Akpabio’s sudden withdrawal and APC’s fate in senatorial rerun election

Ekpenyong

Since the Appeal Court judgment in Calabar that ordered a rerun in Akwa Ibom North West (Ikot Ekpene) Senatorial District, specifically in one out of the 10 council areas that make up the senatorial district, the chances of overturning the table in favour of Senator Akpabio was deemed to be slim. It did not come as a surprise when the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs pulled out of the race and asked his party APC to nominate another person so he could concentrate on his job as minister.

Senator Godswill Akpabio contested on the platform of All Progressive Congress [APC] while Senator Christopher Ekpenyong contested on the platform of People’s Democratic Party (PDP). At the end of the contest, Ekpenyong was declared winner with a total 114,973 votes cast while Senator Akpabio garnered 76,917.

The fears and apprehension in the camp of Senator Akpabio and APC and the confidence in the camp of Senator Ekpenyong and PDP
stemmed from the calculations that, with 38,056 votes in the kitty of Ekpenyong and a total of 95,987 Permanent Voters Card (PVCs) in Essien Udim, there was no way only APC would vote for their candidate to outnumber the 38,056 leading votes of PDP’s candidate. These calculations, especially since the court judgment made a lot of political watchers in the state and in the senatorial district to be skeptical if Senator Akpabio would risk his ministerial position for a rerun he might not win.

Again, the confidence in the camp of the PDP was further boosted by the calculations that, during the general elections, the total number of eligible voters in Essien Udim that collected their PVCs was 95,987, and out of the number only 19,455 were accredited for the actual election. To their supporters, the situation may worsen during the rerun, there is apprehensive that eligible votes might not come out to vote, especially in a situation already tensed even before the real elections.

To APC and Akpabio, the popular axiom holds true: ‘a bird at hand is worth two in the bush’; that the serving minister should continue with his position. So, to many political observers within the senatorial district and Akwa Ibom State as a whole, the withdrawal of Senator Akpabio from the rerun did not come as a surprise, although many attribute it to his fear of outright defeat.

A source who craved anonymity said, “Akpabio never stood for elections. Go and find out his days in PDP; he never allowed for free and fair primaries, so his candidate should fail. He will always go for selection as against the normal procedure of allowing the people chose who they want”.

Most political watchers and opinion leaders in the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, who spoke with The Guardian on the withdrawal of Senator Akpabio from the rerun and his desire to substitute a former member of House of Representatives for Abak-Etim Ekpo-Ika Federal Constituency, Hon. Ekperikpe Ekpo, said they were not afraid even if Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] accepts such
arrangement.

“The result is very clear, as far as the people of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District are concern; they have made their position known in the first election, that they decided to go with Chris Ekpenyong to represent them in the Red Chamber. As far as we are concern, Senator Akpabio is clever; he knows he is going to fail and has tactically withdrawn from the race. “As it stands, even INEC has spoken, that the window for substitution of candidate for that election has since been closed. So, it means APC
will have no candidate for that election. But the truth is that, we are still for Chris Ekpenyong. So, even if INEC were to accept the substitution which is not even in line with the electoral Act, even if they bend back to accept it, the people of the senatorial district will want to make their position known, that they are still for PDP
and Chris Ekpenyong”.

On presenting the former House of Reps member to take his place, the rumour making the rounds in the state is that Senator Akpabio wanted to compensate him because prior to joining APC, it was Ekpo who wanted to run for Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial seat. However, after Akpabio’s uncommon decamping to APC, Ekpo was denied the slot.

The people of the senatorial district look at it differently, said a polytechnic don in Essien Udim Local Government Area, who did not want his name in print, adding, “What kind of compensation?” they ask. “If you knew Ekperikpe Ekpo wanted to go for election, why didn’t you let him go then? Now because you sense failure you want to compensate Ekperikpe Ekpo so that he will go and take the same? How would you ask him to come and stand in an election in a local government he does not come from? The election was strictly meant for the people of Essien Udim while Ekperikpe is from Ika Local Government Area. So what influence will he make in Essien Udim, which is not even his council area? So, I don’t see that as compensation. He is looking for somebody he could use as sacrificial lamb.

“That is just the reality; Ekperikpe in his heart knows that he cannot win. Essien Udim, in the first place, is Senator Ekpenyong Federal Constituency, made up of Ikot Ekpene, Obot Akara and Essien Udim council areas”.

To the Coordinators of APC Aspirants in Akwa Ibom State, Dr. Chris Enoch, the action of Senator Akpabio is not a slight on the people, neither the APC. According to him, since the senator was still serving as a minister, he is still serving Nigerians.

“It is not a slight on the party in the sense that he is still serving the party in a higher capacity as a minister of the federal republic and Nigerians needs him more as a minister more than as senator and he has so many things to do for Nigeria, to that extent it is a scale of preference. He prefers to serve Nigeria better than to continue as a senator. The party understands; that is why it accepted his decision.”

Asked how he thinks the people of Essien Udim would feel with the latest development, Enoch said, “Essien Udim people have their own way of thinking. I cannot speak for them, but as a party, they should accept the decision of the party. If the party a has accepted the withdrawal, then we are all subject to the decision of the party”.

Also speaking on the issue, a former state chairman of CLO and lawyer in the state, Mr. Clifford Thomas, stressed that INEC could not substitute somebody for Senator Akpabio as the time for such had elapse.

“INEC says it cannot substitute,” he said, “that the time has past. We will abide by what INEC says. INEC is the umpire; it is regulated by Electoral Act. So, when it says you cannot shift the goal post in the middle of the game, so be it. Senator Akpabio says he is not contesting and the contest was between him and Ekpenyong. So, if he says he is not running, he has conceded defeat.

“For whatever consideration, let there be peace in Annang land where both of them comes from. After all, it is an Annang son that occupies the ministerial position and that of senator. It is good in the circumstance; it would breed and encourage peace. Election will hold on that day because the Appeal Court ordered a rerun; it did not say go and settle. So the rerun election will hold in January with Senator Akpabio’s picture on the ballot paper”.

The development must have informed the Senator representing Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District (Akwa Ibom North-West), Obong Christopher Ekpenyong, to issue a statement commending Senator Akpabio for withdrawing from the rerun election in Essien Udim Local Government Area, describing it as “a welcome development that will foster peace, unity, and development of the Senatorial District”.

Ekpenyong even appealed to the member representing Ikot Ekpene Federal Constituency in the National Assembly, where rerun was also ordered by the Appeal Court to follow the footsteps of Senator Akpabio.

“Follow the Akpabio’s example and withdraw from the race for holistic peace and unity in the zone,” Ekpenyong further said. “I am a Senator of Nigeria and not for a particular political party. My mission to the senate is to align with my colleagues from the state and other political appointees to attract development and peace to the people of my Senatorial District.

“I commend my brother for his decision to withdraw from the court-ordered rerun in Essien Udim, and that will go a long way to calm frayed nerves and create the enabling environment for the dividends of democracy to thrive beyond party lines.”

Sources from the state’s INEC said it could not do otherwise in the area of substitution of candidate for the January 25 rerun elections than to stand by the position of the commission on the matter. The source referred The Guardian to an interview granted by INEC National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Festus Okoye, to one of the national newspapers.

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