An alleged pact between Godswill Akpabio and the Young Progressives Party (YPP) in Akwa Ibom State is likely to affect the performance of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Saturday’s governorship election in the state, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
Some of the APC members and supporters in the state appear to be confused over the APC’s participation in the poll, despite its candidate saying categorically that he is in the race.
Understanding between APC, YPP?
Mr Akpabio of the APC won the just concluded senatorial election in Akwa Ibom North-West District partly because of the political support he got from the YPP governorship candidate in the state, Bassey Albert, who reportedly directed his party’s candidate in the district to step down for Mr Akpabio and that the YPP structure in the district should support the former minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
The Chairperson of the YPP Governorship Campaign Council in Akwa Ibom, Emem Akpabio, who is a relative of the senator-elect, had relocated to Mr Akpabio’s Essien Udim Local Government Areas days before the polls to coordinate the ground strategies for the former minister’s victory.
The understanding between the parties, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, was that the former minister would afterwards direct the APC members and supporters in his district and across the state to support the YPP candidate, Mr Albert, during the governorship election.
PREMIUM TIMES is not aware if Mr Akpabio has publicly endorsed Mr Albert’s candidacy.
The senator-elect, however, had not been seen campaigning publicly for the APC governorship candidate, Akanimo Udofia, since he won the 25 February election, a situation that has contributed to the speculation that Mr Udofia may not have his backing.
Mr Akpabio is not known to have issued any statement canvassing support for Mr Udofia.
Apparently, to douse the confusion and tension within the ranks of the APC members and supporters in Akwa Ibom hours before the election, Mr Udofia visited Mr Akpabio on Thursday in his country home in Essien Udim Local Government Area, where the senator-elect reportedly lifted the candidate’s hand to signify an endorsement.
Mr Akpabio was said to have asked the party members and supporters present in his house to support Mr Udofia to win the election.
Before the National Assembly election, Mr Udofia frequently joined Mr Akpabio’s campaign train in Akwa Ibom North-West District to solicit support for the former minister.
A newspaper in Akwa Ibom, The Ink, reported on Thursday that the APC governorship candidate, Mr Udofia has “stood down” his ambition after Mr Akpabio’s “intervention”.
The paper said Mr Udofia is now eyeing a ministerial appointment in the soon-to-be inaugurated Bola Tinubu-led administration.
“Sources within the APC mentioned to our reporter that Chief Godswill Akpabio also has a hand in the decision of Udofia playing down on his guber bid,” the paper reported.
The Akan Udofia campaign has dismissed the newspaper publication as a “cheap fabrication”.
“For the avoidance of doubts, Obong Akanimo Udofia will contest this Saturday’s gubernatorial elections on the platform of the APC,” the campaign spokesperson, Imo Akpan, said in a statement on Thursday.
Another newspaper in the state, The Informer, in the latest edition has as its banner headline, “Akan Udofia surrenders to Oba” (Oba is the nickname for the YPP governorship candidate, Mr Albert).
But some persons believed to be sympathetic to Mr Udofia’s aspiration cloned the paper and reversed the headline to read, “Bassey Albert surrenders to Akan Udofia”.
Over 140,000 people were talking about The Informer newspaper on Facebook as of 10:41 p.m. on Friday, according to the data from the social media site.
Between Friday night and Saturday morning, hours before the election, many of the Facebook posts and comments, most of them divisive and dirty, left people with the impression that the battle for the control of the Akwa Ibom Government House had been reduced to a fight between two former friends – Udofia and Albert.
While Mr Udofia’s supporters pushed the argument that Mr Albert’s conviction for fraud makes him a high risk in Akwa Ibom power politics, Mr Albert’s supporters alleged that the APC candidate has scandalous financial records as a private entrepreneur, besides not being “rooted” in the state politics.
Credence to speculation
What has also added credence to the speculation of a pact between Messrs Akpabio and Albert is the relentless attack on the APC candidate, Mr Udofia, by a man named Zion Umoh, who claimed to be Mr Akpabio’s director of special duties.
Mr Umoh commands some influence on Facebook, especially among the section of Akwa Ibom youths who are eager to see the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) dislodged from power in the oil-rich state.
“YPP stood by APC in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, APC will stand by YPP in Akwa Ibom State,” Mr Umoh said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
Mr Umoh reiterated the same claim on a Facebook live video.
“In Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, the APC went on a ward tour. The YPP abandoned their own senatorial candidate, Emmanuel Ekon, and accompanied the APC in the ward tour. I am talking about the YPP stakeholders, they mounted the podium and declared total support for Godswill Akpabio in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District.
“They stood with us and we gave them that promise that we are going to stand with them for the governorship,” Mr Umoh said in the live video.
“Akan Udofia has never supported the opposition party in Akwa Ibom State and has no clue on how to play the opposition politics in Akwa Ibom State and we the people must align with the reality to chat a new course with YPP before we lose another eight years,” he said in another Facebook post.
Akpabio campaign organisation had not issued a disclaimer on Mr Umoh or condemned his utterances against the APC governorship candidate.
Attacks on Umana, Ekere
Mr Umoh, besides his attack on Mr Udofia, has also been relentless in his attack against two APC chieftains in Akwa Ibom – the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Umana Umana and former managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Nsima Ekere, accusing them, without evidence, of not supporting the APC governorship candidate.
His frequent remarks against Messrs Umana and Ekere, believed by many on social media, have created and spread a false impression that the duo are loyal to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and not the APC, and had further weakened the fractious APC in the state and damaged the APC governorship candidate’s image, having been portrayed as one who is unacceptable by key figures in his party.
Meanwhile, Mr Ekere chaired the central planning committee for Mr Tinubu’s presidential rally in Akwa Ibom, while Mr Umana funded it, including the APC presidential campaign in the state.
Mr Umana, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, had also provided financial support for the APC candidates for the House of Assembly elections across the state.
The minister, in a response to the attacks, said earlier this month that his loyalty to the APC was not in doubt as the national leadership of the party has acknowledged his commitment and contributions to the party.
Mr Umana said the APC governorship candidate in the state, Mr Udofia, “knows the level of my support for him and the party, and has equally appreciated my contributions.”
The former NDDC managing director, Mr Ekere, had not spoken on the issue.
Udofia campaign reacts
“Akpabio is a senator-elect of the APC. He’s a frontline aspirant for the Senate Presidency position in Nigeria and cannot be seen or said to be looking for somebody to endorse outside of his party. I can tell you categorically that is false,” a spokesperson for the Akan Udofia campaign, Imo Akpan, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Akpan said the senator-elect, Mr Akpabio, was in Abuja to receive his certificate of return and also consult with the president-elect when PREMIUM TIMES asked him why the former minister did not campaign publicly for the APC governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom.
“I think everybody is entitled to say whatever they want to say,” he said of Mr Umoh’s attacks on Mr Udofia.
Jackson Udom, a spokesperson to Mr Akpabio, did not respond to calls and a text message seeking comment from him for this report.
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