BY IFREKE NSEOWO
It is no more news that the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Udo Ekpenyong has been sacked. He was sacked last Friday and the decision by the governor was made public through a (somewhat controversial) press release signed by his (ex) colleague, Charles Udoh who is the Commissioner for Information and Strategy.
The statement reads: “Governor Udom Emmanuel has effected a minor reshuffling of his cabinet. By this development, the Hon. Commissioner, Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Udo Ekpenyong, has been relieved of his portfolio with immediate effect.
“The Government of Akwa Ibom State thanks Hon. Ekpenyong for his services to the state while serving as a member of the State Executive Council and wishes him well in his future endeavours”.
A source told our reporter that the removal of the commissioner was as a result of the near scuffle he had with one of the top government officials last week Thursday during a breakfast meeting in Government House, Uyo.
It is learnt that the State Governor had on January 4, 2018 invited PDP stakeholders from the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District for the breakfast meeting where the sacked commissioner had an encounter with another state official. The meeting was for the governor to clear the air on some scathing comments made by Senator Godswill Akpabio in Abak during a get-together for people of the senatorial district.
The sacked commissioner was said to have protested the removal of Chief Senas Ukpanah whose name could not be ascertained from the list of those that were invited from the Senatorial District to the breakfast meeting with the Governor.
Udo Ekpenyong is said to have gotten angry that he should have taken part in composition of the list of stakeholders from Ukanafun Local Government who were invited for the meeting.
He particularly got angry that Chief Senas Ukpanas was blocked at the gate by security operatives from entering into venue of the meeting.
Ekpenyong was still fuming, venting his anger on Senator Godswill Akpabio and other top stakeholders from the senatorial district whom he feels are loyal to the Senate Minority Leader.
Ukpanah was later granted access into the venue of the meeting but this didn’t appease the diminutive Ekpenyong.
The action of Ekpenyong was said to have embarrassed other stakeholders at the meeting as he refused to listen to any plea for peace to reign, engaging those who disagreed with him, and using unprintable words thus making the environment unconducive.
According to sources, after the meeting, while having their meals, Senator Akpabio brought up the issue of insurgency in Ukanafun and the need to find a way and solve it once and for all.
The Senate Minority Leader in a bid to know the stakeholders from Ukanafun who were present at the meeting, now did a roll call. He called out former Commissioners, Eno Akpan and Aniekan Akpan who stood and indicated that they were present.
The former Governor now called Udo Ekpenyong more than once, according to our sources, the sacked Commissioner refused answering or standing up to indicate that he was present.
Governor Udom, seemingly embarrassed on behalf of the immediate past governor now called him, and when he stood up, the governor asked him why he didn’t answer when (his boss and mentor the senate minority Leader) called him, he responded that he was not feeling fine, that he had malaria.
The Chairman of Ukanafun, Prince Uko Idiong in a bid to defend Ekpenyong, stood up and corroborated his (Ekpenyong’s) excuse that he was unwell.
The governor was said to have been vexed and miffed by the utter disrespect and arrogance exhibited by the sacked commissioner.
Several sources present at the meeting who spoke to our reporter said it took the intervention of well-meaning individuals for Ekpenyong not to be beaten up by loyalists of Akpabio, especially the likes of Nse Ntuen and Emmanuel Enoidem.
After the meeting, our sources said Udo Ekpenyong was driven/guarded out of the government house by security operatives (especially the DSS) in order to avoid being beaten up by the ex-governor’s loyalists who felt Udo’s actions and utterances were gross insult on the person of Akpabio.
After the meeting, the governor was reportedly given 24-hours by his mentor, Godswill Akpabio to sack the recalcitrant Commissioner.
Governor Emmanuel then convened an emergency state executive council meeting where he suspended Udo Ekpenyong for his actions and utterances.
When the decision of the governor to suspend Udo was relayed to Akpabio, he rejected it, demanding outright sack of the commissioner.
Commissioners and Special Adviser(s) then left the exco meeting straight to Ukana Ikot Ntuen where Akpabio was hosting the leaders and members of the Ati Annang Foundation. They begged the senator on behalf of Ekpenyong but such entreaties fell on deaf ears as the former governor had made up his mind on Udo’s sack, hence rebuffing their pleas.
With the governor’s hands tied, he had to sacrifice Udo Ekpenyong who was his strong ally and kitchen cabinet member.
The governor then mandated the Commissioner for Information and Strategy to issue a press release on Udo’s sack which was made public the following day, Friday.
Mr Ekpenyong, a former Special Adviser to former Governor Victor Attah Political and Legislative Affairs, hails from Ukanafun Local Government Area and has held several elected and appointed political positions.
He has at various times been the Executive Chairman, Ukanafun L.G.A, National Ex-officio Member of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Acting State Secretary of PDP.
UDO EKPENYONG’S MANY SINS/CONTROVERSIES
Aside his outbursts in the meeting, Udo Ekpenyong had been involved in several controversies during his short stay as Commissioner in the Udom Emmanuel government. Below is the low-down on his many sins that may not have aided his case…
APPOINTMENT OF FAMILY MEMBERS INTO GOVERNMENT POSITIONS: In Ukanafun Local Government Area, Udo Ekpenyong is seen to be a selfish and self-centered politician. Most of the appointments that came to Ukanafun, he is said to have hijacked same and gave them to his close persons and family members. He nominated his son, Engr Ekpenyong Ekpenyong to be appointed Special Assistant to the Governor. The junior Ekpenyong is the international president of New Breed, a socio-political group for Governor Udom.
He also nominated his cousin, Barr Samuel Udomfu as the Chairman of Ukanafun Transition Committee. Udomfu however was forced to resign five months into his appointment in December 2016 when the governor realized that Udomfu was a direct cousin to Udo Ekpenyong who as at then was newly appointed Commissioner. Hence, Udomfu was sacrificed in order for Ekpenyong to stay as Commissioner.
INTERFERENCE IN APPOINTMENT OF COUNCIL SECRETARIES: Udo Ekpenyong was very involved in the appointments of Local Government Secretaries. At some point, he exhibited high level impunity by brazenly and single-handedly appointing Secretaries for the Local Government Chairmen. After the swearing of the Chairmen, some of the new council helmsmen had appointed and swore in Council Secretaries (as the case may be) but they were upturned by Ekpenyong, who nominated different person(s) for the chairmen to swear in as Secretaries. This caused a controversy which were captured in the social media and local media in the state, as some local government councils had two secretaries. Uruan, Ikono, and some other LGAs were affected by Udo’s highhandedness in the appointment of Council Secretaries.
N1M TAKE-OFF GRANT FOR COUNCIL CHAIRMEN
The newly sworn-in Chairmen who are just one month in office were given N1m (one million Naira only) by Udo Ekpenyong as take-off grant from the government. This caused a major issue between ALGON and the then Commissioner, leading to a meeting between all the 31 LG Chairmen and their vice, 329 Councilors and Udo Ekpenyong at the Banquet Hall of the government House. The Chairmen had complained bitterly that the N1m was too meagre and beggarly to be a take-off grant. The news found its way into the media which didn’t do Udo any good.
Ukanafun has been a den of kidnapping, assassinations, robberies and several insurgencies for many months now. Udo has been allegedly fingered as having links with the dreaded terrorist, ‘Isoakpaefid’ who has been declared wanted by the police. He is alleged to be making political capital out of the crimes in the area. Unfortunately, he became a victim of the monster is allegedly sponsoring as his sister was shot and killed in Ukanafun.
FIGHT WITH VAL ATTAH OVER TRANSFERS OF LG STAFF
Udo Ekpenyong, according to several government sources, was also domineering and interloping, usurping his powers. This attributes had gotten him into “fights” with those who did not allow him interfere in their duties. He arrogated too much powers to himself, probably because he saw himself as a member of the governor’s kitchen cabinet, who could do and undo without being touched. He had a major disagreement with the Chairman of Board, Local Government Service Commission, Sir Valentine Attah over transfers of Local Government staff. He also interefered in several other government officials’ duties.
POLITICAL AMBITIONS: It is not unusual for politicians to nurse ambitions. But Udo Ekpenyong is said to have been overambitious. Udo Ekpenyong is/was considered to be a top contender for the Ukanafun/Oruk Anam Federal Constituency seat currently occupied by APC’s Emmanuel Ukoette. He is said to have started working across the federal constituency ahead of the party nomination and general election. He is also said to have had an eye on replacing Moses Ekpo as Deputy Governor.
SUNNY IBANGA DEBACLE: Udo Ekpenyong was in the news in September 2017 when he revoked the certificate issued to Sunny Ibanga as the Village Head of Utu Ikot Ekpene Village in Ikot Ekpene Local Government Area. He was said to be antagonizing Ibanga because of political differences. In a press chat, Ekpenyong forbade Ibanga from conducting the affairs of the Village as the Head, while “innocent members” of the public were as well advised to be careful while dealing with him. Ibanga is a chieftain of the APC.
FIGHT WITH AKPABIO: Last but not the least, and considered by pundits as one of his greatest undoing is his perceived fight with/ and disdain for Senator Godswill Akpabio and the Akpabio dynasty as a whole. Akpabio knew Udo Ekpenyong had been fighting him, and as a master strategist, waited for the right time to him (Ekpenyong) really hard and he struck. Udo as a kitchen cabinet member is said to have assured the governor that he will diminish Akpabio’s influence in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, showing high level sycophancy to the governor. According to stakeholders from the area who spoke with TheMail on condition of anonymity, Udo Ekpenyong has been shunning meetings of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district stakeholders convened by Akpabio, showing the former governor no respect probably.
Even with the sack, government House sources informed TheMail that the governor still has soft spot for Ekpenyong. According to unconfirmed reports in the media, the governor has told Ekpenyong to nominate whosever he wishes as his successor from Ukanafun. The governor, we learnt, was only hand-tied to sack Ekpenyong against his wishes as if he had retained him, it would have sent out wrong signals that he sent the sacked Commissioner to disrespect his boss, godfather, teacher and mentor.
According to political pundits, Udo Ekpenyong in his bid to show unflinching support, loyalty and (sycophancy too) misplayed his cards, shot himself in the foot and got sacrificed in the process.