Nigeria: Akpabio and politics of 2015 governorship
CHANGES that took place in the political history of Akwa Ibom State on Monday, July 29 and Tuesday, July 30, 2013 would continue to attract comments. This is so because they were unexpected.
First was the news, which later turned out to be false, that the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr. Umana Okon Umana, had resigned from his position on July 29.
Following this “rumour”, a combined team of military, police and State Security Services (SSS) officers invaded the Government House Building in Uyo.
The complex houses the Office of the Deputy Governor, the Office of the Secretary to the State Government, the old Office of the Governor and other offices of senior civil servants.
The security officers reportedly frisked civil servants, drove them away and locked up the offices of the Secretary to the State Government, whose main occupant, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, was out of town, unaware of the security operation.
Allegedly supervising the exercise was the Head of Service, Mrs. Cecilia Essien, while wife of the state governor, Mrs. Unoma Akpabio, who watched the proceedings from a close distance, eventually reportedly locked the SSG’s offices.
Many businesses and offices on Wellington Bassey Way, the road leading to the Government House, were closed on the rumours of a possible violent aftermath.
What worried onlookers, according to sources, was that never in the 26-year history of the state had a senior government official been so humiliated, embarrassed and discredited.
“Even under the military regime, no senior public official had been relieved of his position in this type of commando-style military operation,” said a respondent.
Then came July 30, and the state governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, went to Umana’s home, and thereafter the “actual” news came of the resignation of Umana as the SSG.
The state Commissioner for Information and communications, Mr. Aniekan Umanah, was to confirm Umana’s resignation and the appointment of a new SSG to replace him.
These occurrences were unprecedented, and as such deserved to attract a lot of insinuations, positive or negative.
Watchers of the government of Godswill Akpabio had seen Umana as a stabilising factor, and the engine room of the administration.
He had served Akwa Ibom State as a director of budget, commissioner of finance and then secretary to the state government for six years.
These long years of service and experience made many people to conclude that Akpabio could not do without this kind of assert.
Therefore, the resignation of Umana made a lot of people to draw hasty conclusions, trying to hang a name on the governor.
Worthy of note, though, is that Governor Akpabio and Umana were in Abuja when the first news of the latter’s resignation broke in the state, and the raid on Umana’s offices by security operatives, thereby making room for a lot of conclusions to be drawn.
Apparently to debunk the growing negative insinuations, the governor, on arrival from Abuja, drove straight from the airport to Umana’s house.
Many observers believe the governor went either to apologise to his former secretary or explain the circumstances that led to the infiltration of his offices.
However, observers of Akwa Ibom politics were quick to read the “politics of 2015” into the matter of Umana’s resignation and official attack of his office, dubbing his alleged ambition as “a serious sign of disloyalty.”
Indeed, they were right, as the state’s Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mr. Aniekan Umanah, was to provide the missing link.
The commissioner stated that Umana was put through resignation because he had publicly declared his intention to run for the office of governor in the 2015 elections.
“Following the declaration of Mr. Umana’s gubernatorial ambition for 2015 election and commencement of campaigns as widely reported in the media on July 25, 2013 and his non-refutal of same, Governor Akpabio sought advice from relevant electoral and constitutional experts,” the commissioner said.
“He (Akpabio) was advised that he was duty bound by his Oath of Office to defend the Constitution (which includes the provisions of the Electoral Act, which forbid public officers from declaring for electoral office while still in office).
“He (Akpabio) consequently requested for Mr. Umana’s resignation to enable him (Umana) pursue his stated interest in the 2015 governorship election.”
The governor took it from there recently while fielding questions from newsmen.
He advised that: “If anybody wishes to contest any election, the law states that you should resign. If you resign, we will have no option than to make a change.”
Umana had denied making a public declaration, challenging anybody to prove him wrong.
But observers also point to Governor Akpabio, who had repeatedly declared that he would run for the seat of his Ikot Ekpene senatorial district in 2015.
Besides publicly appointing as his campaign manager, Senator Aloysius Etok, the incumbent in that district, Akpabio’s minders have erected giant billboards in Ikot Ekpene, Abak and other cities in the district, proclaiming the governor’s ambition.
It would be recalled that when Senate President David Mark was in Uyo in July, to declare open the retreat for journalists that cover the Senate beat, Akpabio declared publicly:
“Mr. Senate President, Sir, when I join you in the Senate in 2015, I will surely vote for you to be returned as the Senate President.”
So, the begging question: Why will the governor “criminalise” Umana’s alleged ambition if he is pursuing his own unrestrained and unencumbered?
“It is a characteristic Akpabio effusive exuberance, yet nobody humiliated him,” said a source.
The source queried: “If the governor had declared his senatorial ambition publicly and repeatedly, why does he find it so difficult to accommodate the others’ aspiration?
“Why does the governor find it so expedient to insult and humiliate Ibibio leaders, the very people who helped him into power?”
The source recalled that over the federation, politicians were making arrangements to contest the next governorship election.
“For instance, Chief Godsday Orubebe, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, had announced he would contest for the governorship of Delta State in 2015.
“Yet, President (Goodluck) Jonathan had not ordered Chief Orubebe locked out of office.
“Senator Ganiyu Solomon had indicated interest to contest the governorship of Lagos State, and the Senate President and Governor Babtunde Fashola have not locked him (Solomon) out of office.
“The Minister of State for Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, has declared his intention to succeed Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State. Again, President Jonathan has not humiliated Chief Wike.
“Yet, it is only in Akwa Ibom State that Chief Akpabio had resorted to unorthodox methods to stymie a legitimate political ambition of a citizen.”
In the midst of this hullabaloo, Governor Akpabio has sustained pouring encomiums on Mr. Umana.
For instance, after Umana’s resignation, the governor, in a letter of July 31, 2013 stated thus:
“On behalf of the Government and good people of Akwa Ibom State, I write to convey to you my profound gratitude for the worthy contributions you made to the development of our dear state while you served as the Secretary to the State Government from Friday 1st June 2007 to Tuesday 30th July 2013.”
Since then, the governor, at different occasions, spoke against all hasty conclusions, and paid glowing tributes to the former SSG.
He credited Umana as one who had contributed immensely to the achievements his administration had recorded and wished him (Umana) success in all his future endeavours.
If truth be told, what jolted most critics was Umana’s appearance during the swearing-in ceremony of his successor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel.
At that ceremony, the governor was full of words of commendation for Mr. Umana, saying, “he is a brother and a friend, who displayed exceptional competence in the discharge of his duties and contributed significantly to the uncommon transformation of our dear state.”
“The government and people of Akwa Ibom State acknowledge, with gratitude, the dedication of Mr. Umana Okon Umana at the different stations in which he patriotically served the state in a long illustrious career, which began in the Civil Service and culminated in his appointment as Secretary to the State Government in 2007,” Akpabio said.
This word of trust and confidence must have made the Akwa Ibom State Government to view, as unkind, an editorial in one of the national papers (not The Guardian), which described Governor Akpabio as a “tin god,” unilaterally removing the former SSG from office.
However, Umana’s supporters are not satisfied with explanations given by government officials and the Akpabio’s constant praises, accusing him of paying Umana back with a wrong coin.
As usual, the people are asking Umana not to see the development as a deterrent to his political ambition.
It was also gathered that the unfolding scenario has given the opposition the impetus to lobby Umana to cross over.
According to a respondent, “Umana’s wealth of experience would give them (opposition) an upper hand over the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) come 2015.”
The source said very many Nigerians, especially Akwa Ibomites, had been embarrassed, shocked and disappointed at the sudden turn of events in Akwa Ibom in the last few months.
It noted that a long spell of relative peace and calm had been interrupted by tension, fear and ethnic disharmony.
“And the citizens are afraid that the state may soon relapse into the violence of 2011,” it said.
Another source said that as shocking as the events were, they bore the trademark of the manner Governor Akpabio had allegedly dealt with Ibibio sons, who had served in senior positions in his administration.
“The humiliation of Mr. Umana, a prominent Ibibio son, by Chief Akpabio using security goons, followed a similar pattern with which he treated many other prominent people of that ethnic (Ibibio) stock who had either served in his administration, or assisted him in his election,” the source said.
“They are: Senator John J. Udoedehe, Engr. Patrick Ekpotu and, Mr. Nsima Ekere (both former deputy governors under Akpabio) and Senator Aloysius Etok.”
Recall that Akpabio and Umana have a long history of friendship since 2003 when Umana joined the government of former Governor Victor Attah as the Commissioner for Finance.
Akpabio was then serving as the Commissioner for Local Government & Chieftaincy Affairs.
Umana is widely credited to have provided significant support to facilitate Akpabio’s election as governor in April 2007.
Which makes watchers of the events in Akwa Ibom to wonder about the “motivation for such treatment meted out to Mr. Umana, a man the governor had repeatedly extolled as the brain box of his administration?”
As argued by a source, “the excuse that Mr. Umana was humiliated out of office because he had allegedly expressed his political intention is a ruse and smokescreen meant to serve as a decoy for a premeditated political persecution.”
The source claimed that Governor Akpabio’s goal “is to plant a stooge as a successor, who will do his bidding and be beholden to him as the godfather.”
The source said the governor wants to establish the Akpabio Dynasty “to which a puppet governor would report and render financial benefits.”
To achieve this scheme, the source added, “the family plotted to deceitfully drag as many aspirants into the race as possible, to give a semblance of an open contest.”
“But each of the aspirants has an Akpabio family member attached to him. The family thus has a large footprint on the campaigns of key governorship aspirants in the state.”
The governor is also accused of embarking on a deceptive succession plan in which he is playing one ethnic group/senatorial district against the other.
The source said: “Recently, he (Akpabio) met with the leaders of the two senatorial districts of Eket and Uyo at his official residence. In addition, he also met with some stakeholders from the Oron community.
“To the leaders from Uyo, he asked them not to field a candidate, as he would hand over to Eket senatorial district, which comprises the Oron and the Ibibios.
“The governor then met with the two groups separately and promised them the ticket.”
Contending that Akwa Ibom has always had an open and competitive political contest in which candidates from every section were allowed to compete, the source claimed that Governor Akpabio’s motive was to cause ethnic discord and disharmony among the various groups in the state.
The goal being to “have the opportunity to produce a stooge, whom, we understand, would be asked to take an oath of allegiance to his family,” the source said.
The source said Akwa Ibom people detest political patrimony and hegemony, warning that with less than two years to go, the governor should be careful not to rubbish his legacy with unwise political decisions.
“Akpabio should allow Akwa Ibom people to choose their next governor. His responsibility, as a political leader, should be limited to providing a level-playing field to all candidates from the different sections of the state,” the source added.