SENATOR AKPABIO AND THE APC LEADERSHIP CRISIS
By Professor Ini Udoka
Sen Godswill Akpabio is a household name in Akwa Ibom State. He has been everything in the political space of Nigeria. He was a Commissioner and member of the Akwa Ibom State Executive Council for 6 (six) years, Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State for 8 (eight) years and Chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, Senator and Senate Minority Leader of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and currently, a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria .
The occupation of the public offices enumerated above puts Sen Akpabio above any other leader in the All Progressives Congress (APC), a Political Party he joined in August 2018. It is also a pointer to the fact that God has released upon him the grace of leadership as an individual. This is not saying that others in the APC are not leaders in their own right. For instance, Sen John James Akpanudoedehe , the current National Secretary of the APC has been the Chairman of Uyo Local Government Area, a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. These are impeccable credentials that place him at a level to lay claim to the leadership of the party, especially as the highest ranked officer of the APC in Nigeria from Akwa Ibom State. The same goes for Sen Ita Enang and Obong Umana Okon Umana.
However, generating unnecessary crisis about who leads the Party at a time of ongoing restructuring to reposition the Party for electoral victories both in the State and country is unfortunate and smacks of selfishness on the part of the gladiators. My disappointment of reducing Sen Akpabio to a group leadership was expressly communicated to Obongemem Ekperikpe Ekpo when I heard that he had initiated the group called Akwa Ibom Democratic Forum (ADF) as Sen Akpabio group within the APC. For me, this action is a distraction and by accepting the leadership of the group, Senator Akpabio gave the impression that he was not willing to lead the whole APC in Akwa Ibom State.
The creation of the ADF and the limiting of membership of the group to selected members of the APC who are ‘loyal’ to Sen Akpabio already exclude most of the APC members from coming under the leadership of Sen Akpabio. Those who are members of the group were carefully selected and invited to a meeting at Esteem Schools owned by Hon Ekperikpe Ekpo. It is my opinion that if the ADF had not been established with Sen Akpabio’s approval, many APC members would not have rejected his leadership. Those who have been excluded from the ADF believe they will not be given favorable treatment under the leadership of Senator Akpabio in the APC. I seem to agree with the thinking of this group of APC members.
This thinking appears to be justified by the distribution of political patronage by the Honourable Minister. I have not verified, but there is a rumour that employment into the NDDC is skewed towards only one Local Government Area in Akwa Ibom State since he took over the interventionist agency. Other pecks in the Agency are limited to a small group within the ADF. Therefore the conclusion by the majority of the members of the APC is that Senator Akpabio has already chosen those he wants to lead.
People have argued that Senator Akpabio decided to own a support group because Senator Udoedehe owns one. The question is: is Senator Akpabio positioning himself for elective office within Akwa Ibom State? Is he in political competition with Sen Udoedehe? Sen Udoedehe has not hidden his intention to contest election to the office of Governor in 2023 on the platform of the APC and therefore should rightly put together a structure that will assist him to get the Party’s ticket. If what we have always been told is true that the two leaders of the Party have been working together for the good of the Party, why a support group for a leader who has no intention of contesting an election for an office within the State. Moreover, I read recently that Senator Akpabio told his supporters in Eket and Uyo Senatorial Districts that he will not impose a candidate or candidates on the Party. So what is the motivation and incentive of floating a support group within the Party and consequently limiting yourself to leadership of a fraction of the membership of the Party while claiming to be the leader of the same people you have excluded from your support group.
My findings have revealed that Senator Akpabio is not the main issue in the formation of the support group. Two related factors have given rise to the leadership crisis in the Party. One, there are people within Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District who have the intention of contesting for political offices, who themselves do not have the courage to approach the electorate on the strength of their records but want to ride on the popularity of the Honourable Minister. By creating support group for Senator Akpabio, they claim to be fighting to preserve the leadership of Senator Akpabio in the APC. The question is: was Akpabio’s leadership of the APC in doubt before the creation of the support group? The antecedents of the arrowheads of the group in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District betrays their loyalty to Senator Akpabio without their current personal interest.
Two, there are people in the APC in the State that want to use Senator Akpabio to fight their personal wars against their perceived enemy or enemies. I am confused as to why Group Captain Sam Ewang who has always been Senator Udoedehe’s close ally in the foundation members struggle against new entrants into the Party has suddenly found Senator Akpabio as his leader. Curious? Yes, very curious. My findings reveal that Group Captain Sam Ewang who has always contested election to the office of the Governor in the State believes Sen Udoedehe as the National Secretary of the Party will corner the Party structure in the State to emerge the candidate of the Party at the primary election. Consequently, he has sought shelter in the political influence of Senator Akpabio he once despised as a leader. Sam Ewang wants Sen Akpabio to fight Sen Udoedehe for him.
I would like to advise Senator Akpabio to be wary of these new found loyalists. In 2014, I ran into problems with Senator Akpabio as Governor of Akwa Ibom State when I told him not to support someone who had not been part of his political family as Governor of the State. I had told him that he should have trained someone in his political family to take over from him and not impose a complete outsider on his political family. I told him Umana Okon Umana would protect his political interest but he refused to listen and blacklisted me as a political enemy. Today, we all know those who love him. Senator Akpabio must do thorough political analysis and calculation to know that by virtue of the positions God has given him in life, he is more than a group leader in the APC. He is a leader of Akwa Ibom State in the company of our former boss Arc (Obong) Victor Attah. He must not allow himself to be used by interest seekers and reduce himself to an insignificant position in the State. Senator Akpabio must accept to work with people who have worked with him in the past and avoid the mistake of the past by jumping into the political arena with strange new arrivals. The devil he knows is better than the angel he does not know, an adage says.
Even the State Working Committee of the Party knows Senator Akpabio should be the leader of the Party. But the leadership of the Party in the State cannot and will not accept the undermining of its authority in the manner that a Stakeholders meeting was convened to declare him a leader. Senator Akpabio must work with the leadership of the Party in the State to produce the next Governor from the APC. Senator Udoedehe is not claiming the leadership of the Party in the State because he is preparing for election. Every right thinking person should give him support because he has paid his due as a Party man and had been one of us in 2007 as Sen Akpabio’s DG in that election. This places Sen Akpabio naturally as the leader if he is ready to work with the majority of members and accept the interests of the Party above his personal interest.
(Professor Ini Udoka is former member of House of Representatives. He won the seat under Action Congress in 2007. Action Congress became Action Congress of Nigeria and now All Progressives Congress, APC)