Akwa Ibom: Before We Advocate Zoning,By Nsikak-Abasi Akpanobio

akpabioThe 2015 general election promises to be another defining moment for Nigeria as a country. The situation is no different in Akwa Ibom state where the search for the successor of Governor Godswill Akpabio has begun in earnest, even though the elections are still two years away.
Already there has arisen a lot of argument in many quarters regarding where the next governor should hail from. Ethnic warlords and political jobbers believe the next occupant of the Hilltop Mansion, as the Akwa Ibom State government house is known, must come from the Eket Senatorial District. They argue that the district has never produced a governor in Akwa Ibom since the creation of the state about 25 years ago and that it is the turn of the district to produce the governor of the state in 2015. It is rather regrettable that our brand of politics is based more on ethnic and other primordial considerations rather than the capacity and the ability of the candidate to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people. To my mind, we seem to have lost it as a people.
Akwa Ibom State was created on 23rd September 1987 by the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria’s former military president. The state was carved out of the old Cross River State with Uyo as its capital city. The then Col. Tunde Ogbeha was the first Military Administrator for the state.
Just like every other state in today’s Nigeria, Akwa Ibom state has three Senatorial Districts namely the Uyo Senatorial District comprising the Ibibio speaking people, the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district populated largely by the Annangs and the Ibibios and the Eket Senatorial District made up of the Oron, Eket and the Ibibio speaking people. Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio, the incumbent governor is an Annang man from the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District while his predecessor, Obong Victor Attah is an Ibibio man from Uyo Senatorial District.
For the avoidance of doubt, at no time has zoning ever been a factor in the governorship election of Akwa Ibom state. The eventual emergence of Obong Victor Attah and even his successor, the incumbent Governor Godswill Akpabio as governors at different times were purely an electoral computation and not based on any zoning arrangement, as the race was thrown open to every senatorial district in the state. A closer look at the profile of the various contestants for the governorship seat at different phases of the gubernatorial election may suffice here. The facts are there for anyone to glean from.

In 1991, during the subtle democratic experiment of former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, culminating in the creation of two (detribalised) political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC), the ethnic origin of the aspirants in Akwa Ibom state was never an issue for debate. Prominent aspirants for the governorship race of that era included the late Obong Akpan Isemin from the Uyo Senatorial District under the platform of the National Republican Convention, Mr. Etukudo Ekporo, also from the Uyo Senatorial District, under the National Republican Convention political party, Dr. Mfon Amana from the Eket Senatorial District under NRC and Arch. Ekong Etuk of the SDP from Uyo Senatorial district. However, the political drama of the early 1990s ended with the dissolution of the two political parties of the Babangida era by the late General Sanni Abacha.
Similarly, at the commencement of serious political activities in 1999, notable gubernatorial aspirants emerged from every section of the state and included Obong Akpan Isemin under the All Peoples Party (APP), Obong Victor Attah, PDP, Uyo Senatorial District, Dr. Mfon Amana (APP) Eket and Benjamin Okoko (PDP) also from Eket Senatorial District.
Then, again, in 2003, the profile of contestants was equally representative of the different senatorial districts in the state. Notable aspirants who indicated interest in the governorship position included Obong Victor Attah (Uyo ) under the PDP platform, Ambassador Etim Okpoyo and Dr. Udonsak both from the Eket Senatorial Zone, declared their intentions under the platform of the PDP and the ANPP, respectively. Dr. Ime Umanah from the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District joined the race also under the ANPP platform.
In the same vein, the number, calibre and representativeness of aspirants were to increase in 2007 when democracy appeared to have taken a firmer root in the country. Of the six prominent governorship aspirants, three, under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were from the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, namely, Chief Don Etiebet, Dr. Ime Umana and Chief Godswill Akpabio. Uyo Senatorial District produced two aspirants, namely, Group Captain Ewang of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and James Iniama of the Action Congress of Nigeria. Mr. Larry Esin was the lone contestant from the Eket Senatorial District. Governor Godswill Akpabio won the election and is currently serving his second term in office.
Furthermore, not even the power of incumbency could deter other aspirants from contesting the 2011 governorship election in the state. Three notable aspirants under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) vied for the governorship ticket. Of the three, Obong Godswill Obot Akpabio was the lone contestant from the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, Mr. Imoh Udo from Uyo Senatorial District and Engr. Frank Okon from the Eket Senatorial District. Senator Akpan Udoedehe from the Uyo Senatorial District contested under the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria while Group Captain Sam Ewang, a former Military Administrator of Ogun State, also from Uyo, vied for the governorship position under the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Mr. Larry Esin from Eket Senatorial District contested under the banner of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
My layman’s understanding of zoning presupposes that when a particular position is zoned to a certain senatorial district, only aspirants from that region are eligible to contest for that position. But that has never been the case in Akwa Ibom state.
From the foregoing therefore, it is glaring that the governorship election in Akwa Ibom state has always been an open contest for all Akwa Ibomites irrespective of the ethnic origin or the senatorial districts they hail from. This therefore makes nonsense of the agitation for a zoning formula in the state even as the so-called zoning argument has only served to expose the insidious role of ethnicity and tribal sentiments inherent in the politics of the state. This type of thinking can only retard the development of a people.
The present scenario where zoning appears to be a front burner issue equally throws up some pertinent and soul searching questions: where is Akwa Ibom heading in 2015? What has suddenly gone wrong with our politics? Why should we be seen to be trivialising a serious issue of electing the chief executive of our dear state?
It should be noted that our hope and progress as a people lies not in our ethnic origin or other divisive considerations, rather, we should be clamouring for those intrinsic values that tend to strengthen the bond of unity among us.
This becomes more imperative in the 2015 governorship election when all people of Akwa Ibom should join forces together to elect a man of honour and integrity as governor. We need a governor that will make meaningful impact in the lives of the people. We should choose meritocracy over and above zonacracy. Akwa Ibom state needs a youthful leader who is honest, sincere, pragmatic and reasonable in managing the vast resources of the state and not an ethnic bigot foisted on the state to execute the agenda of his godfathers.

Akpanobio is an Uyo-based analyst

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