Akwa Ibom governor, Udom Emmanuel, and his estranged benefactor and predecessor, Godswill Akpabio, on Sunday, put aside political differences and embraced each other in the church, to the admiration of those who witnessed it.
Messrs Akpabio and Emmanuel met at the Cardinal Ekanem Seminary, Uyo, during the closing ceremony of the New Year prayer and fasting organised by the Catholic Church, Uyo Diocese.
The programme was presided by the bishop of the diocese, John Ayah.
The two men have been locked in an epic political battle ahead of this year’s general elections and since Mr Akpabio, a senator, defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in August last year.
Mr Akpabio, who was largely responsible for Mr Emmanuel’s election as governor in 2015, has vowed to stop his re-election.
The governor is contesting under his party, the PDP.
The senator himself is seeking re-election to represent Akwa Ibom North-West District, under his new party, the APC.
The Sunday encounter would be the second time the two leaders would meet “closely” since the senator’s defection, an aide to Mr Akpabio told PREMIUM TIMES.
The aide said Mr Akpabio was given the honour to speak in the church at end of the programme.
Immediately the senator finished his remarks, he walked to where Governor Emmanuel was sitting with other state officials.
The governor stood up to welcome him. Both leaders shook hands, and hugged each other, while the congregants clapped and cheered them on.
A video posted online showed the governor and the senator, both of them beaming with smiles, holding hands tightly, and talking into each other’s ear, at least twice.
From there, Mr Akpabio moved on to also exchange pleasantries with the deputy governor, Moses Ekpo, and a former military governor of the state, Idongesit Nkanga, the director general of Governor Emmanuel’s campaign organisation, who sat close to the governor.
Bassey Albert, another senator from the state, was also sitting in the front row with Governor Emmanuel.
Mr Akpabio, in the video, shunned Mr Albert who was keeping a straight face, went back to Mr Emmanuel, and bowed to the governor, before walking away.
Mr Albert, a former finance commissioner under Mr Akpabio’s administration, has vowed to support Governor Emmanuel, against Mr Akpabio, in the forthcoming governorship election.
Among the three senators in the state elected on the platform of the PDP, Mr Albert is the only one who has refused to defect to the APC.
The APC governorship candidate in the state, Nsima Ekere, also met and hugged Governor Emmanuel at the Catholic Church programme.
Mr Ekere was quoted as appealing to the Catholic Church to pray for the state.
“All that we have is Akwa Ibom State,” a statement released by Mr Ekere’s media aide, Inemesit Ina, quoted him as saying.
“It’s not about APC. It’s not about PDP. It’s about Akwa Ibom State.
“And you know that God knows the end from the beginning. So, even as we stand here, God knows who the next governor will be. And so, all we have to do as Christians is to continue to pray.”
The statement also quoted Governor Emmanuel as saying, “Let me appreciate my brother (Ekere) for also showing concern in the development of the Christian fold and the Christian world.”
He also reportedly said, “I want to join my faith with what my brother has said. At the end of the day, it’s about us. It’s about the destiny of Akwa Ibom State.
“As we go into election this year, let the God of peace grant us peace. I join my faith with all Christians that, this is a Christian state, may we enjoy peaceful, credible and transparent elections in Jesus name.”
The governor later wrote on Twitter, using his personal twitter handle @MrUdomEmmanuel:
“For me, politics will come and go, but Akwa Abasi Ibom State will remain; that is why no one should be led by his political leanings to engage in actions that could bring about the disunity or breakdown of law and order in our dear state.”
Meanwhile, the Catholic bishop, Mr Ayah said the church was neutral in the politics of the state.
Many people in the state believe the meeting between Governor Emmanuel on one side, and Mr Akpabio and Mr Ekere on the other side may not bring any peace in the state which has been so divided because of politics.
Governor Emmanuel recently taunted Mr Akpabio, suggesting the senator came to Uyo by night bus, while he (the governor) flew into the city in a chartered flight.
He has also accused Mr Akpabio and the APC of constantly insulting him.
Franklyn Isong, the chairman of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) in Akwa Ibom State, said Mr Emmanuel and Mr Ekere “have set a good tone for violence-free and peaceful general elections” in the state.
Mr Isong also appealed to politicians and their supporters in the state.
“Can you please sheathe your swords?” he pleaded.
“Politics is not a ‘do or die’ affairs. I believe elections are not warfare. It’s a game, like sports. There must be a winner and a loser. Stop the fight. Stop the hate speeches. Stop the abuses. Stop the insults. Stop defacing campaign billboards,” he said, on Facebook.