The immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, is facing severe criticisms from people in the state for sauntering into a state function in Uyo with his aides and a crowd of followers, while his successor, Udom Emmanuel, was taking a Bible reading.
The incident, seen as a breach of protocol, happened at the Ibom Hall grounds, IBB Avenue, Uyo, on Monday during a state-sponsored religious ceremony – the Akwa Ibom State Annual Solemn Assembly.
There was a temporary disruption of proceedings as the crowd kept on hailing Mr. Akpabio.
Governor Emmanuel paused for some minutes until Mr. Akpabio, who is the Senate Minority Leader, was seated, before he could continue with the Bible reading.
“When Akpabio walked in with his wife and aides, the whole place looked as if it were a political rally,” Franklyn Isong, a newspaper publisher and public affairs commentator in Uyo, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr. Isong took to Facebook, few hours after the solemn assembly, to condemn Mr. Akpabio’s action.
“This act of former Governor Akpabio to always attempt to belittle his successor at public functions has been taken too far to be ignored by sane people,” Mr. Isong wrote in a Facebook post, adding that the senate minority leader should be called to order.
“If he cannot sit at state function(s) before the arrival of Governor Emmanuel, he has the option of joining the governor’s convoy or stay back from such function when the governor is seated.
Mr. Isong insisted, during an interview with PREMIUM TIMES that Mr. Akpabio was deliberately undermining the governor.
Mr. Akpabio’s protocol team must have been there in advance at the venue of the ceremony and must have been updating the senator on the proceedings before his (Akpabio’s) arrival, Mr. Isong said.
Patrick Ifon, a former chairman of Onna Local Government Area, also took to Facebook to condemn Mr. Akpabio’s action as being “totally unacceptable and childish”.
Etok Ekanem, a former Commissioner for Agriculture during Mr. Akpabio’s government, said the senator’s action was humiliating to Governor Emmanuel.
Mr. Ekanem, who is a professor in the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Uyo, said many people in the state, including himself, had been complaining about how the senator regularly breached the governor’s protocol in public functions.
“I am pretty sure Akpabio would not take (that) from anyone during his tenure as governor,” Mr. Ekanem said on Facebook.
“Was it not the practice in those days that Idongesit Nkanga (a former military governor of Akwa Ibom) was characteristically made to sit and wait for hours, at times very long hours, before he could meet His Excellency, Governor Godswill Akpabio?
“Let me most respectfully add to the appeal to Senator Akpabio to please, refrain from this practice.”
Des Wilson, a professor of mass communication at the University of Uyo, said of the incident, “Events like this just annoy me to no end”.
Mr. Wilson continued: “And the security operatives who would not spare a second to whip other Nigerian citizens would helplessly behave as if the man is still in charge.
“Maybe the governor also gives him the impression that he is in charge. And the former governor enjoys the indecency of disrupting state functions by his noisy entry.
“Let him try that at a Buhari function and he will know that ‘khaki no be leather’. If the man cannot be disciplined enough to respect constituted authority, whether he facilitated the installation or not, then the people must be ready to physically stop him next time.
“And those empty stooges who disrespect their governor by cheering an egotistic split personality when they should be booing him for coming late are also to blame for this repeated misbehaviour,” Mr. Wilson said.
The attack on Senator Akpabio has dominated the social media for two days now, with some people calling on Governor Emmanuel to fire his protocol team.
Mr. Akpabio’s spokesman, Anietie Ekong, said it was untrue that Mr. Akpabio was habitually breaching the governor’s protocol.
Mr. Ekong cited the last Akwa Ibom State Christmas Carol Night as one of the instances he said the senator was seated before the governor walked into the ceremony.
He said the issue was a “minor” one, and that he suspected that it was being promoted by people who want to see both men engage in a fight.
“I am sure Governor Udom Emmanuel knows that Senator Akpabio will never undermine his administration.
“Akpabio has been the prime mover of the Divine mandate that Governor Udom is carrying. At a point when many people did not believe in Governor Emmanuel, Akpabio stuck out his neck and stood by him.
“Akpabio will always support Governor Emmanuel till the very end. Recall that a few days ago Senator Akpabio convened stakeholders’ meeting of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District and passed a vote of confidence on Governor Emmanuel, and endorsed him for a second term.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the protocol director, Akwa Ibom Government House, Edmond Uffang, on Monday, he refused to comment on the issue.