By Muyiwa Olayinka
Godswill Akpabio is one of the few Nigerian politicians that are lucky and successful. He was relatively unknown in 1999 when Nigerian transited from military rule to civilian rule. Within a period of close to two decades, Akpabio a brilliant lawyer, astute and articulate has almost had it all.
His ascension to public office and politics was not accidental; he possibly followed the family tradition. His father was the Warrant Chief in Ikot Ekpene during the colonial rule. His uncle, Dr I U Akpabio was the Minister of Education and Internal Affairs in the then Eastern Nigeria. Justice Nsima Akpabio, his cousin, was a Senator in the second republic, between 1979 to 1983.
His political career blossomed when he was appointed Honorable Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources by the then Governor Obong Victor Attah in Akwa Ibom State. Between 2002 and 2006, he served as a Commissioner in three key ministries: Petroleum and Natural Resources, Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs as well as Lands and housing. Akpabio made use of these golden opportunities to steadily and silently built his political structures across the state.
Though the incumbent governor, Obong Attah favored his son in law and Commissioner of Finance, Bob Ekarika, to succeed him in office, Akpabio undaunted threw his hat in the ring and contested.
In 2006, he aspired for the Governorship election of Akwa Ibom state, in a hotly contested primary election and defeated 57 other aspirants to emerge the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP. It is instructive to note that Akwa Ibom like other South South states in Nigeria like River, Bayelsa, Cross River and Delta are PDP strongholds since the beginning of the Fourth Republic.
His campaign with the slogan: ‘let God’s will be done’, received mass support and was elected Governor in 2007. He was reelected for a second term in 2011 and left office after the constitutional two terms limit.
Akpabio supported his former Secretary to the State Government (Udom Gabriel Emmanuel whom he appointed in 2013) to contest for the gubernatorial election in 2015. Emmanuel a trained accountant and former Bank Director of Diamond bank contested in the primary election of PDP and defeated 22 other aspirants. He went ahead to win the election defeating his closest rival of All Progressive Congress APC candidate, Umana Okon Umana with a wide margin of almost 900,000 votes
Akpabio contested and won the Senate seat of the Akwa Ibom Northwest (Ikot Ekpene) senatorial district. Akpabio was nominated by the South South caucus of the PDP and became the Senate Minority Leader after his party lost in the 2015 Presidential election. Akpabio an eloquent speaker discharged himself creditably, defended the positions of his party PDP in the National Assembly
Zoning formula in choosing the Governor of the state.
Akwa Ibom was created on September 23, 1987 by the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida. It was carved out of the old Cross River state with Uyo as its capital city. Just like every other state in Nigeria, Akwa Ibom has three Senatorial Districts namely Uyo Senatorial District comprising the Ibibio speaking people, the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District largely populated by the Annangs and the Ibibios and the Eket Senatorial District made up of the Oron, Eket and the Ibibio speaking people. With this structure, the Ibibios scattered in all the three Senatorial districts are in the majority. They are spread in 18 out of the 31 local government areas of the state.
The first Governor in the fourth republic (1999 to 2007), Obong Victor Attah is an Ibibio man from Uyo Senatorial District, his successor Godswill Akpabio is an Annang man from Ikot Ekpene and the incumbent Emmanuel is an Ibibio from Eket senatorial district, balancing the rotational or zoning formula.
Rift between Godfather (Akpabio) and Godson (Emmanuel)
Rifts between Godfather and Godson are common in this part of the world because politics is not based on ideology but on personalities. Also politics is the largest and big industry where politicians become wealthy, in a short period of time, hence the stakes are high. Rifts emanate from booties like appointments of key political figures and citing of high money spinning projects. The overbearing attitudes of Godfathers inhibit the smooth running of governance and the ordinary people of the states bear the scars of these rifts in Nigeria.
Rifts between Governor Emmanuel and Senator Akpabio started from the appointment of Secretary to the State Government, a powerful position that influences the policy formulation, coordination of the office of the Governor and cabinet meetings. The appointment is solely the prerogative of the Governor and does no need any approval from the state House of Assembly. It got to a stage it nearly tore apart the chummy relationships between the two before the Governor had his way.
Furthermore Akpabio complained bitterly about abandonment of some of his legacy projects sited in his Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District. He pointedly accused Udom of neglecting his star projects like the highway for Uyo to Ikot Ekpene and the Sheraton by Four Points Hotel at Ikot Ekpene. Worried by the development and the impact these rifts will have over his reelection, Udom called for stakeholders and elders meeting within the party and the state to pacify and reconcile himself with Akpabio. These meetings temporarily doused the tension but it seems Senator Akpabio had made up his mind about his successor and a grand plan was in the offing.
While reconciliation was going on, Akpabio was seen hobnobbing with the leaders of the ruling party APC, including the Vice President Osinbajo, national leader Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and visited President Muhammadu Buhari in London, when he was on medical leave.
In August 2018, Senator Akpabio resigned as the Senate Majority leader on the floor of the National Assembly after he had announced his defection to the ruling party. His defection was followed up with a political rally in his hometown at the Ikot Ekpene township stadium with top party leaders of APC officially in attendance, accepted him into APC. Akpabio defected with some state Assembly members, two Commissioners, two National Assembly members and other PDP adherents. He made this infamous statement at the rally and I quote ‘As a statesman, I cannot allow my state to remain in opposition. I have to join hand with the Federal Government to rescue my state from mis governance, insecurity and poverty and over three years of under development’. With this statement, Akpabio has put a final nail on his political coffin in the state.
This action marked the beginning of the end of Akpabio’s political unparalleled records of public stewardship in Akwa Ibom. Akpabio is seen as the poster boy of PDP and the people adored and worshipped him because of giant strides in office, the way he transformed the rural state to a modern state with world class and state of the art facilities.
Without consulting his people across the state, he took a unilateral decision, hurting and taking them for granted by decamping from a party (PDP) that made him politically and joined a relatively unknown party.
Governor Emmanuel responded by sacking all other Akpabio political appointees and his vestiges in his government. This marked the deconstruction of Akpabio in the state.
Aside the excuse of irreconcilable differences between Governor Udom Emmanuel and Senator Akpabio, political analysts opined that the central government was threatening to use the EFCC against him if he did not work to deliver the state. In a nutshell it was generally accepted that the fear and trepidation of EFCC made him to decamp to the ruling party.
There were many petitions written against him to EFCC bordering on corruption charges while in office. There was a petition that he diverted over N100bn from the oil rich state between 2007 and 2015; the matter was taken to appeal court where it has remained for many years.
How the people revolted against Godswill Akpabio
When it became obvious that Akpabio was not altruistic with way he left them high and dry, plans were afoot to deal with him politically. Many had sympathy for Governor Udom Emmanuel, he became a rallying point to resist Akpabio’s grandiose plan of winning the state for his new party at all cost. At the flag off of the second term ambition of the incumbent, tumultuous crowd came out to support and campaigned for him.
The gubernatorial candidate of APC is Nsima Ekere. Ekere, ex Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), was a former member of PDP that lost the primary elections in the 2015 gubernatorial election to Governor Emmanuel. He left the party and joined APC in 2015. Akpabio backed him in 2019 to contest against the man he helped to install.
With the backing of the Federal Government, Akpabio, Ekere and top politicians of the party were determined to win the state by all means. As a result of this the political space became charged with massive deployments of soldiers and other security agencies to the state. Before and during the election, there were many recorded cases of violence perpetrated by thugs imported from outside the states. The people became vigilant and proactive; they thwarted the nefarious plans of many of these thugs by arresting and handing them over to police.
Allegations were flying from both sides, political friends became enemies, acquaintances became foes, and neighbors became strangers over power. On the Election Day, the whole state was militarized; only few people came out to exercise their franchises.
Governor Udom won the election with 519,712 winning in 30 out of the 31 local government areas. Mr Nisima Ekere polled 171,978 winning only in Essien Udim LGA, which is the base of Senator Godswill Akpabio.
More woes came the way of Akpabio, he lost his bid to return to the Senate seat to Chris Ekpeyong. Akpabio polled 83,158 while Mr Ekpeyong scored 118,215.
Akpabio’s ego and confidence has dissipated with the results of the general election, his invisibility has been destroyed. He learnt the bitter lesson that the popularity he enjoyed was derived from the mandate freely given to him by his people. His inability to gauge the mood of his people has become his greatest undoing.
Akpabio once a great and giant politician has been reduced to a Lilliputian. A boisterous and powerful politician has become a shadow of himself running from pillar to post, pursuing aimlessly to regain his lost bid at the election tribunal.
This is the lot of many politicians that has quickly forgotten that POWER BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE, THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE SHALL PREVAIL.
The moment you lose it, you become irrelevant in the scheme of things.
He may be compensated with a ministerial appointment by the federal government, but he should bear in mind the current predicament of former Governor of Anambra state, Chris Ngige. Ngige has become a spent politician in his state, who cannot manage to win any elective post again but rewarded with a colorless Federal portfolio of Minister of Labour and Productivity.
Akpabio has joined his fellow co travellers like Governor Okorocha of Imo state, Senate President Bukola Saraki that have learnt the painful lessons of transient political powers that will evaporate once your constituents loses faith in you.
The beauty of this is that democracy is deeply rooted and entrenched in Nigeria. Nigerian electorates are becoming assertive to elect their political leaders. The days of political leaders rigging their ways into power and forcing themselves on the people with the instrumentalities of office to subvert democratic principles are gone. Nigerians are becoming wiser and if we continue in this path, the labor of our late political heroes like MKO Abiola, Shehu Musa Yar’adua and Mallam Aminu Kano shall not be in vain.