The immediate past Secretary to the State Government in Akwa Ibom State, Umana Umana wielded unprecedented powers for the six years he held that office. His sway fed speculations of a secret agreement on transfer of power between him and Governor Godswill Akpabio. Last week the Umana myth unfolded in uncommon umbrage.
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor & Tony Nyong
It was an uncommon partnership that ended in a spectacularly unusual manner. As Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State Government, Mr. Umana Umana was one of the major figures that shaped what has been dubbed by devotees of Governor Godswill Akpabio as the uncommon transformation of the state.
The quiet speaking Umana wielded an unprecedented influence in the government and politics of the state so that when his end came last week, it left many bemused.
For almost one week, Umana was at the centre of deep intrigues over his removal cum resignation from the office from where he called the shots in Akwa Ibom.
The drama ended in yet an uncommon way last Wednesday, when Umana sat among the fazed spectators that watched, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, until then an executive director of Zenith Bank, take the oath of office as the new SSG.
Meanwhile, there has been no record of Umana’s resignation or dismissal as SSG at press time.
Not since 2007 when Akpabio grabbed the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP gubernatorial ticket against the vicious opposition of the then governor, Obong Victor Attah had Akwa Ibom politics been gripped in the sort of intrigues that enveloped the state for most of last week.
Remarkably, it was in the midst of the political scheming in 2007 that the partnership between Akpabio and Umana was formed.
Both men were in the Attah cabinet and held two of the most powerful positions at the time of the 2007 gubernatorial nomination exercise. Umana was commissioner for finance, while Akpabio held the local government affairs portfolio.
The positions were significant as they helped the duo to wax mutually beneficial synergy that laced financial prowess with political dexterity to outfox Attah.
Attah had in a seemingly quixotic gesture, guided the PDP in the state to enthrone the principle of zoning of the governorship and determined that the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial zone where Akpabio comes from should produce the governor after him.
But Akpabio was not his desired successor. Attah was rather focused on his son-in-law and cabinet member, Bob Ekarika as his successor.
Attah’s past political wrongdoings in the eyes of then President Olusegun Obasanjo, however, provided an opening that Akpabio exploited to check Attah, ensuring that Attah was compelled to accept Akpabio’s candidacy on the ticket of the PDP. Attah was, nevertheless, compensated with the gift of producing Akpabio’s deputy for which he chose the loyal commissioner for information, Mr. Patrick Ekpotu.
In that grudge war with Attah, Umana was said to have provided the financial leverage that sustained the battle, tapping both his personal funds and the connections gotten from his position as commissioner for finance.
It was in the thick of that battle that the rummoured understanding that Akpabio would pass over the baton to Umana was said to have been made.
It was no surprise that after Akpabio came to power Umana was named Secretary to the State Government, SSG and became an institution in government for the six years he lasted. The fear of Umana was said to be the beginning of wisdom and many who were seen as potential contenders in the 2015 gubernatorial project were quietly eased out from the political scene.
Ekpotu was the first to be eased out. Despite his loyalty to Akpabio, he was not returned in the second term as deputy governor. In his place, Nsima Ekere who was said to be Akpabio’s original choice for a deputy before the détente with Attah, was brought on board as gubernatorial running mate in the 2011 election.
Senator Effiong Bob, one of the most influential senators and political figures from Uyo Senatorial District, the same district as Umana’s, was also edged out from returning to the Senate in 2011 despite what was claimed as the support of the governor.
The perception that Bob was deliberately stopped arose from the suspicion that allowing Bob to remain in the Senate till 2015 would have ensnared the Umana 2015 project, given the popularity of the senator at home and influence in Abuja.
After Ekpotu, Ekere who stepped in lasted barely17 months and resigned following conspiracy theories that he had fast-tracked his own gubernatorial ambitions to a level that he could even replace Akpabio before 2015.
Many, especially from Ekere’s Eket senatorial district pointed suspicious fingers at Umana as the architect of the downfall of Ekere who they had looked up to, to become the first governor of the state from the zone.
In choosing Ekere’s replacement, Akpabio fetched the elderly retired female civil servant and former commissioner, Mrs. Valerie Ebe. A widow, Mrs. Ebe was seen as a perfect fit who would satisfy the desire of putting an Eket person as deputy governor, albeit someone who would not jeopardise Project Umana. If Team Umana thought it was on rollercoaster with Ekere’s exit, it probably did not consider the resilience of the agitation of political stakeholders from Eket.
Sources said the agitation against Umana by the Eket political leaders went as far as the presidential villa. Akpabio it was learnt was as such asked to quietly call his SSG to order.
The kite to blow away the Umana phenomenon was the proposal for him to take over the juicy position of managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, a position that is about to become vacant. Being that it is the turn of Akwa Ibom to produce the nominee, Akpabio reportedly offered Umana the position, but Umana was said to have out rightly rejected it. But following persisting persuasions from Akpabio, the former SSG allegedly promised to consider the offer, but his political associates reportedly told him to reject the offer leading to a stand off.
There were insinuations that the stand-off created tension even within Akpabio’s home with some associates of the first lady, Mrs. Ekaette Akpabio alleging that Mr. Umana was out to damage the family’s cordial relations with the first family in Abuja.
It was against the background of these speculations that rumour mongers in Uyo, the state capital, alleged that Mrs. Akpabio personally led the security operatives that closed down the SSG’s office in the early hours of Monday, July 29. The truth of Mrs. Akpabio’s involvement, however, could not be confirmed.
The following day, Governor Akpabio who was outside the state arrived Uyo and proceeded straight to Umana’s residence and for more than one hour the two men sat down for a heart to heart talk.
Later that night the governor met with stakeholders from Eket Senatorial district and introduced them to Udom Emmanuel from Onna local government area within Eket Senatorial District as the new SSG.
Drive and capacity
Akpabio was said to have informed the caucus that Udom who has spent all his life in the corporate world had the drive and capacity to drive the programme of his administration especially the Ibaka Deep Sea port project.
The following day with Umana seated, Udom was sworn in as the new SSG. But for Team Umana, the uncommon development is only a little setback as it was gathered that the gubernatorial project is to remain on course. But there is no doubt that the momentum that put a shadow on other aspirants has been emptied of its power. Albeit for now.