The challenges facing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) in Akwa Ibom State and how their resolution will shape the next general elections in the Southsouth state.
The year 2023 may seem a long time away but not so with politicians in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) in Akwa Ibom State, who are already in their trenches scheming to either retain or grab power.
The battle is principally between the PDP and the APC. The two foremost parties have always been featuring visibly, strongly and actively in the political space of the state.
The PDP has been in power since the return of democracy in1999 to the extent that it’s members have always boasted that the party is a religion.
This claim is backed by the fact that the party occupies all elective and appointive positions in the state and the National Assembly.
On the other hand, the opposition parties have not always been fortunate to win elections and control power.
The defunct Action Congress of Nigeria(ACN) made some appreciable attempt in 2011 when its governorship candidate, John James Akpanudoedehe, contested against former Governor Godswill Akpabio. But, the party lost to the PDP .
It was expected that the birth of the All Progressives Congress (APC), following a merger of parties, shortly before the 2015 general elections, would unseat the PDP, but the umbrella party maintained its stronghold on Akwa Ibom with the emergence of Governor Udom Emmanuel.
The PDP, against very formidable forces in the APC, retained its winning streak in the 2019 governorship election with the second term victory of Emmanuel. The party also won all the House of Assembly and National Assembly seats.
This victory, according to pundits, has further nailed the coffin of the APC and consigned it to the ignoble status of a ‘mere opposition party’.
With less than two years to another election, the age-long rivalry and supremacy tussle between the PDP and the APC have begun in earnest.
In view of some developments and multiple interests within the two major parties in the state, the questions on the lips of many are how ready are they for the 2023 polls in the state? What is their political health?
The PDP is the party in power. Under the leadership of Emmanuel, the party is gathering steam and harvesting loyalty and membership across the state.
Not even the exit of Akpabio and other prominent members to the APC has weakened the party; This is a typical example of a party with firm foundation and strength not one built on strong personalities.
The party derives its strength and dominance from a number of factors, which include uniformity of purpose, unflinching loyalty among party members, peaceful congresses, wide acceptability by the people, strong structures and presence in all the 368 wards and 31 local government areas of the state.
The party conducted crisis-free ward, local government and state congresses to elect its executives in July 2020. There was no contention or court case after the congresses.
Its electoral victories since 1999 has entrenched the umbrella party as a religion and way of life in the state. Apart having the governor, the 26 seats in the House of Assembly is occupied by members of the party.
Also, all the federal lawmakers are members of the PDP which translates to 10 House of Representatives members for the 10 federal constituencies and 3 Senators for the Senatorial districts.
The party holds sway at the local government level as the 31 council chairmen and councilors in the state are PDP members.
The Akwa Ibom Independent Electoral Commission (AKISIEC) conducted council election in October and the party won in all the local government areas.
Following its overwhelming electoral victories over the years and it’s hold on the state, the party says it is not losing sleep over 2023.
According to the State Publicity Secretary of the party, Borono Bassey, the ruling party was too busy helping Emmanuel in providing effective leadership and all-round development to Akwa Ibom, instead of thinking of 2023.
The party’s spokesperson, who spoke on behalf of the chairman, Obong Udo Ekpenyong, was boastful when he said the PDP has come to stay in the state and will never be uprooted by the APC or any other opposition party.
His words: “The truth is that the Peoples Democratic Party in Akwa Ibom state is not talking about 2023 yet. Our focus right now is to provide ancillary support to His Excellency Udom Emmanuel so that he can deliver on his completion agenda.
“Our party is strong. Akwa Ibom people have always stood by our party. The last congresses of the party produces executives that will definitely make the party stronger and better positioned to win elections in the future.
“We are party executives are committed to ensuring that we run the party in line with the vision of the founding fathers of the party and help Our party deliver good leadership to the people.
“APC has never been a threat to the PDP in the state. Akwa Ibom people have severally in the past spoken against the APC through their rejection of the party and acceptance of our party, which is why we are still in power.
“Akwa Ibom people will in the future still banish the APC to political irrelevance. For us, the APC is not an issue. We won’t dissipate our energy and time worrying about a party that loses election all the time; a party that will never win election in the state. Like I said earlier our concentration right now is providing good leadership to the people.”
A PDP elder from Ikot Ekpene (Akwa Ibom Northwest) Senatorial District, Senator Emmanuel Ibokette, said there is no cause for alarm, whether the PDP will retain power in the state or not in 2023.
He said Akwa Ibom has always been PDP and will remain PDP despite the gang-ups and odds that may arise ahead of 2023.
“Akwa Ibom is PDP and the PDP is Akwa Ibom so we don’t have any fear about losing the state to any party”, he said.
An indigene of the state and chairman of Niger Delta Youth Movement (NDYM), Comrade Sammy Charles, expressed optimism that the PDP is healthy, organized and ready to retain power in the state come 2023.
His words: “I see the PDP as the most organised party in the state. From the unit, ward, local government, federal constituency, senatorial district to state levels, the PDP is very organised.
The PDP is like a behemoth with massive followership. In fact in Akwa Ibom state, PDP is prided as a religion especially under the leadership of Governor Udom Emmanuel.
“The people of the state under the PDP government has peace which hitherto eluded and he has been walking his talk which makes the people believe in the party.
“He has provided security and a conducive environment for industrialisation to thrive. So, it is expected that the people will follow the party wherever the leader directs,” Charles said.
However, a public affairs commentator and State Chairman of Civil Liberty Organisation, Franklyn Isong is of the opinion that though the PDP is the ruling party in the state, it was too early in the day to determine which party will win in 2023.
“A lot of things and factors could change before then. First of all who will survive the Covid-19 pandemic to contest in 2023?
“Secondly, Governor Emmanuel keeps saying he is not going to impose a successor but what he decides to and the party disagrees with his choice. He could decide to dump the PDP and move on to another party as it happened in Edo state.
“And don’t forget that as governor, he has great political support. So, there may be alignments and re-alignments of political interests which may change or sustain the current status quo in the state”, he said.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) is the major opposition party in the state. The party has consistently suffered misfortune at the polls and in court.
Expectations were high in 2015 when opposition parties came together to form the APC. In Akwa Ibom, many thought the APC will wrestle power from the PDP, but the party lost the governorship, House of Assembly and National elections.
Its governorship candidate, Obong Umana Okon Umana, contested the result of the election up to the Supreme Court, but the apex court delivered judgment in favour of the PDP candidate, Udom Emmanuel.
The party thereafter went into a limbo, which raised concerns about its presence and ability to bounce back strong to contest in future elections.
However, the party’s fortunes brightened with the appointment of its members into key federal positions by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Its 2015 governorship candidate, Obong Umana, was appointed as Managing Director of the Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone Authority (OGFTZA). A former deputy governor, Obong Nsima Ekere, was appointed managing director and chief executive officer of the Niger Development Commission (NDDC). Senator Ita Enang became Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate).
With these appointments, not a few Akwa Ibom people thought that the APC would muster the financial, political and federal might to seize power from the PDP in 2019.
Perhaps, the greatest hope the party was the defection of Akpabio from the PDP to the APC before the 2019 elections.
Speaking during his defection at the Ikot Ekpene Stadium, Akpabio promised to win Akwa Ibom and indeed, the Southsouth for the APC. But, the former Senate Minority Leader lost his reelection to the Senate, and failed to deliver on his promise to deliver the state to the APC.
Akpabio was defeated by a former deputy governor, Obong Chris Ekpenyong who was considered as a political lightweight.
The APC could not leverage on its much touted federal might to win elections. Since the 2019 abysmal performance of the party, many political analysts have tried to figure out why the party lost despite parading an assortment of political heavyweights.
Observers have submitted that the APC is a party of strange bed fellows where members divergent and conflicting interests.
Rather than strive to build a strong united party capable of winning elections, members owe their loyalty to various godfathers thereby dividing the party.
There are existing factions or groups loyal to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, MD/CEO of the Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone Authority (OGFTZA), Obong Umana Okon Umana, former MD/CEO of the NDDC, Obong Nsima Ekere, the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, the National Secretary of the APC Caretaker Committee and Dr. John James Akpanudoehe.
According to pundits, these leaders who are defection from the PDP have irreconcilable differences, while pretending to work together.
They defected to the APC because they had at various times in the past had political quarrels with Senator Akpabio as the then governor and among themselves.
The existing mutual suspicion, distrust and lack of cohesiveness, lack of forgiveness debarred the party from securing victory in the 2019 general elections.
Unconfirmed reports have it that some leaders of the party worked against one another in the 2019 polls. A story is told of how loyalists of a particular godfather celebrated the loss of the party’s governorship candidate, Ekere, and Akpabio in the last general elections.
Conscious of the rivalry among its leaders, the acting chairman of the party, Dr. Ita Udosen, organised a stakeholders meeting of the party in September, last year.
One of the resolutions contained in the communique issued on September 20, 2020 after stakeholders meeting, the State Working of the party appealed to members to sheathe their swords and embrace genuine forgiveness for the party to move forward.
The communique stated in part, “stakeholders unanimously resolved to eschew bitterness, disharmony, discord and infighting within the party and amongst themselves and agreed to forge a common front for the peace, growth and strength of the party.
“Members were cautioned to desist from deploying destructive tactics and divisive tendencies to disrupt the spirit of togetherness, oneness of purpose and unity of mind that the meeting has resuscitated.
“This new oneness of mind and purpose was re-affirmed with a motion moved by Ita Enang and seconded by Pastor John James Akpan-udoedehe wherein the indivisibility and oneness of the party and its members was re-enacted.
”As prompted by Sen. Udoedehe, stakeholders upheld the plea for mutual forgiveness of past offences by all and sundry against one another. This was further enacted by a motion moved by Sen. John James Akpanudoedehe and seconded by Mr. Umana O. Umana. The question was put by Hon. (Barr) Ikwo Inyang with a loud voice of positive affirmation by stakeholders”.
But a major stakeholder of the party, Dr. Chris Akpan dismissed the stakeholders meeting as a mere window dressing exercise, insisting that the party is still fragmented by bad blood and grudges among its leaders.
Akpan, a former Director General of Akpabio’s Senatorial Campaign organization, said, ”the problem the party has in Akwa Ibom state is that the party is not moving as one. There are many interests as there are governorship aspirants. We have not been able to weave the party into a strong unified fighting force.
”And until we do that the party would not make any good outing in future elections. The stakeholders meeting which held in September last year was cosmetic and superficial. We will know when true reconciliation comes and will come from the real hearts of the gladiators”.
Acting Chairman of the APC, Dr. Ita Udosen in a recent exclusive interview with the Nation assured that the party is strong and united under his watch and denied any factional differences within the party.
His words, ”there is no single political party in the world without internal issues. APC in the state is not insulated from such issues but in the end we are one family. That we haven’t seized power from the PDP is not an indication of weakness or because we are disunited. It is because the PDP has been in power for very long. It is not easy to dislodge a ruling party.
”There are no divergent interests or divisions within the party. Yes we have various interests. We didn’t lose elections in 2015 because of infighting. The reason was the partiality of the electoral umpire and the level of fraud which characterised that election. The same thing happened in 2019”
However, watchers of political developments in the state are of the opinion that the APC could clinch power in 2023 if it puts its house in order.