A Dangerous Political Trend

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Mike Akpan

Mike Akpan  |

THE Senate, Nigeria’s upper legislative chamber, is gradually wearing the crest of a retirement haven for former governors. The trend started in 2007 for various reasons. Some of the governors who were about to complete their second term in office thought of ways they could still remain politically relevant thereafter. The Senate thus became the place to go. Others who had corruption charges waiting for them thought of ways they could minimize the impact of the harassment from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, after leaving office. They also decided to retire into the Senate. Between 2007 to date, the Senate has become the retirement base for about 13 former governors. On the list are Joshua Dariye of Plateau State, Bukola Saraki of Kwara State, George Akume of Benue State, Bukar Abba Ibrahim of Yobe State and Abdullahi Adamu of Nasarawa State. Others are Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi (Kaduna) Adamu Aliero (Kebbi), Ahmed Yerima (Zamfara), Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu), Danjuma Goje (Gombe) and Saminu Turaki (Jigawa). Chris Ngige, former governor of Anambra State, who lost his seat through judicial pronouncement in 2006, and Enyinna Abaribe, impeached deputy governor of Abia State, are also senators.

Like their counterparts, about nine of the current second-term governors are eyeing the Senate as their retirement base in 2015. Among them are David Jonah Jang (Plateau) who is interested in contesting the Plateau North senatorial seat currently occupied by Gyang Pwajok, his former chief of staff, Babangida Mua’zu Aliyu (Niger), who is determined to replace Awaisu Kuta, a two-term senator in the upper legislative chamber, Sule Lamido (Jigawa), who wants to take over the Jigawa Central Senatorial district seat currently held by Abdulmumini Zareku, and Gabriel Suswam (Benue) who is eyeing the Benue North Senatorial seat which is being occupied by Barnabas Gemade. The senatorial ambition of governor Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), is already threatening the tenure of Senator Ahmed Mohammed Maccido in the upper chamber and so also are the ambitions of Sullivan Chime (Enugu) and Liyel Imoke (Cross River) threatening the seats of Ike Ekweremadu, deputy Senate President, who is serving his second term, and Victor Ndoma-Egba, senate leader and a third-term senator, respectively. Ndoma-Egba and Imoke have been long-time friends but political watchers in the state fear that if not properly handled, the governor’s senatorial ambition could scuttle the friendship unless there is a willingness on the part of the ranking senator not to seek re-election. Like his colleagues, governor Emmanuel Uduaghan (Delta) is eyeing the Delta North senatorial seat currently occupied by James Manager, a third-term senator. There is a general feeling among the people that after having done three terms in the Senate, Manager may be easily persuaded to step down for Uduaghan. If that happens, the governor could have an easy and free ride to the Senate next year.

In Akwa Ibom State, the senatorial ambition of governor Akpabio is not only threatening the third-tem plan of Senator Aloysius Etok, it is also likely to upset the existing rotational arrangement in Akwa Ibom North-West senatorial district comprising Abak, Ukanafun, Ikot Ekpene and Ikono federal constituencies. Under an arrangement which had existed over the years, each federal constituency is only allowed to produce a one-term senator to enable the position to go round all federal constituencies within 16 years. But  unknown to  many political pundits  in the district ,Akpabio altered this arrangement  in 2011 to suit his senatorial ambition . In 2011, it would have been the turn of Abak federal constituency made up of Abak, Etim Ekpo and Ika local government areas, to produce a senator but Akpabio, an Annang man from Ikot Ekpene federal constituency, who was seeking a second-term mandate as governor, pleaded with the people to forgo their slot to enable Etok , an Ibibio from Ikono federal constituency, to do a second term in the Senate. This, according to him, was to give the Ibibio minority in Ikono federal constituency, made up of Ikono and Ini local government areas, a sense of belonging. Logical as his argument was, the  people of Abak federal constituency failed to read between the lines to understand that   Akpabio was plodding the graph to suit his 2015 senatorial ambition. Now, they are left to carry the can for their political naivety after the governor openly declared his senatorial ambition late last year and even went ahead to kick-start the campaign to realize it. Like his colleagues with senatorial ambition, his billboards are everywhere in the senatorial district sponsored by his political acolytes even though the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is helpless to stop such campaigns since it has not yet given the green light for political campaigns to commence for the 2015 general elections.

From all indications, nothing can stand on the way to obstruct the realization of his senatorial ambition come 2015 because a lot of factors will work in his favour. First, he is financially loaded to fund his electoral expenses with ease. Whoever wants to upstage him must be equally loaded financially to carry out a more aggressive campaign for votes. Second, because of his rising profile  in the party, Akpabio has the listening ear of the top hierarchy of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and that of President Goodluck Jonathan, the national leader. Besides, it will be dangerous for the party  to toy with his senatorial ambition since it also needs his total support and commitment to ensure  Jonathan’s victory in next year’s presidential election. Third, as governor, Akpabio is the leader of the PDP in Akwa Ibom State and with Paul Ekpo, his man, as the chairman, the governor is in full control of the party’s machinery in the state. Fourth, according to Udo Ekpenyong, a PDP chieftain from Ukanafun federal constituency, Akpabio is the pride of the Annangs, who are walking tall in the state because of his uncommon transformation of Akwa Ibom. Giving him a senatorial ticket is the least the people can do for him for making them proud. In the light of these factors, there can never be a level playing field for whoever wants to challenge him for the senatorial ticket from Abak federal constituency. So far, only Ekperikpe Luke Ekpo from Abak federal constituency, has come out openly to declare his senatorial ambition. Ekperikpe,  a former member of the House of Representatives from Ika local government area, is currently a member of the ruling PDP in the state and the proprietor of Esteem Group of Schools. What is likely to happen is that if he loses the PDP ticket,the opposition All Progessives Congress, APC, is likely to beckon on  him and possibly give him a ticket to fly its flag in the senatorial race. But Ekpenyong has dismissed the possibility of the APC winning any senatorial ticket in Akwa Ibom State. In his words: “ Akpabio will record a landslide victory in the senatorial district because Etok and Ekpo are no match for him.”

Nonetheless, if the bitter feelings of the people who regard Akpabio’s manipulation as a deliberate attempt to marginalize Abak federal constituency politically are anything to go by, there is every likelihood that the PDP will experience a lot of protest votes in the former Abak division comprising Abak and Ukanafun federal constituencies and Ikono federal constituency as well in the senatorial election. The protest votes will be a way of expressing the people’s disgust for the governor for allowing his political ambition to rubbish his sloganeering preachment of peace, justice and equity in Akwa Ibom North-West senatorial district. There is already growing lamentation among the people that Abak federal constituency  has been short-changed over the years in the senatorial slot arrangement in the district. For instance, available records have shown that Abak is the only federal constituency that has not produced a senator from 1963 to date whereas Ikot Ekpene and Ukanafun federal constituencies have had three slots each while Ikono federal constituency has had two slots. What is more disturbing is that governor Akpabio is not going to the Senate with a mindset of doing only one term of four years. According to some of his close aides, the governor has his eyes set on the Senate presidency, and for him to realize that ambition, he must be a ranking senator. This, invariably, means that Abak federal constituency will continue to wait for God knows when its slot will come. Such mindless marginalization and indefinite wait can be politically dangerous for the senatorial district. On the national plane, it will be just a matter of time before the entire upper chamber is totally populated by former governors.

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— Apr. 21, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

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