The political rivalry between Governor Udom Emmanuel and the Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Nsima Ekere, intensified last week, no thanks to the programme brochure circulated during the church thanksgiving service organised by Mr Ekere in his Ikot Abasi hometown, Akwa Ibom State.
The church service, held on Sunday, July 23, at the Methodist Church Nigeria, was conducted by the Methodist Prelate, Samuel Uche, who admonished the nation’s politicians to think more of service to the people and less of their own personal benefit.
The Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, the former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Victor Attah, and the Managing Director, Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority, Umana Umana, were among dignitaries who attended the event.
The programme brochure had a photo of Mr. Emmanuel on one of its pages. But some state officials and supporters of the governor described the photo as demeaning.
Those who complained about it said it wasn’t the “official photo” of Mr Emmanuel and that it was deliberately published to “belittle” the governor.
The governor’s people also complained that neither the prefix ‘His Excellency’ or ‘Mr’ was added to the governor’s name on the brochure.
The issue, which degenerated into a political war between supporters of Messrs. Emmanuel and Ekere, turned Facebook, as usual, into a battleground, with supporters from both sides attacking one another.
The local newspapers joined too with story headlines that revealed where their political loyalty lies.
And then came what was reported to be the official reaction of the Akwa Ibom State government.
The Punch newspaper quoted the Commissioner for Information in the state, Charles Udoh, as saying that publishing an “unofficial” photo of Mr Emmanuel and not attaching ‘His Excellency’ or ‘Mr’ to the governor’s name was “the latest evidence of the NDDC’s hostility” towards the state government.
The statement attributed to Mr Udoh by the Punch read thus: “It was discovered at the just concluded event that, while the compliments of, ‘His Excellency, Sir and KJW’, were attached to the name of Ekere (the NDDC MD and a former deputy governor of the state), the governor, Emmanuel, was simply addressed as ‘Udom Gabriel Emmanuel’ on page five of the programme, without the corresponding titles and prefix.
“Ekere also attracted criticisms over his pettiness as captured in the programme, when he presented the governor in a tired and casual mood by refusing to use the governor’s official portrait, while presenting himself in a dignified robe.
“If Ekere’s first act was to be regarded as a mere typographical error, what justification would be offered for his refusal to use the governor’s official portrait? And why was the blunder in the programme particularly committed?”
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the commissioner for information, he denied issuing the statement.
“They obviously manufactured the statement accredited to me,” the commissioner said.
The committee which planned the thanksgiving service for Mr Ekere came out with a statement to explain what went wrong.
“One, the omission of ‘His Excellency’ from the Governor’s name was a mistake on the part of the printer,” the Chairman of the planning committee, Micah Umoh, said in the statement. “As a committee, we take responsibility and regret this mistake.”
“Two, the accusation that the governor’s wrong photograph was used is baffling because it is the same photograph we have seen used severally in state government programmes,” Mr Umoh said.
Mr Umoh, a former House of Representatives member, said in the statement that it was wrong to accuse Mr Ekere of demeaning the governor.
“We are aware that Sir Ekere holds the office of Governor of Akwa Ibom State and the eight other member-states of NDDC in high esteem. That was why we sent two official invitations to the Governor for the thanksgiving service and Sir Ekere followed up by personally calling the Governor to invite him.
“We are aware that the Governor promised to attend the event. Why the Governor neither attended the event nor sent any representative, unlike his counterparts in the Niger Delta region, is not known to us. Certainly, it could not have been because of the omission of ‘His Excellency’ from his name and non-usage of a particular photograph.
“Sir Ekere had given the committee firm instruction that he wanted to thank God for His bountiful blessings on him and his family and nothing more.
“He insisted that no political or social group be allowed to hoist any banner or poster within the area. We followed his instructions to the letter. It is, therefore, amusing to see this needless and unsuccessful attempt to politicize the thanksgiving service,” Mr Umoh said.
The seeming animosity between Mr. Emmanuel and Mr. Ekere obviously has much to do with the 2019 governorship election in the state.
Although he has not publicly declared his interest to run for governor, most people, including the governor and his political associates, see him as the most likely flag-bearer for the All Progressives Congress in 2019.
Apart from the frequent bickering between the state government and the NDDC over projects executed in the state by the commission, Mr Ekere has been frequently attacked by local newspapers that are either loyal or sympathetic to Governor Emmanuel.
Nduese Essien, a former minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, was among the many supporters of Governor Emmanuel who graced the thanksgiving service.
Mr. Essien explained to PREMIUM TIMES why he attended it.
“Nsima Ekere’s programme was not a political gathering; it was a decision of the family to thank God for all what has happened to their son, the elevation he has had. So, they invited friends of the family and I as a long standing friend of the family was invited. I attended it because it had no business with politics.
Mr. Essien continued: “I will also want to advise that we in Akwa Ibom should not attach political connotations to every action or inaction of people. Let us distinguish between politics and governance.
“Nsima Ekere is the MD of the NDDC. And the NDDC is established for the development of the nine states of the Niger Delta region, it is not established for any political party. So, we cannot throw it away because it is now being headed by an APC chieftain.
“We should be able to relate with the MD of the NDDC and get whatever benefits we can derive from the commission, particularly on the grounds that Akwa Ibom has not been so lucky with the nominees we sent to the commission in the past.
“If we have someone like Nsima Ekere at the helms of the NDDC, we should allow him to attempt to redress the past losses of Akwa Ibom. The same way too we should allow the governor of the state to concentrate on governance until the time comes for politics which will be the early part of next year.”
Mr. Essien said he did not notice the “problem” with the programme brochure until much later after the event when his attention was drawn to it by people’s comments.
“That is unfortunate,” he said.
“I don’t know the basis why the governor was not given due recognition. The governor is the governor whether we like it or not.”
Franklyn Isong, a journalist and public affairs analyst in Uyo, said it was needless for the controversy to drag on since the planning committee for the thanksgiving had apologized.
He said the NDDC chief has been absolved by the statement of the planning committee that the error in the brochure was from the printer.
Mr Isong, who is a member of Uyio Ikpa Isong Ibibio, an influential council of traditional rulers in the state, told PREMIUM TIMES, “There is no politics that should have made the governor stay away from the event.
“He should have sent a representative, at least,” he said.