By Abdulwahab Abdulah
Akwa Ibom State is increasingly becoming a theatre of vibrant politics. Indications are rife that by 2015 when contests for political offices gets on full stream, Uyo may be next, after Abuja, where massive attention would turn, given the current scenarios playing out in the state.
In 1999 when democracy first perched in Nigeria, politics in the oil rich state was less crisp. It was never known with a high measure of acrimony and high-wire treachery. The congenial political atmosphere in the state enabled the first governor, Obong Victor Attah, to run two terms with little stress. It was only at the point of disengagement by Attach in 2007 that Akwa Ibom politics began to gather steam.
The process began when Attah rallied to pass the baton of power to his son-in-law, Dr Udoma Bob Ekarika. The incumbent governor, Godswill Obot Akpabio, than an aspirant, rallied his forces to extinguish that possibility. Attah buckled and conceded to a political arrangement which enabled an aspirant from Anang to take over from him. Akpabio’s popularity, based on his infectious human relations and his positive approach to issues appeared to have won for him the race.
In less than two years of rulership in Akwa Ibom, Akpabio has become a phenomenon. Today, an average Akwa Ibom indigene would proudly point towards the governor’s achievements without restraint. Certainly, the finesse Akpabio brought to governance has made the governor’s office at the Hill Top, Uyo to be attractive.
There are indications that more than 50 aspirants would file out in the struggle to take over Akpabio’s seat in 2015. All along, the former Secretary to the Government of Akwa Ibom, Mr Umana Okon Umana ranked as first among the contenders for the governorship seat. Rated as highly cerebral and composed, Umana, who has had very long years of sojourn within government, many believed, was a strong pillar of support for the Akpabio’s administration. He was all the same close with the governor such that his office placed at his disposal opportunities to play extra roles which made him a man to watch. The enormous power he wielded made many in Akwa Ibom to easily conclude that he was the real heir apparent to the governorship seat.
However, his exit from government, penultimate week, offered an insight into something untoward within Akwa Ibom politics. Until Umana came out to denounce reports that he formally declared interest in the 2015 governorship race, the general impression was that he was eased out for using his office to promote his ambition.
There have been reports that Umana was no longer in the reckoning before Akpabio and his think-tank based on mere suspicion that he would not be loyal to the governor if he got power in 2015. His possible refusal to make pacts on the game of power with political godfathers in the state also seemed to fuel the suspicion. Those who held this view said stand point on entering the governorship race with grassroots support rather than with the backing by the godfathers counted against him, hence the reason for the turn of events and the ignoble role reportedly played by armed security officers just to humble him.
However, Umana added to the confusion on the issue of his exit when he denied any rift between him and Akpabio in an advertorial. He went ahead to also denounce reports that he was sacked by the governor. According to him, the reports on his earlier declaration of intent to run in the governorship race of Akwa Ibom were the handiwork of enemies who wanted him out of government at all costs.
Impliedly, the former SSG was telling the world that although he had desperate opponents within government who wanted him out, he was never sacked, but voluntarily resigned. This has led to the thinking that the opposition he was battling with had the aim of eclipsing his rising profile as a way of halting him early from succeeding Akpabio. The advertorial stressed this much when it submitted that, “Mr Umana has utmost respect for the office of the governor. The relationship between him and the governor remains cordial, brotherly and friendly”.
There have been more questions and few answers on the exit of Umana from government. For instance, why would his undeclared governorship ambition cause a stir within the government and then lead to his exit? Who were his main opponents within the cabinet and why were they afraid of him. Then the big question: If Umana with all the influences he commanded in the government he served for six years could not express an ambition to be governor, who then would be able to break the ice?
The exit of Umana from government thus brings to the fore the experiences had by some cabinet members who were believed to have nursed governorship ambitions while serving, and who by dint of that lost their jobs. It brings to the mind also the story of how top rated politicians who looked good to take Akwa Ibom politics to a height, just fizzled out. These include Chief Ufot Ekaete, former SGF and Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Ministry; Senator John Akpanudoedehe, former Minister of State for FCT; Senator Effiong Bob; Engr. Patrick Ekpotu; Obong Nsima Ekere; Senator Eme Ekaete; Ambassador Sam Edem, former Chairman of NDDC; and Senator Aloysious Etuk.
Notwithstanding, the exit of Umana from government has seemingly turned the heat on the politics in the sate. Aspiring governors who perceived him as a stumbling block could now begin to express themselves, although with a high measure of caution. This is because the hammer may drop on the head of anyone who failed to learn from the experiences of others.
If the governorship race in Akwa Ibom promises to entail some serious battles by 2015, the most prominent aspirants who seem to have strong reflexes in the struggle, and who may turn things around, all things being equal, include Mr Udom Emmanuel, the new SSG; Mr Adasi Obolom, Commissioner for Local Governments; Mr Bassey Albert Akpan, Commissioner for Finance; Mr. Efiong Abia, Commissioner for Rural Development; and Mr Ekpeyong Ntekim, Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, among others.