A fierce war of words breaks out over the political leadership of Mkpat Enin, signaling a dress rehearsal of the forthcoming PDP ward and chapter congresses, local government chairmanship and councillorship primaries and even the 2019 House of Representatives and House of Assembly races in the area
By Inemesit Ina
For the third time in 12 years the cream of the political class in Mkpat Enin is at war over the political leadership of the area. In the last one month, there has been a raging battle about who should be the Political Leader of one of the largest Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the state.
Some have lined up behind Chief Richard Aaron Umoren (Tractormoren), 74, the pioneer elected Chairman of the Local Government (LG) as the Political Leader. There are others who say the natural Political Leader is Noble Lady Valerie Maurice Ebe (Mma Ebe), the first and only female Deputy Governor of the state ever, who turns 69 on Saturday, March 26, this week.
The two elderly politicians may be contending against each other for the political leadership of the area but there is a groundswell of opinion that the battle is actually between Barr. Jerry Akpan, a former Commissioner of Economic Development, and Barr. Ekong Sampson Akpan, the present Commissioner of Rural Development. Both men are generally seen as the real powers behind the two old politicians. Jerry has even been proclaimed as Leader’s Representative by Tractor, as he is popularly called.
Besides, the political leadership battle is clearly a dress rehearsal of bigger battles for the ward and chapter structures of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and the local government chairmanship and councillorship seats in the next few months. It is also a dry run for the 2019 House of Assembly and House of Representatives’ contests.
One veteran politician, who has participated in similar battles in the past, sees things differently. According to him, the whole fight is not just about the future. “It is about who gets the Governor’s ears now; finish,” he says on condition of anonymity.
Supporting Tractor are Jerry, Ephraim Akpan, the Local Government Transition Committee Chairman, Nkereuwem Akai, the PDP Chapter Chairman, Barr. Akan Affia, the PDP State Financial Secretary, Barr. Udobong Ekpo, a former Member of the State House of Assembly, Elder Udo Sam Umoatan, a former elected LG Chairman, Akparawa Mfon Nkanteen, another former elected LG Chairman, Dr. Imohowo Udobia, Ubong Ekwere Inyang and Ubong Ekefre, all former LG Transition Chairmen, Ekong Mex Umoh and Chief Friday Ayara, both former PDP Chapter Chairmen, Mrs. Cecilia Umanah, a former Commissioner of Education in the Idongesit Nkanga Administration, Dr. Imefon Udoh, Mma Ebe’s former Personal Assistant as Deputy Governor, Godwin Udofot, a former LG Vice Chairman under Ekong, among others.
Backing Mma Ebe are Ekong, Engr. Otobong Ndem, the Member representing Mkpat Enin State Constituency in the House of Assembly, Engr. Meyen Etukudo, the Special Assistant (SA) to the Governor on Power, two other SAs to the Governor, Ms. Eno Williams and Anietie Maurice Ebe, Mrs. Lynda Akpanokpudo, the Personal Assistant to the Governor on Protocol, Stephen Ntukekpo, the LG Transition Committee Secretary, Elder Ukonsek Ukonsek, a Transition Committee Member, Gina Umoh, a former LG Vice Chairman under Mfon Nkanteen, Akparawa Umoren Umoren, the PDP Chapter Secretary, among others.
Mma Ebe’s supporters and some other prominent politicians have coalesced into the Mkpat Enin Elders/Stakeholders’ Forum with Dr. Sydney Udofot, a seasoned politician and world-acclaimed surgeon, as Chairman and Arc. Aniefiok Smith, a former PDP State Treasurer and LG Vice Chairman under Umoatan, as Secretary.
Ekong, who beat Sydney in the 2002 PDP LG chairmanship primary, explains the surgeon’s appointment: “He was made Chairman because of his stature and acceptability. He is a well-respected gentleman in Mkpat Enin.”
Otobong says the Sydney-led group represents Mkpat Enin: “Our group is Mkpat Enin. Maybe, they (Jerry’s group) have a group. But we represent Mkpat Enin. I’m not aware they have been meeting. The only meeting they had was trying to form a political structure in Jerry Akpan’s house.”
Sydney, who returned to the country, two years ago, after a long sojourn as an outstanding surgeon in the United Kingdom, says their group is the ultimate: “It is the ultimate group because the membership constitutes the who’s who in respect of politics and intellect in Mkpat Enin.”
Jerry disagrees sharply: “They are negligible. We are over 80 who’s who in Mkpat Enin while they are only three or five. If politics is a game of majority, then we are in charge. They are not just minority but inconsequential minority. There is nothing wrong in their forming a group. The constitution of Nigeria allows that. Their own is a group. Tractor is the Political Leader of Mkpat Enin. Tractor covers even their group. Their own group subsumes under the leadership of Chief Richard Aaron Umoren. They are behind us. We are in the forefront. They are trying to stand before a moving train. And if they don’t give way, we will crush them.”
Mkpat Enin’s Geo-Political Configuration and Zoning
With 14 wards, Mkpat Enin holds the record as the LGA with the highest number of wards in the state.
The two big clans, Ikpa Ibom and Ukpum Minya, which hosts the LG Headquarters, have four wards each. The two smaller clans, Ikpa Ikono and Ibiaku, have three wards each.
Ukpum Minya boasts of political heavyweights such as Mma Ebe, Tractor, Udobong Ekpo, Umoatan, Ubong Inyang, Ubong Ekefre, Akan Affia, Nkereuwem Akai and Martyns Udoinyang, a former Commissioner of Commerce and Industry in the Godswill Akpabio Administration, who is now a chieftain of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC).
Apart from Otobong Ndem and Jerry, other prominent politicians from Ikpa Ibom are Otuekong Bernard Udoh, a three-term House of Representatives’ Member for Ikot Abasi/Eastern Obolo/Mkpat Enin Federal Constituency, Ekong Mex, Ayara, Sydney, Mfon Nkanteen, Imohowo Udobia and Godwin Udofot.
Ekong is the best-known politician from Ikpa Ikono. Other notable politicians from there are his elder brother, Elder Udo Sampson Akpan, Chief Polycarp Obong, a Second Republic Member of the old Cross River State House of Assembly, Smith, Imefon and Dr. Anietie Essien, an Uyo-based computer mogul.
Ephraim Akpan is the leading political figure from Ibiaku which has two other notable politicians, Barr. Aniefiok Udo Ekpo, a former elected LG Chairman under the Abacha regime, and his son and a former LG Transition Committee Vice Chairman, Prince Iboro Ekpo, who is now in the APC.
Since 1999, the elected LG chairmanship has rotated fairly to all four clans this way: Umoatan from Ukpum Minya (1999-2002), Ekong from Ikpa Ikono (2004-2007), Mfon Nkanteen from Ikpa Ibom (2008-2011) and Ephraim from Ibiaku (2012-2015).
The House of Assembly seat has equally gone round thus: Late Dr. Nseobong Nkanta from Ibiaku (1999-2003), Udobong Ekpo from Ukpum Minya (2003-2007), Ekong from Ikpa Ikono (2007-2011 and 2011-2015) and Otobong, the incumbent, from Ikpa Ibom (2015-till date).
This time, the LG chairmanship seat is zoned to Ukpum Minya where about nine aspirants have already emerged. These are Ubong Ekwere Inyang, Nkereuwem Akai, Stephen Ntukekpo and Eric Ekwere, both Mma Ebe’s former aides as Deputy Governor, Lady Ekaette Usip, a former LG Secretary under Ephraim, Supervisor for Education, Youth and Sports under Mfon and Education Secretary under Umoatan, Cyril Umoren, a former President of National Association of Akwa Ibom State Students’ (NAAKISS) Worldwide who is Tractor’s nephew, Ekanem Brown Ekanem, Evans Akpanobong and Uwem Imo-Ita.
The Fire Last Time
Sometime in 2004, Ekong Mex, the pioneer PDP Chapter Chairman who was a Member of the House of Representatives in the aborted Third Republic, and Akan Affia, then the PDP State Legal Adviser, moved to install Tractor as the Political Leader. That move was strongly resisted by Bernard Udoh, then a Member of the House of Representatives, who felt slighted being the highest political office-holder from the area. Bernard had the support of Udobong, who was then in the House of Assembly, and Ekong, then the LG boss. A crisis broke out, consuming both Ekong Mex and Akan Affia in the end. They lost their party positions to Ayara and Mma Ebe, respectively.
Like a recurrent decimal, the issue of Tractor as Political Leader came up again in 2008. This time, it was spearheaded by Ekong, then in the House of Assembly. Again, it met stiff opposition in Bernard, Udobong and the sitting LG Chairman then, Mfon Nkanteen. They propped up Pharmacist Dominic Ekpo, a former Nsit Atai LG Caretaker Chairman, from the same village, Asong, as Tractor. A titanic battle ensued.
Both Udobong and Mfon say Ekong won that battle and as such they now support Tractor.
Hear Udobong: “Ekong brought Tractor as Political Leader at Agatha Guest House in 2008. We opposed Tractor. But Ekong, being a House Member, forcefully installed Tractor as Political Leader. Eventually, we had to accept Tractor, not minding Ekong’s forced action. It was in 2014 that Tractor took Dr. Akpan Micah Umoh to present to Governor Akpabio for second term in the House of Representatives. That was when Ekong’s problem with Tractor started. He came out to tell us that Tractor cannot be our leader again because he has come to stand with an Ikot Abasi man. We said no, that you brought this man forcefully. We have accepted him. We have all embraced him.”
Mfon toes the same line: “In 2008 when I was Chairman, I was in Bernard’s group. We fronted Pharmacist Dominic Ekpo as the Political Leader. Ekong succeeded because he was in the House. You know a House Member is senior to a Chairman. As somebody that needs peace in the local government area, we accepted Chief Richard Umoren. Since then, in the state it is Tractor that is known as the Political Leader of Mkpat Enin. Is Ekong alone the local government area?”
Akan Affia says he gave Tractor’s recognition as Political Leader as a condition for reconciliation with Ekong in 2008: “At that time, he made peace with me and pleaded that he should be forgiven. I gave Chief Richard Umoren’s recognition as a condition for peace. He agreed and worked towards that. All of us agreed and Richard Umoren was formally installed. Richard Umoren is still the Political Leader.”
Ekong does not agree that he won that battle: “A simple research would show that attempts were made to promote someone in the past as Political Leader. Those moves were seriously resisted and because of the disputes, it was advised that the issue be rested. So, whoever is trying to resurrect that issue may be doing so for reasons best known to him. And I challenge anybody to show a picture or video where anybody was crowned or sworn in as Political Leader in Mkpat Enin. Leadership evolves naturally, not through scheming. In all these, proper procedure must be followed and the people must agree. If they say no, that is the end of the matter. I convened the meeting at Agatha Guest House in Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo, to streamline zoning in Mkpat Enin in 2012, not 2008. It had nothing to do with political leadership. I have enjoyed a healthy relationship with Tractor. I have never had any disagreement with Tractor as a person. Anybody in Mkpat Enin would tell you how I worked hard to project his interest. I stood by him when virtually everybody in Mkpat Enin wanted to crucify him over his claim to political leadership. He was at liberty to support whoever he wanted for the House of Representatives. I had no problem with that.”
The Fire This Time
The political leadership issue was brought back to the fore last month. A group of politicians reportedly visited Tractor and affirmed his position as Political Leader but requested him to delegate his responsibilities to Jerry because of his ill health, a request he granted.
Tractor explains what happened: “Recently, stakeholders of Mkpat Enin visited me and said they recognized me as the Political Leader of Mkpat Enin but that they were bringing somebody for me to accept as my representative, an errand boy. I agreed with them. Mkpat Enin political class nominated Jerry Akpan and brought him to my house and I accepted and blessed him. This thing I am telling you is the truth and nothing but the truth.”
His position is corroborated by Jerry: “Mkpat Enin people came together, approached me and pleaded with me to accept to assist Chief Richard Aaron Umoren. I told them that this is a great task that will require 60% of my time. And I don’t like too much responsibility on my shoulders because of my law practice. They pleaded with me and I accepted it. On Saturday, February 13, I was taken before Tractor at his house in Shelter Afrique Estate, Uyo. After informing him of our mission, the need for someone to assist him in running errands, Tractor opened up and told us that he was so happy with our meeting, saying he was looking for that opportunity. After advising me, he blessed me in the presence of the good people of Mkpat Enin.”
Jerry claims what sparked off the latest controversy was the congratulatory message to the Governor on his Supreme Court victory published in THE NATION on February 17 and which was signed by 38 Mkpat Enin politicians with Tractor signing as Leader and himself as Leader’s Representative. His words: “Tractor gave us the go-ahead to put the congratulatory message in THE NATION. It is the fall-out of that publication that is causing this headache. After the publication, they were furious. The publication brought about the birth of their meeting. They met because of the congratulatory message to the Governor. They were not happy that the Governor was congratulated for winning the Supreme Court judgment. Couldn’t any of them have done it before us if they were happy? Why the noise? It is the publication that brought about the noise.”
Otobong disputes Jerry’s claim: “The genesis of the Political Leader struggle is for Jerry Akpan to have the edge of setting up the party structure in Mkpat Enin and impose a chairmanship candidate on Mkpat Enin for his own selfish interest without following due process. He does not have the status to call a meeting in Mkpat Enin. He can only call a meeting of Friends of Jerry Akpan in Mkpat Enin. What they are doing is purely deceit. Jerry is not in politics. He may be a lawyer. He is trying to gain relevance through the back door.”
Ordinarily, Tractor’s claim to the political leadership of the area should no longer be in dispute, at least in the PDP, what with Bernard now in the APC and no longer in the House of Representatives. But the appointment of Mma Ebe as Deputy Governor in 2012 has brought a snag for Tractor. Despite leaving office, last year, she represents Mkpat Enin in the state PDP caucus and remains the highest political office-holder ever produced by the LGA. Her supporters argue that this makes her the natural Political Leader of the area. Consequently, they have stoutly rejected Tractor as Leader.
Otobong, who backs Mma Ebe, has since called two widely-attended meetings in Mkpat Enin and Uyo. In the first meeting, they issued a communique in which they also congratulated the Governor and “directed that congratulatory message be published in the media to register Mkpat Enin people’s unflinching and unalloyed solidarity to the Governor.”
The second meeting was where Mma Ebe was proclaimed Leader and Sydney Chairman of the Mkpat Enin Elders/Stakeholders’ Forum for a three-year term.
To gain mileage, score political points and subdue each other, both factions have resorted to a muddy media war in the local newspapers over the issue.
A Tale of Two Leaders: When a Tractor Collides with a Noble Lady
Both contending leaders parade rich political credentials.
A surveyor trained in Israel, Tractor started out as a contractor and leading member of the Senator Anietie Okon-led youth wing of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the old Cross River State in the Second Republic. He was a staunch supporter of Governor Clement Isong.
In the aborted Third Republic, Tractor was the first elected Chairman of Mkpat Enin LG, which was created from Ikot Abasi LG in 1989, on the ticket of the National Republican Convention (NRC). He governed Mkpat Enin between December 1990 and October 1993 and was very close to Governor Akpan Isemin whose election he played a very key role in December 1991. He was to run for a second term as Chairman against Sydney, then of the rival Social Democratic Party (SDP), before General Sani Abacha struck and dissolved all political structures on November 18, 1993.
Between 1994 and 1995, during the Abacha Transition, Tractor was elected to represent Mkpat Enin and Ikot Abasi (Eastern Obolo was not created from Ikot Abasi then) in the National Constitutional Conference.
At the start of the Abubakar Transition, Tractor became one of the founding fathers of PDP in the state. He vied for the party’s governorship ticket and is on record as the only aspirant that stood his ground in opposition to the nomination of Obong Victor Attah as the PDP consensus gubernatorial candidate in December 1998. In anger, he left to support Isemin, his age-long friend, who was then trying to stage a come-back on the ticket of the All Peoples’ Party (APP). Isemin lost to Attah in the January 1999 election.
But Tractor remained in the APP (rechristened ANPP in 2001) and sought to challenge Late Dr. Ime Umanah for the party’s governorship ticket in December 2002.
Dissatisfied with Ime Umanah’s nomination, he reconciled with Attah and was brought back to PDP to support Attah’s re-election in April 2003. He has remained in PDP ever since, serving for years as Chairman of Mkpat Enin Elders’ Forum.
Mma Ebe is equally a notable politician in her own right. An historian-turned-lawyer, teacher, retired civil servant and woman activist, she came fully into political prominence in 2004, a year before the death of her husband, Sir Maurice Ebe, Second Republic Senate candidate of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the 1983 election and Mkpat Enin LG Transition Committee Chairman from January to June 2003. Sir Maurice, a former university don, was close to Attah, a fellow Catholic knight.
Mma Ebe’s first political position was PDP State Legal Adviser which she held from 2004 to 2008. She also served within that same period as a Member of the Ethical and Re-orientation Commission (EARCOM). She was very active in the Godswill Akpabio governorship project from 2004 to 2007 and was touted as one of Akpabio’s possible running mates. Mma Ebe was appointed Commissioner of Environment after Akpabio became Governor in 2007. The following year, she was moved to the Culture and Tourism ministry from where she was dropped from the cabinet in 2009.
Three years later, Mma Ebe was, surprisingly, brought back to the cabinet by the same Akpabio, this time as Deputy Governor following the resignation of the erstwhile Deputy Governor, Nsima Ekere.
She has championed a strong women political group, Akwa Ibom Women League (AKIWOL), for nearly two decades.
Tractor says Mma Ebe’s opposition to him is a grudge-fight to avenge her husband’s election defeat in his hands over 25 years ago: “Her husband was a classmate to my younger brother in Regina Coelli College, Essene, Ikot Abasi. And they were small boys to me. We were Catholics and we decided to move together. Later, the husband had the effrontery to contest election against me as the SDP candidate and I defeated him outright, overwhelmingly and convincingly. I also defeated the husband at the Tribunal. I became the pioneer elected Chairman of Mkpat Enin Local Government. I had no problem with him. I went and told the husband not to contest election against me because I am a lion and I will defeat him. He did not listen and I defeated him. But when I assumed office, one of the first projects I did was to build a bridge in his village, Ikot Edeghe. And that bridge is still very strong. I know the wife. I think the wife does not want me to succeed in anything I do because I defeated the husband. She never contested any election. She became Commissioner and Deputy Governor by appointment. And God knows I did not oppose her appointment. As Political Leader, I went for her reception. I believe her grudge is that I defeated the husband. There has been no controversy over Political Leader until now. I was declared in 2004 not only as the Chairman of Mkpat Enin Elders’ Forum but also as the sole spokesman and Political Leader. There are no two persons that can speak for Mkpat Enin people as we speak.”
Speaking through her personal assistant, Godswill Udofe, Mma Ebe refutes the accusation: “My late father, Ntiaobong Udofe, was a councillor under Tractor. It’s not true that she is fighting to avenge her husband’s defeat. She has no problem with Tractor. She was behind the formation of Mkpat Enin Elders’ Forum led by Tractor. She was instrumental to Governor Akpabio donating a Toyota Camry car to Tractor through Ubong Ekefre who was then the Local Government Transition Committee Chairman. She also facilitated Tractor’s medical treatment in India by Akpabio when Tractor was sick. But Tractor is not the Political Leader of Mkpat Enin.”
Tractor on a Scale
Captured below are views for and against Tractor as Political Leader.
Jerry Akpan: “Tractor had been unanimously crowned the Political Leader of Mkpat Enin many years ago because of his political antecedents. Tractor had contested governorship twice. Tractor had contested and won chairmanship of the local government and till today Tractor is regarded as the best Chairman Mkpat Enin has ever had. Having been given that enormous responsibility as Political Leader, he led this local government area very well until recently that he is not very active.”
Ephraim Akpan: “I met Tractor as the Political Leader of Mkpat Enin. If they don’t want him as Political Leader, it should be done through a process that is acceptable to everybody.”
Nkereuwem Akai: “The party’s position is that Chief Richard Umoren remains the Political Leader of Mkpat Enin and, for now, Barr. Jerry Akpan is the representative of the Political Leader. He is just an errand boy. He cannot claim outright that he is the Political Leader. This struggle for Political Leader is very wrong. In a nutshell, they have undermined the constitution of PDP because already we have had a Leader since 2008. Why do they want to make a new Leader when this man is still alive? This man only appointed a representative because of his ill health. You cannot make a new king when the existing king is still in place. Why don’t you allow this man to pass on before you make a new Leader?”
Akan Affia: “We choose Political Leader from your antecedents. Chief Richard Umoren has delivered. There is nobody that has been able to beat his record as Chairman in Mkpat Enin. He was a founding member of PDP in Akwa Ibom State and Mkpat Enin. He brought PDP to Mkpat Enin. None of these people was there. They are all coming to cause confusion in the place.”
Udo Sam Umoatan: “Tractor was not given that position because he was holding the highest political office. Tractor had been the Political Leader of Mkpat Enin even before Mma Ebe became the Deputy Governor. It has nothing to do with highest political office.”
Mfon Nkanteen: “The current Political Leader is Chief Richard Umoren. He was made the Political Leader right from when I was Chairman. And since then, they have not appointed any other person.”
Ubong Ekefre: “Political leadership has nothing to do with position, rank or wealth. Though it is not in our constitution, it is a creation to initiate and guide the political thought of a people and settle disputes among divergent parties. Chief Richard Umoren fits into the mould of giving the people of Mkpat Enin political mentorship and direction through counselling. Anyone who says that Mkpat Enin people have never had a Political Leader is probably saying that we are and have been Political Gypsies. I distance myself from such misplacement. A person who says we lack leadership at this point is paranoid of the consequence of people coming together to consolidate and strengthen the existing leadership of Richard Umoren. Richard Umoren is on a rescue mission in Mkpat Enin PDP. He is providing a level playing field for all. That is why you see up to five chairmanship aspirants identifying with his leadership.”
Ekong Mex: “Richard Umoren is the Political Leader until he dies except he commits a felony. There was a consensus by the political elders of Mkpat Enin. They chose him for being the longest-serving politician, having been the Chairman of the Local Government, having gone to the Constitutional Conference and having held a lot of other political positions. That made him deserving the political leadership. No prejudice attached. As Chairman, Richard Umoren handled the Local Government very well. Both friends and enemies loved him. I know Tractor very well. Tractor is our Leader. Why do you want to remove him while he is still alive? What crime has he committed?”
Friday Ayara: “The political leadership of Mkpat Enin was saddled on the shoulders of Chief Richard Aaron Umoren by the whole people of Mkpat Enin. And nothing has happened to review the leadership till this moment I am talking with you. And it is not going to be easy for anybody to review that leadership because it was agreed by the people of Mkpat Enin because of the man’s political merit. I am an original member of PDP from Abuja. I was a former party boss for eight years. I am versed with the knowledge of political party administration in Mkpat Enin from A to Z. I am the first party chairman that won the 14 wards for PDP in Mkpat Enin.”
Sydney Udofot: “We all know Chief Richard Umoren is old. He is not as strong as he used to be. He cannot move or make contacts for Mkpat Enin. It is not fair for us to impose any extra responsibility on him because he is infirm. It is not right. We should allow him to retire gracefully. He has had a good time. He has done his best. We need somebody who is more mobile in every sense of the word to take his place.”
Dominic Ekpo: “There is no Political Leader. I don’t have problem with Leader’s Representative but what I’m saying is that Mkpat Enin has no Political Leader. We have played politics for years. They tried to make somebody Political Leader but he was not accepted. There was no agreement. But somebody is claiming he is the Political Leader. If somebody cannot build his village, how can he say he wants to be the Political Leader of the Local Government Area? He is causing so many problems in Asong. He contested and lost the village headship. He does not have up to one-third support in Asong. He has taken the Governor and the Attorney-General to court over the village headship issue. If somebody cannot maintain peace at home, can he maintain peace in a Local Government Area? Anybody can claim anything but my stand is that there is no Political Leader in Mkpat Enin. We will have one when people sit down and agree. Go and tell him that is what I said.”
Udo Sampson Akpan: “Mkpat Enin has never accepted Tractor as Political Leader. You can’t give what you don’t have. The procedure they are using is very wrong. Leaders evolve naturally. How can they make a Political Leader in the absence of the House Member and the Commissioner who has the largest political structure in Mkpat Enin?”
Ukonsek Ukonsek: “I served back to back as Director-General of the Ephraim Akpan chairmanship campaign organization and the Otobong Ndem House of Assembly campaign organization. From inception of Mkpat Enin politics, there has been no time Richard Umoren was made Political Leader. He was simply Chairman of Mkpat Enin Elders’ Forum which I am very sure he has not called up to three meetings. Two of his meetings were chaotic because of his selfish intention to amend the constitution of the forum for him to remain Chairman for life and with powers to appoint his successor. And so, to have talked about anybody representing him in that capacity is a very serious error, a nullity.”
Mma Ebe on a Scale
Captured below are views for and against Mma Ebe as Political Leader.
Ekong Sampson: “I would rather be more concerned with how I can help Mkpat Enin people to put food on their table and also get empowerment than concern myself with the controversy of who is the Political Leader of the Local Government Area. I would rather be concerned with implementing the vision of Governor Udom Emmanuel in rural transformation. Nobody can validly dispute the high stature of Lady Valerie Ebe even beyond Mkpat Enin. She has reached a height which nobody else has ever reached in Mkpat Enin as former Deputy Governor of the state. By that height, she has convenient access to the power valves. Whoever tries to denigrate her is not fair to her achievements. She is a natural leader and mother in whom we are all proud. It is ridiculous in 2016 that somebody can say that a woman cannot be a leader when we have women who are Presidents of countries. I am sure the person saying that may even be supporting Hillary Clinton to be US President. What an irony. Leadership evolves naturally. You can’t take away Lady Valerie Ebe’s unequalled political pedigree.”
Otobong Ndem: “Her Honour is the Political Leader now by virtue of her pedigree. Leadership evolves naturally. The height Mma Ebe has attained, nobody else in Mkpat Enin has attained. ”
Sydney Udofot: “The people have taken a decision that this is the way forward. And the way forward is that the person that held the highest office should be the Leader. I am comfortable with that. The highest political office in Mkpat Enin is that of Deputy Governor. The fact that she was appointed to that position means she has the capacity. She is well educated and qualified. Gender is not an issue. She was a woman when she was made Deputy Governor. There are many female Presidents in the world.”
Godswill Udofe: “She has all it takes to lead. She is the political office-holder with the highest rank to be the Leader. She is the only person we have on ground that can enter anywhere in the state. She has the largest group in Mkpat Enin, Akwa Ibom Women’s League (AKIWOL). She has empowered several youths and women. She can lead Mkpat Enin well as Political Leader. A woman has the right to be the Political Leader. If government can make a woman Deputy Governor, then she has the right to be Political Leader of Mkpat Enin. If elders in the state recognize her as one of their own, what stops her from being recognized in her Local Government Area? Let the elders of Mkpat Enin have one mind and one focus that show love. If the elders rubbish one another, what will be the attitude of the youths?”
Ukonsek Ukonsek: “Mma Ebe is a very honourable woman of Mkpat Enin, a mother who all of us in Mkpat Enin have shown regard to and have benefitted seriously from her at one time or the other. So, her leadership evolves naturally and it is not in contention, having risen to the position of Deputy Governor in the state which may take some time for another person from Mkpat Enin to reach.”
Jerry Akpan: “A person does not appoint himself as the Political Leader. Even the Governor does not have the right to appoint anybody as Political Leader. If you want to be a leader, it must naturally flow from your antecedents.”
Ephraim Akpan: “Mma Ebe does not need to be the Political Leader. She is already bigger than that with her position as a former Deputy Governor. People who seek personal political protection want to drag her into the fray. She does not need that. She does not need the name of Political Leader to enter any major political meeting in the state. Even the process of making her Political Leader was totally faulty because they did not consult other people. If they don’t want Tractor as Political Leader, everybody should sit down and agree. What they are doing is something close to a coup.”
Nkereuwem Akai: “It has never happened in the history of Akwa Ibom State for a woman to be the Political Leader of a Local Government Area no matter the position you held in that Local Government Area.”
Udobong Ekpo: “There has never been a time in the history of Mkpat Enin and Akwa Ibom that a woman became Political Leader. Even Helen Esuene did not say she was the Political Leader of Eket. We married her from Mbak Etoi, Uyo, the same place with Helen Esuene. She cannot come to Mkpat Enin and become the Political Leader on the basis of highest political office-holder. A Political Leader must be an elected person, not appointee. She has never got the mandate of the people. If you want to use that basis of highest political office-holder, why is Godswill Akpabio not the Political Leader of Essien Udim? Akpabio was duly elected, not appointed. Why is Chief Michael Afangideh the Political Leader of Essien Udim? Can three people be more than the multitude of Mkpat Enin people? A leader must be accepted by her people, not by two persons simply because they are in government. She should look for the position of Mother of Mkpat Enin, not Political Leader. I cannot allow a woman to lord over me as Political Leader.”
Akan Affia: “The Political Leader is alive. She is not the Political Leader. And she can never be. We heard that Ekong took her to Mkpat Enin and announced her as the Political Leader.”
Ekong Mex: “There was no place that the idea of Mma Ebe being the Political Leader was mooted. There is no place we sat down and say Mma Ebe is the Political Leader of Mkpat Enin. And that, of course, is the truth. They should relax. If they want leadership, God will give it to them. They should not look at the thing as a do-or-die affair.”
Friday Ayara: “As far as PDP is concerned, for somebody to be a former Deputy Governor has little to do with political leadership. It is never a yardstick for somebody to be Political Leader. Richard Umoren remains the Leader. If there is another Leader, it is not known to us who are the original members of PDP in the Local Government Area. Whoever is feigning for political leadership in Mkpat Enin is deceiving his or herself.”
A Proxy War?
As stated earlier, there is a general impression in Mkpat Enin that what is happening in the area is a proxy war and test of strength between Ekong and Jerry. Interestingly, both lawyers started out as friends in Abuja before relocating to the state to join partisan politics in 2002.
Their political relationship began in December 2002 when Ekong, then the PDP chairmanship candidate, supported Jerry (then the godson of Late Elder Joe Udobia, Attah’s Special Representative in Abuja, who controlled the dominant tendency in Mkpat Enin politics then because of his closeness to Attah) for the PDP House of Representatives’ ticket. According to Jerry, Mma Ebe also supported him. Ekong, a former Special Assistant to Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, had emerged PDP’s flagbearer, five months earlier, without Joe’s support, but he subsequently pledged allegiance to Joe which probably informed his support for Jerry. In that primary, Jerry contested against Bernard, then the incumbent, Nsima Ekere and Martyns Udoinyang. Nsima Ekere won the nomination on ground but the ticket was given to Bernard, two months later in Abuja, possibly because of the arrangement between then President Olusegun Obasanjo and the National Assembly leadership to return some federal legislators.
Ekong and Jerry were to go their separate ways in the December 2006 PDP House of Assembly nomination. Jerry, who was then serving as Chairman of the Local Government Service Commission, a Grade A parastatal (having been appointed by Attah in 2005), supported Udobong Ekpo, then the incumbent, against Ekong, the LG boss, who was seeking elevation to the state legislature. Ekong won.
Both men clashed again in the March 2008 PDP LG chairmanship nomination in which Jerry, alongside Bernard, Udobong and Late Nkanta, backed Mfon Nkanteen against Late Dr. Joseph Akpanokpudo supported by Ekong and Umoatan. Mfon won.
They came back together in the December 2010 PDP House of Assembly primary in which Jerry, then the Special Adviser to the Governor on Political and Legislative Affairs, backed Ekong’s second term bid against Mfon Nkanteen, Ubong Inyang, Imohowo Udobia, Apostle Udobong Obong and Akpanokpudo who was killed shortly before the primary date. The circumstances of Akpanokpudo’s murder did not allow a primary as Bernard and all House of Assembly aspirants were detained in prison for a while on suspicion. In the end, they were all released and Ekong was nominated, thanks to Akpabio and Nsima Ekere, then Akpabio’s running mate.
In the March 2012 PDP LG chairmanship primary, there was again a divergence of interests. Jerry, then the Commissioner of Economic Development, supported Ephraim Akpan while Ekong backed Elder Martins Ikono (Matelbot), an Uyo-based petroleum dealer. Ephraim won.
It was a tricky situation in the December 2014 PDP primaries. Both lawyers supported Otobong Ndem against Ephraim Akpan in the House of Assembly primary. On nomination day, Ephraim, despite the support of Paul Ekpo, the PDP State Chairman, had to step down in Government House for Otobong. In the House of Representatives’ primary, Jerry initially backed Ekong but he switched support to Francis Charles Uduyok, then the Chairman of Eastern Obolo LG, at the last minute. Francis won.
The commissionership slot for Mkpat Enin again divided them six months later. Though Jerry vehemently denies that he had any interest, Ekong’s supporters, who style themselves as Superstructure, believe he sought and lost the slot. Ekong, lionized by his supporters for years as Onomkpoinam Mkpat Enin and now as Mkpat Enin Political Junction, won.
Now, it is a full-blown power struggle.
Introduction of Leader’s Representative into Akwa Ibom’s Political Lexicon
One good thing about the Mkpat Enin scrimmage has been the introduction of a new term into Akwa Ibom’s political lexicon: Leader’s Representative.
Before now, Leader’s Representative was associated with the religious sect, Brotherhood of the Cross and Star. It denoted the representative of the Sole Spiritual Head of the sect, Leader Olumba Olumba Obu, in a state.
Now, thanks to the Mkpat Enin battle, Leader’s Representative is a political term. Jerry Akpan is making history as the first such Leader’s Representative in the politics of Akwa Ibom.
Ubong Ekefre says what they have done is novel and pace-setting: “It is novel to have a Political Leader’s Representative. It’s not just real but pacesetting. There is no need going for another Leader when Chief Richard Umoren is alive. Hence, time-tested stakeholders came together and nominated Barr. Jerry Akpan who subsequently received the blessing of Chief Richard Umoren as his representative. Our leader is aging and needed someone active to be representing him where necessary.”
To Ephraim, “it was a decision of a large section of the political class in Mkpat Enin.”
Umoatan hinges Jerry’s appointment on closeness to the government: “If you say you are looking for a Leader’s Representative, you must take into consideration the person and the time. And, as I mentioned to Tractor the day I presented Jerry to him, I would have said let me be the one. But, if you want to assess all the politicians in Mkpat Enin, Jerry happens to be the closest person to the government of the day. If you look round the entire 31 Local Government Areas, Political Leaders are not office-holders.”
Tractor, himself, looks more at Jerry’s capability: “I know Jerry Akpan. He would be very able to discharge the responsibility. If he were not capable, I would have told him to go away, he won’t be able to do it. I think you know me.”
Sydney faults Tractor: “I don’t think it is democratic for one person to appoint somebody as his Leader’s Representative. I don’t think it is proper. It would have been proper if he called the elites of Mkpat Enin to discuss.”
Otobong dismisses the whole thing: “There is no such office as Leader’s Representative. Such office does not exist. Before now, we did not have a Political Leader. We only had a proposed Chairman of Mkpat Enin Elders’ Forum. And as such you cannot have a representative. You cannot give what you don’t have.”
Mma Ebe, speaking through her aide, Godswill Udofe, speaks in similar vein: “We don’t know anything about Leader’s Representative. Who made Tractor Political Leader for Tractor to make him Leader’s Representative?”
Jerry also comes under fire by some leading politicians of Ekong’s clan, Ikpa Ikono. In a letter addressed to him and signed by 20 leaders including Aniefiok Smith and Polycarp Obong, they state: “We write to inform you that Ikpa Ikono Clan totally rejects politics of use and dump and therefore wish to dissociate ourselves and Ikpa Ikono Clan from your unilateral, illegal and selfish declaration of Chief Richard Umoren and yourself (Barr. Jerry Akpan) as ‘Political Leader’ and so-called ‘Leader’s Representative,’ respectively, for Mkpat Enin Local Government Area.”
On Friday, February 26, it appeared as if Jerry’s group had lost two chairmanship aspirants to Ekong’s group. Ubong Inyang and Eric Ekwere showed up in the meeting called by Otobong in Uyo to the shock of even members of Ekong’s group. Their presence was immediately interpreted and celebrated as defection.
But Ubong Inyang says he remains loyal to Tractor and Jerry. He explains that he only went to the meeting to make a case for his ward, Ukpum Minya Ward 4 (Mkpat Enin Urban), in the chairmanship contest.
Eric is not so categorical on his stance on the political leadership issue: “If you link me to anybody, link me to Mkpat Enin. Wherever Mkpat Enin stand is where I stand. By the grace of God, I am the next Chairman of Mkpat Enin Local Government. I honoured an invitation from my House of Assembly Member. I am a serving Member of the Local Government Transition Committee. It would be a disservice for Mkpat Enin people if the House of Assembly Member invited a Transition Committee Member personally to a meeting and he failed to attend. I was bounced at the door of the meeting hall by some Mkpat Enin boys because I signed a congratulatory message to the Governor in a newspaper. I was shocked. I don’t know if it is wrong to tell the Governor congratulations. The Honourable Member had to send his press secretary to ensure my entry. On the political leadership issue, I am as quiet as possible. I know my own Leader and I know who is the Leader of Mkpat Enin. I and Ubong Inyang are the most informed on this political leadership issue because we have heard from both sides. I can make a better decision than anybody else. I have made a decision and when I announce it, the whole Akwa Ibom State will hear it. Both sides should come together and resolve this issue because, earnestly speaking, I don’t see any reason for this tension.”
The Coming LG Chairmanship Battle
Both factions are already contending over the LG chairmanship seat.
Jerry’s supporters accuse Mma Ebe of trying to foist Stephen Ntukekpo, who they allege to be her relation, as the PDP chairmanship candidate. They also accuse Ekong, a journalist-turned-lawyer, of toying with the idea of Ekanem Brown Ekanem, his long-standing family friend, as a second option in case Mma Ebe’s candidate fails to fly.
Mma Ebe’s supporters, in turn, accuse Jerry’s group of planning to impose Ekaette Usip, who they link, rightly or wrongly, to the powerful Commissioner of Works, Ephraim Inyang, probably because of the aspirant’s frontline role in the Ephraim Inyang-led Transformation Initiative for Akwa Ibom People. Mma Ebe’s supporters also claim that Jerry’s group is having Nkereuwem Akai, the Chapter Chairman, as a second option because of the support Nkereuwem allegedly enjoys from the PDP State Chairman, Paul Ekpo, through the LG Chairman, Ephraim Akpan (Paul’s maternal cousin) and his wife who is close to the Governor’s wife.
However, Mma Ebe, Ekong, Jerry, Ephraim Akpan and Umoatan all deny allegations of imposition. They insist the chairmanship contest will be decided in the field.
Umoatan, particularly, says he was assured personally by the Governor that there would be a level playing field for everybody and no imposition before he returned to PDP from Labour Party. “There is a clear determination this time round that things must be done right,” he says.
Battle for PDP Chapter and Ward Structures
But before the LG chairmanship primary which is four months away, both factions are set to clash over the PDP chapter chairmanship seat which Nkereuwem Akai is vacating after eight years. It is up for grabs next month. Also at stake are 17 other positions in the Chapter Executive Committee and 15 positions in each of the 14 Ward Executive Committees.
Both factions accuse each other of already writing lists for chapter and ward executive committees. But such unilateral lists, which have become a tradition in the State PDP in the last 15 years, may be useless if the harmonization of lists, said to be proposed by the state leadership of the party, comes into force.