Since 1999, Akwa Ibom State has remained a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) state. And political watchers say the party’s ability to sustain the dominance might not be unconnected with its zoning policy in sharing political offices in the state, especially the governorship position. With three senatorial districts, Uyo senatorial district had the first shot in 1999 when Obong Victor Attah was elected governor.
Interestingly, all other political parties in the state usually apply the zoning policy across the three senatorial districts. This is presumably done to reduce political wrangling and or tension among politicians. In all these, the PDP had always taken control at all levels; that is, the national assembly, state and the 10 federal constituencies in the state.
In 2007, at the end of Obong Attah’s eight-year tenure, the position of the governor was zoned to Ikot Ekpene senatorial district which saw Senator Godswill Akpabio become the governor for eight years 2007-2015. After his tenure, the position was zoned to Eket senatorial district where the incumbent governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel emerged as the governor. Emmaduel’s tenure would end next year.
With this arrangement judiciously followed since 1999, which has seen all the three senatorial districts of Uyo (1999-2007), Ikot Ekpene (2007-2015) and Eket (2015-2023) taking their turns, the pendulum would be swinging back to Uyo senatorial district to produce the next governor, come 2023.
With the PDP having bestrode the state’s politics space since 1999, it is no surprise the party claims that it’s a religion in Akwa Ibom. But ahead of 2023, zoning seems to be running into murky waters as the governor seems to have put the cart before the horse. Since January 30 when Governor Udom Emmanuel presented his preferred successor in Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources, Pastor Umoh Eno, the political atmosphere has remained unsettled.
According to political observers, apart from due process not being followed, the preferred aspirant was chosen from an area within Uyo zone, which had produced governor in the state in the past. This, they opined, does not represent justice, equity and fairness.
Uyo senatorial district is made up of three federal constituencies of Uyo, ItuIbiono and Etinan. Based on this arrangement, Uyo federal constituency has produced governors either as military governor or as civilian, Etinan has done same, except ItuIbiono federal constituency.
With this arrangement in mind, which has resulted in people from each of the three senatorial districts taking their turns as at when due without wrangling, the people of ItuIbiono federal constituency had thought that the status-quo would be maintained and had prepared their minds that their turn to occupy the Hilltop Mansion, the official residence of the governor of Akwa Ibom state would be 2023.
But the expectation of ItuIbiono people seems to hang in the balance at least for now, with Governor Emmanuel having, without recourse to party primaries, chosen his preferred successor from the Etinan federal constituency, which had already produced a governor in the past. The governor’s move has since been followed by series of protests and dissent, a situation which some say may threaten the grip of the party on the state.
Stakeholders who spoke to The Guardian on the new development in the political lexicon of the state – macro and micro zoning, argued that although the governor has the right to have hand in who succeeds him, he should have been advised that within the federal constituency, it was only ItuIbiono that has not produced the governor of the state since its creation.
Speaking on the matter, a respondent who prefers anonymity noted, “The people of my federal constituency cannot be happy with this arrangement because it is common knowledge that each area that produced a governor enjoyed tremendous development in their area. So ItuIbiono should also be considered; after all, we usually produce the highest number of votes during any election. Itu/Ibiono, as we speak, is so marginalised in terms of development as every successive administration attributes non-development of the area to its poor topography. If this development is not handled with care, it can cause division in the party and affect PDP during the election proper.”
Speaking on the anointing of a successor by the governor, one of the founding fathers of PDP in the state and onetime ‘paramount ruler’ of the state House of Assembly in 1999, Obong Udo Derby, who represented Nsit Atai state constituency, opined that the adoption of Pastor Umo Eno by the governor was not wrong.
“Mr. Udom Emmanuel has every liberty as the serving governor to choose who he prefers. That does not foreclose the chances of any other aspirant winning,” he said.
But fielding questions during the 10th series of The-Governor-Speaks on state-owned and private radio stations in the state, the governor said his choice of Pastor Umo Eno, has not brought any division in the party. According to him, such insinuations cannot distract him from completing his agenda.
“As a leader I am entitled to only one vote during the party primaries and the general elections. And that my vote is not for violence, it is not for the man that will go and carry a gun and point it at your head to grab power. Whoever grabs power by violence will rule by violence. So, I am telling you that my vote is for peace, it is for progress, it is for economic prosperity, for infrastructural development, unity and I can keep counting.
“So our party, the PDP, is not divided. Those social media things we read are not helping us in any matter. I don’t follow those things; I must get focused, I don’t need those distractions,” Emmanuel said.
ItuIbiono federal constituency is said to have a number of politicians who could succeed the governor. The list includes former Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Seaport, Mr. Akan Okon, James Iniama and Senator Bassey Albert Akpan. Others who have also directly or indirectly showed interest in the position include Dr. Iniobong Esseien, former personal physician to immediate past governor of the state, Senator Godswill Akpabio, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of University of Uyo, Prof. Aniefiok Essien, the Commissioner for Information Strategy, Mr. Ini Ememobong Essien and Mr. James Iniama, among others.
Before Emmanuel’s endorsement of Eno, people like the former Vice Chairman of Exxon Mobil, Mr. Udom Inoyo, Mr. Akan Udofia, Onofiok Luke, Bassey Albert and Michael Onyon, among others, were the ones in the picture.
With the governor now allegedly using all state apparatus to criss-cross the state, consulting and garnering support for his preferred candidate, there are doubts as to the neutrality delegates and whether there would be a level playing field for other contenders during the upcoming party primaries in May this year.
It is almost one and half months since Pastor Umo Eno was presented to Akwa Ibom people and the Peoples Democratic Party in the state as the would-be flag bearer in the 2023 governorship election, yet his acceptability has been a source of concern and doubt to many stakeholders, and would-be voters.
Presently, more than five contenders are eyeing the governor’s seat on the platform of PDP. The most outstanding are Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, member representing Etinan federal constituency at the House of Representatives, Onofiok Luke, Akan Okon, the immediate past Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deep-sea Port, and Akan Udofia, a business tycoon.