Since the beginning of Nigeria’s current demcoratic dispensation in 1999, Akwa Ibom State has been an unconstestable turf of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But now, that dorminance is being challenged.
In 2015, the state had some strong contenders from the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the governorship and senatorial seats, but they lost to the PDP candidates, further affirming the PDP’s domination. Therefore, elections in the state were what many referred to as an academic exercise as it was easy to predict winners long before the polls.
Akpabio, in a very elaborate ceremony moved to the APC with thousands of his supporters. A few months after that, the defection crept into the PDP dominated House of Assembly, when five of its members dumped the PDP to the APC.
So, unlike in the past, where the APC was almost non-existence, the party has now grown in popularity and strength, a development many say will make the governorship election in 2019 very tough.
An elder in the state, who spoke on the development said “the next election will be very tough because the current APC governorship candidate, Nsima Ekere, has the support of all those who matter in the state.”
According to him, “He has been a politician for a very long time. He knows the state, in and out and understands the people. Most of the people that were with Governor Udom Emmanuel have left him and joined the APC. The very few people who are still with him at the moment are not grassroots politicians.
“Many of them cannot even deliver their units not to talk of ward. In any case, Akwa Ibom has never been an opposition state, it was only in 2015, that we were in opposition and we intend to remedy that in 2018. I believe that the presidential candidate of the APC, President Muhammadu Buhari, will be re-elected and we in Akwa Ibom will like to align with the central government.”
The massive turnout of Akwaibomites during the launch of the Ekere governorship campaign was therefore not surprising to many people who have followed events in the state. Many analysts say there has never been any time in the history of the state that a candidate running against an incumbent had so much in his favour.
Supporters of the APC in Akwa Ibom believe that 2019 would be a different ball game, considering that Ekere speaks Ibibio language just like Governor Emmanuel and both of them are from the Eket senatorial zone, ruling out the issue of zoning or tribe.
In the area of experience, Ekere, apart from being a former deputy governor of the state, is a former Executive Chairman of Akwa Ibom Investment and Industrial Promotion Council, (AKIIPOC), former Chairman, Ibom Power Company, and currently the Managing Director of the NDDC, a development analysts believe would work for him during the elections.
As a politician of many years, they said, he also has structures on ground and is well known among people in rural areas.
“He is referred to as a ‘homeboy’’ to underscore the fact that he has lived in Akwa Ibom State and understands the state, the yearnings of the people and how to tackle them. He is eminently qualified for the job,” the spokesman of the governorship campaign, Eseme Eyibo, said.
According to him, the APC in the state in now very strong and ready for elections as, “ the hitherto factionalised party became one house after Senator John Udoedehe collapsed his structure and pledged support for Ekere’s candidature.
During the kick-off of his campaign and unveiling of his manifesto, many speakers noted that the fact that Ekere understands the state is a huge plus. They insisted that it has given him an edge over the current governor, who they continue to refer to as “a stranger’. A statement which indicated that the people of the state have yet to get over the fact that until the governorship election, Udom Emmanuel, lived and worked in Lagos State.
Political observers who spoke with our Correspondent also referred to Ekere as “his own man”.
They noted that unlike in the last election where it was obvious that the governorship candidate of the PDP was anointed by the incumbent, Nsima has no known godfather. An issue he addressed during a town hall meeting. “The people of Akwa Ibom State are my godfathers. I am going into the ring to fight so that I can do their bidding”.
To kick-start the battle, Mr Ekere last Monday inaugurated his campaign council, which is headed by former Governor Sam Ewang. During the exercise, Ekere charged the members to work hard and deliver their units and wards. He noted that the task was not an easy one and charged the committee members to work very hard.
He tasked them to ensure that people of the state embrace APC policies fully so that they would understand the need to vote for the party.
Ewang, on his part, noted that the committee will not use money to persuade the people to vote for the APC, rather “ we will be motivational”. He said they would speak to the conscience of the Akwa Ibom people, while pointing out the things that have gone wrong and how to make them better.
The inauguration was followed by the unveiling of the manifesto. Mr Ekere said his campaign was based on five thematic areas; namely; economic prosperity, infrastructure and rural development, education, health and social protection, security and governance and institutional reforms.
“There cannot be any meaningful, sustainable development without adequate infrastructure. To bridge the gap, our administration will finance the provision of infrastructural projects through public private partnership as well as invest at least 30 per cent of annual budgetary allocation for capital projects”, he said.
On the education sector, he said “education is the best antidote to poverty, unemployment, superstition and other manifestations of underdevelopment. It is a matter of deep regret that from the glorious past, we have moved down from 14th position in 2015 to 17th in 2018 in the WAEC ranking and to a point where our public education system is in complete shambles. In my government, we will have a school system that will reflect our ambition to raise global leaders of tomorrow in all facets of life. We will computerise the teaching and learning processes in our schools. We need to tweak our educational curriculum to favour the kind of skills and competencies demanded by the modern world”.
On one of the most contentious issues in the country, the joint federation account, whose management and operation have often been accused of leaving local governments impoverished, Mr Ekere said, “our administration will abolish the joint account so that funds meant for the local government goes directly to them”. He said by so doing, the local governments will have funds to execute projects that will empower the people and also make life easier for them.
Noting that there can be no development in an insecure environment, he maintained that his administration supported by his running mate, Ahmadu Attai, will provide the necessary support to all security agencies working in the state to enable them carry out their duties effectively.
Mr Ekere further stated that his time as managing Director of the NDDC exposed him to many problems facing people of his state and also empowered him with knowledge on how to approach them.
Also speaking, Chief Don Etiebet, former Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, said he was throwing his weight behind Mr Nsima Ekere, because “he is a homeboy. He is not a stranger; he will not come and start asking questions about the happenings in the state because he already knows them. He is a self-accomplished man, so he does not need Akwa Ibom money to build houses for himself or buy cars. He is coming to work for the people. And once he sets his mind to something, he gets it done. The government that is coming is one that will submit to the people. They will determine what goes on here.”
The coming weeks will be filled with activities as Ekere battles to convince the people of Akwa Ibom State. Whether the broom has garnered enough strength to sweep out the umbrella in the state can only be determined on March 2, 2019.