The odds favour Umo Eno of the PDP – Anietie Usen
The D-Day is May 21, 2022. The gubernatorial primaries for the nomination of the PDP governorship candidates nationwide is scheduled for this much-awaited and anticipated Saturday morning. That is seven long weeks from now. But in the calendar of politicians, seven weeks is a twinkle. The die is cast already. Delegate election is delicate and the underground schemes to secure a majority of delegates is gaining momentum.
In Akwa Ibom State, a virtual one-party State, the PDP is bursting at the seams. Both visible and invisible governorship aspirants trailed everywhere and every day by their enthusiastic supporters, are bombarding every influential stakeholder for consultations and endorsements. Not much is heard yet of the Akwa Ibom APC for now. The scenario however is less than inspiring for the APC vis-a-vis the disarray and uncertainties about the leadership of the party in the State.
The best outing of APC in Akwa Ibom State was three years ago in 2019, when former Governor Godswill Akpabio joined forces with his political enemies, Senator John Udoedehe, immediate past National Secretary of APC, and Umana Umana, the MD of Oil and Gas Export Processing Zone, to back the governorship hopes of Nsima Ekere, who resigned as MD/CEO of NDDC to challenge Governor Udom Emmanuel for the coveted seat. The momentum was huge. It was rated as a political tsunami. But as one of my friends once put it, it was ‘a tsunami that ended as a fib’. Many PDP and even the APC members attributed the fib and the flop to ONLY GOD, the last hope that Governor Emmanuel resorted to after all the political irokos and ‘bomonkukus’ of Akwa Ibom deserted him. In retrospect, it was not just a fib but a flop, that saw the mightiest of irokos fallen, even in their backyards.
Against this backdrop, the odds still favour PDP- the brave. In other words, all eyes remain on PDP. Usually, the winner of the PDP governorship primaries in Akwa Ibom State is practically regarded by many as the Governor-in-waiting or in Akwa Ibom parlance, the ‘In-coming’.
Certainly, the ‘in-coming’ governor of Akwa Ibom State, this time around will be a son of Uyo Senatorial District. The State, unlike many other States in the country, has accomplished a credible and predictable political zoning and sharing formula that guarantees stability and amity, all tenure round.
So the search for the in-coming Governor of Akwa Ibom State is a royal affair mounted precisely in Uyo Senatorial District, made up of 100 percent Ibibios, who are the big brothers of the other two Senatorial Districts. The Ibibios are also found in every other Senatorial District in large numbers and could easily monopolize and hold tenaciously to the seat of the governor if they so wish. But the Ibibios are large-hearted and fair-minded people. They are truly their brothers’ keepers. For peace and harmony to prevail, they willingly sit back and allow their siblings from other sections of the State to share on the table of political brotherhood. Thanks to Obong Victor Attah, the respected former governor and modern father of the Akwa Ibom State, who set the political ball rolling to this effect. It is not a surprise therefore that the search for the next governor of the State has more or less centered around his immense popularity and guidance.
For three years, virtually all roads of would-be governors led to Attah’s modest homes in Shelter Afrique, Uyo. Every serious governorship aspirant needed to leverage the immense love and respect Akwa Ibom people habour for Obong Attah. They turned his homes, both in Uyo and Abuja into Jerusalem for political pilgrimages. As a wise man, Attah never pretended to have the monopoly of knowledge. In his disarming simplicity and candour, all he kept hammering on was the need for Uyo Senatorial District to search for the best of an Ibibio man for the important job, in order not to waste the next eight years in showboating.
Aware of the huge responsibility on his broad fatherly shoulders, he surrounded himself with a stealthy think tank, made up of respected politicians, intellectuals, traditional rulers, businessmen, the clergy and journalists. Two years ago, he told some members of his inner circle that “the next governor of Akwa Ibom State will not be a matter of political party but a matter of the personal quality, proven capacity and unquestionable integrity of the candidate”. It was rare to meet him without the company of one or more of the best brains in the land. Surprisingly, he always had something good and encouraging to say to every aspirant that visited him, hardly ever betraying his criteria and perception of who the next governor should be.
While the race in the APC was focused mainly on Senator Udoedehe and any other aspirant Senator Akpabio would back, the PDP race took the semblance of the Boston Marathon: overcrowded. Time was to prove that some aspirants were contenders for the throne, while others were pretenders to the throne. As the political clock ticked and Wadata Plaza, the PDP National Headquarters, decreed a whopping N21 Million for the purchase of one governorship nomination form, the crowd petered out naturally to a handful of moneybags and diehards. Ambition should be made, in this case, not of sterner stuff, but of Naira bags. N21 Million is no chicken feed to forgo in these hard times. Not an easy deposit to lose either. As the governorship primary enters the home run, Akwa Ibom PDP is practically left with the competent trio of Pastor Umo Eno, a successful entrepreneur and technocrat, Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, former commissioner of finance under Akpabio, and the incumbent Senator representing Uyo Senatorial District, as well as Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke, former Speaker of the House of Assembly and incumbent Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives. But the dark horses in the race cannot be ignored or written off. They appear to pack enough punches to spring a surprise at any time. They include stalwarts like Akan Udofia, a wealthy businessman, James Iniema, the famous Estate Surveyor that Akpabio defeated in 2007 to become governor, Hon. Idoreyin James, former deputy majority leader in Akwa Ibom House Of Assembly, who also contested for the governorship as the Labour Party candidate and Rt. Hon. Mike Eyong, a member of the House of Representatives.
Unknown to many political actors, the consensus of key stakeholders was built around one man. On the new year’s eve, a group of stakeholders met with Governor Emmanuel and made a strong case for ‘a man with considerable social capital and networks of relationships across the socio-political strata, who live and work in the State and is respected for adding value and enabling the State to function better, through visible investment, managerial skills, and hard-earned resources’. Simply put, the Think Tank, rather than go for a king, recommended a kind of MD/CEO, a man who has laboured to grow his personal businesses, who will be able to transfer such skills and know-how to the younger generation and the generality of Akwa Ibom people. A king, they reasoned, may squander the opportunity of Uyo Senatorial District and indeed the State resources on extravaganza, flamboyance, and ostentatious lifestyle, while a CEO model of the governor would be better placed to connect the dots of all completed and ongoing projects of present and past administrations and reap a huge harvest for the State.
The recommendations struck a chord with Governor Emmanuel. He had told everybody over the years that he was praying to God for a successor who would understand the fundamental principles driving many projects and programs in the State, and who would be able to quickly pluck the low hanging fruits of the past 23 years for the benefits of the people. Ab initio, it would appear that the governor, like most Akwa Ibom people, had no soft spot for the dyed-in-the-wool politician, with the credentials of misusing and misdirecting youths during every election. But it took Governor Udom another three weeks to respond officially to the pressure on him by the Think Tank and dozens of governorship aspirants.
On Sunday, January 25, 2022, the governor summoned an enlarged Stakeholders meeting in the State House. By 4 pm, the hall was jam-packed with the Who’s Who in Akwa Ibom: top politicians, some of the governorship candidates, first-class traditional rulers and apex clergy. No section of the State was left out. The governor made Obong Attah’s voice the loudest in the meeting. But for the opening prayer, Senator Effiong Bob, a governorship aspirant himself, was picked for the role, to the surprise of everyone including the clergy. Next, the governor made a brief opening remark laced with parables, without a clear indication of why he summoned the meeting. Then, Obong Attah took over. The wise old man praised the incumbent governor for carrying along with critical stakeholders in important issues and decisions. In no time, Attah hit the nail on the head and went ahead to announce the choice of Pastor Umo Eno as the best aspirant for the job of the next governor. A loud applause accompanied the announcement by Attah. Pastor Umo Eno was sent for. It was Obong Attah who formally introduced him to the stakeholders and lifted up his hand as the chosen one. The foremost clergy in the State, Dr. Sunday Mbang, the patriarch and Prelate emeritus of the Methodist Church Nigeria, was picked to pray for Pastor Umo Eno. He did it wholeheartedly. His prayer was further affirmed by Rev. Dr. Uma Ukpai, a global evangelist and spiritual father of many pastors in Akwa Ibom. And for the traditional prayers and affirmation, the No.1 traditional ruler in Ibibio land, the President-General of Akwa Ibom Traditional Rulers Council, Ntenyin Solomon Etuk, the Oku Ibom Ibibio and patriarch of Ibibio people worldwide, was at hand to do that with all the traditional powers conferred on him by Ibibio people and indeed Akwa Ibom people.
One of the first converts Pastor Eno won was his hitherto rival, Senator Bob, who hugged and congratulated him on the spot along with other stakeholders. But not all aspirants were ready to abide by the decision of the stakeholders. Hon. Luke, a young and vibrant national lawmaker, was the first to kick. “I am not against the choice…or the aspiration of my brother (Pastor Umo Eno, who is ) from my local government area and my Federal Constituency. (But) my supporters and those sympathetic to my cause should please note that we are as resolute as ever in our desire to give our people a purposeful leadership in the office of the Governor come 2023”, he said in a press statement released on January 26, 2020.
The reaction of another aspirant, Senator Akpan, was however not so well thought out but laced with anger and resentment. “Who born dog, Who born dog”, he charged while addressing his supporters in Eket. The video went viral soon after the rally. His outburst was interpreted to be directed at the governor or Pastor Umo Eno. He was widely condemned by the public for the use of foul language considered as ‘below the status’ of an aspiring governor. His campaign appears to be struggling since that incident. Last week, 10 out of the 13 Akwa Ibom lawmakers in the National Assembly, gathered in the home of Senator Akon Eyakenyi, to dump Senator Akpan in favour Of Pastor Eno. It was a significant blow to Akpan’s campaign, more so because the lawmakers are Akpan’s colleagues in the National Assembly.
The momentum for now is on the side of Pastor Umo Eno. Apart from the bandwagon of endorsements from critical stakeholders, his calm deportment and godly credentials resonate strongly with a cross-section of Akwa Ibom people. In addition, his company, the Royalty Group, has on its payroll a staff strength of more than 2000 staff, second only to the State government in the employment of Akwa Ibom people. His expertise in building successful SMEs is nationally recognized and rewarded with multiple awards. Said Chief Senas Ukpanah, former University lecturer and President Babangidu’s National Planning Minister: “Umo Eno is three things: capacity, competence, and character”. For Ntenyin Etuk, the patriarch of Ibibio people: “Umo Eno represents the best of Akwa Ibom man in every respect”.
It took the commissioning of the Spectrum TV, the first privately owned Cable TV in Akwa Ibom State, for Governor Udom to volunteer a comment on the entrepreneur turned politician. “Pastor Umo Eno is a highly respected person; he has enormous capacity, but remains an epitome of humility. He is blessed with the common touch and a compelling story of grass to grace…He is a successful entrepreneur who has employed our people, and lifted thousands from poverty to prosperity. He… has the blueprint that will further guarantee employment, development, and economic prosperity for our people “ said the governor, adding that “he is a man of peace and will ensure that the peace and security of life we have enjoyed in the last six-plus years will be maintained’.
Hopes that Eno’s credentials and the outpouring of endorsements will translate into victory on May 21, 2022, is very high. But Umo Eno and his team are not taking anything for granted, as they traverse the nooks and crannies of the State round the clock to consult yet more stakeholders. According to the Director-General Of Team Umo Eno For Governor, Chief Assam Assam (SAN), the former Nigerian Ambassador to Russia: “In politics, it is not over until it is over”. Said Umo Eno himself: “The only secret of success I know is God and hard work”.