By Harris-Okon Emmanuel
UYO—These are very interesting times and the nation political scene has become a huge theatre of sorts. The season of defection which started from the National Assembly, birthed in Akwa Ibom State on August 8, as the much expected defection of Senator Godswill Akpabio to the All Progressives Congress (APC) came to pass after days heightened tension.
It is commonly perceived that the immediate past senate minority leader, representing Akwa Ibom North East in the Red Chamber was arms twisted by the Buhari government to leave PDP by using EFCC to blackmail him..
To say that the defection of Akpabio to APC has set tongues wagging, upped the political ante in the state and prepared the stage for the epic battle between him and his political godson, Governor Udom Emmanuel is merely restating the obvious.
For the record, Akpabio single-handedly installed Emmanuel, a political greyhound at that time, as the governor against all the odds stacked against him by the hawks within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The move instantly triggered the wave of defection in 2014 to the APC by the likes of Otuekong Don Etiebet, Umana Okon Umana, Nsima Ekere, Ita Enang, Ita Awak, among other political heavy bigwigs in the state.
But the symbiotic relationship did not last for too long. The signs that all was not well between the duo appeared in December, 2017, when the former governor accused his successor of abandoning the projects he initiated while in office as governor and the failure of the governor to keep to his own part of the deal they struck prior to his ascension to the throne, as well as demystification and stripping of his control and power by the governor and his men.
The former governor is said to have also demanded that his wife, Unoma be made to run on a joint ticket with the Governor in 2019, a proposal which Emmanuel strongly vetoed.
Akpabio is also alleged to have demanded for the sack of powerful commissioners in the cabinet such as Ephraim Inyang, Akan Okon and Udo Ekpenyong for insulting him, but the governor reportedly stood his grounds and refused to sack the first two Commissioners seen as his strong and close allies, but the Ekpenyong, was sacrificed over the alleged dissing of Akpabio.
At every political gathering, the self-styled ‘uncommon transformer’ had always taunted the APC as a party that was out of sync with modern reality, but on Wednesday at Ikot Ekpene, Akpabio threw those abrasive words to the wind and sang a symphony for APC, declaring that he was going on national assignment to join hand with President Muhammadu Buhari to re-position the country on the path of peace and sustainable development, describing himself as a nationalist who must take the state and Niger Delta to the center.
While many loyalists of the PDP have carpeted him over taking a ‘’dangerous gambit” by joining the broom party, others described him as egocentric on suicidal mission.
Pundits said the former governor might have seen the hand writing on the wall that he would be reduced to a political Lilliputian should PDP loses the election or sidelined by Emmanuel if PDP wins, and possibly make to face trials over alleged misappropriation of funds while serving as the governor of the state.
But Akpabio was quick to announce during the reception rally that the anti- graft agency, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had given him a clean bill of health as heap of petitions brought against him were found to be trumped up and went ahead to state the real reasons why he was leaving the party that brought him to political limelight and fortunes.
His words: “People are saying why the APC? You need to know that I am a nationalist. My colleagues here today who are 35 in number have shown that I am a nationalist. Why APC? In troubled times like this, when a country is at war, all hands must be on deck to salvage the situation.
“This is a difficult period for Nigeria when insurgents are attacking us from Borno to Plateau, through Taraba Adamawa, Benue and down to Akwa Ibom. May the souls of those who have died rest in perfect peace. In a period of insurgency I will like to join hands to bring food to the table of Nigerians.
“I will like to help to bring peace to Benue State; I will like to help to stop the killings in our dear nation; I will like to help to ensure full employment for our children; I will like to bring about uncommon transformation to Nigeria; I will not like to be a conspirator who will like to topple government.”
The former Senate Minority Leader equally declared the end of PDP in Akwa Ibom and Niger Delta region, prompting the faithful of the party to describe as playing God.
He said: “The South South cannot stand on its own. Akwa Ibom as the largest producer of oil cannot stand on its own. We need to be carried along by the center. I met Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and after that I flew to meet the leader of Nigeria, the man who is ruling Nigeria today, President Muhammadu Buhari, a man of integrity. Some people saw the picture and called it an old picture.
“I want to confirm to you that what I have done today is to take the South South to the centre. For those who say I am a traitor, I will never be a traitor. Those who are ganging up to stop the government of the day, we won’t see election if we follow them. There will be no February.
Akwa Ibom state government is unfazed by the sudden turn of event as most of Akpabio associates have vowed not to follow him to APC, saying that a huge burden has been taken off the back of the governor even as individuals and groups including Akpabio’s kinsmen have pledged their unalloyed supports and loyalties to the governors.
A PDP stalwart who spoke on condition of anonymity it was hard to trust Akpabio, adding ‘’truth is he wants to remain relevant in the state”, which explains why ‘’he did not consult widely before taken the decision, and some of his followers are not following positively. As a leader, you need to watch your back to know whether your followers are following you”.
Governor Emmanuel during a solidarity visit by the state lawmakers declared that his government remains focused and would not be distracted.
The governor enthused: ‘’we were all elected on the platform of the PDP, we are known to be very loyal people, the Niger Delta people are very loyal and highly principled people, we don’t just move or allowed to be tossed about like that.
“I want the world to know that we are at peace with ourselves, all is well with us as far as this union is concerned and will leave the rest unto God’s hand and see what God will do.
“This is God’s own state, and we reinstate and reaffirm our faith in God and in him alone but as humans, I think we have done everything, according to the scriptures to stand and we believe we will stand firm. Let the whole world know we are PDP and PDP we shall be”.
Within the APC, there is murmuring that the party would not remain the same as Akpabio alleged ‘’impunity and overbearing influences”, would definitely upturn the apple cart and do the party in.
APC stalwarts in the state are speaking in hush tones. In Oro, the third largest ethnic group in the state, faithful of APC have vowed to abandon the party for him, as he denied the area the opportunity to produce the governor in 2015 despite the ‘’tripod political arrangement”.
The people who spoke under the aegis Oro Mandate Group said APC as a party must be sensitive and responsive to genuine grievances from ethnic groups if it must survive and make any meaningful impact come 2019 in the State.
The group said it hopes that the APC game plan as regards 2019 is not a continued
conspiracy against Oro by some forces and cabal to once again short-change the Oro nation and make us remain in perpetual servitude and political slavery.
Noting that Oro has borne the brunt of devastation and deprivation caused by oil exploitation and exploration in the last 50 years, it said it had hoped that in 2016 that the APC will appoint a qualified and suitable Oron citizen to the exalted office of the Managing Director of NDDC after the exit of Barr Dan Abia, but this was again frustrated by enemies of Oro nation.
Continuing, the group said: ‘’for 50 years, it would seem this country has spared no expense to set Oro up in poverty and underdevelopment. Why this is so bears the trappings of a splendid mystery. Regrettably, what looked like a ritualization of Oro’s neglect by successive administrations has continued unabated even under the APC led federal government.
‘’The APC marginalization of Oro nation, just as it was under the PDP started with the deprivation of the people of Oro Nation of the Niger Delta Development Commission ( NDDC) Managing Director position which should have gone to Oro Nation.
‘’The ongoing defection drama of Senator Akpabio which seeks to prop Nsima Ekere for Governorship and the Deputy Governorship seat zoned to either Uyo or Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district with the Oro nation once again short-changed may not argue well for the party and the state.
‘’Oro nation will never compromise on the 2019 Governorship seat as this remains the only way to preserve, promote and protect the peace, unity and progress of Akwa Ibom State as proposed by our founding fathers.
‘’The interest of Oro must be a major priority come 2019 and we demand the Governorship position be zoned to Oro by the APC and nothing more. We are tired of being constantly used and dumped by other ethnic groups while we remain slaves in the politics of the state.”
The battle for the soul of the oil rich state would be fought along four lines—popularity, political clouts, achievements and the parties’ internal democracies. Governor Emmanuel has the power of incumbency and has garnered political expedience in over years in government and has equally shown pragmatism in governance.
Besides, the state for now is essentially a PDP state with well-oiled political structures at the grassroots, but the APC is beginning to gain tractions following the caliber of politicians already embracing the change mantra with Akpabio being the newest political heavy weight with deep pocket. Many people are already predicting implosion in APC ahead of 2019 given Akpabio’s alleged impunity and overbearing influences, as he does not brook opposition.
However, time will tell whether Akpabio can take the state and Niger Delta to the center as he boasted during the Ikot Ekpene rally, or Emmanuel would be able to work the line and win convincingly now that his political godfather has abandoned him. 2019 beckons!