From JOE EFFIONG, Uyo
In the country, when a deputy governor loses his job especially through impeachment or voluntarily the governor is always fingered, and Akwa Ibom is no different. Since the state was created 25 years ago, only one deputy governor has managed to complete his “term,” and he is Obong Uffot Ekaette, who later became Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) during Olusegun Obasanjo tenure.
Ekaette served under a military governor, the then Group Captain Idongesit Nkanga, who like him, was not elected and who had no chance for a second term or any succession plan. The next deputy governor, Chief Etim Okpoyo, who paired with Obong Akpan Isemin to herald the first executive gubernatorial crew in the state in January 1992, lost the job within two years. But his descend was understood by everyone. General Sani Abacha sacked him along side his principal and 29 other governors and their deputies.
When the current democratic dispensation commenced in 1999, Obong Victor Attah who emerged a consensus candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) decided to team up with Obong Chris Ekpenyong, a relatively young man but with enormous resources and large political following. The partnership worked. Attah/Ekpenyong ticket went on to trounce Isemin/Ime Umanah All Peoples Party (APP) partnership at the polls. But Attah and Ekpenyong didn’t exist as friends up to three months before some commissioners led by the then commissioner for rural development, one Dr Akpan, addressed a press conference at the Women Development Centre, Uyo, and advised Ekpenyong to resign.
Ekpenyong ignored the advice and even fired back that the commissioners were appointees of the governor’s which he had a leg. How Attah and Ekpenyong managed to exist like cat-and-dog for four years, no one knew. But Attah was bidding his time. And the time came during the second term election in 2003. He had wanted to drop Ekpenyong for another running mate, but PDP introduced a funny nomination process which they still have till date and which makes it possible to know who voted for who at the primaries.
Unconfirmed reports had it that Attah who was the number one person on Akwa Ibom list and whose ballot paper was marked, did not vote for Obasanjo during the PDP presidential primaries whereas Ekpenyong voted for Obasanjo. When it was discovered, Obasanjo, who it was gathered obviously never really liked Attah because of the latter’s fight for resource control, was said to have asked Attah to either pick Ekpenyong as his running mate again or forget about the governorship. Attah managed to bow and the duo found themselves in the same gubernatorial boat again.
But it wasn’t long before the expected happened; the house of assembly initiated an impeachment moves against Ekpenyong two years into the second term. Ekpenyong ran to Abuja to solicit their support to thwart the impeachment process. But before the party elders such as Chief Toney Anenih and ministers such as Chief Ojo Maduekwe got to Uyo, the impeachment had been concluded in a hotel at Ewet Housing Estate.
The only soft landing left for Ekpenyong was for him to resign before the House was persuaded to withdraw the impeachment. So Ekpenyong was forced to resign. Analysts said if Ekpenyong was allowed to stay till 2006, only God could have stopped him from succeeding Attah. And that probably was the last thing Attah wanted.
Then came Sir Michael Udofia, a retired permanent secretary. When Attah left and Akpabio was able to ward off a trailer-load of other PDP gubernatorial aspirants to emerge a candidate, which in Akwa Ibom political scene is tantamount to being a governor-elect, everyone was surprised when Akpabio opted for Nsima Ekere, who was also among the aspirants, as his running mate. Attah’s insistence on having at least a left leg in the governorship, after his preferred but unpopular choice, Dr Udoma Bob Ekarika, his son in-law, failed to clinch the nomination, changed that pairing. Nsima, who had been publicly presented at several political rallies, had to be sacrificed for Patrick Ekpotu, an engineer and Attah’s former Commissioner for information.
But almost everyone knew that Ekpotu was an “illegal immigrant” or what the South Africans refer to as Makwerekwere in Akpbio’s government. Thus though he never rocked the boat by trying to look at what material the governor’s seat was literally made of , as that would have been an invitation of untimely political suicide, his being offloaded at the end of Akpabio’s first term was not a surprise to anybody. In fact, nobody, even his kinsmen from Ikot Abasi local government made a case for him. He left like an orphan.
But Ikot Abasi couldn’t have done that after all Ekere who was returned, was a better replacement; or so they thought. Now, maybe, they are now regretting because half a deputy governor is better than none. Based on the relationship between Akpabio and Nsima, who was the de facto deputy governor even when Ekpotu was marking time, it was assumed that the expected synergy had finally been restored in the leadership profile of the State.
And so it seemed till Ekere surprised everybody and resigned “voluntarily” on Wednesday, October 31, 2012, 17 months and two days after taking oath of office at the Uyo township stadium with Ekpotu watching the ceremony from a distance. His short letter of resignation reads: “Pursuant to Section 306 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) I kindly notify you of my resignation from the office of the deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State forthwith on personal grounds.”
While everyone appeared surprised, Akpabio, possibly was not, because his letter of acceptance a few minutes after, which he sent to the House of Assembly the next day, not only accepted the resignation but also asked the house to prepare to give accelerated clearance to his next nominee. And when he sent in a nominee in the person of Mrs Valerie Ebe, his former Commissioner for Culture and Tourism and later Environment, to the House on Friday, the House concurred.
Most people have shied away from reacting to Ekere’s resignation; and apart from the nebulous “personal grounds” Ekere himself has equally shied away from further comment. Some people say he doesn’t want to further implicate himself, but of what? But one person who reacted honestly to the news is his brother and predecessor, Ekpotu, who told our correspondent on phone that he was surprised that Ekere had resigned so soon.
“Why is he running away; it is the deputy governor that he has been looking for. I think he knew how to become deputy governor.” Asked about his relationship with Ekere when the latter served as deputy governor, he said; “ I don’t have business with such people because I knew all he was doing to undermine me. I was aware of all the blackmails and all of that because he wanted to be deputy. So all I did was to keep quiet and give them their way.
So, if he has left, then it’s unfortunate somersault.” The only statement from government circles was Akpabio’s claim that Ekere, being a businessman, seemed to have resigned to concentrate on his business. But it’s a reaction that hasn’t gone well with the people who feel Ekere is being sacrificed to pave the way for the incumbent Secretary to the State Government, Mr Umana Okon Umana, to emerge as the PDP standard bearer for the 2015 gubernatorial election. Umana is from Uyo senatorial district while Ekere is from Eket senatorial district, assumed to be the gubernatorial heir apparent since Attah had helped Uyo to use up their slot.
“We don’t know what kind of oath Akpabio and Umana took between them that is now going to blow away every opposition like tsunami. They should stop intimidating others and wait for what the people would say in 2015,” a confused PDP official told our correspondent. Some political aficionados say Ekere may have been advised by Akpabio to resign in order to stage a surprised comeback that would unsettle Umana. But can Umana be unsettled? Maybe! Whatever the case, Akpabio has broken the record to have three deputies so far. But will Mma Ebe be the last?