The All Progressives Congress (APC) in Akwa Ibom State is currently without a political leader owing to the contention among party stakeholders about who their leader should be.
The party leadership was never in contention as the National Caretaker Secretary of APC, Senator John Udoedehe, was widely held and celebrated to be the party’s leader in the state.
Udoedehe not only brought APC into Akwa Ibom but he had over the years built a strong base of supporters who have always supported his candidacy as the gubernatorial candidate of the APC.
However, the tables turned against him when the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, defected to APC in 2018 and was publicly declared on that occasion as the new leader of the party by the National Leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and the then National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole.
Since then, APC in Akwa Ibom has been in turmoil and factionalised as the declaration of Akpabio as party leader did not go down well with existing party Chieftains like Senator John Udoedehe, APC’s gubernatorial candidate in 2019, Mr Nsima Ekere; Managing Director of Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone Authority, Obong Umana Umana, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, and former Military Administrator of Rivers and Ogun states, Group Captain Sam Ewang (rtd) among others.
But the aggrieved members had then maintained a cool mien as they had all hoped Akpabio’s presence in the party would help APC take over the seat of government in Akwa Ibom. Unfortunately, that never happened. Though a peaceful ‘settlement’ meeting was held by the party to collapse all the different structures in the factions into one, the truce never yielded any positive result.
The factions that returned to the trenches after their defeat by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 elections, suddenly came alive as preparations for 2023 blossomed.
One of the factions led by a former two-time military administrator of Rivers and Ogun states, Group Captain Sam Ewang (rtd), last month led some stakeholders in the state to endorse Akpabio as the leader of the party.
Akpabio who was present at the meeting accepted the endorsement and praised the party members for their decision. He promised to work to ensure the party reclaims its right of place in the state, and alleged that party members were responsible for the failure of the APC during the 2019 elections.
The decision of Akpabio’s group irked some leaders of the party, and caused the state party chairman, Dr Ita Udosen, to issue a press statement disassociating the party from the meeting and the decision taken.
The party later convened a second stakeholders meeting made up of the two factions. Ewang who led the first faction was present at the meeting but Akpabio sent in a letter excusing himself from the meeting. After deliberations from the meeting, a communique was issued, nullifying the proclamation of Akpabio as party leader, and made the state party chairman leader of the party till further notice.
“That the stakeholders endorse the decision of the State Executive Committee (SEC) to declare as a nullity the unilateral proclamation and announcement of Sen. Godswill Akpabio as the state party leader of APC in gross violation of the party’s constitution in the unauthorised and illegal stakeholders meeting of Sunday, March 28, 2021.
“That the party hereby reminds every member and the general public that the state chairman (or caretaker chairman as applicable here) is the chairman of the state caucus as provided for in Article 12.9 Sub (i) of the party constitution (October 2014 As Amended) and remains the party leader in the state until further notice.
“That the party hereby assures stakeholders, party faithful and the general public that there is no division in APC, Akwa Ibom chapter, and therefore enjoins every stakeholder and party member to operate within the confines of the party constitution and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the course of their engagements in whatever party or political activity,” the communique read.
Meanwhile, the party’s decision did not augur well with Ewang’s faction as he blamed the national caretaker secretary of the party, Senator John Udoedehe, for the leadership crisis in the party.
Ewang claimed Udoedehe was stirring disunity and opposition against Akpabio, and using his position to oppress and hijack the state party structure to oil his political aspiration in 2023.
He insisted that Akpabio remains the statutory leader of the party in the state as the Niger Delta Affairs Minister is the party’s highest political officer holder in the state, and should automatically, and by convention, assume the leadership of the party.
He appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari and elders of the party at the centre to wade into the crisis rocking the party, by categorically declaring who the leader of the party in the state is.
He said, “I took that action because we all agreed that the stakeholders’ meeting should be held. Before I went to Akpabio, I had exhausted myself struggling to get Udoedehe, Umana Umana, Ita Enang and the rest of the elders to come together to form a formidable force to face the PDP, and I recognised that was important and in order, and not we scattering on our own.
‘’I had done that for six months and even within the Uyo Senatorial District, and I discovered that they were not ready. I also discovered that our people were interested in killing their brothers and ensuring that they stay in appointments or get new appointments and not caring about winning elections.
‘’I also discovered that they had gone into arrangement with their master in Rivers State, who is interested in becoming the President of Nigeria come 2023, and even when he doesn’t become, he will remain in government and also if they don’t win elections here, they will be given appointments.
‘’Udoedehe is the one causing problems in the party. When Akpabio was inducted into the party at Ikot Ekpene stadium, His Excellency Asiwaju Tinubu went to the podium and announced Akpabio as the leader of the party in the state. His Excellency Oshiomole also went to the podium and announced the same Akpabio the leader of the party.
‘’I didn’t make Akpabio the leader of the party. His position is statutory. I didn’t make Akpabio minister. Party leadership is not obtainable in the constitution but conventionally Buhari is the leader of the party at the national level and state governors are the leaders of the party in the state, and in a state where the party does not have a governor, it is an ex-governor or somebody who has the highest appointment that should be the leader of the party’’.
He warned that the APC would be dead in the state if the leaders of the party do not close ranks and accept Akpabio as leader for the state to take over power from the People’s Democratic Party in 2023.
Reacting to the allegations of Ewang, media aide to Udoedehe, Mr. Ata Etuk denied knowledge of his boss’ involvement in any leadership crisis in the state chapter of the APC.
He said Udoedehe was too busy with the national assignment of bringing genuine reconciliation among aggrieved members of the party to concern himself with state party affairs.
‘’The APC National Caretaker Secretary, Senator Udoedehe, is not aware of the crisis in the Akwa Ibom chapter of the party. He is on a national assignment for the party and does not have the time to dabble into the affairs of the state chapter of the party,’’ he said.
But political analysts believe Udoedehe is already neck deep with plans to become the gubernatorial candidate of the APC in the state. He had always been except for 2019.
Udoedehe said so himself recently when he claimed before a gathering of journalists in the state that he was the sole candidate for the party in 2023, only to later deny the claims.
The tussle for who is APC’s authentic party leader hinges on the fact that whoever emerges as the leader would command the financial might from the national level, and has great influence over who emerges as the gubernatorial candidate and other elective positions for the party in 2023.
Already, some APC members feel threatened that Akpabio could foist a candidate on them if he is the leader of the party, following his antecedents of foisting leaders on the people like how he hand-picked the current state governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, against popular demand.
Another school of thought is of the view that in the case where Governor Udom Emmanuel does not support the candidacy of Senator Bassey Akpan, who represents Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, as the next governor of the state, Akpan may defect to APC.
They fear that Akpabio may then foist Senator Akpan on them against their wish and destroy all the efforts existing members of the APC made to build the party with the aim of being rewarded with political appointments.
But whether the leadership position of the APC in the state swings to Akpabio or not, the discord among party members is not healthy for the party. It is tearing the fragile party apart instead of building it up and strengthening it towards winning elections in 2023.