By Nnamdi Ojiego
AS the 2023 general elections draw closer, the contest for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP governorship ticket in Akwa Ibom State is getting stiffer with more aspirants joining the race.
In fact, it has become a battle of wits as many aspirants from different blocs in the party keep pushing their interest. Not even Governor Udom Emmanuel’s ‘anointing’ of his Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources, Pastor Umo Eno, as his successor, could deter others from aspiring to the position.
Those who have joined the race after the public declaration of support for Eno by the governor include the member representing Etinan/Nsit Ibom/Nsit Ubium in the House of Representatives and former Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mr. Onofiok Luke; the Senator representing Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District and former Commissioner for Finance, Bassey Akpan; former Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport, Akan Okon; and Chief Executive Officer of Falcon Oil & Gas, Ani Wellington, among others.
Governor Emmanuel had on Sunday, January 30, 2022, at a meeting of PDP stakeholders held at the Government Lodge, Uyo, announced Eno as his preferred candidate for the 2023 election. The governor’s decision came as a huge surprise to those who had expected him to choose between Onofiok and Akpan due to their antecedents and involvement in the politics of the state.
The choice of the Land commissioner against Onofiok did not go down well with some party stakeholders and interest groups in the state who have gone ahead to pledge their support for the former speaker.
Looking at the visible PDP governorship aspirants, the pendulum may swing to Nsit Ubium Local Government Area where both Onofiok and Eno hail from. However, supporters of Onofiok said he stands a chance of grabbing the throne as he possesses the qualities needed for a governor.
It was speculated in the state that the incumbent governor would hand over to Onofiok based on an unwritten agreement.
A source told Vanguard that the agreement was the reason Onofiok didn’t join the All Progressives Congress, APC, with his former boss, and immediate past governor of the state, Senator Godswill Akpabio. According to the source, the former students’ leader was a strong force behind the success stories of the Akpabio and Udom Emmanuel administrations, especially, the electoral victory of the incumbent governor in 2019.
In the face of alleged injustice, Onofiok ‘s governorship aspiration has received a boost from groups and civil society organizations that have endorsed him to run for the number one position in the state.
Akwa Ibom Youths under the umbrella of Akwa Ibom Youths Mandate adopted Onofiok as their 2023 preferred candidate.
Arising from a recent special stakeholders meeting of the organisation in Uyo, the youths stated that the lawmaker “is the only aspirant that has articulated his blueprint and has clearly demonstrated capacity, experience and ability to execute the demands of the office of the governor of Akwa Ibom State.”
Six political groups had also endorsed Onofiok. The groups – Social Justice Movement (SJM), Democratic Alternative (DA), Akwa Ibom Students Congress (AKSC), Not Too Young To Lead Parliament (NTYLP), Political Action Initiatives (PAI), and Maintaining Peace From Justice Movement (MPJM), in a joint communiqué, stressed that they were throwing their weight behind him because “he has been with the poor, the high and the mighty and still remembers that there was serious hunger in the streets of the state.
“In 2019, Oniofiok almost lost his life while defending the cause of this state. It takes someone who has the love of his people to shun all approaches to sell out the House of Assembly to the then growing opposition to impeach the governor; it takes someone who is courageous, intelligent, experienced but humble to govern a state like ours”, the communiqué stated.
Onofiok, a former student leader, is still seen as a rights activist although in recent years, he has played less activist roles as he becomes more deeply involved in leadership at both national and state levels.
His human rights activism is evident in some of the bills and motions he moved on the floor of the State House of Assembly. Such include bills for laws to provide for the safety of employees in construction companies and industries; and to protect the physically challenged against discrimination in Akwa Ibom State, and to provide for equal opportunities for every person.
From his school days where he showed leadership in some little responsibilities, Onofiok projected himself as a ready-made servant leader available to serve humanity. It was these innate leadership qualities that warranted the Nigerian youths to appoint him the first Speaker of the Nigerian Youth Parliament. With this, he was able to unite youths across the country, bridge the ethnic gap and provide a common platform where the interests of Nigerian youths were discussed and directed to appropriate offices for immediate action.
His plans for Akwa Ibom
In his declaration speech titled: “Building Together, Growing Together Through the Power of Conviction”, the Chairman, the House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary, described himself as a bridge between the past, the present and the future who represents the young and the old, the analogue and the digital generation, the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots which gives him a unique perspective on issues that cut across various strata of the society.
He explained that his policy direction was built on nine pillars of Food Sufficiency & Agricultural Development, Education, Healthcare, Technology Development, Entrepreneurial & Industrial development, Tourism, Sports & Entertainment; Youth, Women & Social Inclusion; Security, Environment & Infrastructure; and Good Governance & Administration.
He said: “As the State prepares to elect a new administration, the Amazing Grace Project is pleased to offer this outline of policies that will distinguish it as a credible alternative to the others vying for the position. While our vision provides a short-to-long term perspective on the progressive development of our state, all our policies have elements that we can begin to implement immediately upon taking the reins of government. One certainty, however, is that we have the political will, the skills and the commitment to implement all our stated policies rapidly.”
As a grassroots politician and mobilizer, Onofiok said he would use his wealth of experience to reposition the state as an economic powerhouse.
“I intend to use my wealth of experience as a public sector administrator, a lawyer, and an advocate of good governance to serve this state by bringing government closer to the people for socio-economic development, and to reposition Akwa Ibom State for greater prosperity under the theme of Building Together, Growing Together.
“My objective is to rally the abundant human resources towards building a vibrant and diverse economy in Akwa Ibom, while leveraging our infrastructural development and active youthful population to create jobs and provide visionary and selfless leadership to consolidate on the gains of past and present administrations.
“Dear Akwa Ibom people, we have built roads and the infrastructure built has opened up our dear state and brought opportunities. It is now time to build our people. The clarion call of my campaign is Building Together and Growing Together. If we are going to build together then we must grow together. It means nobody will be left behind”, Onofiok assured.