In an interview, first with The Sun Newspapers and then circulated by the state based newspapers, Hon. Eseme Eyiboh posited that the first cycle of zoning, to him, was completed in the state with Governor Udom Emmanuel. He submitted that, the zoning, having been deemed to have achieved its aim, and the coming to an end of rotation of power, there is compelling need to reset and start afresh in 2023 a new zoning template. In fact, he stretched the argument to insist that Arc Obong Victor Attah was the last governor Akwa Ibom State had, judging from the political atmosphere surrounding the entries and exits of the three most recent governors, viz: Victor Attah, Godswill Akpabio and Udom Emmanuel.
For the benefit of those who never read Eyiboh’s zoning note, he had stated, “The cycle of zoning in Akwa Ibom has ended. So, what will happen now is, everybody, including somebody from Governor Udom’s local government has the right now to contest in 2023. Somebody from Godswill Akpabio’s senatorial district has the right to contest. Somebody from Uyo has the right to contest. Whoever will emerge as the governor, the new zoning cycle will start from there. It’s common sense. Because if you say it should automatically go and start from Uyo, that means the Eket Senatorial people are perpetually going to be on standby in every cycle of 16 years. But if someone from Eket Senatorial emerges in 2023, then again, it is now Ikot Ekpene and Uyo who will contest the next turn. We should share the waiting period.”
Asked whether zoning does not ensure fairness, the former spokesman of the national assembly and spokesman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, during the 2019 electioneering campaigns in Akwa Ibom State, explained that “zoning was just a mechanism intended to address perceived injustice.” “In Akwa Ibom”, he continued, “Obong Victor Attah is from Uyo senatorial district, USD, and he was a governor. He handed over to Godswill Akpabio from Ikot Ekpene senatorial district, ISD. Godswill handed over to Udom Emmanuel from Eket senatorial district, ESD, no other zone is left?”. This question has sent many wondering what the former lawmaker was actually trying to highlight.
Meanwhile, the political firmament of Akwa Ibom State has not remained the same ever since Eyiboh dropped that thought provoking ‘bomb’. Of course, there are those who clearly understand his position but are most satisfied pretending otherwise. Others would in deed be reluctant to apply their common sense of logic so as to appreciate the idea behind the postulation. Unfortunately, those who should rightly assimilate the idea rather react violently to malign Eyiboh. While some said he was fuelling ethnic war, others stated that he was trying to unsettle the zoning arrangement in the state. Some even call out Eyiboh, saying no matter what he does, governorship position of the state is sacrosanct and settled in Uyo in 2023.
These dissenting voices may have provoked Eyiboh to come out stronger and more explicit in his argument. On June 6, 2020, the current Chairman of Cross River Basin Development Authority dropped some propelling note on his Facebook handle to further strengthen his earlier stance. He wrote: “I maintain that zoning is a mechanism to redress perceived injustice. The justice of the Akwa Ibom State governorship trophy has gone full circle of its first course of zoning at the end of the current tenure (1999 – 2023). The second course of the zoning begins from ground zero in 2023. Any senatorial district that the governor emerges from a free and unrestricted process in 2023, shall begin the second cycle of the Akwa Ibom State governorship. We must all return to the Akwa Ibom solidarity and common brotherhood, regardless of the uncircumcised umbrage of the destitutes of democratic culture. Sovereignty belongs to the people and not the birthright of any community or individual. Akwa Ibom State governorship trophy 2023 shall be delivered by the people and inaugurated by the will of God. God wins.”
From the foregoing however, one should quickly glean the toxic message embedded in Eyiboh’s line of thought. Of course, it was Thomas Sterns Eliot who exploded in a poetic contemplation, saying that a people without history is not redeemed from time. On this note, Akwa Ibom citizens and politicians who aren’t children must not be seen refusing to apply their heavy records of history to appreciate the beauty in Eyiboh’s idea. Hence, for those who may have been blindfolded by primordial sentiments, the next few paragraphs have the potent magical powers to blow up their veils. By so doing, they should undoubtedly come to terms with the focal ingredients in Eyiboh’s zoning note.
Obviously, the zoning mechanism of the governorship seat started in 1999 with the senatorial template which produced Obong Victor Attah from USD as governor between 1999 and 2007. The same template produced former Governor Godswill Akpabio from ISD from 2007 to 2015 and currently, Governor Udom Emmanuel from ESD who has the mandate to stay through 2023. But, following the tripodal zoning template, one quickly comes to reality with the fact that while Attah was an Ibibio man and Akpabio, an Annang man, Udom Emmanuel is not an Oron man, but from Ibibio. Of course millions of Akwa Ibom people exist who share this school of thought and believe that such system is not and cannot be described as ‘zoning’, since zoning principle is geared towards building confidence, trust, peace and erase the suspicion of marginalization.
The senatorial district template, the trio of (Uyo; Ikot Ekpene and Eket) have taken their fair share and so the cycle, according to Eyiboh and those who will not be unwilling to accept the truth, is completed. By so doing, the clause that “zoning is dead” means that the rotation is starting afresh. It can start from USD, IED or even ESD, because everyone should share the same “waiting pain”. Eyiboh must be saying that ESD or ISD should not be the only people in the waiting room. Everyone must have a fair share of what it means to wait.
Furthermore, Eyiboh’s zoning note loudly condemns any system which further silences the voices of the sub ethnic sections of the state. Perhaps, Eyiboh is inaudibly whispering the voices of the minorities by questioning the integrity and usefulness of a zoning system which perpetually favours the majority. For instance, if USD had their Ibibio governor in Attah and ESD could not have an Oron, Eket, Ibeno or Obolo governor, only for an Ibibio man to still assume the seat, the articulate federal appointee is actually questioning the senatorial zoning formula, afraid that in the future, an Ibibio man might be governor in USD, ISD and ESD. Eyiboh is perhaps calling for a town hall meeting where sincere stakeholders in the Akwa Ibom project should sit together and make decisive and concrete statements on the future leadership template of the state from 2023. This apparent case of injustice in the state in 2019, propelled the Director, Air Worthiness Standards of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Engr Ita Awak to advocate that the zoning clock of the state be reset to favour Oro governorship in 2023. This position too, did not go down well with the majority who argued that it was not time for Oron people to get justice. Ita Awak had made his point, judging from the quantum of revenue which the state gains from the oil deposits being drilled from Oro land and waters, but without commensurate benefits to the people who bear the greatest adversity of oil exploitation.
Of course, this is undoubtedly the knowledge age where everything carefully documented will freely be safe in future. People with contrary opinion can do better by ceasing to call out Eyiboh for crucifixion. They should better advance their contrary views and weigh them in a scale. Just like the founding fathers of the state drafted a ‘social contract theory’ for the survival of the state, which appeared to have been burnt into flames, it is no time for people to express fury against well thought concepts of harmonious leadership union. It is time for all knowledgeable persons, leaders of thoughts – political, economic, religious and traditional – to come together and agree on something for the interest of the future generation of Akwa Ibom State. They should spell out who takes what, when another takes the other office. If a section of the state produces a governor, they should not stop at the spread of deputy governorship, speakership and party chairmanship slots. They have to incorporate other juicy offices like that of the SSG, the state chief judge, head of civil service and the rest. This will ensure that Akwa Ibom people do not cry of injustice the same way our senators and house of representatives members led by Senator Bassey Albert and Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke recently lamented Buhari’s nomination of a replacement for an Akwa Ibom daughter, Mary Uduk as director general of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
While addressing members of the Post COVID-19 Economic Reconstruction Committee on Wednesday, Governor Udom Emmanuel affirmed setting up the pillars for a 30-year development plan of the state. He sure deserves commendation for his futuristic dreams and vision for the state. It shows his proactive disposition for the future progress of the state. But certainly, no development can succeed in a state of rancour occasioned by oppression and aggression. Injustice is the highest form of brutality which has the capacity to castrate human conscience. A people whose consciences are deranged by habitual plots of political rascality may not have the auditory sensation to understand the language of peace. Hence, if there are better ideas than Eyiboh’s zoning note, men of conscience should share a table of understanding and address them squarely. This would best serve the interest of the people than having some tigers riding on Eyiboh’s message to be prowling in the jungle.
Joseph Atainyang is an UYO based development journalist and public affairs commentator. GSM: 07036964637