Resisting political intimidation and bullying
In August, shortly after defecting from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the All Progressives Congress, APC, former governor and current senator, Godswill Akpabio, was reported as declaring that the takeover of Akwa Ibom State by his new party would be like Hitler’s 1940 invasion of Poland. “Warsaw saw war and war saw Warsaw”, Akpabio said, at the funeral service of his grand mother-in-law at Aguebu-Owa, in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State. “We can’t talk politics in the church; but in 2019, Warsaw shall see war and war shall see Warsaw. The return will be victory. May God grant us victory”.
The world took to social media to slam Akpabio for the statement that was seen as a declaration of war in a state that is known traditionally for its peace, tranquility and accommodating attitude to indigenes and visitors alike. At an endorsement rally for Governor Emmanuel in Onna Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, prominent leaders across ethnic divides condemned the statement and made it clear the state has never been a theatre of war, assuring that the 2019 elections would not be won with the blood of the people of the state.
“The entire people of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District is set to tie kith and kin with Eket Senatorial District”, Moses Ekpo, deputy governor and prominent Annang like Akpabio, said. “Udom is our son-in-law; the wife is our daughter.”Others who spoke at the event in condemnation of the war drum being beaten by Akpabio, while pledging support for Udom’s re-election, included Onofiok Luke, speaker of the state house of assembly; Dr. Chris Ekpenyong, deputy governor in the administration of Obong Attah and prominent Annang leader, as well as Senator Effiong Bob.
In his reaction to the statement, Governor Emmanuel said he would not be distracted from his goal of delivering on his election promises to the people of Akwa Ibom and invoked Holy Ghost fire on anybody who might be planning to feast on the blood of Akwa Ibomites to win election in the state. The anger and condemnation that greeted Akpabio’s declaration in Akwa Ibom was reminiscent of the general feeling in the state during his eight year reign that was said to be characterized by intimidation and bullying, which did not spare even prominent members of his administration whom he perceived as unfriendly. The people recall the Gestapo manner in which his erstwhile secretary to government, Umanah Okon Umanah, was removed from office, when he reportedly arrived for work one morning to find that Akpabio’s wife had locked him out. Akpabio was at that time attending an event of Akwa Ibom people in the United States. The belief then was that his wife merely acted the script he wrote and directed from outside the country.
Nsima Ekere, the APC governorship candidate in the 2019 election and current managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, was Akpabio’s deputy for a brief period in his second term. When Ekere fell out of favour with Akpabio, the governor reportedly told him one day he was travelling out of the state, only to gather some leaders of the house of assembly in his country home at Ukana, in Essien Udim Local Government Area to plot the deputy’s impeachment. Nsima got wind of the plot just in time to drop his resignation letter before the law makers returned to Uyo to actualize the plot.
It is Akpabio’s antecedence of bullying and harassment that set alarm bells ringing in the ears of the people of Akwa Ibom when he made his now infamous liking of the planned capture of the state in 2019 to the German invasion of Poland, which left more than 600, 000 Polish citizens dead. But it has also made them to resolve to resist intimidation and bullying of any kind, because of what they portend for the peaceful state and its future.
The level of unity in Akwa Ibom today is one that has not been seen in a long time. There is general determination to resist the intimidation for which Akpabio is well known. The people are bent on ensuring the future of the state is not mortgaged by one person seeking to play God. There is a sense of oneness for the common purpose of preserving the peace that has reigned in the state since Udom assumed office, which is has left the state more united now than before. It is the reason the state has been able to record significant development in so short a time.
The people juxtapose the peace-enhanced development of the past three years with the propaganda that concealed the failed promises of the immediate past administration, when uncompleted projects were commissioned with fanfare, while white elephants were passed off as legacy projects. This was against the background of insecurity that reigned in the state, which made many to live in constant fear.
Two local government areas – Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun – constituted the hotbed of violence and random killings by armed cultists and militants, leading to the murder of more than 200 people. Insecurity in the two areas defied solutions, which included concerted operations by security agencies including the army and Department of State Services. But all that has become history.
Recently, the governor organized an amnesty programme that saw 420 militants renounce cultism and militancy to embrace peace. The exercise involved voluntary surrendering of hundreds of arms and ammunition by the repentant militants.
The general feeling in Akwa Ibom is that with the return of peace to all parts of the state, the 2019 elections would not be won through violence and intimidation. There are concerted efforts that are being championed by religious and traditional leaders to ensure the state is not turned into the theatre of war that Akpabio has promised, in the name elections.
- Tamuno writes from Port Harcourt