AKPABIO: Misstep or Right Step

Does Sen. Akapbio Have the National Footprint to Represent the Face of Akwa Ibom people

After a long walk on the corridor of power as a commissioner and a governor; as well as a stint as minority leader in the Nigerian Senate, Akpabio has returned to the public spot light. His defection last week is somewhat germane and controversial going by the extent of disapproval. Tempers flared, people got talking. Akpabio is so roundly condemned by a good number of people within the state and even Akwa Ibomites in the diaspora. Some even went hysterical by posting on the social media a turbaned portrait of senator Akpabio which by now may have gone viral already. What is the cry and hew of his defection all about? Or is it a case of making the apparently insignificant, significant or vice versa. Indeed, the defection of senator Akpabio to the APC is a real political problem as well as moral.

How important is Akpabio in the politics and by extension destiny of Akwa Ibom. Was he right in the first instance to cross carpet. Against this backdrop, I got worried and thought through the whole defection episode, asking myself some probing questions which I shall present here.  Why  should the people of Akwa Ibom (citizens and shareholder) loose sleep in the first place over his defection. And from political stand point, does Akapbio have a national footprint that could represent the face of Akwa Ibom people at the national level. Can he influence real largesse for the state as a piece of our own cake from the center. Does his defection undermine the unity, aspiration, and progress of the state.

I think we need to broaden the discussion beyond the defection. My intent in striking this conversation on senator Akpabio is for Akwa Ibomites to generate probing questions on how to reflect on the defection and proffer appropriate answers. This will create a bigger and clearer picture of the event. 

I shall endeavor here to capture this controversial imagery of Akpabio’s defection which seems to becloud salient facts on his defection.  I wish to first state that my take on this is as published in The Lens editorial of Monday, July 30th, 2018. The portion read “As we may have known reasonably well by now, the whole episode of the defection boils down to their personal interest of trying to weigh options that will return them elected to public offices in 2019. What we have witnessed and more in the days ahead is politics of desperation towards self”.

Senator Akpabio who arrived the Ibom Int’l airport Uyo, last week Tuesday amidst fanfare had attributed his defection to the APC to the unfair reward system in his former party, the PDP.

Starting with his statement, I could not honestly reconcile this statement and his eventful stint in the PDP at both the state and national. A bit of probing in the state for instance in my understanding shows that the senator has been shown enough loyalty by Udom Emmanuel and by extension the government of Akwa Ibom State.

Again, on the platform of the PDP, he was made a minority leader at the senate. ordinarily under normal circumstance, that position is reserved for a ranking senator. Senator James Manager, representing Delta South Senatorial District of Delta State became a senator since 2003 and have been a member, sometimes head of different committees. Senator Akpabio, a first timer for whatever reason was preferred to James Manager.

Senator Akpabio, then governor of Akwa Ibom State had enjoyed the privilege of leading the PDP Governors Forum as chairman, at a time. This privilege was not enjoyed by a good number of the PDP governors at the time. I can go on and on and on. The truth remains that senator Godswill Akpabio have enjoyed more than a fair share of reward in his former party, the People’s Democratic Party.

Let me come back to the critical questions put forward on his defection. My perspective on his right to defect or not goes with a caveat. Yes, he can defect on the premise of his fundamental human right of freedom of association, which bothers on his relationship with groups – social, political, cultural, religious et cetera. But in democracy where power resides with the people, as a representative of a geo – political group – senatorial district, the people should decide. A template is the case of Benue State, where while governor Sam Ortom may have decided to attend the reconciliatory meeting with the APC in Abuja; the youths and other stakeholders in the state  barricaded his office to prevent him from honouring the invitation. He came out in his convoy and was addressed by the spokesperson who clearly warned, “If you insist on going to Abuja and your security tear gas us, be rest assured that we will withdraw our support for you”. 

Thus, was his decision to defect that of his political constituency. Ordinarily, if the crowd in Ikot Ekpene and the testimony of some representatives in the zone is anything to go by, the answer may be yes but a parallel rally was held that day at Ritman University, Ikot Ekpene, coordinated by Sen. Ibok Essien. All the same,  unfolding events in the post declaration will affirm or deny what happened that day.

On the issue of his political relevance in the state, it seems to me that the much noise about his defection is not unconnected with how he is perceived as a political colossus, a champion like the Philistines had one in Goliath. I think that though the passion may be coming more from his political jurisdiction, but suffice to mention that the people of present day Akwa Ibom, a chip of the former South Eastern State, does not idolize persons probably because of our republican tilt. Whereas if we had this perception, credible individuals like the late Prof. Eyo Ita, Sir Udo Udoma Snr.  and other trail blazers of the time as well as the later personality, late Dr. Clement Isong would have been cast in this mold.

And furthering the conversation is the question of whether senator Apkabio have the national footprint to represent the face of Akwa Ibom people at the national square. The task is daunting and requires capacity from so many angles aside politics. I do not know of anyone at the moment in Nigeria but before now, Oyo State had the late Alh. Adebibu, Kwara State had the late Olori Olusola Saraki, Anambra State had the late Ikemba Odumegwu Ojuku, the late Joseph Tarka of earstwhile Benue, the late Sardwuna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello as well as few other seemingly idols like the late Solomon Lar of Plateau State. Or need I progress the narrative beyond this point. Anyway, it is open for further discussion but I draw the curtain here on this.

In retrospect, what does Akwa Ibom stand to loose or gain in Akpabio’s defection. I’ll recall here a food for thought in our published editorial in The Lens of Monday, July 30th, 2018 “Nigerians are hungry, sick and dying. It does not matter which party controls the machinery of government, both are different sides of the same coin. What matters, rather is for the government in power to provide critical national infrastructures as well as creating jobs for the people”

The defection unarguably has stoked tribal anxiety already, pitching as would be expected people from his political zone against those of other jurisdictions. 

My worry earnestly is more about these unintended consequences of his defection which is likely to feed on existing faults lines, thereby further polarizing the state. The big issue here lies in the capacity of senator Akpabio to properly manage both the intended and unintended consequences on all fronts.

I perceived senator Akpabio was in a fix and wearing the shoe, he knows where it hurts most. At times in life, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the right option to follow but followed all the same because of expediency. I think he should be given some space because he may not be totally off track. After all, risk and benefits complement each other in ideal life situation. 

Now, given the extent this seemingly harmless defection has polarized the state, my parting shut is for all parties, managers of the two political platforms in dispute as well as stakeholders in the Akwa Ibom project which involves every Akwa Ibomite to sheath sword and work together for the progress of the state. What matters, rather is for the government in power to provide critical national infrastructures as well as creating jobs for the people”. 

Published in maiden edition, Lens Newspapers Vol. 1 No. 7.

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