APC in turmoil as Akpabio battles Udoedehe for party leadership in Akwa Ibom

The All Progressives Congress (APC) has been in turmoil in Akwa Ibom State over the tussle between former Governor Godswill Akapabio, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, and James John Akpan Udoedehe for the leadership of the party and projections into the 2023 general elections. The skirmishes have been lingering over the years between members of the legacy party that formed the APC, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and defectors from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Investigations by National Daily showed that even when political actors in Akwa Ibom State pretend in the open that there is no crisis in the state APC, the party has been deeply polarized along loyalty lines in support or against identifiable contenders for hegemony of the party in the state. Investigations further revealed that over time, defectors from the PDP to either the then ACN or the emergent APC, have more enormous financial resources to influence party decisions and determine who gets what, while members of the legacy party have more political goodwill with grassroots influence and control in Akwa Ibom State. Invariably, PDP defectors have since 2015 deployed their enormous funds to grab the governorship tickets in the general elections including in 2019.

National Daily investigation also revealed that Kwa Ibom APC is being hunted by the past. The old rivalry between the party leaders have resurfaced in the build up to 2023. The traditional APC leaders from the legacy ACN have not forgotten the era of political hostilities and alleged political killings in the eight years of Akpabio being governor of the state. The opposition leaders alleged they were on the receiving end. Also, Akpabio, the then, governor had fallouts with certain political leaders while they were all in the PDP. Umana Umana was said to be frustrated out of the PDP and Akwa Ibom State Government as SSG. Nsima Ekere was also forced to resigned as deputy governor under Akpabio. They are perceived to be fighting to bring Akpabio down to avoid experiences of the past.

A prominent leader of the legacy party, Udoedehe, had contested the governorship election in Akwa Ibom State in 2011 against former Governor Akpabio, but never had a chance in subsequent elections to date. Our investigation shows that Udoedehe is still interested in contesting the governorship election in Akwa Ibom State in 2023, aspiring for the APC ticket.

Former Governor Akpabio is perceived in the state to be eyeing the 2023 presidential ticket of APC; in addition to aspiring to take control of the APC structure and restore his godfather role in Akwa Ibom politics, then, determine who gets what election ticket of the party or political appointments.

It would appear that Akpabio and Udoedehe have alliance with two separate groups in the APC – the rightist and leftists. They are both perceived to be using their alliances to muscle support from the party’s national leadership in Abuja to outweigh the other. While Akpabio deploys his ministerial status to lobby the APC national leadership, Udoedehe is taking advantage of being a member and Secretary of the APC National Caretaker Committee led by Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State to reinforce his political stout. Some other party leaders in the power tussle include Umana Umana, who currently has a federal appointment in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, and would perhaps, not want to be subjugated to, or being dominated by Akpabio; other prominent party leaders are also involved in the power tussle, fighting for space in the state party.

The raging power tussle culminated in a faction of APC in Akwa Ibom denouncing Akpabio as party leader in the state, as another faction proclaimed the minister as APC leader in Akwa Ibom State.

Udoedehe had sacrificed the governorship ticket to two PDP defectors – Umanah Umanah, a former Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State government, who joined APC from the PDP, and Nsima Ekere, a former deputy governor in Akwa Ibom State and later Managing Director of NDDC, who defected from PDP to APC in 2019.

Some supporters of Akpabio have expressed concerns that Udoedehe and Umana Umana were offered federal appointments for subversive purpose by external forces as well as empower them for the 2023 elections.

An APC leader in Akwa Ibom, Group Capt. Sam Ewang (retd.), had stoke the fire or accentuate the inferno ravaging the Akwa Ibom APC at a stakeholders meeting on March 28, 2021, where he proclaimed Akpabio APC leader in the state without party negotiation or consensus.

Chairman of the APC State Working Committee, Dr. Ita Udosen, challenged the unilateral decision of the Akpabio faction to impose the leader of the party in the state. He convened an urgent meeting of the State Working Committee, where the SWC nullified proclamation of the stakeholders meeting convened by Sam Ewang.

Ewang had insisted that Akpabio is the highest political office holder from Akwa Ibom, and therefore, is the state APC leader.

Ewang had alleged that Udoedehe, Umana Umana and other party leaders in the state are manipulated by external political forces, saying that they are “used by an outsider who does not have the interest of Akwa Ibom people at heart.”

Ewang was cited to have declared: “The problem with the APC in Akwa Ibom State is that some major players who have become servants to an outsider want to be in charge of the South-South and Nigeria. These players have become servants to him because they have been bought and pocketed.

“They want to ensure that the people of Akwa Ibom State are subjected to him. They believe their master is an enemy to Akpabio who they believe will always say no to what their master wants. These players have not wish the Akwa Ibom people well. They are only interested in having their appointments and that is what they are trading for. This is the crux of the matter.

“Somebody gave Udoedehe that appointment, somebody gave Umana Umana that appointment and they also believe that in the subsequent government, that same person will have a place.”

Ewang, therefore, threatened that it is either Akpabio is made APC leader, or the party will scatter in Akwa Ibom.

Ewang was not along. He got reinforcement from the State APC Publicity Secretary, Nkereuwem Eyongekere, who insisted that Akpabio is the patriarch of Akwa Ibom people, insisting that his party leadership is unchallengeable in APC having been a two-term governor. He chided party members who cause polarize the party on the alter of leadership tussle.

Eyongekere had declared: “On the issue of leadership of which many are using to curry their personal favour and appearing as if they love Akpabio more than any other person, we want to state that Akpabio is the patriarch of Akwa Ibom people, and his position cannot be belittled to a party leader. His role as a leader cannot be in doubt after serving the state as governor for two terms.

“So, no one should use leadership issue to smuggle trouble into the APC. He is a man for all, irrespective of his political aspirations. We love him far beyond your imagination and sentiments.”

Udoedehe is playing his game from the inside and not curious about public showmanship. The Secretary of the   APC National Caretaker Committee plays down the power tussle in the open but deepens his lobby and overtures in the party structures from the state to the federal.

The media aide to Udoedehe, Ata Etuk, had in a statement declared: “The National Secretary of the APC Caretaker Committee, John James Udoedehe, is not aware of any leadership crisis in Akwa Ibom State.

“He has been on a national assignment of bringing genuine reconciliation to aggrieved members of the party and does not have time to dabble into the affairs of the party at the state level.”

The Nsima Ekere group appears to be in alliance with the Caretaker Committee in the state. The Nsima Ekere faction outrightly snubbed the imposition of Akpabio as APC leader in Akwa Ibom, insisting there is a leader in office.

The Coordinator of Legal Matters of the Nsima Ekere Governorship Campaign, Victor Iyanam, had declared: “In Akwa Ibom State, there is no leadership crisis; the leadership of the party is intact, and the party is led by Dr Ita Udosen who is the Caretaker Committee Chairman.

As far as nobody is claiming that Udosen is not the leader of the party, then, there is no leadership crisis.”

Iyanam had highlighted: “What we have are tendencies within the party and it’s normal for people to have their eyes on certain positions. It is clear that Akpabio is interested in the Presidency of this country and has set up a political organisation in the state. The APC Caretaker Committee Secretary, John James Udoedehe, is interested in the governorship of the state. And others are saying that Senator Ita Enang is also interested in the governorship of the state. All these are tendencies, and they are good for the party; they make the party to be vibrant.”

An APC leader in the state, Eseme Eyibo, also admitted that party members are competing for political offices but dismissed that there is crisis in the APC. However, the competition without negotiations has been heating up the state APC.

Eyibo had declared: “The intrigues in the APC should not be considered to be a battle or a crisis. It is individuals that are exhibiting their aspirations differently and it has nothing to do with the party.

“Akpabio is on one side while John James Udoedehe is on another. Udoedehe wants to become the governor of the state. Akpabio has yet to disclose his ambitions. “So, what is happening is an exposure of political aspirations and is manifesting in what people are describing as a crisis.”

Invariably, the Akwa Ibom APC is deeply engulfed in turmoil, negotiations and consensus building at the time of this report are not yet in the political calculations of the various factions contending for hegemony of the state party. Curiously, a member of the APC national reconciliation committee led by Governor Buni, Udoedehe, is a prominent party leader in the tussle for hegemony.