BY ANIEKAN UMANAH
THE ovation was loud, the applause thunderous. The jubilant crowd of Akwa Ibom people trooped out in their thousands to celebrate the victory won by the people. This was the mood at the Hilltop Mansion, seat of government in Akwa Ibom on April 27, when the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC announced the result of the gubernatorial election for Akwa Ibom State.
Chief Godswill Akpabio was re_elected for another term in office as governor of Akwa Ibom State on April 26. He won with a wide margin. But what gave Akpabio this fat victory? He performed excellently well in his first term. If that is in chapter one, a flip through to two will reveal the face of Ekaete Unoma, his charming wife, who untiringly mopped all the support from women in Akwa Ibom for her husband through mass mobilisation, empowerment and result-oriented campaigns.
She played the grass rooter. And this had already launched her into the women’s hearts. Mrs. Akpabio tapped from her closeness to the women of Akwa Ibom across all status and localities. Mrs Akpabio’s high networking capacity made this possible. This, spiced with good political messages, connected her more with the real electorate in the state because most of these women also had considerable influence on their husbands and children. Her success at the hustings was phenomenal.
To set her campaign ball rolling, Mrs. Akpabio gathered women from different groups and backgrounds at the House of Assembly grounds in Uyo and sermonised the gospel of her husband’s second term bid to them.
She said: “These are days of great change and development for women. It means that women now have the big voice and can determine the outcome in matters of election and politics. I am very happy that the women of Akwa Ibom state have given this voice to support my husband to go for second term. The voice of women of Akwa Ibom state on the matter of the re_election of Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio as governor in 2011 is the voice of destiny and is borne out of conviction.”
The women gathered under the sub-theme, “Pointing Right Direction,” where solidarity messages came from different women groups in the state represented by their leaders including those from the Peoples Democratic Party, women leader, Mrs. Elizabeth Essien; Chairman, National Association Of Women Journalists, Akwa Ibom State chapter, Mrs Margaret Edem; Women lawmakers led by Dr. Ekaette Ebong Okon; Association of Female Farmers of Nigeria; National Council of Women Societies, Wives of Council Chairmen, Market Women Association, Mbong Iban etc.
Highpoint of the gathering was issuing of a declarative statements by women groups in the state who said Akwa Ibom women’s support for the governor was irrevocable in view of the lofty programmes, projects and policies of the first term. They recalled with gladness, how Governor Akpabio made it possible for the state to float a free and compulsory education, have an international airport, e-library, built the Tropicana entertainment centre, brand new governor’s lodge, cottage hospitals, more than 205 brand new roads, flyovers and completed over 3000 projects across the 31 local government areas among others.
The governor’s wife thanked the women for their support for Akpabio, and solicited that they continue to keep faith with his administration as the second term will bring even more goodies to the state especially, the planned total industrialization of the state which she believed would generate employment for the youths of the state. “So, I agree with you women that our governor means well and we will be better off with him as the governor for another term beginning in May, 2011. Indeed, he is God’s will for Akwa Ibom state,” Mrs Akpabio declared.
Her campaign did not end in Uyo; it only started there. These Uyo converts then accompanied her train to criss-cross the length and breadth of the state, reaching the remotest parts of Akwa Ibom to preach the gospel of good governance, unity and progress epitomized by Governor Akpabio. Like good disciples, they succeeded. But the governor’s acceptability by even the rural women almost painted a picture of trying to convert the already converted. Brand Akpabio had already sold itself. But the campaigner_in_chief showed no complacency. The message went on.
First, when it was time to create awareness for the voters’ registration exercise; Mrs Akpabio took that of women personal, traversing Akwa Ibom like never before to speak to the women in a language they understand. And the active involvement of women of Akwa Ibom State in the voters’ registration exercise was a reward to her hard work and commitment to a worthy course.
Through her vigorous campaigns, she sensitized and mobilized them for the exercise.
Little wonder Akwa Ibom recorded close to 1.7 million voters, with women as the majority.
Preceding the registration, the governor’s wife had gone round the 31 local government areas of the state to talk to the women about the benefits of being registered as voters and the value of the voters’ registration card as a tool in the participation of women in political development.
“If you do not register, you cannot vote, and if you do not vote, you would not have taken part in deciding who would govern you. Whether you are a market woman or farmer, find time to go and register. Every vote will count. Mark my words, your votes as women of Akwa Ibom must count. Register to vote,” was the common refrain by Mrs Akpabio to women as they gathered in their numbers at the various locations where the sensitization rallies held.
Her campaign was so very well received by the women who obviously benefited from her interaction with them, and roundly commended by people who saw her energetic campaign to create voter awareness as the first of such endeavour by the wife of any governor in Akwa Ibom state since its creation.
The voters’ registration sensitization campaign was one aspect of her three-pronged programme during her tour to the local government areas. The tour of Mrs Akpabio for the stated reason had indeed brought her in close contact with the women in the rural area, and has accentuated her as a real inspirer and motivator of Akwa Ibom women.
The Akwa Ibom first lady was also finding time to attend to the commissioning of some of the houses she had built for widows across the 31 local government areas in the state. The day she defied bad roads and crossed the one_by_one bridge at Obotme in Ini local government area to take the message to the other side was when it dawned on the people that Mrs Akpabio needed results. She was in Ini to commission the house she built for a widow in that area. This commissioning exercise, like in other areas, also served as good opportunity to win the hearts of the women and people there. She thus spiced her speeches with appropriate political remarks to justify the return of Akpabio. And the man returned.
It was an act of appreciation for her complementary role to the uncommon transformer, Chief Godswill Akpabio that women in Akwa Ibom supported, endorsed and voted the governor for continuity in office till 2015.
Chronicling the various achievements of the Akpabio administration, the women reasoned that if they could support the governor in 2007 when he had not had the opportunity of lavishing the state with arresting developmental projects as being witnessed presently, was it now that their support would be shaken? They queried. They also recalled the benefits of the free medical care to children, pregnant women and the elderly, the free education programme that has given hope of a brighter future to the children, agricultural development and youth empowerment as other flagship achievements of Governor Akpabio which underscores their irrevocable stance in supporting the governor.
For instance, Madam Nkoyo Bassey, a community mobilizer told curious reporters at one of the campaign rallies in Nsit Atai, “Nothing imaginable and unimaginable can change our position on supporting Akpabio. We would point and show the young ones and even our husbands the way. We, the women of Akwa Ibom declare our unalloyed, unwavering and unflinching total support for His Excellency, Governor Godswill Akpabio.”
There, Mrs Akpabio re-emphasized that women are a big voice in matters of elections and politics, and also described them as the salt of politics. She said: “I am highly encouraged by the single show of support by the women of Akwa Ibom to my husband, His Excellency, the governor.”
As the swearing in day of Governor Akpabio for his second term draws closer, it remains a fact that if a book were to be written on the governor’s return to government house, his wife, Ekaete Unoma deserves a special chapter for her role in her husband’s success story.
The colour she also brought to the governorship campaign rallies will always linger. During the rigorous 30 day campaign rallies of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, led by Governor Godswill Akpabio across the 31 local government areas, it was a common sight that Mrs Akpabio was always behind her darling husband, fanning him with encouragement and vigour. Mrs Akpabio also created a style that other women followed at the rallies in the way she modeled her campaign hats. This has outlived campaigns to become something to remember. Her meticulous campaign and total commitment to the welfare of Akwa Ibom women made them released the one- track album with the hit, “Iban eyom Akpabio” and others like “Utu ke utoto, nnyom Akpabio.”
In the end, it was not only the women that needed Akpabio, their husbands, their children and friends joined. Unoma made Akpabio to be the song on every Akwa Ibom lip. Akpabio’s no-good second win in the April 26 election is inextricably linked to this. As in the words of Grouchu Marx, behind every successful man, they say, there is a woman.
Indeed, Ekaette Unoma Akpabio was the campaigner-in-chief for Governor Akpabio. Little wonder the scripture in Proverbs 12, verse 4 says a virtuous woman is a crown to her husband.
*Mr. Umanah writes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State