Akpabio’s fall: Lessons to be learnt

Saturday, 23rd February 2019 was a day of political revolution in Akwa Ibom state. This article seeks to datestamp one of the shocking events of that day; what the main casuality of the day, Senator Godswill Akpabio did which led to his unforseen fall; the objectives of the actors who plotted the backdoor conspiracies executed through the ballot against Akpabio, a political mafia unceremoniously defeated within the trenches of his empire. For ease of reading, this piece wil be written in subtitles.

In the beginningAkpabio came into the political space of Akwa Ibom State through Obong Victor Attah who appointed him Special Adviser on Petroleum and Mineral Resources in 2002 and later Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs; and that of Lands and Town Planning. By 2007, he had built a generational  political movement around the youths, women and some elders who saw in him a unique leadership mien different from that of the stock of the day.

Armed with a rich resumé cutting across his likeable personality, outstanding oratory, great mobilizing skill and an inate capacity for investing in the youths, Godswill Akpabio dared the odds, and was subsequently elected governor in 2007.

 Akwa Ibom people, particularly the youths  saw him as the symbol of a generational shift in leadership. Through a determined might they made him governor in 2007 against the wish of his boss, then Governor Attah and other elders of the state. All reviews show that Akpabio became the Governor of Akwa Ibom State through the effort of the people. This gives credence to the audacious statement by Barr. Onofiok Luke, one of Akpabio’s estranged political sons who told Akpabio that he and the people made Akpabio before Akpabio made him. 

2011 and Udoedehe’s challenge The political upheaval stirred against Akpabio in 2011 by his 2007 chief campaigner, the self-styled “Akpan Ibibio”, Senator John Udoedehe, showed that Akpabio was a product of the people. It would be recalled that Udoedehe launched a vicious assault against Governor Godswill Akpabio in 2011; that fierce campaign hinged on the alarming insecurity witnessed in the state in Akpabio’s first term as governor woke a sudden rage amongst Akpabio’s followers and the result of it was the inerasable losses in human lives and properties which it left. Despite the itchings for change which became intensed by the hurtings of the 2011Ikot Ekpene political masacre, Akpabio was reelected governor by the people. Akpabio’s reelection came to fulfil the ‘prophecy’ of Senator Udoedehe who said in a video which was played repeatedly on AKBC TV during the 2011 governorship campaigns  that Akpabio will be Governor for eight years. 

Akpabio sought personal glory in 2015The people stood by Akpabio for eight years. By 2015, Akpabio had built a formidable empire for himself and sat as “emperor” and became an authority over the people. He had “glorified” himself to a height where he thought the people can not do without him, notwithstanding his many leadership weaknesses.Typical of an “emperor”, Akpabio in 2015 out of sheer arrogance sought a personal history to singlehandedly produce a successor, a feat his predecessor could not achieve.

He brought Mr. Udom Emmanuel to lead his empire. Pronto, Akpabio was said to have told his lieutenants that he will handover power to his friend Mr. Umana Okon Umana, the conservative technocrat whom Akpabio repeatedly  described as the engine-room of his administration. In the end Akpabio jilted Umana abruptly. When Akpabio reneged on that promise, he severed himself from the unity, trust and protection of the territories within his empire. Those who were around then could recall the chaos that upsetting change caused. That was why almost everyone, including Akpabio’s aides sought to become governor right under his armpit. For the first time, some of the boys who adored Akpabio dared him and walked away. Akpabio had his way after all and ‘singlehandedly made Udom Emmanuel Governor’. That event is believed to have bred a pattern of mistrust within the empire, opening a corridor for his loyalists who stayed back with him to start plotting their own game, to wreck the empire.  

From PDP to APC: Where Akpabio Lost ItOn August 8, 2018, Akpabio decamped to the APC. Akpabio’s defection to the national ruling party perhaps had more media reviews than Saraki’s defection to the PDP, but he did not have his strongmen defect with him. Akpabio  left his strong and very dependable lieutenants in the PDP and joined the APC with a few of his kinsmen who are not experienced in warfare, enough to protect themselves and the new empire Akpabio sought to build in the APC. With the senate President zoned to the South-South, Akpabio saw an opportunity in becoming the President of the ninth senate. His undoing was that he left out members of his political clan which he had built over the years as governor in his new power game. Akpabio is very ambitious; that is not bad. But he lost it in his strategy when he went solo. 

The anger in his structure is that he went for negotiation without involving them. No one wants to be a stooge all the time. Consequently, the people saw his movement to the APC as an affront and mobilised against him. The revolt against Akpabio right from his household is a lesson every leader must learn. Keen political observers must have known that his voyage to the APC would be a misadventure the moment Akpabio failed to convince his political father figure, Chief Afangideh to sign on to the bargain. This is not to say  that Afangideh possess any extraordinary grace other than the blessings of a father in Akpabio’s political career, but it goes to show that Akpabio thought less of the people who made him. Afangideh has stood by Akpabio through thick and thin. He was the only elder in that bracket from Akwa Ibom who graced his declaration for the office of governor on November 23, 2006 , at Ibom Hall ground. Despite Akpabio’s inconsistencies, the old man stood by him until Akpabio sought him to move against Udom Emmanuel. No leader moves against his empire as Akpabio did. Udoedehe tried to bring down the empire he built with the people for Akpabio but failed. The rationale for the revolt against Akpabio by members of his political clan notably Emmanuel Enoidem, Bassey Albert, Onofiok Luke, Prince Akpabio, Iniobong Ekong and many others, is traceable to his plot to dethrone Udom Emmanuel.

Akpabio’s men who plotted his downfallAside from his failure to take his lieutenants into confidence on his mission in the APC, Akpabio began to speak more like an “emperor” but acted less like one. For instance during the APC campaign in Nsit Ubium, he said Onofiok Luke, Speaker of the House of Assembly and his godson whom he had blessed should be told that God has told him that he will not win the election. I don’t know if Akpabio was trying to make himself a prophet! But I know that Akpabio’s several Baalish prophecies could account for one of the reasons his men became resolute in plotting his downfall and the reason why people are unreasonably excited at his downfall.

However, during the build up to his fall, Barr. Emmanuel Enoidem appeared to have launched the weirdest verbal onslaught on Akpabio. Enoidem had during the 2007 governorship campaigns called Akpabio a ‘bastard’ on radio. In 2019, he called him a ‘coward’. Enoidem was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Akpabio’s administration having overseen many big and uncompleted projects of that administration including the Ibom Tropicana and the 10,000 housing scheme. 

Beyond Akpabio’s defection to the APC, Enoidem is said to be angry with Akpabio over the attempt to force Emmanuel Ekon’s third term on Abak/Etim Ekpo/Ika people. Enoidem fell out with Ekon whom he was said to have brought from the U.S to contest the Abak federal constituency seat, over the insecurity in Etim Ekpo. Supporters of Ekon in the wake of the face-off booed Enoidem during the commissioning of one the constituency projects done by Akpabio in Etim Ekpo. Feelers from Enoidem’s household suggest that Enoidem thinks Akpabio sanctioned that humiliation. This perhaps contributed to the resoluteness with which Enoidem worked to bring down Akpabio’s scheme. 

For Prince Ukpong Akpabio, he is said to be angry that Emmanuel Inyangetoh, Senator Akpabio’s chief of staff and maternal cousin had caged the former governor and kept him out of reach. Close friends of Prince Akpabio say that ‘mega’ as Prince Akpabio is fondly called, was not taken into confidence about Senator Akpabio’s defection. Consequently, it was convenient for Prince to stay with Udom Emmanuel to vent himself to political relevance and entreat the governor to pay the debts the State government owed him. 

Next is Saviour Enyiekere. The former two term chairman of Ika local government area was one of the most devoted boys to the Akpabios. He left the Akpabio’s dynasty in 2014 when he was denied the Etim Ekpo/Ika state constituency ticket.

Enyiekere was said to have insulted the Akpabios when he lost the ticket. For that reason, Akpabio was said to have stopped Enyiekere’s nomination for commissionership under Udom Emmanuel. During the Saturday’s election, Enyiekere ensured that Akpabio did not win a single ward in Ika.

Udo Kierian, the leader of the State House of Assembly and International President of Nto Annang Foundation was Akpabio’s core loyalist until August 8, last year. In fact it was rumoured that Kierian will defect to APC with Akpabio. Kierian did not find it funny that Akpabio left without the courtesy of notifying him. 

The list of Akpabio’s men who plotted his downfall is a long one. For each of them Saturday was an opportunity to take their own revenege against Akpabio. When one summarises the tirades against Akpabio by his men, it shows that Akpabio had dishonoured them.

Akpabio’s gameAkpabio took a lot of things for granted ahead of last Saturday’s election. Information at my disposal shows that Akpabio did not consult his people extensively ahead of the election. Also, his boardroom aides said Akpabio never really printed a single poster nor raised a billboard for that election except those done for him by his supporters. Akpabio did most of the campaigns for the election by proxy. He rather spent much time outside the state trying to pave way for his senate presidency and left the ‘small devils’ within his home to grow wild. Akpabio had worked really hard so that upon his return to the senate, he won’t have a major challenger for the senate president from the South-South. There is a school of thought that says Akpabio encouraged Senator Magnus Abe, from Rivers  and Senator Owan Enoh, from Cross River to vie for the governorship of their respective States so that they will not return to the senate, so that he will clinch the senate president’s position effortlessly. 

Akpabio’s tough talks laid him bareWhen a political figure speaks like an “emperor” what he stirs up in the minds of his people is rebellion. 

In warfare, surprise is the element. Akpabio exposed all his strategy to his opponents. First he said he will finish election in three hours. He went on to say that he has brought in three DIGs, AIGs, Commissioners of Police, Generals in the Army for the election. Akpabio stripped himself bare of strategies after he exposed the few he had.

It is said that Akpabio had probably banked on rigging the election that was why Commissioners of Police in the State were changed almost fortnightly. His inability to remove Barr. Mike Igini, the INEC REC who is said to have a strong bias for the PDP in the State to pave way for him to manage the election as he would want and Buhari’s integrity were Akpabio’s albatross.

End notesThe political rebellion of Saturday against Akpabio is akin to the Arab spring which swept through Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain. It is really heartbreaking. The hard lesson is that no leader takes decisions for the people all the time without earning their confidence. Nevertheless, Akpabio was a victim of backdoor conspiracy by his people united for the purpose of securing their personal future. For Enoidem and others, the battle that brought down Akpabio on Saturday was the battle for 2023. A number of actors who survived Saturday’s political spring have already started assembling arsenals for that famed year, 2023. This is why I should think the new commander of the army, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, should not rejoice at the unity the generals who fought Akpabio have demonstrated.  Their unity was that of a defined objective and it is temporary. Udom must be ready for these men. In all of these, as Otu Ita Toyo aptly captured,  “Akwa Ibom has thrown away  the senate presidency with the baby”.

It wasn’t all about Akpabio. Yes he has lost owing to his concealed machinations, but Akwa Ibom is the greatest loser.

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