Since the return of democracy in 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has governed Akwa Ibom State through three governors who were each elected for two terms.
But ahead of Saturday’s election, the PDP hold is seriously being threatened like never before by the opposition who have reportedly formed an alliance to dislodge it from power.
Akwa Ibom is one of the 28 states where the governorship election will be conducted on Saturday. The state has 2,357,418 registered voters according to the Independent National Commission (INEC) but only about a quarter of them participated in the 25 February presidential election.
With about 504,000 barrels per day capacity production, the state is the highest oil producer in the country and enjoys huge oil earnings.
Since it was created in 1987, the state has had 10 governors, four of them democratically elected while six were military officers.
Victor Attah was the first elected governor of the state in the Fourth Republic. Mr Attah, an architect by training, was re-elected in 2003 and is widely credited to have laid the foundation for industrialisation for the state.
His successor, Godswill Akpabio, was also elected under the PDP in 2007 and re-elected in 2011. Mr Akpabio is considered to have transformed the state in terms of infrastructure.
Mr Akpabio in 2015 installed a banker, Udom Emmanuel, as his successor. Mr Emmanuel was re-elected in 2019.
PDP members in the state consider the party as a “religion” due to its serial victories at the polls in the last 24 years but an end seems near based on the outcome of the 25 February elections.
The PDP lost a Senate seat in the state to the opposition for the first time since 1999. Mr Akpabio, a former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, defeated Emmanuel Enoidem, the PDP candidate for Akwa Ibom North-west district to secure a second non-consecutive term in the Senate under the APC.
The APC also won the Ikot Ekpene Federal Constituency seat. APC and Young Progressives Party (YPP) may win other National Assembly seats at the conclusion of elections in areas where the polls were declared inconclusive.
The shocking outcome has placed PDP in palpable fear of more upsets on Saturday in the state.
2023: candidates, strengths, weaknesses and governorship race
The stage is now set for a fresh election to decide who succeeds the incumbent governor, Mr Emmanuel, who is serving out his second term on 29 May.
In the race are 18 candidates from different political parties, including two females, Abasiekeme Ekanem, of the Action Alliance (AA) and Emem Udoh of Social Democratic Party (SDP) cleared by INEC to contest what may be the fiercest governorship race in the state’s history.
But among the 18 candidates are four major contenders who are not leaving anything to chance in securing the state’s most powerful office.
PDP has Umo Eno, a former commissioner of Lands and Water Resources in the state as its candidate while YPP has Bassey Albert, a serving senator as its flag bearer. The other two are Akan Udofia of the APC and John Akpanudoedehe of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
Although there are four major candidates in the race, analysts and followers of political events in the state believe the election is a two-horse race between Messrs Albert and Eno.
Mr Eno, an entrepreneur, is the candidate of the PDP and the preferred successor of Governor Emmanuel who is leaving nothing to chance to instal his former aide as his successor.
Although Mr Eno enjoys both financial and material blessings of the government in power, there are forces that are up against him.
There appears to be a hunger against the PDP candidate in the state. Many are of the view that it is a payback time for Governor Emmanuel for among other things imposing Mr Eno whom they consider an unpopular candidate on the people by voting against the PDP candidate.
Also, it is widely reported that opposition parties in the state are working on an alliance to dislodge the PDP but it is unclear if the alliance will see the light of day.
After recording a few defeats during the 25 February elections, the PDP, like a wounded lion, will fight to the finish on Saturday.
Mr Eno is from Nsit Ubium Local Government Area while his running mate, Akon Eyakenyi, is from Oron LGA, PDP won both areas during the 25 February election.
The battle may be fierce but PDP stands a better chance for victory on Saturday.
Mr Albert, a serving senator and former finance commissioner in the state, is considered as the most popular candidate in the race.
Despite his party, YPP, being new in the state, Mr Albert has staged an aggressive campaign across the state propagating his message of renewed hope.
READ ALSO: Akwa Ibom PDP governorship aspirant dumps party
Mr Albert first aspired for governorship in 2014 but was persuaded to step down for the incumbent, Mr Emmanuel. He was compensated with the Senate ticket and is currently serving out his second term as a senator.
He was elected senator under the PDP but defected to YPP last year where he secured the governorship ticket of the party.
Mr Albert enjoys widespread grassroots popularity and goodwill but it is unclear if the people will translate it to votes on Saturday.
Labour Party won Ibiono LGA where Mr Albert hails from during the 25 February election while his party – YPP narrowly lost the Itu/Ibiono Federal Constituency to PDP.
Negotiations are reportedly on-going for an alliance that may result in the APC candidate, Mr Udofia, stepping down for Mr Albert ahead of the election.
Zion Umoh, a member of APC, days ago went live on Facebook to inform the public that the YPP in Akwa Ibom North-west had an alliance with APC to support Mr Akpabio for Senate. According to him YPP members voted for Mr Akpabio and it was time for APC to reciprocate the gesture by voting Mr Albert for governor.
Mr Umoh and many others want Mr Udofia to form an alliance with the YPP and challenge the ruling PDP at the poll on Saturday.
Although Mr Albert is considered the candidate to beat in the race, he was last year convicted and sentenced to seven years imprisonment for fraud, raising concerns on if he will be sworn in if elected.
Mr Albert has appealed his conviction. The case has not yet been heard but he was able to secure bail.
Legal practitioners within and outside the state have disagreed on the legibility of the YPP candidate for this election and if he will be sworn in if he wins.
A legal practitioner, Ekemini Udim said that Mr Albert can be sworn as governor if he wins the election despite his conviction by a court.
Citing Section 182 (1) of the Constitution which provides qualifications for the office of the governor of the state, Mr Udim said the YPP would have been disqualified having been convicted by a court if there was no other section that counters it.
“However, that same Section 182 in subsection (2) goes further to say that where the convict has filed an appeal before a higher Court and the appeal is yet to be decided upon sub section (1) shall not apply for time being.
According to Mr Udim, since Mr Albert has appealed his conviction, Section 182 (1) which talks about disqualification from the office of governor is frozen. If he wins the election he would be sworn in because there’s no impediment. That is the position of the law,” Mr Udim told this newspaper on Monday.
Section 182 (2) states “an appeal against the decision is pending in any court of law in accordance with any law in force in Nigeria, subsection (1) of this section shall not apply during a period beginning from the date when such appeal is lodged and ending on the date when such appeal is determined, or as the case may be, the appeal lapses or is abandoned, whichever is earlier.”
Louis Alozie, SAN, agrees with the submission of Mr Udim but not in totality. According to Mr Alozie, the YPP candidate “can be sworn in if elected and can also be removed because anybody being convicted of an offence bothering on dishonesty or fraud is not qualified to contest an election.
“Disqualification is a ground for presentation of election petitions. If someone proves that his opponent was not qualified, his election can be annulled,” he said, adding that voters in the state could be throwing away their votes on Mr Albert.
Despite an appeal filed by the YPP candidate, Mr Alozie said “it doesn’t matter, the judgment stands until the appeal says otherwise.”
Sharing his perspective on the matter with PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday, Clement Onwuenweunor agrees with the position of Mr Alozie, saying that once someone is convicted the judgment of the court stands until it is set aside.
“Once there’s judgment of any court, by Section 287 (3) everyone is expected to respect that judgment until it is set aside.
According to Mr Onwuenweunor, SAN, the YPP governorship candidate is not qualified to stand for the election having been convicted of fraud. “The fact that he has appealed his conviction does not yet set aside that judgment. As long as that judgment stands, the verdict on him remains what it is. If he wins the election, Section 182 of the Constitution will be interpreted against him.”
The legal practitioner said a better option would have been for Mr Albert to form an alliance with somebody that is contesting the election so that he can transfer his support and votes to that other candidate.
Mr a successful entrepreneur in the oil and gas sector, was last week recognised by INEC as the APC governorship candidate in the state, 10 months after its governorship primary.
Many people including APC members who believe he does not have the grassroots support to win the election want him to step down and form alliance with Mr Albert of the YPP. But the spokesperson of APC governorship campaign council in the state, Imoh Akpan, thinks otherwise.
Mr Akpan, a lawyer, last week dismissed the rumour that his party’s candidate would step down for Mr Albert.
For Mr Akpan, since the APC has produced the president-elect and a senator, it was other parties that should collapse their structure for the APC and not the reverse.
Mr Udofia, who is from Nsit Ibom LGA, lost his local government area to PDP in the 25 February election.
Mr Akpanudoedehe, a former national secretary of the APC, last year defected to the NNPP where he secured the 2023 governorship ticket of the party.
He is not new in the governorship race in the state, having contested unsuccessfully in 2011 under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria. He has been the face of opposition politics in the state for decades.
Mr Akpanudoedehe has been touring local government areas and wards in the state but the race is likely going to be a straight battle for two political parties, Messrs Albert and Eno of the YPP and PDP respectively.
The NNPP candidate could not win his polling unit for his presidential candidate during the 25 February election.
Although he is a grassroots politician, he is not believed to have the needed finances to mount a serious challenge. Also, his party, NNPP, is new and unpopular in the state.
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