By Borono Bassey
This year, he will be bowing out of office as a hero.
His story has pushed past the realm of mere men and has made its way to the realm of legends.
For someone who has led the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in Akwa Ibom State as state chairman, to victory in what pundits describe as the two toughest elections in the political history of our state, the applause that will greet the exit of Obong Paul Ekpo will resound for a long time.
In 2012, when he took over the position of the Chairman of the PDP from Prince Uwem Ita Etok, the singular charge on him was to ensure that he nurtures a united and strong party worthy enough to be bequeathed to the next chairman.
For a man who has institutionalized a tradition of leaving behind a stamp of excellence in his previous positions of service, Obong Paul Ekpo had resolved to go all the way out to not just ensure he sweats it out in building a stronger and more vibrant party that continually orchestrate victorious streaks in elections, but also positioning the party as the most admired and acceptable choice in the eyes of the Akwa Ibom electorate years after he hands over the baton to someone else.
And so with folded sleeves, he, alongside the then new state Executive Committee set to work.
Brick after brick, the Paul Ekpo-led Exco of 2012 began the task of managing the umbrella they had received from the preceding Exco.
From scheming, reaching out to defectors, consolidating on the efforts of previous administrations, to Townhall meetings, rallies and other steps, Obong Paul Ekpo, together with his Exco members and the entire membership of the party continued to prepare for the 2015 general elections.
But during the 2015 election, there was a plot twist. The major opposition party in the country snatched power (in a means that remains highly controversial till date) from the PDP which was the government at the center at that time.
It was a sad moment for the PDP. No one had expected it. And because that tragic event was not foreseen, many chapters of the PDP in states that made up the Federation had no Comeback plan in place, it felt like a checkmate.
However, that was not the case with the Akwa Ibom State PDP ably superintended by Obong Paul Ekpo. With the formidable combination of a credible candidate in Udom Emmanuel and the dedicated efforts that the PDP had invested in preaching and living the example of people-centric leadership, the party went into the 2015 gubernatorial and State Assembly elections and admirably clinched the seat for the top job in the state as well as all but one seats at the State legislature.
And because emerging scenarios had opened his consciousness to the fact that with an opposition at the center, winning a general election was only one side of the coin of political leadership (the other side being obtaining a judiciary seal of affirmation to those victories), Obong Paul Ekpo had without bating his breath immediately settled into the task of mobilizing involved stakeholders to slug it out with candidates of the opposition who challenged the victories of the PDP candidates in the different tribunals.
When that trail of litigations came full cycle, the Paul-Ekpo led PDP had recorded victories in all.
Gradually, the ship of leadership of the PDP in Akwa Ibom State which Obong Paul Ekpo captained berthed in a harbor in 2016 amidst huge commendations, but there was yet a history-setting bridge to be crossed. Will Paul Ekpo go for a second term which no one had gone before?
When it was time for that ship to set sail again in 2016, the leader of the party in the state, His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel, elders, stakeholders and members of the party had in view of the magnificent job he did during his first missionary journey, decided to hand over the baton to lead the party again to Obong Paul Ekpo.
With another formidable Exco in place, the reelected State Chairman resumed the task of building on the structures they had erected in his first outing as chairman. The work that lay ahead would be enormous given the fact that the party would be filling candidates for a major election in three years from that time.
This time, all he needed to do was to apply theories of leadership that had worked in his first tenure while building new ones along the way.
And so again, brick after brick, through result-oriented strategies like transparent nomination processes, level play field, the floating and sustenance of socio-economic initiatives that attracted broad-based beneficiaries devoid of partisan sentiments, timely dissemination of party information, the PDP in Akwa Ibom began the process of running towards the 4-year finishing line. Somewhere along the race, he was called upon to lead other state chairmen of the PDP across Nigeria.
But if the 2015 governorship election had exposed the desperation of the opposition party to capture Akwa Ibom, the 2019 gubernatorial election revealed a new layer to that desperation. Intimidations, harassment, mouthwatering financial inducements, arrests and ultimately plans to hijack the collation and results declaration process became the items in the playbook of the opposition. And the opposition religiously experimented with all the items in the playbook.
As a courageous commander with integrity who has seen God’s hand wrought wonders, Obong Paul Ekpo soldiered on together with his team. He clearly understood what was at stake – the future of Akwa Ibom people! And so with an unbending resolve, the adroit political schemer decided that he would go into that war and win it. And together with Akwa Ibom people, the victory was won.
As he bows out as State Chairman soon, he would be leaving behind, imprints of courage, innovative leadership in politics, and scientific-like precision in political scheming. Obong Paul “Politics” Ekpo has successfully raised the bar in political party leadership and stewardship.
*Borono Bassey a Public Relations Strategist writes from Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital.