By Chioma Onuegbu, Uyo
AS the two political parties, the People’s Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress (APC) prepare for the campaigns beginning next month, it is no surprise that voters in the state are beginning to give their assessments of the issues and personalities that will affect the election at all levels.
While the image of the immediate past governor of the state, Senator Godswill Akpabio continues to ring loud in the polity, his recent defection from the PDP has seemingly opened an opportunity for a frank discussion of his era.
The shouting match in the Senate last Tuesday was only an expression of how the battle in the state would be fought.
Senator Albert Akpan’s bold confrontation of his former boss, Akpabio only goes long to show to what extent the former governor’s former associates would be ready to engage him on the field.
It had been expected that Akpabio’s defection would cause a meltdown of the PDP in Akwa Ibom. However, in the end, he only left with two commissioners and two members of the House of Assembly who incidentally were personally committed to him mainly on account of blood ties.
That, however, does not diminish the impact of Akpabio who would be expected to collaborate with his former enemies who left the PDP for the opposition because of him while he was in office.
The two major contenders for the governorship are the incumbent, Mr. Udom Emmanuel and the APC’s candidate, Mr. Nsima Ekere.
Ekere is coming into the contest with the advantage of political experience garnered over the years. Compared to Mr. Emmanuel who rose to the zenith in Zenith Bank before he was headhunted by Akpabio into government.
Mr. Emmanuel is expected to counter Ekere’s political experience with his performance in industries, regular salary and pension payments, road infrastructure, improvement of healthcare among others. Perhaps his most visible advantage could be the intangible peace that has reigned over the state since his emergence as governor.
However, Mr. Emmanuel is challenged by allegations that he is not a regular politician and that he is stiff and lacks the exuberance that was manifest during the Akpabio years.
With the two men going into a contest that is bound to be herculean given the advantage of security open to the APC, the governor has to raise his campaign above the fray if he has to sustain the legacy that his party chieftains chorus as Akwa Ibom being a PDP state.
What could prove decisive for both sides would be the unity with which they enter into the contest.
The APC has to resolve issues within its ranks especially given the animosity that the two major tendencies in the party have recently shown towards one another.
Senator John Akpanudoedehe who lost to Ekere in the APC governorship contest appealed to the Senator Osehreinmen Osunbor Appeals Committee but his appeal is not expected to change much on the ground.
If the APC goes into the election as a divided house as they presently are, it is bound to be a major challenge for Ekere.
Mr. Ekere is expected to in that respect work towards achieving reconciliation with Akpanudoedehe who is generally recognised as the father of the opposition.
His role in championing opposition against Akpabio especially in 2011 is not easily forgotten and the bad blood from the violence that flowed is believed to be the major reason why some chieftains in the APC are believed to be inclined to Ekere and against Akpanudoedehe.
“It is the belief among some that if Akpanudoedehe comes in as governor that he would take vengeance for what happened in 2011,” one source revealed.
Another issue that is bound to shape voting in the governorship election is the matter of zoning.
With the incumbent from Eket Senatorial District, and Uyo Senatorial District next in line, Ekere will have to convince voters in Uyo that his promise to serve only one term will not be breached.
Uyo Senatorial District has the largest voting population, and the influence of the zone would undoubtedly be felt in the permutations given the sensitivity of the issue of zoning in the state.
The first civilian governor of the Fourth Republic, Obong Victor Attah who is from Uyo served two terms from 1999 to 2007 and was succeeded by Akpabio who served two terms from 2007 to 2015.
Emmanuel who is from Eket Senatorial Zone is serving his first term.
Senate ContestIkot Ekpene
The Ikot Ekpene senatorial district is generally regarded as a no-go area for anyone given the fact that Senator Akpabio has again received the ticket of the party for another term.
His challenger is the former deputy governor of the state, Dr. Chris Ekpenyong.
Though Ekpenyong is a renowned politician, Akpabio is going into the contest with a huge advantage of incumbency, name recognition and control of the political structure of the senatorial district.
What could have counted as a disadvantage for Akpabio is the long-standing agitation of Abak 5 for the Senate ticket. The area had in recognition of Akpabio’s political stature seemingly conceded the ticket to him in 2015. With Akpabio now out of Government House, the prospect of the people of the area now wanting to agitate for their right will be something many will be watching out for.
Despite his change of party, Akpabio is still admired by many people in his senatorial district as a heavyweight.
It could be recalled that Akpabio had while addressing the crowd during an endorsement rally organized by Ikot Ekpene senatorial district at Ikot Ekpene township stadium for him and Governor Udom Emmanuel few weeks before he defected to the APC boasted that he would be returned for a second term no matter the party platform that he decides to contest.
For the Uyo Senate seat Senator Bassey Albert Akpan a k.a OBA would be competing with Bassey Etim of the APC a.ka Baffil.
Both are formidable candidates even though OBA has more acceptance by the people given his popularity and ability to wield influence in Akwa Ibom political landscape.
What would have counted as a minus for OBA in the matter of the zoning among the federal constituencies Vanguard understands is being resolved with the commitment to give the Uyo Federal Constituency a higher role in the state government in the next dispensation to compensate for OBA’s second term.
The battle is going to be between Mrs. Akon Eyakenyi, a former minister of lands, commissioner and chieftain of the PDP and the incumbent Senator Nelson Effiong of the APC.
The governor is from the senatorial district and is expected to use the election to for once settle the dispute between him and Effiong who was the first to defect from the PDP after they came to power in 2015.