The leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa Ibom state, it appears, may have decided to cease attack on Godswill Akpabio, albeit momentarily, to honour the senator and former governor of the state who celebrated his 56 birthday on Sunday.
Facebook, which has become a battleground of late for the Akwa Ibom community on the social media site, was relatively quiet on Sunday; several people, including the PDP leaders and their supporters in the state, have been sending goodwill messages to Mr Akpabio, instead of their usual critical comments.
The PDP, including the Akwa Ibom state government, is locked in an epic battle with Mr Akpabio ahead of a crucial governorship election in 2019 since the senator defected from the PDP to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in August.
Mr Akpabio, while still the governor, assisted Udom Emmanuel, a former director at Zenith Bank, to succeed him as governor in 2015, against stiff opposition within and outside the PDP.
Today, the senator is bent on stopping Mr Emmanuel from winning reelection, therefore setting himself up against former political allies like Bassey Albert, his former finance commissioner who is now a senator too, Onofiok Luke, his former aide who is the speaker, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, and Ini Ememobong, a former aide who is the spokesperson of the PDP in the state.
“Your Excellency, your birthday this year is different for us,” Mr Ememobong wrote on Facebook. “It’s the first time in close to two decades that we are on different sides politically.
“Despite this difference, my natural love for you, as a father and mentor hasn’t waned a bit.
“As you add another year to your life, I pray that God will give vigorous strength to your body, lively conscience to your mind, and enduring peace to your soul.”
The PDP spokesperson capped his message with “Happy birthday ette ufok” – meaning happy birthday, boss!
The speaker, Mr Luke, also sent a touching birthday message to Mr Akpabio.
“Turn of events today might be putting us poles apart politically, it cannot make us forget the past and what we have both shared. For 16 years, today has always been special and this year will not be an exception,” Mr Luke said on Facebook, as he prayed for God to bless the senator.
The speaker’s post was liked by Mr Akpabio’s media aide, Anietie Ekong, and more than a thousand other Facebook users as at Sunday evening.
It also attracted more than 600 comments, with most people praising the speaker for exhibiting maturity in politics.
“This is beautiful,” one Facebook user said. “This is how politics should be played.”
Emmanuel Nicholas is one of Governor Emmanuel’s aides whose first appointment with the Akwa Ibom state government was during the administration of Mr Akpabio.
Just like the others, Mr Nicholas, before today, has been making critical comments on Facebook against Mr Akpabio since the senator defected to APC.
“We might have different political standings today, but that cannot stop me from congratulating a man who provided me a platform to serve and better my lot,” Mr Nicholas wrote on Facebook on Sunday, while wishing the senator a happy birthday.
So many PDP foot soldiers in the state emulated their political leaders and were also sending goodwill messages on the social media to the senator.
The senator’s birthday did not, however, go without some drama on Facebook.
“Happy Birthday Sen Akpabio,” a media aide to Governor Emmanuel, Aniekeme Finbarr, wrote flatly on the social media site, where he posted a photo showing the senator backing the camera and facing a mirror while trying to adjust his tie.
One Facebook user, Mfon-Abasi Akpabio, who felt uncomfortable with Mr Finbarr’s birthday wish to the senator, commented on it thus, “Perfect way to wish him. I like this! At least, you didn’t write beautiful things since you know you will still insult him tomorrow.”
Mr Finbarr responded, still on Facebook: “I never insult people. I owe nothing personal to the senator. We have never met, he doesn’t know me. I have not had as little as a handshake with him.”
He added, “As a former leader of the state, I praise him when he does well, and rebuke him when he falters. It’s a birthday wish, which is routine stuff.”
It is unclear if Governor Emmanuel sent a birthday wish to Mr Akpabio.
The lawmaker has reportedly complained about the Akwa Ibom state government not sending him a goodwill message to him on his birthday.
“From 12 midnight many PDP governors and chieftains had sent me birthday messages, though I am a member of All Progressives Congress, APC. I have gone through all the national and local newspapers, yet Akwa Ibom government has not wished me birthday as a one-time governor of Akwa Ibom,” one newspaper, StraightNews, quoted Mr Akpabio has having said, on Sunday.
“This is pettiness taken too far. This action shows lack of character on the part of the government.
“At 80, I congratulated (Victor) Attah on a personal capacity even though I was no longer the state governor, because it was befitting to do so as our past leader,” the senator added.
PREMIUM TIMES contacted the Akwa Ibom government on the issue raised by the senator.
“The state government has not sent a birthday wish to him. There is no reason, the government didn’t just want to send it,” the Commissioner for Information in the state, Charles Udoh, told PREMIUM TIMES, Monday.
Mr Udoh added, “The state government has given this man all the due respect and all the apparatus anybody could afford a former governor. But at every point in time, he goes there throwing mud at the government. He goes around peddling lies about the government and the person of the governor.
“Okay, look at what happened at Obong Victor Attah’s book launch, he walked out when the governor was making a speech. He led his people – Ita Enang and co. – they walked out when the governor mounted the podium to make a speech. Wasn’t that petty? And he drew the condemnation of everybody in that hall!” the commissioner added.
Mr Akpabio celebrated his birthday with a thanksgiving mass in the morning at the Catholic Church in his hometown, Ukana, Essien Udim Local Government Area of the state.
There was a concert in his honour later in the evening at his country home, which was attended by Nsima Ekere, the APC governorship candidate in the state, Akpan Udoedehe, a former minister and an APC chieftain in the state, and Eseme Eyiboh, the spokesperson of the APC campaign council in the state.
“May your life continue to count for what counts. May your God and your people always rejoice over you. May your days ahead be greater than your past. May your testimonies and victories remain uncommon, this new year of your life and for always,” Mr Ekere said in his birthday wish to the senator.