Akwa Ibom 2023: Time for politics of inclusion
The odds had been running even in the race for the Hilltop Mansion in Akwa Ibom State in the 2023 governorship election.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is the most dominant party on the ground, having produced leadership at all levels in the state since 1999. Therefore, it usually holds that the party’s primaries are the real elections before the general elections. Whoever the party picks is seen as the governor-in-waiting, as the elections approach.
In 1999, Obong Victor Attah of the PDP beat the candidate of the All People’s Party (APP) to clinch the coveted crown. His second term was a mere walkover. The party repeated this feat in 2007 when its candidate, Chief Godswill Akpabio defeated John Akpan Udoedehe of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to become the third executive governor of the emerging state. He also trounced his opponents in his second term bid in 2011. The winning ways of the PDP also produced the current governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel whose eight-year tenure winds up in 2023.
For this reason, the framers of the popular statement that “PDP is religion in Akwa Ibom State” have got it right. The party’s umbrella is so grounded that many popular candidates, who decamped from the PDP to other parties could not win elections because their supporters stuck to the PDP. So the PDP has remained the party to beat until now.
However, political dynamics are changing and it has not been rosy for the ruling party in the state. Early in the year, Governor Udom Emmanuel, who doubles as the leader of the party in the Akwa Ibom attended the grand opening of the campaign complex, as well as the skill acquisition facility of Senator Bassey Albert, the present occupant of the Akwa Ibom North-East District in the National Assembly.
Bassey, a hugely popular governorship aspirant with deep pockets beamed with smiles as Nigeria’s Senate President, Alhaji Ahmed Lawan accompanied by Governor Emmanuel cut the tape to commission the massive project.
The electricity generated by that gesture spread across the state. It was not lost on the political pundits and thousands of his supporters that Senator Albert was adequately prepared to mount the commanding heights of Akwa Ibom State next year.
Unbeknownst to him, the governor had other plans. The next day, Governor Emmanuel gathered the posse of the state PDP leadership and some government backers in the Government House and pronounced Pastor Umo Eno as his preferred successor.
This surprise move by the governor has continued to generate great upheaval in the party. Umo Eno, a successful entrepreneur and immediate past commissioner for Lands will run against Senator Albert and his National Assembly counterpart, Barr. Onofiok Luke whose quest for the PDP governorship ticket is surging by the day.
The opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) has been enmeshed by its own politics of control tussle between the former Secretary of the PDP caretaker committee, Senator James Udoedehe and the former governor and immediate past Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio.
However hope is rising by the day with the entrance of credible aspirants into the APC’s 2023 governorship race. Senator Ita Enang, a former Presidential Adviser with matchless legislative experience, Obong Akan Udofia, an industry player and former PDP aspirant and Dr. Chris Ekong, a University Don as top contenders.
However, the dynamics were altered by last week’s governorship declaration of Engr. Larry Esin. It is safe to conclude that no one saw it coming. Esin, a successful development expert has contested for the prime job three times previously.
His aspiration, he said in his declaration speech is anchored on the desire to create relevant solutions to the poverty ravaging the land in the midst of vast resources. The major drivers of his economic plan are ICT development, agriculture and tourism. The office of the Governor in Larry Esin’s perception is blue collared.
He told newsmen at the event that, “the work of the governor is not a white-collar job. You don’t sit and drink choice wine in the office. As governor, I shall move around to see the people in their various communities. That’s how to know what their problems are.” Esin’s declaration has also crystalised the drawbacks of what he described as the “improper zoning formula in place in our state.” Akwa Ibom State is composed of three ethnic major groups namely Ibibio, Annang and Oron.
At the creation of the state, a power-sharing agreement involving the three ethnic nationalities was put in place to promote ethnic inclusion and foster peace but this was abandoned midway into the fourth republic when the governorship seat became a matter for Senatorial Districts consideration.
Esin, an Oron born advocates a return to the original power rotation if the proper zoning is to be done. Beyond this, Esin has a proven development pedigree. He was the Special Assistant on Infrastructure development to the governor in Tinapa Resorts, among other viable projects. He also headed the Cross River Investment Corporation in the United States. With this position, Esin attracted juicy foreign collaborations with his employer. This public service experience should help in the realisation of Esin’s dream for his home state of Akwa Ibom.
There is no gainsaying that Esin is the odds-on- favorite in the governorship race in Akwa Ibom State. He has brought into the race such clarity of vision that has not been seen before, plus an unassailable capacity and experience in service delivery.
His 16-year political trajectory is marked by an unrelenting campaign for a better economy, ethnic/political inclusion and responsive leadership. This comes full circle at a time when a combination of flawed zoning principles and retrogressive political leadership has jeopardised the social progress of the oil-rich state.
Thus, the aspiration of Larry Esin to skipper the ship of Akwa Ibom State represents a unique opportunity for the people to begin the journey towards prosperity in the coming years!
The declaration by the well-credentialed Esin may well be the key that unlocks the kind of society Akwa Ibomites shall be proud to leave behind for their children.