INIOBONG EKPONTA writes on the forces that pulled at each others jugular during the recent governorship election in Akwa Ibom State and how the Federal Government security might could not secure victory for the opposition.
TENSION has ebbed in Akwa Ibom State as curtain is drawn to signal the end of the general elections. Winners have emerged and losers are taking stock of their performances.
It started with the presidential and National Assembly elections, earlier scheduled for February 16, but later shifted by the chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, to February 23, for logistics reasons.
The oil-rich state of about six million population, with voting strength of a little over 2.1 million, was listed among the battle ground states. Palpable tension had enveloped the political space in the run-up to the polls, with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), at the federal level, angling to seize the state through the use of federal might.
Much of this became accentuated when the immediate-past Governor Godswill Akpabio sacrificed his position as the Senate Minority Leader to defect to the APC, saying his decision became necessary for Akwa Ibom to be linked to the central politics for more dividends of democracy to thrive.
He alleged that incumbent Governor Udom Emmanuel, whom he picked, against all odds, as his successor and single-handedly installed as the fourth civilian governor of the 31-year-old state, was not living up to the expectations of the people.
According to Akpabio, Emmanuel had become one huge headache in the drive towards sustainable development in the state. He insisted that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)s order that had existed in the state since the return of democracy in 1999 had become anachronistic and ought to be altered for a new political order to be dictated by the APC.
To political observers and bookmakers, Akpabio could succeed in his mission to oust his estranged godson, given his antecedents as a political warlord with the might to pull impossible strings in tandem with his vision.
Apparently relying on assurances from the centre that his quest to enthrone a new political order in the state would be assisted by the deployment of security forces, Akpabio, observers said, had gone to relax, oblivious of the fact that Emmanuel, already pushed to the wall, could spring surprises.
To Emmanuel, since Akpabio, the chief architect of his emergence as governor, had chosen to ditch his re-election project, it was time for him to be his man.
With Akpabios connection with the central authorities, security forces were deployed massively into the state in the run-up to the contest. Within the spate of one week, three different commissioners of police were posted and withdrawn from the state until finally, Musa Kimo, recently promoted to the rank of Assistant Inspector General (AIG) in charge of Zone Six, Calabar, was brought in.
In fact, one of the commissioners of police posted to the state during the period, refused to see the governor for 21 days and was busy meeting with the opposition leaders, noted the Publicity Secretary of the PDP in the state, Comrade Iniobong Ememobong.
During the elections proper, over 9,000 contingents of security operatives, including four additional units of mobile policemen, Special Protection Units (SPUs), soldiers, civil defense, Department of State Services (DSS) and other paramilitary officers, were deployed.
Besides, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Odiko Macdon, told journalists that three commissioners of police (CPs), AIGs and other high-ranking officers had been drafted to coordinate security operations across the three senatorial districts and 10 federal constituencies.
Although the state was heavily manned, incidents of security breach were still noticed in places like Ukanafun, where a suspected ballot box snatcher was shot dead.
In Etim Ekpo, four people, including the chairman of the local government, Honourable Udeme Eduo, were seriously injured by suspected thugs who hijacked polling materials meant for his village, Udianga Enem.
Some key officials of Governor Emmanuels cabinet, including his Special Adviser of Security, Captain Iniobong Ekong (rtd.) and Mr. Aniekeme Finbarr, Special Assistant of Media; and others, were arrested.
But Governor Emmanuel, apparently aware of the impending campaign of intimidation with the use of federal might, had to deployed every available resources on campaign to the grassroots, whipping up a lot of sentiment that Akpabio, the APC and the Federal Government were on a mission to forcefully oust him for no just cause.
We have done over 1,700 kilometres of road, built 15 industries, empowered the youths on agricultural and other vocational skills, provided empowerment, health and free education programmes for our people, yet, the opposition say we have not done anything, Udom had lamented.
He rallied elders and supporters of the PDP to be part of the vanguard for his re-election, given the fact that at the return of democracy in 1999, the power baton was to revolve around the three senatorial districts of Uyo, Ikot Ekpene and Eket, unencumbered.
He recalled that the rotation started with Uyo Senatorial District with Obong Victor Attah who ruled for eight years (1999-2007), leaving it for Ikot Ekpene with Akpabio, who ruled between 2007 and 2015.
Udom later took the mantle for Eket, but four years down the line, Akpabio came with a note of change, that Akwa Ibom ought to be keyed into the central politics as dictated by APC.
The action taken by Akpabio, without consultation with the elders, stakeholders and the electorate of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, angered the people, especially when he declared that I can stand alone and win my election to the Senate, even without belonging to any political party.
From this declaration, his kinsmen, including the current PDP National Legal Adviser, Mr. Emmanuel Enoidem; Senator Emmanuel Ibokessien; his brother, Sir Emem Akpabio, his cousin, Prince Ukpong Akpabio and others stakeholders of the PDP, took a resolution to remain with Emmanuel in PDP.
With the like of the former Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator John Udoedehe; Senator Ita Enang, President Buharis Aide on Senate Matters; former Minister of Petroleum, Atuekong Don Etiebet and others, Akpabio thought it would be a smooth ride to the Government House for the APC.
Campaigns of intimidation and blackmail became the order of the day, as both sides resorted to firing acerbic political salvos at each other.
Close to the polls, the APC orchestrated another round of attacks on the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Mike Igini, alleging that he had compromised and would not conduct elections that would be free, fair and transparent.
For this, the youth leader of APC in the state, Comrade Stephen Udo Ntukekpo, had to rally youths all over the state in mass protest to the INEC office, along Udo Udoma Avenue, Uyo, seeking the redeployment of Igini.
Some of their placards read: The REC is working for Gov Emmanuel and PDP, We have no confidence in Igini, Igini must go, We will resist any result of elections conducted by Igini, etc.
But Igini stood his ground, saying nobody can remove me because I have not compromised. I didnt take bribe from anybody because I came to Akwa Ibom to count votes and not money. Whether there is federal or state might, I will make sure your votes count, he had declared.
Henceforth, the battle line was drawn between Akpabio and his estranged godson, Emmanuel, for the epic battle for the soul of Akwa Ibom.
And when the die was finally cast, the first acid test was the presidential and National Assembly elections, which the PDP won 100 per cent, returning the three PDP senators and 10 House of Representatives members.
In the presidential election, Muhammadu Buhari of APC won about 31 per cent, having secured victory in only two local government areas (Essien Udim and Mbo) out of the 31 local government areas.
Shell-shocked, Akpabio and his men had to immidiately disown and condemn the results, alleging widespread malpractices by the PDP working in cahoots with Iginis INEC.
That Akpabio also lost in the contest was a more shocking development that sent fears and tension down the spines of Akwa Ibom people, even in the Diaspora.
To ensure the direction of victory is altered and railroaded along the line of APC, the next governorship and House of Assembly polls came with a more killing bite as Emmanuel resoundingly won in 30 out of the 31 councils, leaving only Akpabios Essien Udim for the APC.
Before the polls, Akpabio had sworn that Akwa Ibom would be the first state to fall to the APC within just three hours of voting, but the tide change and put the former governor in a position of struggling to even grab his local government and calling on everybody for help, noted Chief Udotong Archibong, a PDP chieftain in Oruk Anam.
According to him, the lesson to be learnt in this matter is that no matter how powerful, influential and highly placed you may be, you can never be greater than your people.
Akpabio played God and arrogated all the powers to himself. His desperation to remove Governor Emmanuel pushed him to forget he was also in the race to return to the Senate.
He abandoned his personal campaign and was preaching the gospel of removing Emmanuel for the former Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Managing Director, Obong Nsima Ekere, and he ended up shooting himself in the foot.
It was a political miscalculation that will remain as a stubborn in the annals of Akwa Ibom history and Akpabios political lexicon.
As the new phase of agitation opens at the tribunal which will eventually move to the regular courts for final determination of all post-election issues, stakeholders, elders, youths and the Christian community have sued for peace.
Akpabio should congratulate Emmanuel and the governor should accept his hands of fellowship for the state to grow, Honourable Al-Mustapher Edoho, President of Coalition of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Akwa Ibom state, said in a recent statement in Uyo.