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A Senator’s Jail Term And Financial Controversies: How The 2023 Race Is Shaping Up In Akwa Ibom State

By ETIM ETIM

The conviction of Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, the YPP Governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom State by the Federal High Court in Uyo yesterday, has become an unexpected albatross for Gov Udom Emmanuel and his preferred governorship candidate, Mr Umo Eno of PDP. Together with the embarrassing controversies over the receipt and mismanagement of the 13% derivation oil windfall by the government, Senator Akpan’s imprisonment have eroded the people’s confidence in their governor and this will undoubtedly influence the outcomes of the 2023 elections in Akwa Ibom. The race is now a clear two-way contest between Umo Eno and Senator John Udoedehe of NNPP.

The general impression in the State, especially among Akpan’s supporters, is that the governor had influenced the outcome of the court case just to kick Akpan out of the way and make the election an easy win for his anointed candidate, Umo Eno. The governor had denied this. At a public event last week, Gov. Emmanuel announced that he had been receiving calls from senior government officials and politicians in Abuja who told him that Senator Akpan had informed them that the governor is out to have him locked away. ‘’I don’t even know anything about the details of the case; this case started even before I became governor; how can I influence the judge; I’m not that type of governor…’’, Udom Emmanuel said hysterically as he tried to dispel the overwhelming rumours that he is behind the senator’s travails. That was over a week to the court judgement on Thursday, December 1.

Now, with Senator Akpan sleeping in Ikot Ekpene jail, the first day of his seven-year term (seven years on each of the six counts will run concurrently) and anger boiling over in the streets, the governor and his team would be pondering how best to counter the unexpected turn of events. Suddenly, Akpan is now cast as a helpless victim of the political machination of a ruthless governor who is bent on doing anything to impose his candidate as the next governor of the state; and Eno, on the other hand, as a poodle who is eager to benefit from any cruel plot. Never before in the 35-year history of Akwa Ibom has any politician been tried or sent to jail for corruption or any crime. As pervasive and glaring as this vice is in the state, no public servant has ever been tried for it. Udom Emmanuel now wears the singular badge of being the first governor in the state under whom his political foe has been thrown into prison. I don’t know how proud he is of this achievement. It is only a few weeks earlier that this same court had cleared Eno of charges of certificate forgery instituted by another PDP governorship aspirant. Very few people in Uyo believe that Eno is that innocent. Rather, they think that it is the governor that facilitated his acquittal. The air is thick with conspiracy theories, rumours and insinuations.

These rumours and perception are founded in history, though. In 2019 when Udom Emmanuel was seeking reelection, Senator Bassey Albert Akpan was his main backer. The defection of Senator Godswill Akpabio from the PDP to APC the previous year had threatened the governor’s chances of reelection considerably. But Akpan, one of the three senators from the state, quickly stepped in and filled the void left by Akpabio, and provided the firm rampart the governor needed most. He had thought that the governor would return the favour and support him in 2023. But soon after clinching the second term, the governor turned against Akpan, initially attacking him publicly and labelling him as a cult leader. ‘’No cult leader will take over from me’’, the governor kept announcing at every function. Many were stunned at such an audacious an about face from the governor, given Akpan’s invaluable support to the governor just months earlier. The refrain from Akpan’s supporters was ‘’Is the governor just knowing that the senator is a cult member’’? Nothing could stop Udom Emmanuel from having his way.

I wrote a series of articles from early last year, warning Senator Akpan that the governor would thwart his governorship ambitions. In one such essay published in June last year, I wrote ‘’In PDP, the governors are very powerful and they usually have their way in imposing a candidate of their choice. Senator Bassey Albert Akpan does not stand any chance in confronting Udom Emmanuel during the PDP primary. I went ahead to recall how Gov. Godswill Akpabio had done everything under the sun, including instigating violence, to impose Udom Emmanuel himself in 2015. I concluded by suggesting that Akpan should leave the PDP early.

As I predicted, Gov. Emmanuel went ahead and blocked Akpan’s participation in the PDP primary. By then the senator’s court trial was in full force, and many had begun to speculate that the governor would be happy to see him go to jail. Akpan decamped to YPP with his supporters last June and secured its governorship ticket, effectively breaking the PDP into two and considerably weakening the governor’s portion of the party. Akwa Ibom people are discerning enough to notice that the governor’s desperation to foist Eno on the state is frighteningly similar to Akpabio’s transition playbook of 2014. Last January, Gov. Emmanuel summoned PDP stakeholders, former governor Victor Attah, religious leaders and traditional rulers to his official residence, and announced that Eno was divinely revealed to him in a dream by God as his successor. In 2014, Akpabio had told the people that Udom was revealed to him by his own (Akpabio’s) wife. It would have been hilarious if it was not about the lives and welfare of 5.5 million people. Gov. Emmanuel then railroaded the PDP stakeholders, traditional rulers and religious leaders to support his choice.

He set up a campaign organization with a curious name, Maintain Peace Movement (MPM) and funded it heavily to drive the Eno project. By the time the PDP Governorship primary of May 26 came, leading contenders like Senator Akpan had either left the party or withdrawn from the race. It has since emerged that the idea behind Eno candidacy was mooted by the governor’s siblings, notably the elder brother and sister. They actually, I understand, are the brain behind the Eno project. A certain prophet who is based in the Western part of the country and a major influence on the governor, is also the brain behind it. The prophet claims that he is hearing from God that Eno must be governor.

There is also the embarrassing case of financial mismanagement in the mix. Since Gov. Wike had announced some weeks ago that the oil producing States had received varying amounts of money from the RMAFC (Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission), as arrears of derivation receipts not paid for many years, Gov. Udom Emmanuel had been under severe pressure from different segments of the state to disclose what he got and how he spent it. After much prevarications, three different government officials came up last week with different figures, further fueling speculations of opacity in the manner the extraordinary income had been managed. But my sources in RMAFC have, however, told me that these are what was paid to the nine oil producing States:

                                Amount Due (Naira)                                  consultancy fee (11.5%)

Abia State 18, 189, 462, 472.31 2, 091, 788, 184.32

Akwa Ibom State 243, 757, 273, 138.77 28, 011, 154, 410.96

Bayelsa 188, 324, 299, 413.56 21, 657, 294, 432.56

Cross River State 7, 000, 380, 522.71 805, 045, 760.11

Delta State 240, 654, 216, 460.23 27, 675, 234, 892.93

Edo State 37, 244, 897, 179.32 4, 283, 163, 175.62

Imo State 48, 057, 483, 280.00 9, 551, 610, 577.20

Ondo State 60,000, 506, 886.72 7, 360, 058, 291.97

Rivers State 207, 556, 217, 771.12 23, 868, 965, 043.68

The reader should note that each of the governors also received an 11.5% consultancy payment for the Derivation fund. Akwa Ibom State officials received a whooping N28. 011 billion for the N243. 75 billion that was due to the state. My sources informed me that Akwa Ibom’s total due sum is N287 billion, meaning that the state government is still expecting the additional N44 billion. But that is not all. ‘’I can confirm that Akwa Ibom State can receive more if the government is interested in pushing for more reconciliation to be done. But looks like your governor is too satiated with what he’s got already to bother’’, said a well-placed official.

Akwa Ibom people will recall that between 2019 and 2021, Akwa Ibom government also received two tranches of refunds (N78 Billion and N130 Billion) from the federal government, being refunds for costs of federal roads constructed by the Akpabio administration. With all these cash windfall, many people are wondering how the Udom administration has been spending the money, with so much poverty, uncompleted projects and unemployment in the state. The NBS puts the state’s unemployment at 51%, among the highest in the country and poverty at 71%.

In view of the imprisonment of Senator Akpan, the change in public perception of the governor and his stooge and the fact that APC is not in the race because the court had ruled that it has no candidate, how will things shape up in Akwa Ibom, with only three months to the governorship election? First, the resolve of many is that Umo Eno, who is not a particularly popular and likeable character, cannot be the next governor. Those who defected from PDP to YPP with Senator Akpan will either still vote for the party or will move to support Senator Udoedehe of NNPP, whom they see as a better alternative to Eno. Unfettered by any court case or scandal, Udoedehe himself has spent the last three months touring the state ward by ward, and meeting with voters. So far, he had visited over 200 of the 329 wards and met with over half a million voters. No candidate has come close to that. With the expected support from many of Akpan’s disaffected supporters, Udoedehe is favoured to cause an upset in March.

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