NIGERIA: In Akwa Ibom, the Game Gets Messier

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With about six months to the 2015 elections, tension has begun to rise in the Akwa Ibom State polity with allegations and counter-allegations becoming the order of the day. Davidson Iriekpen writes

As the 2015 general election gathers momentum, one of the things that may likely rent the air is the alleged plot to assassinate or threat to life by aspirants. Whether the politician is popular or not, as long as he or she is in the opposition or disadvantaged, there is the tendency that he or she would raise the alarm of threat to life. As such, for those abreast of the politics of Akwa Ibom State, tension started when Governor Godswill Akpabio and some leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state resolved to zone governorship seat to Eket senatorial district.

The motive, they said, was purely for equity and justice and contended that it was not proper for the Uyo and Ikot Ekpene zones alone to produce governors like Chief Victor Attah and the incumbent, Akpabio, without the Eket axis which produces the wealth of the state and the country, not to have a feel of governance in the state.

But this has been misunderstood by other big wigs in the Uyo and Ikot Ekpene senatorial districts to mean total black out from the governorship race. Since then, it has been a case of no love lost between Akpabio and the former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr. Umana Okon Umana, who is also from the Ikot Ekpene zone like the incumbent governor.

Many analysts believe that one of the consequences of their animosity is allegations and counter-allegations, leading to Umana’s petition to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently where he asked the commission to investigate alleged attempt on his life by Akapbio’s agents.

In a petition to the commission written by his lawyer, Uzoma Ibegbulem‎, Umana said his political associates and people helping him to actualise his ambition to be governor were being terrorised. He cited many victims of assassination and people that were kidnapped and released after a ransom had been paid purportedly on the orders of the governor and urged the commission to investigate the petition.

He further accused the governor of an attempt on his life and that of his family ahead of the election. He said the petition had become necessary in order to stave off the impending breaches of his human rights and/or assassinations of perceived political opponents of the governor.

The former SSG disclosed that there was reasonable cause for the intervention of the commission just as he catalogued incidents of the said assassinations for the intervention of the body. The petitioner alleged that "Chief Sunny Udom, the Director-General of the leading governorship aspirant in the state, Umana Okon Umana was recently the target of political assassination in his office.

"He held a press conference on Thursday, May 8, 2014 in which he highlighted the fact that one of the assassins lost a finger in the process of indiscriminate gun shots. Some security agencies to which the incident had been reported had dismissed the reports as mere robbery as though deserves any glorification.

"Albert Ukpanah, a well known opponent of Akpabio's 2015 Senate ambition was strangled to death in his residence in Abak, Akwa Ibom State on March 5, 2014. So far, anxious political associates and his family members are still waiting for answers and fear that like past political assassinations in Akwa-Ibom State, it might be business as usual. Ukpanah once served as Caretaker Chairman of Ukanafun Local Government Council and was one of the immediate past state officers of the Peoples Democratic Party in Akwa Ibom State."

He cited Hon. Ekperikpe Ekpo, a former member of the House of Representatives, who was allegedly threatened by the governor in the presence of many witnesses, including a Catholic priest.

"His Excellency told the former lawmaker to forgo his senatorial ambition otherwise, he would be a victim of one of the three ‘Gs, namely, God, Government and Gun! This was on Saturday February 1, 2014," the petitioner said.

He further stated that in December, 2013, Hon. Umana Okon Umana was another target of hired assassins when he received threats at his Uyo residence. "It is instructive that contemporaneous with that threat, His Excellency, the Governor, ordered the withdrawal of his security details."

This, he said, was widely reported in the press and also reported to the police. "Recent threats to the lives of political associates and friends of Umana have followed the same pattern in Akwa Ibom State, surveillance of intended victims by the use of government jeeps, usually Prado Jeeps with tinted glasses. The surveillance vehicles carry untraceable security numbers, only available to government. This is verifiable."

He also alleged that the assassination arm of the state government had made a list of identified victims known to the public. This, he said, consisted of prominent members of a committee set up by Umana Okon Umana.

"The idea is to drive fear into that political prospect and annihilate any stumbling block.”On May Day, 2014, the governor openly declared that he would use 'legal guns' to terrorise his opponents (tape available) a terrifying statement to proceed from the mouth of the chief security officer of the state."

But in its reaction, the state government described the allegation as “bare-faced falsehood and blackmail,” designed to “taint and tarnish the hard-earned image, integrity and reputation” of the Akpabio-led administration.

Describing the content of the petition as “wicked lies and utter falsehood,” deliberately put in the public domain to misinform unsuspecting members of the public and hoodwink them into believing what he tagged as ‘baseless allegations’, the state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mr. Aniekan Umanah, said Udom and Umana only misconstrued armed robbery attack as assassination attempt and made to heap the blame on the governor for political reasons.

“It is unfortunate that a robbery incident at the office of Udom has been misconstrued as an assassination attempt. It is on record that the State Security Service (SSS) had since smashed an armed robbery gang, and subsequently paraded them before the press, for which they made confessional statements as those responsible for the attack on Udom’s office on May 6, at No. 7 Umoh Essien Street, off Obio Imo Street, Uyo,” he said.

The government spokesperson added that the SSS expressed regrets over the politicisation of the crime when the agency noted in a press briefing that as the investigation was ongoing, local and national media were inundated with sensational headlines of orchestrated state government sponsored assassination and political attacks targeted at key opponents particularly, using the attack on Udom as a reference point.

Quoting the SSS, Umanah noted that: “The command, in the course of this investigation, scrupulously interrogated the suspects on possible government complicity or sponsorship of their operation to which they all corroborated one another in refuting and denouncing any such action but rather affirming that their operation was strictly robbery-based.”

The commissioner also regretted Udom’s labelling of the deceased PDP stalwart and personal friend of Akpabio, the late Albert Ukpanah, as his ‘opponent’ in the petition, saying such statement would baffle any observer who knew the depth of the relationship between both men.

“Ukpanah was not only a member of the State Working Committee (SWC) of the PDP, but also coordinated the Godswill Akpabio Campaign Organisation in Ukanafun.

“On the morning of March 5, the same day he was assassinated (may his soul rest in peace), Ukpanah was at the Hill Top Mansion, where he met with Akpabio, to solicit for and receive assistance in aid of his wife, who was receiving medical attention at a Lagos hospital. It is curious how the same governor, who gladly assisted his friend, will turn around to send assassins after him,” Umanah said.

He added that the alleged threat to Ekperikpe Ekpo by Akpabio was equally untrue, saying the “fact of the matter is that, at St. John Pro-Cathedral, Abak, where the governor attended the wedding ceremony of his niece, Kubiat Udosen, nee Ebienang, he took time out to interact with leaders of the church and Ekperikpe Ekpo on the issue of compensation for the Catholic Church in Abak, due to its proximity to the major highway; a discussion which I was privy to.”

Umanah said the allegation of the trailing of Okon Umana by hired assassins was neither here nor there and surprising that he (Umana) would lend himself to the “shenanigans of rumour peddlers and disgruntled politicians,” all in the bid to attract public sympathy to his 2015 governorship ambition.

“It is on record that Umana, until he left office as SSG sometime in 2013, was one of the most outspoken salesmen of the good governance witnessed in the state, under the leadership of Akpabio.

“Among many other positive statements to his credit, can be found in the IMPACT magazine, volume 2, No. 13 of September 2012, page 40 -41, where Umana said ‘When you are dealing with people who  are not patriotic, what you do is exactly what Akpabio is doing – remain focused and continue to do the things that are good for the people, that is whether they appreciate it or not’ because the vision is bright and the generality of the people of the state are behind the governor.”

Umanah insisted that the purported claim to the 2015 senate ambition of Akpabio, “is fictitious and ill-conceived,” adding that “it is a sad commentary that these politicians could condescend to make political capital out of the tragic and brutal murder of this elder statesman (Ukpanah).”

However, a pressure group under the auspices of Say Yes Initiative, has commended the leadership of the PDP in the state for zoning the governorship seat to the southern part of the state.

The group in a statement signed by its Coordinator, Mr. Eto Philips, said the zoning would help in striking a balance of equity and justice in the sharing of political power between contending political interests within a fledging democratic dispensation such as ours.
While recognising the supremacy of the party, Philips urged the leadership of the PDP in the state to ensure consolidation and continuity in the delivery of the dividends of democracy brought in the state under the leadership by Akpabio by presenting the right candidate.

The group however, expressed optimism in the ability of the incumbent SSG, Mr. Emmanuel Udom, to continue with the transformation agenda of the present administration.

"We commend the State Chapter of the PDP which in tandem with the Party’s policy of zoning and rotation of political and public offices have graciously zoned the office of the governor to the Eket senatorial district, the only one of the three senatorial districts in the state yet to produce a governor since the forth republic.

“We acknowledge the right of every individual and tribal group within the district to contest the governorship seat but quickly caution the Akwa Ibom electorate to be circumspect and ensure the emergence of a credible candidate from the zone with requisite knowledge and ability to ensure the consolidation and continuity of Governor Akpabio’s uncommon transformation agenda.

"We share the vision and mission of all the groups and associations that are promoting his candidacy for the governor of the state. Udom is a man with a highly trained mind and professional discipline. He (Akpabio) is a man with great understanding of official bureaucracy, corporate and boardroom politics and inter-ethnic relationship in a work place environment.

“Every human being is a social animal, Udom not being an exception should not be clothed in the garment of elitism or non-partisanship by those who have not had the opportunity to interact with him," he stressed

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