The race to the 2023 governorship contest in Akwa Ibom zoned to the Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District aka Uyo Senatorial District as at date has nine contestants save one, that is committed namely Ide Owodiong, Bassey Albert Akpan, Onofiok Luke, Akan Okon, Michael Enyong, James Iniama, Umo Eno, Akan Udofia. Also, Nine local government areas namely Uyo, Itu, Ibiono Ibom, Etinan, Nsit Atai, Nsit Ubium, Nsit Ibom, Uruan, and Ibesikpo/Asutan make up the geopolitical block. This senatorial district has three federal constituencies of which all but Itu\Ibiono have not produced a governor since the creation of Akwa Ibom state in 1987.
The timing of this piece could not have been more auspicious than now being the actual day of the governorship primary set by INEC for political parties in the country to conduct the exercise or a rescheduled date.
This survey would attempt to come up with a credible political calculation based on empirical data obtained through observation, interviews, content lifting from published documents et cetera that would enable readers articulate with a view to getting an informed perspective of what to expect after today’s primaries.
The trio of Hon. Onofiok Luke, representing Etinan, Nsit Ibom, and Nsit Ubiom at the National Assembly, HOR; Pastor Umo E no, the commissioner for Lands and Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, the Senator representing Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District at the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly are the aspirants on our radar and would form the nucleus of this conversation.
These three faces of governorship aspirants out of the nine bookmarked on our cover were selected based on the political structures they have as well as their footprints in the buildup to the PDP governorship primary in the state.
In order words, the dominant indices that are engaged besides perhaps others on the sidelines, to gauge the selection were finance, goodwill, and scale of mobilisation in reaching out to delegates and stakeholders in their domains.
Money politics is a vicarious practice across the globe but is more intense in our clime. What we are hearing in this micro exercise of electing a flagbearer of the party in Akwa Ibom is breathtaking. Aside from tangibles to woo delegates, there have been reports of huge financial inducements offered by aspirants and their cronies to harvest the votes of delegates.
All of the three candidates in varying degrees though, have scaled the huddles and are potential to clinging the Peoples Democratic Party ticket after today’s primary event.
Zeroing in on this trio is neither a ploy to diminish the efforts of other contestants in the exercise nor belittle their persons. Equally strong contenders that have generated appreciable energy at this level of deciding who emerges as the flagbearer of PDP in Akwa Ibom are Ide Owodiong, Michael Enyong, Akan Okon among others.
But the PDP primary was already off on a stuttering start riding on a bumpy road as heightened in the spate of protests arising from the April 30 ward congress. Before this, there were pockets of protests by individuals and groups. And underlying these protests are monumental inequalities in the treatment of aspirants across the strata of elective offices.
The picture in the past few weeks was blighted on how the PDP primary will pan out as we witnessed increasingly disruptive dynamics at the national and sub-national levels.
One of such was the Saturday, April 30 ward congresses to elect ad hoc delegates which generated at the time a lower level of enthusiasm among aspirants and their supporters whom the incumbent considers ‘rebels’. Reports from the ward congresses across most parts of the state had it that voting did not hold in more than 90% of the 329 wards in the state. Report has it that even where the members were physically present to vote, election materials in most of the wards either arrived late or not at all. And even wards that had materials were reported to be filled by candidates picked by the government.
This manipulation before it was stood down by the court had undoubtedly given Umo Eno a huge leap out of the 987 figure over other aspirants given the huge number of ad hoc delegates which is substantial to tilt the result of the primary. It is inconceivable now to put a number on the increase the sham ward congress exercise would have translated to for him.
As a result, many Akwa Ibomites were of the opinion that the establishment candidate, Umo Eno is the alpha dog in the race energised by the unpopular outcome of the April 30 ward congress.
And following this altercation, a court case has been instituted by some aggrieved members of Akwa Ibom PDP at the Federal High Court in Abuja. The suit was filed on May 4 against the PDP Ward Congress conducted on April 30 in the 329 wards in the state.
The Federal High Court sitting in Abua on Wednesday has put on hold the plan of using the ad hoc delegates list in the upcoming PDP primaries in the Akwa Ibom State.
The case before the court between Friday Iwok and 30 others Vs PDP and INEC was decided today (May 18, 2022) that the status quo should remain, pending the determination of the main suit.
When the case, Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/606/2022- RT. HON. FRIDAY IWOK &ORS V. INEC & Anor came up, the court granted the injunction against the usage of April 30, 2022, Adhoc delegates list for the PDP Congresses in Akwa Ibom State.
While adjourning the case to Wednesday, May 25, 2022, for hearing, the Court gave an order that parties should maintain status quo antebellum. This means that the state of affairs before the holding of the Ward Ad-hoc Congress of 30th April 2022 has been restored.
In order words, in the meantime and pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit, the Ward Ad-Hoc Delegates Congress of 30/04/2022 never took place.
According to a legal luminary, Barrister Jerry Akpan, the implication of the court decision is that “ad hoc delegates issue in the upcoming PDP primaries has been buried”.
He explained that, with the latest court pronouncement, the Ad-hoc delegates will NOT vote in the House of Assembly primary on May 21, 2022, House of Representative’s primary on May 22, 2022, Senatorial primary on May 23 as well as the May 25, 2022 governorship primary.
And with the stoppage of the delegate list from being used in the primary, the circumstance is no longer the same. The balance has been tilted reasonably opening up the contest to all the aspirants. The court order is a game-changer and has technically redrawn the map of how aspirants fare in the contest hitherto in favour of the establishment candidate Umo Eno.
Impunity and blatant disregard for the core tenets of democracy is not alien to our democratic experience in Nigeria. And recounting his experience as a victim of governors’ high-handedness in the manipulation of local elections into elective positions in their domains, Ghali Umar Na Aba, 4th republic Speaker of the House of Representatives while appearing recently as a guest on an NTA talk show- ‘Reflection’ said ” when there is democracy people learn but the governors have not allowed this learning because of their pecuniary interest. ” He said further that if political parties are not healthy there is no way other components of the society can be healthy.
“We have to change the way we see and play politics. And until we have leaders across the board that is ready to think in terms of the next generation, not an election, the people cannot benefit from democratic governance,” he said.
The Senate recently amended Section 84(8) of the Electoral Act 2022 to allow statutory delegates to participate and vote in party conventions, congresses, and meetings. The legislation was sponsored by Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege that saw the lawmakers amend the section which initially allowed only elected delegates of a party to participate in conventions and congresses.
This recent tweaking of section 84(8) of the electoral act to now allow statutory delegates to participate in congresses and others would be a game-changer at the primaries. The amended bill would sure energise and grow the basis of all the principal contenders though disproportionately.
Generally, a high turnout of delegates at the primary would likely impact the chances of the aspirants though disproportionately.
Political Engagements: The involvements past and present of our top three candidates in the politics of the state and nation is a key driver not just because of the offices held per se but more because of the rob off effects of the position on delegates who are the umpire for the PDP governorship primary on 23rd May.
Onofiok Luke is a two-term Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and currently representing the people of Etinan federal constituency in the green chamber of the n National Assembly. As a result of his closeness to the former Governor Victor Attah, he is viewed by many as his political godson thus would benefit from his political support base. However, as plausible as this political calculation may seem, the mere presence of Obong Attah in the meeting at the government facility that heralded the announcement of Umo Eno by Udom Emmanuel is a red flag.
He is reported to have rejected a huge sum allegedly offered by the governor for him to freeze his ambition of running for the coveted office. This has drawn applause and admiration from some Akwa Ibomites. He is said to be a financial contributor to the party structure in the state.
Again, as a plus, his candidacy appeals more to the youthful population of Akwa Ibom electorates. Himself a youth whose ideas and programmes are intimately linked to their needs and desires is potent enough to energise this critical demographic of the voting population. But the caveat however is their level of involvement relative to their numerical strength at this preliminary stage of the exercise overlooking the general elections.
Besides, it is often argued that even in the elections proper there is this argument rightly or wrongly, that the youths are passive in going through the rigors of the process that would validate them to vote and even those with valid voters cards may decline to cast their votes because of the rigors and time spent before voting.
Pastor Umo Eno is the current commissioner for Lands in Akwa Ibom. He is a former banker with FCMB and an entrepreneur in the hospitality business. But he is a relatively unknown aspirant in the political space in Akwa Ibom. His popularity only surge though minimally, after Udom announced him as his successor. The machinery of the establishment aside from money is deployed vicariously in the state to bolster his image and acceptance, particularly among delegates at this stage of the contest. Political observers in the state are reserved about his chances of clinging to the party’s ticket for multiple reasons viz: lack of influence in the party, ill preparation, divided loyalty in the party hierarchy, disillusionment among those earlier bookmarked by Governor Udom Emmanuel to succeed him, transferred aggression against his benefactor and among others, the thinking that he is a stooge to orchestrate the third term agenda of Udom Emmanuel.
His campaign handled by Maintain Peace Movement [MPM] formed by the state government to ensure his emergence as the governor’s successor has championed his tour of council areas in the state but with minimal exposure to the public save government media outlets.
Among the three front runners, OBA is the most popular of them arising from his privileged positions in the past. First, he is a two-term, four years each commissioner of Finance under Godwin Akpabio’s administration. Also, he had a stint period as chairman of the Akwa Ibom State interministerial committee. The intensity of his political influence across the state which is the reason for his popularity stems from his ad hoc assignments as commissioner covering the entire 31 local government areas in the state. Record shows that multiple projects were executed in each council area. Statistics from show that 3,100 projects were directly executed by 50 youth and 250 indirectly per LGA. Arising from the data 300 youth directly benefited financially from these projects while 2, 200, 000 benefitted from the value of same in the state. And having now enjoyed a rebased standard of living, a good number of these youths joined the political fray as elected or appointees since 2011 under the mentorship of Obong Bassey Albert Akpan. There is no gainsaying that a good number of these folks are prospective delegates, statutory or ad hoc.
Feelers from some of the people who spoke with our enumerators say the Senator has laid the foundation for the office for a very long time which in their estimation makes him acceptable everywhere in the state.
Our manner of discourse would reasonably follow the pattern of assessing the strength as well as weaknesses of each aspirant in the ten federal constituencies in Akwa Ibom state.
And kickstarting with the federal constituencies in Akwa Ibom South-South Senatorial District popularly called Eket Senatorial district, Oron federal constituency comprising of five local council areas, Pastor Umo Eno is ahead. He has consulted widely with delegates and stakeholders from the block notwithstanding in some instances odd hours of the morning. The cliche ‘adopted’ is chorused at the end of such visits in all the five local councils in the area. The reason behind his seeming acceptance is the goodwill and influence of his political mentor, Udom Emmanuel in the area. This tie is obviously not unconnected wth the cordial relationship with Hon. Felicia Bassey the Deputy Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and Senator Akon Eyakenye representing Akwa Ibom South-South Senatorial district in the upper chamber of the National Assembly, aside from other efforts of foot soldiers.
Obong Bassey Albert Akpan has made a nitch inroad in the Mbo council area of Oron federal constituency. His consultation in the area was engaging and his promise of fast racing the completion of Ibaka Deep Sea Port as well as making the beech economically viable to impact jobs impinged on the core need of the people. The aspirant is expected as well to leverage the anecdotal link with the people through the late Inspector General of Police, Etim Inyang. The aggregation of these goodwills is an asset that will harvest votes for him at the 23rd May primary.
Onofiok Luke has toured the federal constituency and is expected to make an impression.
In Eket federal constituency OBA has made appreciable inroad aided by the effort of Ephraim Inyangeyen who was the former Chief to Governor Udom Emmanuel and a senatorial aspirant of Akwa Ibom South-South Senatorial District in the 2023 elections.
It would be recalled that on 28th March 2022, the governor aspirant was reported to have led the campaign team to the Ibeno local government area, where he made known his plans for the coastal communities one of which was to develop water transportation in collaboration with relevant authorities to provide facilities like jetties, ferries, hovercrafts, boats, and others to ease movement of locals and their goods.
It would be recalled that in 2017, OBA sponsored the Gas Flaring and Prohibition Bill due to the degradation of Ibeno people and others in the riverine areas suffering hardships like the destruction of aquatic and agricultural activities as well as health hazards. This was one of the reasons he worked hard to ensure the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill which provides for the protection of the people in the area against gas flaring. These are some of the signature efforts that have endeared him to the people that would rob off in his choice by delegates from the area.
Umo Eno flying on the wings of Governor Udom Emmanuel will get a somewhat appreciable piece of the pie. While Onofiok Luke is expected to get a nitch of the votes from the delegates.
Akwa Ibom North East is the battleground as it is the domain of all the contenders. While Senator Bassey Akpan will hold the ground in Itu/ Ibiono federal constituency, Etinan federal constituency is a death zone for Onofiok Luke and Umo Eno, both come from the Nsit Ubium council area. Luke has an edge because of his popularity in the constituency- Nsit Ibom, Nsit Ubium, and Etinan as well as his quality representation of the area. Many party stalwarts and watchers view his candidacy as no mean threat to the establishment candidate. The chances are that most of the delegates from the federal constituency will identify with him because of his antecedent and anecdotal relationship with the people as he is perceived as a grassroots person.
Also, the Uyo federal constituency comprising Uyo, Uruan, Ekpe Atai, and Ibesikpo Asutan is keenly contested by aspirants from the areas, Micheal Enyong and Ide Owodiong. But notwithstanding, others especially the three on our radar will grab nitch votes.
Federal constituencies in Akwa Ibom Northwest Senatorial District, Ikono/Ini, Ikot Ekpene/ Obot Akara/ Essien Udim, and Abak are large and virgin areas to rustle votes. Umo Eno basking on the state machinery using appointees of government as footsoldiers has made an appreciable inroad in the area. Umo Eno will bank on the Deputy Governor, Commissioner for Sports, and his colleagues, as well as other high profile appointees of government from the zone to deliver, delegates in their domains. OBA leveraging on the political influence of his campaign director, Eme Akpabio, his colleague in the Senate, Chris Ekpenyong, and several others will sure harvest an appreciable number of votes. Onofiok Luke would make an impression as well.
Senator Bassey Albert Akpan has made efforts to reach out to Akwa Ibomites in all the three Senatorial districts constituting his constituency. Being identified as a grass-root politician, he recently empowered two executive members from each ward in all the 31 local council areas with cars. The 62 beneficiaries across the state are subtle supporters of his candidacy where the aspirant is expected to harvest votes in the primary. In addition, he has also invested in the education and future of Akwa Ibom people. His educational initiative has been running for the past 6 years and counting. This programme according to the Managing team of the fund has produced 470 graduates that will, directly and indirectly, impact his performance in the primary. A delegate who spoke during one of his routine consultative visits to the Eket council area said he is a beneficiary of the aspirant’s educational initiative. And besides, the beneficiaries constitute a reasonable bloc of influencers to sway votes in his favour.
Already all of the aspirants have closed consultations having crisscrossed the 31 council areas of the state on a raid to harvest votes of delegates as the May 23 primary knocks.
Given the quantum of data analysed from our field reports as one of the governorship candidates has declined apparently because of the uneven playing field, the ruling party in the state ought to ensure that today’s primary is free and fair otherwise the heightened tension and disloyalty that would hunt the party in the event of discordant exercise has the capacity to impact the impressive run of the party which hitherto have enjoyed ample goodwill from the people. Aside from the governorship position, other caders of elective positions would experience this shrink of influence as well in the event of a divided primary.
BOTTOM LINE: Politics is in the realm of social sciences. Unlike in the natural sciences where some hypothesis has metamorphosed over time into universal principles where for instance 1+1=2, politics lack this level of precision. But this does not in any way diminish the credibility of the process used by the social scientist as in this article to arrive at the forecast. This is the rationale of our wielding the tool of social sciences in the first instance to select the three alpha candidates. And bearing what may change or not change at the milieu of the political event if the primary holds today as fixed, one of the three candidates would surely emerge as the governorship flagbearer of the Peoples Democratic Party for the 2023 general elections in Akwa Ibom State.