BY Chioma Onuegbu, Uyo
STAKEHOLDERS and supporters of Akwa Ibom State chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC gathered in their numbers last Saturday at the Ikot Ekpene Township Stadium for a solidarity rally that has inevitably thrown up controversies on the consensus
It was projected to be a solidarity rally for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari and welcoming party for the new national chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
The endorsement rally which was organized by the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District (AkwaIbom Northwest) was preceded by the commissioning of the party’s new secretariat at No.149 Ikot Ekpene Road, Uyo, the state capital also saw the defection of two former members of the National Assembly who served on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP.
The two PDP defectors were Honourable Bassey Etim popularly known as BAFFIL who represented Uyo Federal Constituency and Hon Esio Uquong Udo who represented Oron Federal Constituency from 2003 – 2007.
They were formally received into the party by the National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomole who was represented at the occasion by the National Vice-Chairman of the Party, South South zone, Mr. Hillard Etta.
Prominent APC stakeholders including federal appointees present at the occasion were Atuekong Don Etiebet, Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate) Senator Ita Enang who stood in for the president, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, and Obong Nsima Ekere, Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission.
Others present included Honourable Eseme Eyiboh who is the Chairman Cross-River Basins Development Authorities, Senator Aloysius Etok and Honourable Uwem Udoma, former deputy speaker of Akwa Ibom state on the platform of the PDP.
However, what was originally advertised as a solidarity rally for the president and the party chairman turned into a carnival for the endorsement of Ekere for the 2019 governorship ticket of the party.
The development has prompted some stakeholders in the state to ask whether one of the party’s leaders, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe who is also known to be having his own governorship aspiration has given up on his own aspiration.
Senator Akpanudoedehe, a very formidable force in the party who had a bruising encounter with former Governor Godswill Akpabio as the governorship candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, in the 2011 election had declared his interest to join the governorship race again in 2019 earlier this year. He had even concluded a tour of the 10 federal constituencies few months ago to consult the people of the areas over his governorship ambition.
Mr. Ata Etuk, the Special Assistant Media and Publicity to Senator Akpanudoedehe when contacted dismissed insinuations that his boss is no longer in the governorship race.
“My boss is still very much in the race. Discountenance any statements to the contrary. In politics, people go to any length to discredit their opponent or mislead the public. This is wrong. The day Senator Akpanudoedehe changes his mind it will be announced. Until then please note that he is contesting the governorship in 2019.
“I want to make it clear that Senator Akpanudoedehe attended the Ikot Ekpene rally to draw support for President Muhammadu Buhari re-election and because it was a solidarity rally organized for the president,” he noted.
Besides Senator Akpanudoedehe, Asuquo Okpo from Oron Local area and member of G-22 who also aspired for the 2015 governorship ticket of the PDP had indicated interest to join the race in 2019, this time on APC. His supporters were seen wearing his T-shirts, and carrying his posters at the APC rally last weekend.
Reliable sources inside the APC confided in Saturday Vanguard that Ekere is actually being lured into the race with the endorsements by some leaders and elders of the party among whom are Atuekong Don Etiebet, Senator Aloysuis Etok, and Senator Ita Enang.
Speaking at the Buhari endorsement rally last weekend, Atuekong Don Etiebet said, “today is not a day of speech making. The crowd has said it all, the crowd has spoken. It shows that the people of Ikot Ekpene are ready for you, Nsima and Buhari.
“Nsima go and consider our own call. We have called you to run for Akwa Ibom governorship race in 2019. With your benevolence and programmes for this senatorial district, consider the plea and resign in due time and run for the governorship seat under APC platform”
But to the endorsements in the view of some other stakeholders is reflective of the support the NDDC boss has been giving to the party in the state.
However there are others who believe that the ongoing endorsements of Ekere could be a way to test/assess his popularity as well as that of the party across the length and breadth of the state ahead of the party primary and election.
This is not unconnected with the difficulties in the land on account of the policies and programmes of the ruling APC federal administration and its impact on the state.
However, in the opinion of the Chairman central planning committee, Senator Alloysius Etok, “the President has repositioned the economy. Even though the enemies of progress have decided to kill people here and there just to distract him but we in Ikot Ikpene senatorial district are behind him, we must support him in 2019 that is why you see everybody here. Ikot Ekpene senatorial district is APC and nobody can challenge that.”
Ekere who ultimately was the beneficiary of the rally in the absence of Buhari and Oshiomhole promised the people that they would reap the benefits if they allowed an APC government in 2019.
Undoubtedly, neither the absence of Buhari nor that of Oshiomhole who were the advertised main guests of the rally doused the enthusiasm of the crowd that day. The danger for the opposition party is in managing the ambitions of its major governorship hopefuls, Ekere and Akpanudoedehe; that would ultimately determine what kind of impression the party can make on the people given Governor Udom Emmanuel’s own determination to win a second term.