By Ukeme Mathew Inyang
Why and how he found his way into APC is a story for another day. Some say he was hunted by his treacherous tendencies while in the Senate; others say, it was an escape route from prosecution by the anti-graft agency for alleged corruption charges. We were told that his fervent plea to join the party was rebuffed by members of the Party familiar with his over-bearing tendencies and capacity for betrayal. Behind the rigorous negotiations, all we saw and can recall was a picture of Senator Akpabio taken with President Muhammadu Buhari while the later was on a visit to London. Akpabio was photographed full body bent forward from the waist with head bowed in obeisance and submission in a handshake with President Buhari. That encounter with Mr. President in the UK perhaps marked the acceptance and entrance of Senator Akpabio into APC. A highly regrettable event that adherents of the Party now described as a poisoned chalice to the party.
Barely a few days thereafter, precisely on 8th of August 2018 Senator Akpabio was formally received into APC by the then National Chairman of the Party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole alongside the National Leader of the Party Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in a large and colourful ceremony at Ikot Ekpene township plaza. At the reception, Comrade Oshiomhole, in the hysteria of the moment and insensitive of the peculiarity of Akwa Ibom APC declared both Akpabio and his wife leaders of the Party in the state. Following thence, the seed of discord was sowed in Akwa Ibom APC as things began to fall apart.
In a statement by a former Governor, Obong Victor Attah, the revered statesman expressed reservations and disappointment over the acceptance of Senator Akpabio into the APC family. He averred that APC had 80% chance of winning the 2019 governorship election in the state but with Akpabio’s defection and acceptance into the Party, that likelihood was reduced to below 50%. He said; “if APC manages to win Akwa Ibom, it will be in spite of Akpabio and not because of Akpabio”. Akpabio’s negative influence, his unguarded and loquacious comments and the retributions for the sins and hurt he inflicted on others while in government/power has continued to trail him in his new political abode. His threat of “war saw war” and boast to win the 2019 general election for APC in 3hours tuned out a ruse and a disservice to the party.
As the APC candidate for Akwa Ibom North-East (Ikot Ekpene) Senatorial district in the last general elections, Akpabio lost woefully to the PDP candidate, Engr. Chris Ekpenyong whom pundits didn’t give any chance of winning because of Akpabio’s purported popularity. His defeat in the 2019 election seemed the lowest ebb in his political career as reported by his erstwhile political associates whom he accused of deserting him. However, like a cat with nine lives, Akpabio bounced back in controversial circumstances when he was unbelievably appointed Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and made the supervisory Minister of the NDDC. His appointment was greeted with opprobrium in many circles by politicians who thought Akpabio was underserving of the office having just been admitted into the party at the expense of capable and existing members of the party in the state.
As Minister, Akpabio rebound his political career amidst controversies with the leadership of the Senate regarding the composition of the NDDC Board and allegations of humongous financial corruption in the Commission. Akpabio survived a scandalous corruption investigation by the Senate that left his image and reputation as a public officer severely bruised and damaged. Pundit posit that his anti-corruption posturing and forensic audit mantra may have spared him a presidential hammer further to President Buhari’s interest to clean the rot that had characterized the NDDC.
For two years, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and supervisory Minister of the NDDC has managed the commission as a personal estate with a sole administrator hand-picked by him with the liberty to deal as he wishes without a substantive Board to regulate activities of the Commission. Under this arrangement, the Minister is the supremo devoid of the involvement of actors from the participating states and other stakeholders of the Commission.
Contrary to expectation, Akpabio has failed to live up to his prospects as a Minister of the Federal Republic in an APC government whose additional responsibility according to the Party constitution is to support the party administration. His support for the party is abysmal and nothing to reckon with. During the APC membership registration exercise, the Minister did not make any contribution to facilitate the exercise in the state. He has also chosen to remain aloof refusing to collaborate with the party while pursuing his private agenda in the on-going party congresses.His ward and chapter are without functional Party offices which raises concerns about his interest and commitment to the party.
Since its founding in 2014, Akwa Ibom APC has been sustained under the colligate leadership of principal actors (in no specific order) like Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, Obong Nsima Ekere, Group Captain Sam Enwang (Rtd), Senator Ita Enang, Otuekong Chief Don Etibet (CON) and others. These set of leaders were responsible for building and sustaining the party until the eve of the 2019 general elections when Senator Akpabio was admitted into the Party. As predicted by Obong Victor Attah, in spite of the groundswell of its membership and available logistics support, APC performed below expectation at the election winning only one State Assembly seat through court pronouncement.
Like a ship wrecked by storm, the centre could no longer hold as the party appeared to have gone into disarray until the appointment of Senator John James Akpanudoedehe (Ph.D) as the Secretary, Caretaker Extra-ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) in mid-2020. Regrettably, while the rest of the leaders and party members rejoiced over Senator Udoedehe’s appointment, Senator Akpabio exclusively appeared disheartened and silently queried the appointment. Reports say he claimed not to have been consulted prior to such appointment being made. Consequently, Akpabio has remained contemptuous of the National Secretary and his office refusing to attend several stakeholders meeting convened by the Party with the Secretary and other leaders in attendance.
In his characteristic manner, rather than join hands to work with others he came to meet in the Party, Akpabio has designed for himself ostensibly within the APC family a political agenda and programme that suits his interest and future political career. In that regard, he initiated and launched a political group named; Akwa Ibom Democratic Forum (ADF) with memberships and structure across the state that he uses to further his political interest. Akpabio publicly identify with and sponsors activities of ADF. At a public event of ADF, Akpabio admitted that ADF was a non-partisan political group with membership opened to persons with different political persuasion and not necessarily restricted to APC members. He said the object and mantra of ADF was to produce a “dependable leader” for Akwa Ibom state come 2023. Interestingly, ADF has blatantly rebuffed an appeal by the state chapter for all APC oriented or associated support groups to come forward and register/identify with the party for synergy and coordination. With NDDC monies in his pocket and access to power in Abuja as Minister representing Akwa Ibom state, Akpabio perpetrates his private agenda under the banner of Akwa Ibom APC without recourse to the party. Federal appointments within his reach and empowerment programmes at the NDDC are filled only by his core loyalists with disregard to other members of the party.
Perhaps, Akpabio’s quest to impose “a dependable leader” who will govern Akwa Ibom state come 2023 is fuelled by his accustom desire and past unrestricted access to the state treasury during his tenure as Governor. If allowed or given the opportunity, who would not want to continually sit on the saddle of a horse knowing how discomforting sitting on other parts is. The political tussle in Akwa Ibom APC as recently manifested is largely induced by Akpabio’s refusal to work with others, his desire to usurp the party and take charge as leader and his inordinate desire to impose a “dependable leader” on the state.
Amongst other postulations by political pundits, Akpabio’s game plan as predicted by analyst are his contention to (i) emerge leader of APC in the south- south geo-political zone that will fairly dispose and position him for consideration as the Party’s candidate for President or Vice President as the case maybe, (ii) to take charge and deliver Akwa Ibom state not necessarily to APC but to any other political party he may again defect to in the near future and (iii) in the worst case scenario position himself by whatever means to return to the senate in 2023. Rumours are rife that he is preparing to defect to PDP anytime soon.
Has anyone ever pondered why Akpabio is intolerant and unwilling to cooperate and work with other political leaders from the state? One would have expected Senator Akpabio to work amicably with senator John Udoedehe as the National secretary, particularly coming from his home state. But sadly; arrogance, pomposity, self-fishiness and greed often comes into play. As a two term PDP Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Akpabio ensured that he directly or surreptitiously denied potential Akwa Ibom sons and daughters access to the presidential villa. He also ensured that no Akwa Ibom son held any position in the party that may challenge his powers and authority on matters concerning Akwa Ibom at the National level. That’s Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio; a leopard that cannot change its skin.
In Akpabio’s current scheme to seize the soul of the party in order to throw-up a dependable governorship candidate in 2023 he first sought to declare himself leader of APC in the state. His numerous attempts in that regard met with a brick wall being that as a fresh entrant into the party, he met others on ground and needed to shelve his ego to work in unison with others. Failing, Akpabio resorted to making unguarded statements about the Party and creating tension within its rank and file using his foot soldiers in ADF as vessels for destabilization and fractionalization of the party.
The height of Akpabio’s private scheme and divisive tendency came with the just concluded Party ward congresses where Akpabio working in contradistinction with the party in collaboration with his separatist group (ADF) sought to sack the state caretaker committee and install a parallel structure unknown to the constitution of the party. ADF for inexplicable reasons appeared unprepared for the ward congresses which held in the 329 wards of the state on July, 31st 2021. ADF members were seen parambulating the party office in Uyo as the congresses were on-going at the respective ward centres.
In desperation and pursuit of a secret agenda, they formulated in their imagination and whims lists of wards executive officers purporting same to represent the ward executive list of APC in the state.
This was after Senator Akpabio and his accomplices had carried out extensive negative media campaign contesting alleged impropriety in the conduct of the ward congresses, instituted a pending suit and appeared before the Ward Congress Appeal Committee to ventilate their grievances. Notwithstanding the imperfections in their actions and without necessarily waiting for the ruling of the Ward Congress Appeal Committee, Akpabio’s group in total violation of the directive of the Party claimed to have inaugurated members of the Party’s ward executive officers in a close ceremony at a private location in Uyo. This was ofcourse, without authorization by the Party that is yet to make official pronouncement for the publication of names of the winners at the respective ward congresses across the country.
This last-ditch effort by Akpabio and the alleged inauguration of a spurious ward executive officers is an affront to the Party and a “poke in the eye” of the National leadership of the Party. Those who admitted Senator Godswill Akpabio into APC should better come and clean the mess he has created for the Party in Akwa Ibom state. What manner of impunity that an officer appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari could so audaciously and callously challenge actions undertaken by the party wherein President Buhari is the leader?
It was in this state that Akpabio made a boast as Governor, that he crossed off one’s name and replaced same with another for presentation to INEC as the senatorial candidate for Akwa Ibom North-East senatorial District. In 2015, Akpabio as Governor singularly, nominated the 26 PDP candidates for the AKHA elections, ten PDP candidates for the Federal House and 3 PDP senatorial candidates. Against all odds, Akpabio singularly threw-up Udom Emmanuel as Governor. Heavens did not fall and Akwa Ibom survived his autocracy and strong-arm politics. The only difference now is that Akpabio is at the receiving end. Power is transient; the rich also cry.