The much hyped defection of former Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio, from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Party (APC) has come and gone, with a result that laid to rest the much talked about political clout and stranglehold he had on politics of Akwa Ibom State, where he held sway as governor for eight years.
Prior to his defection, Senator Akpabio was thought to hold the political lever and the power of who becomes what in the state. He had built this image of a man who could determine the fate of every politician in Akwa Ibom State, including the fate of the incumbent, Governor Udom Emmanuel, the man he plucked from relative obscurity and foisted on the people of the state as governor in 2015.
Senator Akpabio has built an image in the minds of Nigerians of a man who performed magic as a governor;, a reputation made possible by an awesome multi-billion Naira “ uncommon” media propaganda campaign, which transformed his below per performance into a gargantuan performance rating among Nigerians. But his performance as governor could be gauged from the assertion by then Minister for Finance, the revered Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who said then that Gov. Akpabio had not used up to two per cent of what the state had collected as revenue on developing the state, an assertion that was never denied or corrected.
As governor, Akpabio had ensured that no other Akwa Ibom person grew politically. He prides himself as the man who retired the generation of politicians he met in the state, including Obong Victor Attah that brought him, made him a commissioner, from where he had the platform to contest and win the 2007 governorship election in the state and a majority of his political contemporaries. In their place, he installed persons with little or no political pedigree, boasting that he was making men out of boys. The boys remained rabidly “ loyal” and came to be referred to as the Akpabio boys.
In the build up to the 2015 governorship election, Akpabio made a clean sweep of all the potential candidates, including those he personally encouraged to aspire to take over from him. He was to singlehandedly install a successor, all the federal and state legislators. It was an election characterized by wide spread violence and killings that the Court of Appeal took judicial notice of when the election was challenged by the All Progressives Congress candidate, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, who was Akpabio’s long standing ally and Secretary to the State Government that was practically driven out of the PDP.
This background narrative became necessary for a better understanding of what actually became the surprise outcome of the August 8, 2018 defection of the former governor to the APC. When the rumour of his defection was first made public, there was high apprehension in the state. Some said it was going to sound the end to the second term ambition of the governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel. Newspapers were to speculate that the entire political structure in the state would collapse, given the fact that Governor Emmanuel had no structure he could call his own. Governor Emmanuel, prior to his coming to contest the governorship election, was an Executive Director in Zenith Bank and had no political experience of any sort. Said to have been “discovered” by Akpabio’s wife, Emmanuel merely rode on the back of Akpabio to the governorship. Akpabio’s departure was expected, therefore, to bring the governor to his knees, decimate the ranks of his government and substantially diminish the strength of the PDP in the state.
Given the expectations of a Tsunamic effect of an Akpabio defection, it was an anti-climax when the former Senate Minority Leader eventually left PDP to APC alone. Those who joined him were only two commissioners; one his blood brother, Ibanga Akpabio and the other Hon Victor Antai, whose Senate ambition, was said to have been discouraged by Gov. Emmanuel, who preferred the emergence of Akon Eyikanyi, a former minister. Senator Akpabio was also joined by two House of Assembly members, the man representing his constituency, Hon Nse Ntuen, and Hon Gabriel Tobby. From the House of Representatives, were two, the man representing his federal constituency, Hon Emmanuel Akpan, whose ambition to contest for a second term is facing a very stiff resistance from his constituents and Hon Emmanuel Ekon, House committee Chairman on Local Content, who is fighting the fight of his life to make a third attempt at going back to the House of Representatives. His other cousin, Prince Akpabio, is warming up to contest for the House of Assembly slot for Akpabio’s state Constituency under the PDP.
This is a far cry from the expectations in a state that the former governor would make a clean sweep of the Who is who in politics in the state. Akpabio’s defection now looks so inconsequential when compared to the massive effect of Senate President Saraki’s defection that saw him move with the governor, the entire state Executive Committee, the entire members of the House of Assembly, save for one, all the local council chairmen and the entire APC state executive. His defection also pales in the face of similar defection move by former governor of Kano State, Senator Kwankwaso who defected to PDP with the deputy governor, 10 House of Representatives members, 6 House of Assembly members, including the Speaker, 4 commissioners, 10 Aides to the governor, among others.
The crowd at the Ikot Ekpene Stadium on the day Senator Akpabio defected was simply intimidating. The crowd, however, was not Akpabio’s crowd. It was the normal APC crowd; the same crowd that was mobilized two weeks before Akpabio’s defection, where the people of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District had converged to pledge their support for the re-election of President Mohammadu Buhari in 2019. While Akpabio was defecting, the real PDP crowds were at Ika, Abak and other major towns in the Senatorial District rallying in support of Gov. Emmanuel. So it would be wrong to judge Akpabio’s acceptance by the people by the crowd at his defection rally.
The support base of former Governor Godswill Akpabio is supposed to be in the district he represents at the Nigerian Senate. As governor, Akpabio had his traditional supporters in Ikot Ekpene, among the leaders and elders that, all things being equal, ought to swim or sink with him. Unfortunately, when it was time for them to stand up for Senator Akpabio, they beat a hasty retreat.
A day to Akpabio’s defection, political and opinion leaders in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District met and one after the other denounced the former governor, vowing not to follow him to anywhere. They capped it up with a communique where they pledged their support to Gov. Udom Emmanuel. It was a major dent on the political image of their senator. If Akpabio was actually in charge of his area, one would be constrained to ask of the whereabouts of some of the key political actors in the area like, Senator Ibok Essien, a former senator, owner of Ritman University, where Senator Akpabio is Chancellor; Mr. Emmanuel Enoidem, PDP National Legal Adviser, one of the longest serving commissioner under Akpabio(He served for 8 years under Akpabio and 18 months under Gov. Emmanuel); Mr. Aniekan Umanah, Akpabio’s Commissioner for Information and arrow head of Akpabio’s media propaganda machinery; Engr. Etido Inyang, who was a member of Akpabio’s cabinet for 8 years and now serving as Chairman of Ibom Power and many others that one would have thought would go any where Akpabio goes.
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The apathy that greeted Akpabio’s defection was replicated all over the state. In Uyo, no single known leader or member of the PDP left with the former governor. All the boys he claimed to have made men abandoned him to his fate. The likes of Mr. Enonong Uwah, Senator Bassey Albert, Hon Onofiok Luke (Speaker of the State House of Assembly), PDP State Chairman, Mr. Paul Ekpo, all the members of the State House of Assembly, former council chairmen like Hon Kenneth Okon, all shunned his defection. Members of his traditional Elders and acclaimed loyalists, like former military governor of the state, Otuekong Idongesit Nkanga, Senator Anietie Okon, Senator Effiong Bob, all abandoned him.
In Eket Senatorial District, the same fate awaited Senator Akpabio. Apart from Hon Victor Antai, no politician of any known pedigree followed Akpabio to the APC. Traditional allies like Hon Ndueso Essien, two-term House of Representatives member, former Minister (nominated by Akpabio), Akon Eyekanyi, former commissioner, former Minister ( nominated by Akpabio) all the House of Assembly members, all gave Akpabio the cold shoulders. The question is who actually followed Akpabio to the APC?
APC LEADERSHIP QUESTION
At the rally where Senator Godswill Akpabio defected to the APC, the party Chairman, Adams Oshiomole consistently referred to Akpabio (Some said at the prompting of Akpabio himself) as the APC leader in the State. The pronouncement is sure not to go down well enough with other leaders of the party in the state. In a state where the issue of who should be known as the leader of the party has been a very thorny issue, the Oshiomole pronouncement, apparently made out of excitement, is certainly going to exacerbate the already tenuous and tense power play in the party.
It is rather inappropriate to ask Akpabio to automatically lead a party where the likes of Atuekong Don Etiebet, Obong Nsima Ekere, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, Obong Umana Okon Umana, Senator ITA Enang had already established roots and held the party. These men are men Senator Akpabio had in the past hurt so deeply and in most cases, so inhumanly maltreated, without first seeking to mend their broken fences. From Akpabio’s speech at his defection it was apparent that he had nothing to do with state party leaders, in terms of consultations prior to his defection to the APC. Worse still, no member of the party executive in the state was recognized and none, including the State Chairman, was given any opportunity to as much as greet the visitors to the state.
Akpabio should join the APC as any other member, then walk his way, warm his way back into the hearts and arms of these leaders, those he had so badly treated in the past. For instance, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, who flew the flag of Action Congress of Nigeria, one of the political parties that joined to form the All Progressives Congress, was nearly killed in 2011 and framed for all manners of crimes, while many of his supporters were killed, all in a bid to defeat him at the 2011 governorship election. The wound is still fresh and deep. In the 2015 governorship election, Akpabio led the PDP to perpetrate all kinds of violence that led to the death of scores of APC supporters in his desperate bid to install the current governor, Udom Emmanuel as governor. The wound is still fresh and deep. That election saw the ridiculous allocation of 15, 000 votes to Candidate Mohammadu Buhari, ensuring that no APC member or supporter cast his vote. These are grievous issues that cannot be swept under the carpet. They must be resolved before that party can know any peace and work in cohesion. The way Akpabio has been admitted into the APC has only deepened the wounds of the past. There was no prior consultation or engagement with Party leaders in the State like Umana, Akpanudoedehe and Etiebet. How can Akpabio who virtually passed a death sentence on Mr. Umana and other APC leaders who supported the APC and President Buhari during the 2015 elections be rewarded with the leadership of the Party?At that time Akpabio had branded Umana and Etiebet as traitors who did not support former President Goodluck Jonathan but chose to support President Buhari a Northerner. So what has changed? At that time Akpabio professed his undying love for Patience and Goodluck Jonathan. Other leaders in the South South like Rotimi Amaechi and Timipre Sylva were blackmailed by Akpabio who destroyed their relationship with Jonathan. Akpabio abandoned Jonathan immediately President Buhari won the 2015 election. Today Akpabio has come to join the APC that he despised and dismissed as a Hausa -Fulani Party. So what has changed? Akpabio is a coward , a traitor and an opportunist who hopes to reap where he did not sow.
His defection to the APC has exposed the fact that Akpabio’s strength in the PDP was overrated. It has also confirmed the fact that it is Governor Udom Emmanuel (and not Akpabio) who controls the PDP structure in Akwa Ibom State. In truth, Akpabio is adding no real value to the fortunes of the APC in Akwa Ibom State given the fact that 98 percent of the leaders of PDP abandoned him and pledged their support for Governor Emmanuel.
Does Akpabio in good conscience think he can lead the likes of Mr.Umana Umana, Sen. John Akpanudoedehe, Chief Don Etiebet, Mr. Nsima Ekere and others who have sacrificed so much to build the Party?
Installing Akpabio as party leader in the state will not help the cause of harmonious coexistence. Akpabio may become an albatross who will destroy the APC the same way he destroyed the PDP. On the day of his defection to the APC, he cleared himself of all his pending cases with the EFCC; he also despised other patriotic and principled leaders of the Party like Rotimi Amaechi, Timipre Sylva and even Adam Oshiomole by boasting that he will single handedly deliver all the South South states to the APC.
The party is too close to the 2019 election to allow any new disruptions. The party is too fragile for an Akpabio to lead.
Hon Bassey Amba Offong, is the Convener Akwa Ibom Politburo For Good Governance