Akpabio v Emmanuel: Who’ll control state PDP in 2019?
Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, examines the battle for the control of Akwa-Ibom PDP in preparation for the 2019 General Election following allegations that some forces loyal to Senator Godswill Akpabio may have finalised plans to either deny Governor Udom Emmanuel the party’s governorship ticket or to frustrate him out of the party.
ALTHOUGH they are yet to officially accept that the political bond that holds them is no longer as strong as it used to be, behind-the-scene moves have shown that Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa-Ibom State and his predecessor and godfather, Senator Godswill Akpabio, may not work as one during the 2019 elections. In fact, their party, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has suffered seemingly unending defections of its crème-de la-crème to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), is said to be unable to settle what insiders described as battle between Emmanuel and Akpabio for the control of the party machinery in preparation for the 2019 governorship election.
At the beginning, not many observers believed the robust political relationship between the governor and his political godfather would ever go sour until October 2016, when some insiders alleged that the cabinet reshuffle Emmanuel initiated then was the beginning of his bid to be his own man.
With the dissolution of the state’s executive council, some powerful political forces, while lobbying for positions for their appointees in the state government, alleged that the governor, who until then was wholly loyal to Akpabio, had changed tremendously in a bid to be in control of his government.
But insider sources in Akwa-Ibom State told The Nation that if the governor has succeeded to gain relative control of his government, the same may not be said of his influence in the state chapter of PDP, as Akpabio remains in firm control of the party’s machinery. Given this reality, dissatisfied Akpabio loyalists, The Nation learnt, have demanded that Governor Emmanuel be denied the party’s ticket in 2019 even as they allege poor performance and deliberate efforts, on the part of the governor and his associates, to exclude Akpabio’s close associates in the running of the state.
“This is the root cause of the occasional verbal exchanges notwithstanding the public denials on both sides. I can confirm to you that all is no longer well between the governor and our leader, the Senate Minority Leader. We are disturbed by the daily defections to opposition political party and as such are not afraid to say that we are piling up pressure on Senator Akpabio to ensure that the governor is not given PDP’s governorship ticket for the next election, since we can see from current happenings that if Governor Emmanuel is given the ticket, APC will have good ground to fight for the plum seat,” said a PDP loyalist of Akpabio, who requested not to be named.
The alleged face-off gained ground when Governor Emmanuel was quoted in an interview as complaining that a multi-billion naira Akwa Ibom State Specialist Hospital, which was one of Akpabio’s legacy projects, was not well equipped. The complaint was described as an open attack on the former governor.
But in his reaction to comments which trailed his public complaint, Emmanuel, in a statement, by his Chief Press Secretary, Ekerete Udo, said such interpretations were parts of attempts by people imputing political intrigues in every of his activities to cause division between him and Akpabio.
“We recognise that the political season is upon us, and desperate individuals will, as a result, attempt to cause division and create imaginary issues.
“Governor Emmanuel, however, is determined to continue the erection of a skyscraper for the good people of Akwa Ibom State from the solid foundation and structure that his mentor and former governor, Akpabio, had erected.
“Every attempt by certain individuals or politically sponsored groups to derail the governor from that vision will amount to a waste of their time and resources.
“The governor did not, within the context and tenor of the statement categorically say Ibom Specialist Hospital was not fully equipped, as such the statement was taken out of an excerpt of an interview he granted a cross-section of the newsmen, recently in Lagos.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this is exactly what the governor had said when the reporter asked him why some prominent Nigerians still do not deem it fit to patronise the hospital; It is one thing to have the facilities; it is another thing for the facilities to get to where they produce optimum results. So, where we are today, we have gone somewhere. But, I can say that we have not fully equipped it to the level of the vision we have; that is why we called on the minister (of Health) that we need to partner the Federal Government.
“What the governor meant with the above excerpt was that Ibom Specialist Hospital is on solid ground and that we have made tremendous progress with the facilities the hospital has, but that more facilities are needed to take it to the vision that led to its establishment by the state government.”
Although observers continue endlessly to identify cracks in the political relationship of Akpabio and Emmanuel, the governor has told whoever wants to listen to him that he cannot fight his mentor, Akpabio, while the senator has also expressed the same commitment publicly.
While one may not easily say if such commitments are mere public stunts, it is certain that as the 2019 General Elections approach, the two political leaders in the oil-rich Akwa Ibom State are preparing hard not to be caught unawares by the raging political intrigues. As far back as May 2016, Akpabio made concrete efforts to tighten his control of PDP in the state, when his younger brother, Ibanga Akpabio, who had served as the Secretary of the party in the state for eight years, became the Deputy State Chairman, supporting the State Chairman, Paul Ekpo, an ardent loyalist of Akpabio, who the senator ensured contested for the strategic office unopposed.
Another source close to the state government however said during the week that it will amount to naivety to suggest that Governor Emmanuel, who as the governor, is the leader of the party in the state, has no influence in the party. While the governor defer to his political mentor, I can assure you that he is the governor today,” he said.
The allegation of rivalry between Akpabio and Emmanuel gained currency at the peak of the leadership crisis in PDP at the national level, when some observers alleged that Emmanuel and Akpabio belonged to different camps in the PDP leadership saga. But according Joseph Essiet, since after the resolution, our leaders here have resolved their differences and I can assure you that they are now working as a family.
To buttress the information, Essiet said that was why Akpabio openly endorsed Emmanuel for another term in office even though the 2019 elections are still two years away.
Critical observers, aware of the frayed relationship were shocked when, at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the apex Annang socio-cultural group, Ati Annang, where elders and political leaders of the state converged in Ikot Ekpene, to formerly induct Governor Emmanuel and wife, Martha as patron and associate member respectively, Akpabio said he was awed by the performance of the governor, adding, “Governor Emmanuel has done well, Annang people will support him whole-heartedly to return for second term because we don’t play dirty politics of tortoise.” It was a change of tune, sharply different from what obtained before then.
Explaining why Akpabio openly endorsed Emmanuel, even when he is under pressure to work against the governor, taking cognisance of their deteriorating political relationship, Essiet said, “the senator must have done what he did in the interest of PDP.” According to him, one of the reasons for PDP’s acceptability in Akwa Ibom is the party’s respect of the zoning factor. To fulfil the demands of the zoning formula, it would be difficult for Akpabio and other PDP leaders to work against Emmanuel in 2019. He explained that at the return of democracy in 1999, PDP stakeholders and leaders adopted a rotation principle in the party for the governorship position. The idea is to rotate it across the three senatorial districts of Uyo, Ikot-Ekpene and Eket.
So far, the arrangement has worked as Uyo had taken its turn for eight years with Obong Victor Attah (1999 to 2007); Ikot-Ekpene Senatorial Zone which produced Senator Akpabio (2007 to 2015), has also taken its turn before handing over to the incumbent Governor Emmanuel from Eket Senatorial District. So, “the bigger picture, which may force Akpabio to support Emmanuel, is the need to allow the zone to complete its two terms of eight years like others in the interest of justice, equity and fair play,” he said.
Another reason, according to Essiet, is the need for the remnants to unite and fight APC, considering the long list of defections from the ruling party. “The opposition is fighting hard, so we must join hands if PDP will survive here in Akwa Ibom,” he said.
Franklyn Isong, a public affairs commentator, expressing the same sentiment in a statement said the party must do something about the high rate of defections before it would be too late to save Emmanuel’s government. As he puts it: “there is no smoke without fire. His party members may be disenchanted with his style of governance. They may even be uncomfortable with the policy thrust of his administration, or maybe they are unhappy with attitudes of some appointed government officials in his cabinet. This is the time for Governor Emmanuel to find the black sheep before darkness covers. It is time for him, to remove his coat and tie; and wear t-shirts and jean trousers. The task ahead for him will be too hot for coats and tie attire, I can swear to anything, if he doubts me.
Now is the time to think out a permanent solution to ending this defection menace in PDP. Anyone believing that PDP in Akwa Ibom State is still intact and strong as it was before 2015 general elections should better wake up from his fool’s paradise.”
[NATION NEWS | October 15, 2017}