What are the factors that will shape next year’s governorship poll in Akwa Ibom State?
According to stakeholders, the major issues are the capacity, competence, and track records of the governorship candidates. But, to observers, zoning, the strength of the competing parties, power of incumbency at the state level, federal might and sanctity of the ballot box cannot also be ignored.
Two main parties-the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC)-are flexing muscles over the Akwa Ibom State Government House. Other parties may be spectators in poll day. Ahead of the election, politics in the oil-rich Southsouth state may acquire a character of warfare, judging by preparations on both sides. Across the 31 local governments, there is anxiety about how the contest will be won and lost.
To the PDP, there is no vacancy in the State House. “This is a stronghold of the PDP and there is need for continuity. Governor Udom Emmanuel deserves a second term,” said Information Commissioner Charles Udoh, who added: “The governor has performed and he will consolidate on his performance in the second term.”
However, APC chieftains have disagreed with the assertion. To them, power shift is imminent because the governor has failed woefully. In their view, Emmanuel has not successfully built on the giant strides of his two predecessors, Senator Godswill Akpabio and Obong Victor Attah. At the caucus meeting of the party, Akpabio, who installed Emmanuel as governor three and half years ago, apologised to the leaders for what he described as “the mistake of 2015,” saying that it should be corrected in 2019.
A gale of defections has hit the PDP, which will make the 2019 battle a fierce contest between the decimated PDP and the APC, which has become a beneficiary of the continuous defection. The old and new APC chieftains are queuing behind the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Dr. Nsima Ekere, who is likely to emerge as the party’s consensus governorship candidate. Emmanuel and Ekere are Ibibio from Eket Senatorial District. Thus, the zoning hurdle is resolved.
To APC leaders, another four years for Emmanuel will compound the retrogression of the 31 year-old oil-producing state. The bone of contention, according to them, is that, apart from failing to maintain the legacy projects of his predecessors, the governor cannot lay claim to any meaningful project undertaken in his first term. “The governor was not prepared for governance. He was not trained for governance. Akwa Ibom needs assets manager,” said Eseme Eyiboh, former member of the House of Representatives. “Even, the governor cannot construct the road leading to his Eket Federal Constituency,” he added.
Many indigenes are also comparing the three tenures. Between 1999 and 2007, incorruptible elder statesman Attah, architect and town planner, who fought for the creation of the state, started the implementation of the state’s development plan. He earned the appellation of ‘father of modern Akwa Ibom,’ having designed the master plan and started rebuilding the then small provincial town of Uyo into a metropolitan city. Attah fought the infrastructure battle. The evidence is the network of roads in the capital. These include Nwaniba, Edet Avenue, Nsikaka Eduok, Atiku Abubakar, and IBB Avenue. He accomplished the projects, despite the meagre resources at his disposal.
Attah developed the Central Business District. He built the famous Plaza, which consists of a park and shops in the centre of the town. The former governor initiated the airport project, which was comp-leted by his successor. He built the IBOM power plant, which generates into the national grid and contributes to electricity supply in the state.
Also, Attah built the Ibom Hotel and Golf Course, the first five star hotel in the Southsouth, and the largest gulf course in West Africa. He founded the Akwa Ibom State University, which was completed by Akpabio. A prudent manager of resources, the total amount that accrued to the state treasury under him in eight years was N900 billion.
Akpabio was able to sustain the tempo of progress, although his style of governance was different. With N3 trillion in eight years, he raised the bar, earning the appellation of the uncommon transformer. He completed the airport project, as it were, set up a novel specialist hospital with equipment for brain surgery, built a stadium of international standard, and set up an e-library. The hospital is now a subject of controversy. Its former handlers, Cardiocare, has handed off, paving way for Clinicoteck from Canada. Unless urgent action is taken, the big edifice may become a ghost of itself.
Akpabio also established the Tropicana Complex. He built the Four-Point Hotel. The former governor also built the Government House in nine months. He also completed the stadium project, the biggest brand advertiser for Akwa Ibom.
The roads and flyovers built by Akpabio is a fitting tribute to an efficient administration. They include Idoro, Uyo-Nung Udoe, Uyo-Abak, Uyo-Ikot Ekpene, Abak-Ikot-Ekpene and Airport roads.
According to observers, Akwa Ibom people are worried that, unlike his predecessors, the Emmanuel administration cannot boast of any legacy project in the last three and half years, despite allegedly earning N1 trillion. In addition, the administration is being criticised for not maintaining the assets it inherited. In their opinion, the infrastructural and economic development is now stagnant, owing to the neglect of the master plan and economic blue print of Attah era.
The elite are complaining about the state of the Le-meridian Hotel, which was previously managed by the SPG Group, and the golf course, which was managed by the London-based IMG Group. They allege that, instead of launching the state on the path of industrialisation, the banker-turned governor is not dreaming big. Of importance to the state, they argue, is the Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone, which has not come to fruition. “He is setting up a coconut refinery in a state that has no coconut trees, instead of palm oil production which the state has been noted for. The way out is for him to start a coconut nursery, which will take between five and seven years. He claimed that he has revived the Peacock Paint, but the products are not available. He said he has built tootpick and pencil factories, but we can see the products,” lamented Eyiboh.
The former federal legislator also criticised the administration for shutting down Eket Stadium since 2015 on the ground that bit will be renovated, and demolishing markets in Eket and Afinonke, under the guise of remodeling. “The traders now sell on the road,” he fumed. Besides, Eyiboh said education is suffering, pointing out that “there are only six JAMB centres in Akwa Ibom State.”
“Why can’t government provide more centres? People from the governor’s constituency go to Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River to take JAMB exam. Some cannot go because of transportation and accommodation costs. The literacy level drops,” Eyiboh said.
A former deputy governor, Mrs. Valerie Ebe, complained that ordinary people are in agony in Akwa Ibom. She described the state as a land of nightmare. Her grouse is that business is not thriving and youth unemployment is soaring. “All is not well in Akwa Ibom State. We have been suffering and we don’t want to suffer again,” she said. Urging the people to gird their loins, she added: “There must be change in Akwa Ibom.”
Other Akwa Ibom politicians believe that the governor, a technocrat-turned politician, has not been able to adjust to the peculiar partisan methods of politicians. For example, they pointed out that he failed to initiate comprehensive reconciliation with aggrieved PDP aspirants who lost out during the 2015 nominations. Others alleged that he has not sufficiently courted other political elders outside Akpabio’s influence. He did not also consider the import of personal structure, merely learning on his predecessor, who has now abandoned him and firing salvos from the opposition.
In the last couple of weeks, Emmanuel’s men and Akpabio’s aides have been exchanging hot words over the finances of the state. The Akpabio camp has alleged that what his successor has received from the national treasury in the last three years is more than what has accrued to the entire Southsouth region. But, Emmanuel accused Akpabio of leaving behind a debt of N500 billion. Akpabio fired back, clarifying that he only left behind a debt of N50 billion. But, the senator also emphasised that he left behind financial enablers, which Emmanuel has failed to harness to get more revenue.
Shortly before his departure, Akpabio explained that he had used state money to construct federal roads. Recently, he pointed out that the Federal Government had paid back to Emmanuel part of the money; first was N14 billion, and later another N78 billion. “What is the governor talking about after all the receivables? he queried.
An APC chieftain, Chief Benedict Ukpong, accused the governor of attributing what he described as his colossal failure to his predecessor. He said: “Governor Emmanuela’s score card shows that he has under-performed. Akwa Ibom, the highest revenue yielding state to the Federation Account, is not benefitting maximally from the Federal Government Economic Recovery Growth Strategic Economic Plan and other social investment scheme initiated by the Federal Government due to the reluctance of the government of Akwa Ibom to effectively key into those programmes for obvious reasons that it does not want the Buhari administration to take credit and grow in popularity in the state.”
Echoing him, former House of Representatives member Abom Tony Esu chided Emmanuel for flaunting cosmetic achievements. He said 2019 is a decisive year, predicting that the power of incumbency at the state level will collapse. To the Chairman of the Nsima Ekere Campaign Commitee, the people are anticipating the end of an era in the state. “The power of incumbency will collapse. It will not count. What will shape the governorship poll is the performance of the governor and the perception of the people about what he has achieved. If Emmanuel is defeated, it will not be the first time an incumbent governor will be defeated. Clement Isong was defeated by Senator Donald Etiebet in 1983,” he added.
However, Commissioner Udoh disagreed, saying that the governor has lived up to expectation. He said Emmanuel deserved credit for restoring peace in Akwa Ibom. He pointed out that while kidnapping, assaults, brigandage and other social vices characterised the state under Akpabio, his successor has brought tranquility.
The comissioner said his boss inherited much burden from Akpabio, which he has tackled with courage, resilience and loyalty to the state. He denied that Emmanuel has not defended the legacies of his predecessors, pointing out that all the assets are being managed prudently. He said the hospital, airport and stadium projects were not abandoned. On the stadium, he said the 10-year maintenance contract with Julius Berger Ltd has not been cancelled.
On the Four Point Hotel, he said the governor spent N7.2 million dollars to acquire the brand name. “Under Akpabio, the hotel was commissioned and shut the next day. They brought caterers from outside to prepare and serve foods,” he said.
The governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Ekerate Uboh, berated APC chieftains for peddling falsehood, saying: “Too much money were collected for jobs not done under Akpabio.” On the controversy over the Uyo-Ekot-Ekpeme Road, Udoh said: “Money was collected and not paid to contractors. We faced litigations over the road project. Twenty three kilometres have now sbeen done. It was awarded in December 2011. Why did Akpabio not complete it? The contract sum has been reviewd. Why the variations totally N7.1 billion?”
The commissioner said apart from regular payment of salaries, Emmanuel has paid the backlog of pensions for 10 years. Also, outstanding gratuities spanning eight years have been offset up to 2015.
Udoh said the government has not reneged on its free health care policy. He said: “Free medical care for the aged, children and pregnant women has been sustained.” He doubted the sincerity behind the huge cost of the specialist hospital project. “Kano just built a bigger and better specialist hodpitsl for N4.5 billion. In 2011, Akwa Ibom Specialist Hospital was built for N45 billion. Yet, the project was uncompleted,” he added.
On education, the commissioner said: “We inherited 2,000 dilapidated public schools. N600 million is paid as WAEC fees yearly. There is free basic education from primary to JSS level. We pay attention to school infrastructure, quality of teachers and the curriculum. Out of 6,000 teachers recruited, we had to send 2,000 packing after failing examinations in the subjects they were to teach. We have fixed 400 schools in three years.”
On industrialization, Udoh said: “Akpabio promised 31 industries. He never built one. Now, this administration has built nine.”