Akpabio’s fresh start to political ascendancy
When the 9th National Assembly convenes early next month, former Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, would be watching the proceedings from the gallery or his television set. Akpabio, a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, is one of the hitherto political heavyweights that were rejected by his constituents instead of receiving their embrace in the 2019 elections.
The defeat was Akpabio’s first electoral loss since he ventured into politics. He had had it amply rosy since 2002 when, then governor of the state, Obong Victor Atta, appointed him as Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources. He joined Atta’s cabinet as a political neophyte. Before the appointment, he was working in the private sector as the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of EMIS Telecoms Limited, a wireless telecommunications company in Lagos. But between 2002 and 2006, he served as commissioner in three key ministries in the state — Petroleum and Natural Resources, Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, and Lands and Housing. In 2007, he joined the race for the governorship in the state and trounced 57 other aspirants to emerge PDP candidate. He won the general poll and went ahead to win re-election in 2011.
Within the eight-year period he governed the state, Akpabio embarked on numerous life-changing projects that endeared him to the people of the state and also earned him various awards and recognitions both locally and internationally. The ovation that accompanied the successes he achieved soon robed him with the toga of political collosus in the state. So, when it was time for him to quit as governor, he didn’t find it difficult to impose a successor on the people in the person of the incumbent Governor Udom Emmanuel while he himself headed for the Senate.
At the Senate, his star still shone brightly as he cliched the position of Minority Leader, which by Senate rule, is reserved for a ranking opposition senator; and he was not one. As his political profile was rising, so was his support base in the state and at the national level. He was one of the power brokers in PDP and commanded a lot of respect within the party. But despite this, Akpabio chose to dump the party for All Progressives Congress (APC) in the builp up to this year’s general election. He was officially welcomed into APC on August 9, 2018, at Ikot Ekpene township stadium.
His defection dominated political discourse for weeks because it was least expected. Even Akpabio branded himself “an uncommon defector”. But in toeing the path, he was well aware that his state has been governed by PDP since 1999 and had well entrenched structures, with 329 councillors, 31 local government chairmen, 21 House of Assembly members, nine out of the 13 members in both chambers in the National Assembly and over 500 appointees across the state. So, although some of his loyalists went with him to APC, the body and soul of PDP in the state was still in tact. A large majority of PDP members did not join him on his strange voyage in midlife, but he felt he could still weather the storm alone. Akpabio was also aware that in spite of the role he played in the emergence of Emmanuel as governor, it would be difficult to snatch power from him because of incumbency factor which he well understands its potency in Nigeria’s political system. But he never gave a hoot. Like the doomed dog that would not hear the whistle of the hunter, Akpabio brushed off every warning from his kinsmen to retrace his steps. Instead, he went about boasting that he could win election on the platform of any political party in Akwa Ibom State otherwise unleash hell on the state with his Warsaw, Poland, saw war dark metaphor.
His political star had remained undimmed for 20 years. He felt no force in and out of Akwa Ibom was strong enough to alter the equation and started talking with divine certainty. While at a funeral ceremony in Aguobu-Owa, Ezeagu Local Government area of Enugu State on August 21, he declared that APC’s takeover of Akwa Ibom in 2019 would be as total as the 1940 invasion of Poland by the German dictator, Adolf Hitler.
Hear him: “Recently, I had an occasion in Akwa Ibom State and this is what happened: I went just to make a floor declaration; others do it in the social media; others just sit in their offices; some do it by text messages that they have changed platform, what we call party. But in my own, I just decided to do it in an uncommon way because they call me uncommon transformer. It was watched in 59 countries and somebody asked what happened there, and I said just how it happened in Poland.
“When they asked Hitler’s minister of information how was the war in Poland? He said Warsaw saw war and war saw Warsaw. I will say that in the Ikot-Ekpene arena, when I stepped out, this is my first function after that, Warsaw saw war and war saw Warsaw. We can’t talk politics in the church but in 2019 Warsaw shall see war and war shall see Warsaw. The return will be victory.”
At another occasion, he further declared, “With my exit, this is the end of PDP in Niger Delta.” He was also quoted to have said at another forum that he would capture the entire South-South for APC in three hours.
In making these assertions, Akpabio flagrantly disregarded the power of the people, and they took note of that. He sounded as if he had both the yam and the knife and could cut to whatever extent he desired and also give whoever he wants. He also didn’t even take cognisance of efforts by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make elections look like real elections. Perhaps, he believed so much in what is called “federal might” in Nigerian politics. But those who felt insulted by his unguarded, immature utterances waited patiently to settle scores.
And it happened. The people simply stuck with PDP and the lawyer-turned-politician lost in eight of the 10 local government areas of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, garnering 83,158 votes to 118,215 votes scored by the candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Chris Ekpenyong, who was declared winner. Overall, PDP cleared all the 13 NASS seats in Akwa Ibom, won 20 of the 21 House of Assembly seats in the state and retained the governorship of the state. Akpabio’s hopes that his defection would bolster the fortunes of APC in the South-South region were also dashed as five of the six states in the zone are still under the firm control of PDP, which was the status quo before the election.
As they say, failure is like an orphan. Soon enough, the Akpabio loyalists have started thinning down. Some of the defeated APC candidates in Akwa Ibom have abandoned him and returned to PDP. But the former governor is still talking big and sounding as if his comprehensive defeat at the polls amounts to nothing.
His words: “I do not have any regret joining APC, not a single regret. If I was to take a decision today, I will still go to APC. People don’t understand that life is full of ups and downs. Life is not a straight line. If it is a straight line, it means you are dead. I can’t go back to PDP. Why are you people listening to rumour? Why will I go back to PDP when I am already getting entrenched in APC? I am excited that the president won the election all over the country.”
And some people have asked: Why wouldn’t he be excited when his political future would have been totally ruined if Buhari had lost? With the APC still in control at the centre, the president and the party could decide to compensate him with what will keep him afloat politically in the meantime. But it won’t just fall on his laps; he has to seriously work for it. So, all hope is not lost for him and he quite understands that. But his defeat at the poll marks the end of a phase in his political career.