21 July, 2018

The unstated message from the Ikot Ekpene PDP rally


The PDP rally in Ikot Ekpene last Monday provided more surprises for Udom Emmanuel than he had ever expected in any such a gathering. The governor had rushed in from Ado Ekiti, where he had received the worst shellacking of his political career over the weekend, hoping to enjoy some adulation from his supporters. But what was advertised as an endorsement rally for his reelection bid became an eye opener, or an embarrassing encounter with the people he might have treated unfairly in the last three years. It was evident that the cold war between the governor and his godfather, Godswill Akpabio, has not abated. It has run deep rather. First, we should emphasize that, unknown to many people, the main objective of that event was actually to rally support for Senator Akpabio who is also running for reelection. It was not an endorsement rally for Udom as was advertised. Udom Emmanuel was only invited to grace the event, having picked part of the bills. The full presence of the Akpabio family, with Emem, as the Chairman of the Planning Committee, indicated that the clan still has its imprimatur on the politics of that district, and they wanted to send the message that this was an entirely Akpabio affair. The counter narrative that Akpabio loomed so large at the event because he's a senator from the district is not supported by the relative obscurity of Senator Bassey Albert in a similar event held in Uyo last month.

The first trace of trouble for the governor came in Chris Ekpenyong's speech in which he pointedly accused him of sectionalism in sharing appointments and amenities. I have been to Onna, and I have seen a cluster of industries, but you have not sited any in Ikot Ekpene, the former deputy governor said. No deputy governor had been so brazen in attacking a sitting governor. The language was unmistakably abrasive and disrespectful. Udom's prestige and carriage among the people of Akwa Ibom North West have been thinning out in the last two years he's been actively belittling his predecessor who is undoubtedly adored in that part of the state. No Annang man has been of such influence, benefaction and flamboyance to his people in recent time. Even if Akpabio's flaws are magnified under electron microscope, in relative terms, Udom is a political miniature who is now seen by the Annang people as an ungrateful, disloyal and backstabbing gadfly. It is a picture partly crafted by the senator who has spent the last three years or so chronicling the governor's acts of perfidy: the DSS raid of the Presidential Guest House which Akpabio was lodging, the petitions to the EFCC facilitated by Udom's commissioners, the abandonment of his legacy projects, the Julius Berger affair, the inherited debt scandal, etc. The senator is usually told by his listeners that his ordeal would be far worse if the governor gets a second term. 

Akpabio's speech at the rally reflected his frustrations. He shunned the usual platitudes and fawning over his successor, boasting that irrespective of what political party he chooses, he would be re elected. The audience was stunned. The unhidden message to Udom is that Akpabio might be contemplating a departure from the PDP. It could also have been a warning that he doesn't need Udom to win.

Udom was so peeved that when he mounted the rostrum, he ignored Akpabio, but paid unusually generous tributes to Moses Ekpo as the best deputy governor in the world, repeating the epithet three times, and before each time, he ask: what did I just say o? The governor was hitting back at those who have been dreaming of getting Mrs Unoma Akpabio to replace the septuagenarian deputy governor on the ticket. In an uncanny mischief, Udom mentioned the Uyo-Ikot Ekpene Road as one of his achievements in the senatorial district, and promised that the only two kilometres remaining would be completed in the first quarter of next year. The governor was only mocking Akpabio who had commissioned the road a few days before he left office in May 2015, and had been listing it as one of his signature accomplishments. How then can Udom turn around to claim this highway as his project? Another awkward moment was when Udom looked up and said in a rather disdainful manner: In a few days time, this edifice (pointing to the Sheraton Hotel built, completed and furnished by Akpabio) would be put to use. For three years now, the governor has been telling us that the hotel is just a pile of block work. To disprove this claim, some members of the House of Assembly have used the place last year, opening its doors to unveil a fully furnished hotel. Senator Akpabio himself, embarrassed and humiliated by the governor's incessant condemnations, has been posting photographs of the interiors of the hotel on various Whatsapp groups and sending them to some individuals as a subtle counter advertising. 

The entire event left a bitter taste in Udom's mouth, especially as he didn't receive the usual endorsement and flowery praises from his estranged mentor. Perhaps to seek their forgiveness, Udom spent more time reminding the people that he's a son-in-law. The harm has already been done. The governor left Ikot Ekpene boycotting the after event cocktails in Akpabio's country home.

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Disclaimer: Comment expressed do not reflect the opinion of Isaac Yoma