technocratic focus.

Umahi. Photo/facebook/DavidNwezeUmahi2

Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, and his Ebonyi State counterpart, Mr. David Nweze Umahi, are two of a kind. They are among the few state governors that have pursued development in their states with technocratic focus.

Umahi and Emmanuel do not present as politicians in the Nigerian sense of the word, but they have affected politics and political participation in their two states in a variety of ways.

It could be said that Umahi came into politics by benevolent accident, which saw him serve the Ebonyi State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as caretaker chairman to save the party from imminent implosion. But, ever since that brief as caretaker, he continued to demonstrate uncanny political wizardry to the extent of being state chairman, deputy, and two-term governor.

In the case of Emmanuel, it was not so. Former uncommon governor, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio, with eyes on his succession plan, decided to pull Emmanuel out of Zenith Bank, where he was an Executive Director and made him Secretary to the State Government.

Interestingly, the vacancy, which Emmanuel was brought in to fill was created by the governorship ambition of the former occupant of the office, Umana Umana. Bringing Emmanuel into his administration was seen as Akpabio’s way of investing the former banker with some political experience, especially knowledge of the inner workings of government.

While Governor Emmanuel emerged as governor by the grace of his benefactor, Umahi, on the other hand, decided to take his political destiny in his own hands when his benefactor wanted to maroon his political future. So as Emmanuel had his palm nut cracked by his benefactor, Umahi had to fight his way to the governor’s office.

Both Governor Umahi and Emmanuel are nursing the ambition of succeeding President Muhammadu Buhari. But, while Umahi had informed the leader of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the person of President Buhari, Emmanuel seems to be propelled by some entrenched political forces in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that want a genteel aspirant to serve as a counterforce to the overindulgences of his Rivers State counterpart, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike.

In their two terms as governor, Umahi and Emmanuel have been adjudged as having left bold marks in their states in the areas of infrastructure, cottage industry and economic development. It was against that background that indigenes of their states expressed apprehension over what could become of the developmental thrusts when the two governors leave office on May 29, 2023.

Recently, governors Umahi and Emmanuel took far-reaching decisions concerning their succession plan by anointing their preferred aspirants on their different political platforms for the position of governor. As expected, those decisions elicited mixed reactions in their states.

Ever since they made their positions public, the common refrain among stakeholders of the governors’ parties – APC and PDP – is that their decisions were unilateral, arbitrary and without the involvement of party hierarchy.

Furthermore, party stakeholders accused the two governors of unwittingly repeating the mistakes by their predecessors. For instance, in 2015, when Governor Martin Elechi suddenly decided to breach the zoning arrangement in Ebonyi State, his then deputy, Umahi, rallied around the men and women of conscience in the state to snatch the PDP governorship ticket.

In the case of Emmanuel, his decision to anoint his Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources, Pastor Umo Eno, ran counter to the zoning arrangement in Akwa Ibom State, where a similar short-sightedness by the then Fourth Republic governor of the state, Obong Victor Atta to impose his son-in-law, Udoma Bob Ekarika, ended in disaster.

Controversial Procedure In Ebonyi State
TWO years into his second term, Governor Umahi moved over to the governing All Progressives Congress (APC). The governor’s defection crowned Ebonyi State as an automatic APC state, thereby breaching PDP’s hold on the state since 1999.

In the build-up to the next general election, Governor Umahi declared his intention to contest the presidential ticket of the party. Riding on his closeness to President Buhari right from his days as a PDP governor, Umahi went and conferred with the President on his Presidential ambition.

With the president’s admonition that he should proceed on consultations, the Ebonyi State chief executive decided to clear the cobwebs around his succession plan so as to face his presidential campaigns. And, based on the contentious issue of zoning, which pitched Ebonyi Central Senatorial District and Ebonyi North, the governor first set up an ad-hoc committee to look into the matter.

While the committee was at it, the governor also mandated the two clans at the forefront of the governorship disputation over zoning – Izzi of Ebonyi North and Ezza of Ebonyi Central – to shortlist two governorship aspirants apiece for his consideration within the APC platform.

But, while the process of shortlisting two candidates in Ezza clan went smoothly, in Izzi, it was not so. The procedure ran into a hitch when traditional rulers and government appointees from the clan endorsed the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Francis Nwifuru, instead of the Chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Committee (RMFAC), Mr. Elias Mbam, as the consensus choice.

It was gathered that when the Izzi people learned that their Ezza brothers had amicably selected the 2015 governorship candidate of the party, Senator Julius Ali Ucha, as their consensus choice, they (Izzi political stakeholders in APC) mobilised to throw up Mbam as their consensus choice. But, learning of the plan, supporters of Nwifuru decided to prevail of traditional rulers and Izzi stakeholders in the state government to settle for Nwifuru.

In that state of stalemate, the governor was said to have travelled outside the country. Words had started making the rounds that Ucha would be chosen in light of controversial development in Izzi, where the PDP is said to be planning to pick its standard-bearer in the person of Mr. Fidelis Nwankwo.

However, everything took a dramatic turn in APC when Governor Umahi returned from his overseas trip. Speaking during the interment of the father to the state Commissioner for Trade and Investment, Barrister Chioma Nweze in Okposi in the penultimate Saturday, the governor introduced Nwifuru as the person to not only fly the APC governorship flag, but also succeed him as governor in 2023.

Assuring that the Speaker would consolidate on the programmes of his “Divine Mandate” leadership, Umahi pleaded with his people from Ebonyi South and indeed all citizens to support the candidacy of Nwifuru. The governor said Nwifuru’s choice meets the demands of equity, justice and fairness.

“To Okposi people and people of Ebonyi State, I present to you the choice of the people in the person of the Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Francis Ogbonnaya Nwifuru and I want Ebonyi South people to know that when it was the turn of Ebonyi South, an Abakaliki man was contesting and the Abakaliki people said no, so it is the time to pay them back.”

However, following the governor’s endorsement, some APC stakeholders from Ebonyi North and Central Senatorial Districts, including Mbam and Ucha, have described the action as “outright imposition, unconstitutional and in total violation of democratic principles.”

They described the action as unilateral and arbitrary, saying that attempt to sustain the imposition would lead to electoral defeat of APC in next year’s gubernatorial election.

Although the governor had always promised to retire old political actors in the state, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Francis Nwaze, he explained that his endorsement of Nwifuru was because the Speaker “enjoys the backing of stakeholders and traditional rulers of Ebonyi North and Central senatorial zones.”

The governor stated that the endorsement did not foreclose any aspirant from purchasing form for the governorship contest, adding that democracy will take its normal course.

Akwa Ibom State Prophecy Versus Pragmatism
GOVERNOR Udom Emmanuel has never hidden the fact that he is a born-again Christian of the Pentecostal denomination. His choice of Pastor Eno is said to be a product of prophecy and the governor’s determination to ensure that the governorship of Akwa Ibom State does not get into the hands of cultists again.

Umo Eno

After his contentious second term battle in 2019, which pitched him against his former godfather, some of those who supported the governor expressed the fear that the governor would no longer defer to anybody.

Governor Emmanuel was accused of certain arrogant aloofness and a tendency toward political craftiness. Sources claim that it was because the governor knew that he was taking a very unpopular decision that he left former Governor Victor Attah to release the bombshell during the stakeholders’ meeting.

Attah unveiled the Commissioner for Lands, Eno, as the prospective candidate of the governor on that fateful January 30, at the gathering of stakeholders from across the state, including PDP stalwarts, religious leaders and some captains of industry in Uyo, the state capital.

It was obvious that Emmanuel wanted to emulate his godfather, Akpabio, by single-handedly choosing his successor, not minding that the political dynamics in the state have changed.

Some of those believed to be nursing gubernatorial ambition, included, the then Commissioner for Environment, Akan Okon, James Iniama, Udom Inoyo, Akan Udofia and Senator Bassey Albert. Another aspirant, a member representing Nsit-Ibom/Nsit-Ubium/Etinan Federal Constituency, Onofiok Akpan Luke, was among PDP stakeholders that faulted Governor Emmanuel’s approach, stressing that the governor should have involved stakeholders to ensure the buy-in of the masses. The lawmaker insists on going ahead with his aspiration, despite the fact that he hails from the same Nsit-Ubium as Eno.

The people of Itu/Ibiono Ibom Federal Constituency contend that under a proper zoning and power-sharing arrangement, Governor Emmanuel’s successor should come from their constituency. They claim theirs is the only constituency in Uyo District that has not produced a governor in the State.

Barely one month after Pastor Eno was announced as the governor’s preferred candidate, stakeholders from Itu/Ibiono Ibom Federal Constituency met at the palace of their paramount ruler.

While noting that Uyo Senatorial District has three federal constituencies, namely Etinan, Itu and Uyo; the stakeholders pointed out that the power sharing arrangement actually began in 1992, during which Etinan Federal Constituency produced Obong Akpan Isemin as the first civilian governor.

“In 1999, the rotation continued as Obong Victor Attah from Uyo Federal Constituency in Uyo Senatorial District became governor. Now that the governorship position is coming back to Uyo in 2023, we demand that all political parties in Akwa Ibom State should pick their candidates from Itu/Ibiono Ibom Federal Constituency,” the stakeholders declared.

As the governorship primary draws nearer, it would be seen how far the sentiments of power rotation and the alleged non-consultation with critical stakeholders would impact on PDP’s plan to retain the state.

The President of Akwa Ibom Council of Ministers, Mr. Joseph Nyong had expressed dismay that Governor Emmanuel did not say that he chose Pastor Eno based on his antecedents or what he can do, but based on what God told him.

“In this 21st century? That is the fallacy; it is just reducing God to a politician. I don’t have any problem with the choice of Umo Eno, but the governor’s posturing is unpalatable.

“God is not an author of confusion and therefore, his name should not be used by people to seek validation of an obviously unpopular and unacceptable choice,” he stated noting that imposition of a preferred candidate on the people by a few persons may lead to an unnecessary crisis in Akwa Ibom State.

While the APC has provision for direct primaries, PDP selects its candidates based on delegate election or indirect method. As such, only when the candidates emerge as flag bearers could it be known whether the governors’ preferred candidates meet the approval of the people.