32 Years Of Political Development In Akwa Ibom State
The journey to the eventual creation of the political entity called Akwa Ibom State predates its 32 years of existence as a state. Though some of the gladiators who started the journey as far back as 1928 may not have lived to see their dream come to reality, those who inherited their dream have done justice to the Akwa Ibom project 32 years after its manifestation. The journey of the political development of Akwa Ibom State is like most other political journeys; steeped in power play, rivalry and unity of purpose which is always the common goal. Our political editor, ETEBONG AKPAN, takes a look at the journey of the state in the last 32 years of its political existence as a federating unit in Nigeria.
At 32, Akwa Ibom has grown in leaps and bounds. Like other micro units in the Nigerian federation, the state created on the September 23, 1987 by the then head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida, has had its fair share of political evolution which has contributed in diverse ways to its rapid transformation. This transformation is not only in the political circle but also in the infrastructural uplift which has made the state the preferred destination for investors and tourists over the years.
Like in almost all the states of the federation, the political culture centres around forces within and outside the state as principal actors. It is a common fact that because of the nature of our federation where almost everything is determined at the centre (Abuja), there is always a constant pull between the political gladiators of each of the states based at home and those in Abuja. This phenomenon is what gave rise to what is usually referred to as Abuja and Home Fronts in the Nigerian political lexicon.
These two centres of power are always at loggerheads with each other but recently, with the stability of the civilian democratic governance in the country in the past 20 years, a third force had emerged. This is the centrist force which is displayed by the incumbent power managers. In this instance, the power managers have deliberately refused to tilt towards the Home or the Abuja fronts. This has brought about administrative independence and the ability to accommodate all sheds of opinions and agitations within the polity.
Apart from the Abuja and Home Fronts political pull that controls the pendulum of political activities in the state, the political power in the state in most instances comes from the people. This people-centred power consciousness is most times exploited by the elite in the form of ethnicity by building imaginary hate barriers to achieve their parochial advantage.
On creation, the country was under a military regime, hence there was little or no party politics.This did not stop the issues raised above to surface. The pioneer military governor of the state, Col. Tunde Ogbeha, had a fair share of these shenanigans. His brief from the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC); Nigeria’s then highest decision making body, to find accommodation for the government of the young state was almost a tall order for him because of these forces. He was subsequently replaced by Col Godwin Osagie Abbe who reined in the distractors immediately on assumption of duties. His no nonsense approach to governance endeared him to the people of the state from day one.
Throughout his tour of duty, Abbe refused to yield to any side of the divide but rather chose to provide a focused leadership that led to the provision of basic facilities and infrastructure upgrade in the state. His administration recorded one of the lowest crime rate in the state as he personally gave deviants hell.
Col. Abbe was succeeded by Group Captain Idongesit Nkanga who incidentally became the first indigenous governor of the state. His government witnessed an upsurge in the political pull that characterised the politics of the state. As a disciplined airman, he piloted the state out of all perceived political differences.
His administration built the state secretariat as well as conducted the first democratic elections in the state. That election brought in late Obong Akpan Isemin as the first democratically elected governor of the state.
Obong Akpan Isemin, the choice of the elite, though not the most popular on the ballot defeated Arch Ekong Etuk who was more or less the choice of the people. Throughout his tenure, Isemin never really had a robust relationship with the electorates. His policies though futuristic were jeered at by the people. An example was the “Etok Syndrome” philosophy which was meant to change our mentality to think big. The people just refused to imbibe the idea behind it because to them, the brain behind it was not a serious person.
A test of the governor’s popularity came in the build-up to the 1993 presidential election when traders in then Uyo Main Market defied his order on the closure of the market to receive the National Republican Convention (NRC) presidential candidate, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, who was in the state for his campaigns.They did not only pull down the locks of the market to do their businesses but deliberately refused to attain Tofa’s campaign at the Uyo Township Stadium.
The reverse was the case when the Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential candidate, Chief MKO Abiola, came for his campaigns in Uyo. Traders abandoned their shops, schools shut down abruptly even as the people poured into the streets of Uyo to welcome Abiola. Without any mobilization. The frenzy that characterised Abiola’s entry into any city for the campaigns was an indicator of the people’s preference though the military authorities annulled the outcome of that election which was dubbed as the freest election in the history of the country experiment on democracy. It was a mob action that was only replicated for the current President, General Muhammadu Buhari, during the 2011 and 2015 presidential election. The only difference is that Buhari’s followership seems to be limited to the northern part of the country.
After Nkanga, we had Col Yakubu Bako, Navy Capt Joseph Adeusi and John Ebiye. Like Nkanga, Ebiye superintended over the return to civilian rule that ushered in the Fourth Republic. That election produced General Olusengun Obasanjo as the President of Nigeria while Obong Victor Attah became the governor of Akwa Ibom State.
Before the emergence of President Obasanjo and Governor Victor Attah on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform, there were cases of political activities in the country after the dissolution of all the political structures constituted during the Babangida era. In place of the NRC and SDP arose the National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN), Democratic Party and others. Atuekong Don Etiebet, an indigene of the state and former petroleum minister, fronted for the NCPN but withdrew unceremoniously from both the party and the presidential race even before the then head of state, General Sanni Abacha, was adopted by all the political parties as their sole presidential candidate.
That contraption was abrogated by General Abdulsalami Abubakar after the death of Abacha. The new transition to civil rule introduced by Abubakar brought a new lease of life into the polity. Though there were other political parties, the PDP had a field day during the election at the centre. At home Obong Attah enjoyed popular support enroute to Government House but the peace was shortlived as the battle for the structure of the PDP at home began immediately. That tussle brought about the creation of another group out of the PDP. The new group, Friends of Victor Attah in Nigeria (FOVAN), tore the party apart, thus forcing members to either align or realign. The realignment brought about the reintroduction of the Abuja Front which was more or less a shelter for members of the party who could not pitch their tent with FOVAN.
Obong Attah eventually lost the party structure to the Abuja forces which contributed in his inability to produce a successor.
The combination of Abuja front in the PDP and a gang-up from youths resulted in the emergence of Godswill Akpabio as Attah’s successor in 2007. Akpabio’s administration brought about stability in the PDP as attempts of Obong Attah and the remnants of his supporters to hijack the party structure in the state were rebuffed by the national leadership of the party. But division within the ranks of the party due to the alleged influence of a group in the party led to the sacking of the Bishop Sam Akpan as the vice chairman of the party. His group, Akwa Ibom People’s Forum (AKPF), which was instrumental to Akpabio’s success at the PDP governorship primary lost relevance forcing him to dump the party in Akpabio’s second term.
Though Akpabio had a firm grip on the party structure in the state as well as the machinery of governance, his regime was the most brutal in the state with multiple cases of unresolved politically motivated killings and high profile kidnappings.
However, irrespective of his shortcomings, he is still regarded as one of the greatest leaders in the state with numerous signature projects as his legacies. Unlike Obong Attah, he was able to produce a successor in the person of the current governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel.
Emmanuel on assumption of office brought another dimension to leadership as he refused to make opposition out of any of the political camps in the state. He chose a centrist position from the inception of his administration. This resulted in his decision to share the party structure with all the stakeholders of the party in the state, thus doing away with the super man mentality. This was party of his political inclusiveness policy. It helped to decentralize power within the party thus making everybody a stakeholder in the party.
Akpabio’s ability to produce a successor, a feat his predecessor could not achieve made him to believe that he was politically invincible. Though a senator after leaving Government House, Uyo, he jumped ship without the consent of his people and pitched his political tent with the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) which he had earlier despised.
He equally went as far as trying to deny Gov Udom Emmanuel a second term claiming that he could singlehandedly make this happen. And, as it is typical with the Akwa Ibom electorates, they, across all ethnic lines and divide, dumped Akpabio and the APC at the polls. In a clear manifestation of the might of the people, they rejected both Akapbio and all the APC candidates no matter how good they were individually just to establish the fact that no man is God and that power really belongs to the people.
For now, Akwa Ibom is PDP and PDP is Akwa Ibom. What will happen in 2023 is still more than three years away but the progress Governor Emmanuel will make in his political engineering through human and infrastructural development will be a contributing fact. Till then, Akwa Ibom people are watching and following closely his parting steps.