– Samuel Ayara
Sound and fury would more accurately define the current level of political engagement in Akwa Ibom State as the 2023 general elections approach. With a rooftop level of entitlement to political aspirations, politicians have stirred so much bad blood than time, long after the election, would redress. Blame it on increased exposure or as a revolt at your peril, very few actors who know what is in it for them have taken control of the narratives; spewing darkness of various shades, just if it favours their sentiment. But in all, stake owners have already concealed their best and worst intentions in the Trojan horses that will prosecute the 2023 deal.
Suddenly, same processes people floated carnivals to celebrate, in proclamation of the supremacy of the party have become so strange that they would prefer rapture to being dealt their old time game. Karma at its height could not have been swifter, handing us the favour of witnessing in one lifetime the cruelty of calling the shots and being the ball; a number of their previous victims would be having a good laugh, but it is really not more than we could forgive, at least we all desire that society makes progress despite our hurts.
Amid our numerous concerns as a state, this is one election that is roundly threatening sane reasoning, with people promoting inanities over practicable solutions. Of the greater percentage of governorship candidates from the eighteen registered political parties, believing that the candidate of the All Progressives Congress will find a way to get on the Independent National Electoral Commission’s list, so little attention at the moment is paid to deliverables, all we are condemned to has been endless rhetorics, blame games and vain grandstanding that amount to naught.
Unlike in the past when the people were clinking away in champagne glasses, this is different from when the conversation was incensed by zoning or who has no history of staying and contributing to the development of the state; there is hardly any of the leading candidates the political system would describe as ‘returnee’ as they have valid history of being around. This has muted the advocacy of months leading to now, when people pitched their dispaproval for “returnee candidates”, insisting they needed a leader that understands the state and her people. Alas that is in the bag, leaving us with the choice of what to make of it!
Mind racking on our new reality is having to choose from the array of candidates, a homegrown governor that will better serve our interest, looking at their antecedents and implied belief in the Akwa Ibom project. In doing so, we must excuse ourselves from the pretence of thinking any other could emerge outside the quartet of Sen. John Udoedeghe – NNPP, Pst. Umo Eno – PDP, Sen. Bassey Albert – YPP and Obong Akan Udofia – APC, as their party consultations and reach have been visibly intensive enough to pass their push for a gubernatorial outing.
Scooping from their histories, activities, programmes, policies and expansive following one can without equivocation agree to the existence of a mixed flurry of moments in these aspirations. Which ever way, the State has much to gain from their ambitions as much as there are ideas around them the people may find difficulties relating with. It is time to switch their salesman ability on turbocharged mode as the most of these aspirations would depend on how much of a hope, light, solution and goodwill merchant each of them can be.
A few but inconclusive mention of how they stand could suffice thus:
1. Senator John James Udoedeghe, the New Nigeria Peoples Party Governorship candidate who recently defected from the All Progressives Congress, shortly after exiting office as National Secretary comes to the race as most experienced gubernatorial prospect, having since 2011 been on the quest for the Hilltop mansion, with promises of replicating a leadership module that will redistribute wealth and create a middle class economy to help the state play big in the socioeconomic league.
With plausible experience garnered from his stint as Mayor of Uyo , at the National Assembly and as Minister of the Federal Republic, Udoedeghe has shown traits of consistency in his plans and programmes for the state and has in the last couple of months explored a strategy that sees him traverse political wards, where he interacts first hand with the grassroots; an idea no other candidate has considered, but ultimately one that should not be ignored.
While it appears there is not much to his credit when it comes to public display of philathropism, his mien at growing followership has been exemplary, at least there is yet after him to show the kind of 2011 electoral outcome that saw candidates of the then Action Congress of Nigeria trounce the Peoples Democratic Party to emerge victorious at the Uyo federal and state constituency polls. The most intriguing of the 2011 political outing remains that despite the schemings of the time, the duo of Emmanuel Ekpenyong and Edwin Joseph remained with the opposition throughout their tenure at the National and state assembly respectively.
Touted to have lost a huge chunk of the 2011 support base that made him thick, both his party NNPP and aspiration may not be so popular, but he is likely to enjoy the support of the Augustine Ekanem led faction of the APC, while very little will add in the positive to his choice of Godwin Afangide of Ikot Ekpene senatorial district as Deputy Governorship candidate in an election other parties think Oro nation reserves the exclusive right of first refusal to the number two seat.
2. Still battling to secure INEC’s nod for the primaries his faction of the All Progressives Congress held in the state, Obong Akan Udofia; an oil mogul who abandoned his gubernatorial bid in the PDP for the preference of stakeholders of the Akpabio/Ntukekpo adherents, daily burrows through a groundswell of opposition within and outside his party. To some, nothing could have been more disruptive than his sudden arrival in the party and emergence as governorship flagbearer.
His urbane and suave disposition till now remain his greatest assets, winning him more amity in the Hilltop mansion race than political correctness could. His message of prosperity is considered a selling point that is in sync with successes he has made sitting atop the management of Desicon Group, including the much speculated but unsubstantiated link with Ibom Air. The acceptance he enjoys cannot be divorced from his philanthropy; as evidenced in the sensation that greeted his building of a hostel block for the state owned university and the one hundred million Naira donation for the construction of a teaching hospital for Akwa Ibom State University.
Despite the dissenting opinions about his candidature, Udofia can still bank on the support of faithful APC members across the State who have remained unapologetic in their political orientations and lost in the “party is supreme” conviction. Beyond the core adherents, he has pitched very little of hope and solution; some times appearing grossly inadequate and out of touch with current realities as seen in a presentation at the recently concluded AKISAN convention in the USA, where he described the situation at home as despairing; nothing could have been more disheartening in the same decade a sitting President described Nigerian youths as lazy.
If this aspiration must stretch unto the campaigns, he will have to do more to show he knows the state better, as business successes would translate to very little when governance is on the discourse. More than this, he has to find a way to unite his party which at the moment is not only shaky, but threatening to implode; conscious that if the 2019 electoral outcome of his party could have been that abysmal when they appeared more united, the next could be tragic if people do not close ranks in pursuit of the APC’s 2023 electoral victory.
3. Senator Bassey Albert is the Akwa Ibom Northeast district representative who for seven years served as Commissioner for Finance and Chairman Interministerial Direct Labour Coordinating Committee of the state. Having been elected twice to the Senate on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, the Ibiono Ibom born lawmaker about a month ago defected to the Young Progressives Party to pursue his gubernatorial ambition, having lost the quest for the PDP ticket. This move has been received with a mixed bag; hailed by people who would give everything to have him on the ballot and condemned by those who think he is up against a process he previously benefitted from. The one thing we cannot take from OBA is the energy and popularity he is bringing to the 2023 race.
There exists a thought line that clearly aligns his support base between those who feel he would make a good governor and those who are just agrieved for their loses at the recently held party primaries, most of who never initially supported him, when they thought their various aspirations could be actualized in the PDP. This explains the recent twist where most of his supporters have taken to casting aspersions on either his former party or the government over what they describe as failed programmes and policies. This strategy in the long run could be counter-productive, especially as he has always been a part of the government and would not be long before he is asked what he did differently while he enjoyed the warmth and patronage of the PDP and government.
Make no mistake about the trend in membership resignations the PDP has suffered to the gain of YPP in the last couple of weeks, these are mostly statutory delegates who are sympathetic to the Akwa ubokAbasi governorship project, but could not vote at the party primaries due to discrepancies in the electoral act 2022, whose making, Albert was part of. A careful collation of the numbers that have resigned so far clearly puts these resignations in the minority and affirms that not much could have swung differently if the primaries were open to statutory delegates as well. In all, whether we hazard a recall of events of 2015 that landed him in the Senate and his 2019 return, there has never been a time the party did not so guide the process in its best interest.
The loudly advanced ‘Emi Lo Kan’ (my turn) strategy can be everything but productive. It began with the Itu/Ibiono Ibom zoning agitation, caught fire with the attention of Eastern Ibibio divide before being put to rest by the larger political spectrum that governorship in the state has never been microzoned. All about this aspiration seems to revolve round whose time it is, with the conversation drifting towards some sense of entitlement over how he sacrificed his 2015 guber deal for Governor Udom Emmanuel to emerge. As passive as this would sound, politics they say has never been a fair game and even more in the circumstance puts the Uyo District Senator in the disadvantage, having in 2015 and 2019 emerged on the strength of concession, enjoying mutual support with the Governor in 2019.
4. Pastor Umo Eno; the Nsit Ubium born serial entrepreneur may be new to politics but certainly no green horn in contributing to the Akwa Ibom project having at various times deployed his expansive investment in the hospitality sector to the benefit of the state and people. Describe his involvement as transactional, and you will not be wrong, as much as it would not be out of place to acknowledge how the state over a decade ago leveraged on the availability of his facility to host the famous World Conference of Mayors because he went ahead of others, believing in the state at a time many did not.
Lucky to have earned the support of the Governor and critical stakeholders, which everyone in the race yearned for, Umo Eno, in the hilltop mansion race can clearly boast of the most expansive support base, parading the most experienced hands and minds in the state’s political firmament. Pundits think the 2023 election is his to lose as his team explores the political space bringing people to amity with his peace and prosperity deal. Mention must not be avoided of the richness of his ARISE agenda and the precision with which it attempts to provide solutions to our myriad of socioeconomic challenges; people are convinced that if the economy must do well, then leaders who have an eye for entrepreneurship should be encouraged. He undoubtedly holds the aces to growing SMEs and would be a good bet in enterprise development.
His being thought a green horn in the race would have been a minus in an era people saw politicians as holding solutions to our development needs, but not in this era where they must be excused, if society must be saved from the prejudices of political alliance and sentiments. His growing popularity not withstanding, the WAEC certificate scandal threatening opprobrium on his credibility, is a sad narrative. Though he, along with his handlers have jointly and severally refuted same. The rumour mill may not so much favour his innocence, but there exists the truth the court must unravel in the end. If the case goes his way, there would be no reason not to seek redress for the dent it has dealt his image, but a more desperate concern lies with the veracity of his claims
The gender persuasion swings in his favour, as the choice of Sen. Akon Eyakenyi as running mate addresses more than the agitation for gender balance in the polity, putting her in good stead in the conversation that promotes the interest of pro-ethnic nationality, flexibility, exposure and experience. Make no mistake thinking these would not count, they ultimately will as Akwa Ibom women already look poised to making bold statements that will reinvent their pivotal stake in the Akwa Ibom project. Beyond the feminine touch on this ticket, the magnitude of response elicited by his interactions with young people across various spheres of life is such that passes him as one who holds the Midas touch to youth and enterprise development. This is evidenced as frontline youth stakeholders are already lined up to win the day for Pastor Umo Eno, whom they believe has shown commensurate leadership in private capacity.
So much but definitely not bitterness will decide the coming elections and every interested party must be reminded that this would not be our first journey through this road; Akwa Ibom people have walked it with Obong Victor Attah, Chief Goodwill Akpabio and then Mr. Udom Emmanuel, proud enough to show gains recorded through the years. It is almost a given that with adequate resources there is no Governor who will not perform well in Akwa Ibom State, in the light of the foundations laid by the founding fathers of the state. The point of convergence should be who among the quartet is equipped with the credentials and experience at growing a dream from nursery to its eventual bloom.
It is time to have them do more than discuss what they will do, what they have done and how they will carry on with fulfilling their blueprint for the state will be twice as important as cheers from the noisome rhetorics we have been condemned to. Age as a variable will play no more than ability to dispense responsive leadership; we have all lived in the time of Governor Yahaya Bello and Sen. Elisha Abbo. In the end, a winner will emerge and the people considered as deserving the leadership they will get. With conservatives and progressives left to the tales of how their action or inaction aided the emergence of what is to come.
People will move to buy votes and in doing so buy our consciences, but if we are a little resolute, then we would have all agreed that no four people can buy the over two million voters population to keep dispensing the agony of an avoidable leadership mishap, the people had better more jealously guarded what they wanted, to avoid deepening our leadership misery, which could amount to reversing the much we have all these twenty-three years gained. If we all may, let us pray and work for Akwa Ibom to win the 2023 race with the best of the four.
Samuel Ayara writes from Ibong Otoro in Abak LGA