BY SEGUN ADEBAYO, ABUJA – Less than twenty-four after former Akwa Ibom State Governor, Senator Godswill Akpabio formally defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) with an historic declaration that the end has come for Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South-South zone, the political configuration in the oil rich state has significantly changed ahead of next year’s elections in the country.
The consensus among analysts and event watchers is that the days ahead will continuously throw up different permutations and conspiracy theories on who between the APC and PDP will likely capture the State Government House in Uyo, currently occupied by Akpabio’s former political godson, Obong Udom Emmanuel
With the mega rally for Akpabio’s reception clearly grounding business as well as government activities in Ikot Ekpene and its environs, Forefront gathered discussions on likely outcome of this development on the state political landscape have suddenly taken the centre stage in many circles.
Our sources noted that amidst what some commentators are already touting as ‘battle royal’ ahead of the 2019 gubernatorial race in the state, APC bigwigs and supporters are upbeat the party’s fortunes have already changed for the better. They gleefully point to the awesome political machinery of the former Senate Minority Leader and the tremendous goodwill that he continues to enjoy across Akwa Ibom State.
Everywhere, the permutations are that with Senator Akpabio holding sway as the generalissimo in the politics of Akwa Ibom North West (formerly Ikot Ekpene) Senatorial district ahead of 2019 governorship race, the APC is seriously considering floating a candidate from the same Akwa Ibom South (former Eket) Senatorial district with Governor Udom as part of its strategies to neutralize his influence across the State, especially within the Ibibio-speaking ethnic stock.
Our source confirmed that if the APC is able to smoothly sort out that arrangement, then the ‘battle grounds’ would be Akwa Ibom North East (Uyo) Senatorial district and ‘Oron’ or ‘Ukpabang’ in the Eket senatorial axis, who form the third leg of the State political tripod, comprising the major ethnic groupings of Ibibio, Annang and Oron. However, this is not neglecting the minority speaking tribes dotting the length and breadth of the State.
Interestingly, insiders are quick to dismiss as ‘paper weight’ the vow made by sitting Deputy Governor Moses Ekpo to swim or sink with his principal, Governor Udom. According to one of Forefront sources, the man popularly called ‘Uncle Mo’, by his supporters, has been seen as Senator Akpabio’s alter-ego in the State Executive Council and his political relevance in the State seemingly tied to the apron string of the man that literally handpicked him for the position in 2015.
However, a stunned PDP, which has ruled the State in the last 19 years, is said to be mobilizing supporters to counteract the gains made by APC across the state with the defection of Senator Akpabio.
Reliable insiders admitted to Forefront that away from the public bravado in the State government circles, there is apprehension within the party structures as most stakeholders maintained that the defection could have been avoided if the proper strings were pulled and concessions made to keep the obviously unhappy Akpabio in the fold
They insisted that the National leadership of the Party as well as the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel should have better managed the situation which eventually led to Akpabio’s painful exit from the PDP.
An aide of the Governor Udom, who is also close to Senator Akpabio, disclosed that visible signs of cracks in the once formidable PDP family had emerged early in 2017 but the relevant party machinery failed to take adequate steps in repairing them due to the crisis that enveloped the Party at that time with huge contentions between the Ahmed Makarfi and Modu-Sheriff-led factions.
But mocking Akpabio of committing ‘political suicide’, a former Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General of the State, Barrister Asam Asam, said the movement to APC is not capable of causing any serious dislocation within the PDP family and its resolve to return Governor Udom to government in 2019.
Speaking on Channels Television programme, Sunrise Daily, Assam claimed that Akpabio, “the politician has never been sincere and given the dynamics of our local politics, the odds are stacked against him going into the next year’s elections because Akwa Ibom people are naturally republicans in their orientation.”
On how the PDP expects to address its electoral losses by the defections, Assam, a one-time Nigerian Ambassador to the Russian Federation said; “We haven’t lost anything. We have no losses to cut. There are many members that have moved from APC to PDP. That we have lost one or two individuals does not literarily translate to something we should been having sleepless night over.”
Forefront notes that in delivering the damning verdict on the PDP had during his formal defection to APC on Wednesday, Akpabio, who resigned his position as Senate Minority Leader on August 4, 2018, in a letter to the Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, said among the reason for joining APC is the nationalistic view and the need to support President Buhari in the task of nation building to make Nigeria a better place for the citizenry.
Addressing the mammoth crowd that throng the Ikot Ekpene Township Stadium to celebrate his defection, the former governor, known for his ‘Uncommon Transformation’ brand name said; “People are saying why the APC? You need to know that I am a nationalist. My colleagues here today who are 35 in number have shown that I am a nationalist. Why APC? In troubled times like this, when a country is at war, all hands must be on deck to salvage the situation.
“This is a difficult period for Nigeria when insurgents are attacking us from Borno to Plateau, through Taraba Adamawa, Benue and down to Akwa Ibom. May the souls of those, who have died, rest in perfect peace. In a period of insurgency, I will like to join hands to bring food to the table of Nigerians.
“I will like to help to bring peace to Benue State; I will like to help to stop the killings in our dear nation; I will like to help to ensure full employment for our children; I will like to bring about uncommon transformation to Nigeria; I will not like to be a conspirator who will like to topple government.”
While charging Akwa Ibom people not to be afraid of President Muhammadu Buhari, Akopabio said if he could support the President, they should also do the same in the overall interest of the country.
According to him, “Do not be afraid of President Buhari. He is a man who won election on the basis of integrity. That is why I am standing for him. Nigerians have not seen the best of Buhari. If you can follow me, please follow Buhari.”
APC National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who praised Akpabio as an ‘Uncommon defector’ for joining the party, said; “It is great to see the bond of the great people of Akwa Ibom State and the immediate past governor, Akpabio.”
He said; “There is no question that come February next year, the great people of Akwa Ibom will effect change under the leadership of Akpabio.”
At the defection rally that saw Akpabio moving to APC with many of his loyalists and PDP members, had in attendance many dignitaries including the National Chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Former Lagos State governor and national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, who represented President Buhari and Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate Majority Leader Ahmed Lawan, and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matter (Senate), Senator Ita Enang
Also present were are Senator Kabiru Gaya from Kano State; Senator Ali Ndume form Borno, Senator Baba Garba, Senator Andy Uchendu, Senator Gbolahon Dada, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, Senator Abdullahi Yahaya, Senator John Enoch, Senator Mohammad Sanni, Senator Abdullahi Adamu Senator Abdullahi Gumel, and APC National Working Committee (NWC) members among others.