Akpabio’s uncommon failure in propagating APC in Akwa Ibom State
Since the return of democratic rule in 1999, the last governorship election in Akwa Ibom State was clearly the toughest and most keenly contested one. This was the first time the opposition was formidable enough to challenge the strength of the ruling party in the state, the People’s Democratic Party. No wonder followers of the party see it as a religion and sometimes claimed that PDP is Akwa Ibom and vice-versa.
Supporters’ attachment to the party has been so strong until August 2018, when the former governor of the state and PDP heavyweight, Senator Godswill Akpabio, jumped ship to All Progressive Congress. PDP supporters initially saw it as a plus to the opposition APC, and a minus for the PDP. Clearly, this was the beginning of political tension and apprehension in the state, a trait never witnessed before, during or after elections in the state.
Thus political observers concluded that things would be in favour of APC, based mainly on the antecedents of Senator Godswill Akpabio as governor of the state from 2007 – 2015. Also because against all odds, he singlehandedly made the incumbent governor and Governor-elect, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, to succeed him, a development some view with regret, which has resulted in what they term the height of betrayal of trust. It led many political analysts to hastily conclude that PDP would die in the state.
In fact with this political scenario, APC, which before now was not as pronounced in the state, started gaining prominence. The party was characterised by factions, mutual distrust, and racour because of the party’s primaries that produced Mr. Ini Okopido as state chairman and Obong Nsima Ekere as governorship candidate. It also had new brides and other gladiators like Senator John Akpan Udoedehe, who, feeling cheated and decided to stay aloof, now had to reconcile and rally around Senator Akpabio to give the opposition in the state the fight it never had since 1999.
However, the gathering of these men never deterred PDP in its avowed belief that Akwa Ibom is PDP and PDP is Akwa Ibom. Thus, the state chairman of the party, Obong Paul Ekpo, at every forum admonished supporters not to panic, telling them that the root of the party in the state could not be destroyed. He told them that most of the bigwigs of the party that used to make things happen had not joined Senator Akpabio to decamp to APC. Such bigwigs include National Legal Adviser of the party, Mr. Emmanuel Enoidem, Chief Afangide, Senator Emmanuel Ibokessien, Aniekan Umana, Mr. Udo Ekpenyong, Sir Emen Akpabio and a host of others. So to Ekpo, those who left with Akpabio to APC were ‘feather weight’ politicians with no electoral value.
During campaigns, while PDP anchored its hope on God, the performance of the party from 1999 till date in the state, and its strong belief in one candidate for eight years, APC placed its political trust on federal might in its belief that Abuja would provide all the necessary armoury to ensure Akwa Ibom went to the party at the centre, as most of its supporters openly boasted. No wonder the campaign slogan for PDP was ‘Only God’.
Before the governorship election, Akwa Ibom was classified as one of the swing states. Akpabio also perfected his infamous threat against his own state as encapsulated in his ill-conceived battle cry: ‘Warsaw saw war’ and ‘federal might’ to intimidate the electorate, with the party’s supporters concluding that APC had taken over the state even before the election proper. Again, APC’s gimmick was mainly anchored on its aggressive campaigns as opposition ready for war in the state.
For the first time the opposition was able to match the incumbent campaign for campaign. At a point, a state that is known for its peaceful nature became a flash point for violence thereby leading to the deployment of soldiers, units of Mobile Police, ordinary police, DSS, Civil Defence and other security operatives.
This created tension and fears in the minds of many, which led to the fathers of faith in the state, led by Prelate Emeritus of the Methodist Church, Sunday Mbang, to address the press on what they described as ‘militarization of Akwa Ibom ahead of the march 9, 2019 gubernatorial and state House of Assembly elections’. But at the end of the elections, the state did not record any serious political violence, as was advertised before the election, and PDP won, with the incumbent, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, securing a second term.
The victory has not gone down well with APC, as the party, through its chairman, Mr. Ini Okopido, the governorship candidate, Obong Nsima Ekere, and party stalwarts have rejected the result of the election, calling for its cancelation. Their allegations are that the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Mike Igini, compromised the elections, saying that he connived with PDP to rob APC of victory.
But PDP’s Chairman, Ekpo, and the Publicity Secretary, Mr. Ini Ememobong respectively, have reacted to APC’s disgruntlement and taunting APC for its reliance on ‘federal might,’ which never came. They argued that while PDP was campaigning on the performance of the governor and the need for the people to support the incumbent Governor Emmanuel to complete eight years as former governors from other senatorial districts of Uyo – Obong Victor Attah from 1999 – 2007, and Ikot Ekpene – Senator Godswill Akpabio from 2007 – 2015 had done, APC based its campaigns on a move to the centre, to a Federal Government, which promised Nigerians so much, but did nothing else but blame PDP in four its years in office. They argued that Governor Emmanuel should be allowed to complete his eight years, for the sake of fairness and equity, from 2015 – 2023, which APC wanted to truncate.
These and other factors contributed to PDP’s victory apart from the fact that the party is grounded in the state. Again, almost everyone currently in APC was a former member of PDP, who decamped to APC. Many people still have their confidence in PDP judging from what they told The Guardian. They opined that allowing APC to take over the state now would mean starting afresh with different managers, which may lead to abandonment of most of the laudable projects Emmanuel’s government has started.
Besides, they also argue that in the 16 years, that PDP controlled the Federal Government, the state never benefitted from the centre, and that campaigns that the state should not belong to the opposition does not hold water, as most of the meaningful projects seen across the state are all the products of PDP government at the state level.
The belief among PDP’s supporters and why they still chose to stay with the PDP is anchored on the argument that ‘the enemy you know is better than the friend you do not know’.
Senator Akpabio’s loss of his senatorial seat in Akwa Ibom North-West or Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District may not be unconnected with what a majority of the people believed to be his militant disposition immediately he dumped PDP. His threat of ‘Warsaw saw war,’ his bogus claim to deliver the entire South-South and Southeast to the APC, and that elections in Akwa Ibom would be completed in three hours together with his many uncomplimentary utterances at every forum made the people to distrust as man who mean well for the people.
However, the senator appears not to be disturbed or distracted in defeat, as he has alleged that INEC, its staffers and PDP government connived to rob him of his victory and that he would get back his mandate at the tribunal.
It would be recalled that during the build up to the elections proper, Prelate Mbang had observed that Senator Akpabio’s utterances were unbecoming of a man of his status, that he should be advised to retrace his steps otherwise they would return to haunt him. He had advised Akpabio to accept that he has fallen from God’s grace and favour and that he should see himself as the prodigal son in the bible and look for a man of God to pray for him for forgiveness. He said until he (Akpabio) realises this, he would not rise up again.
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