IBOM 2023: The Big Task Before Akwa Ibom PDP Chairman —by Ufok Ibekwe
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. ” – Nelson Mandela
Only few politicians in Akwa Ibom have the capacity to be calm, collected, intelligent, focused and yet successful like the newly elected PDP State chairman Elder Aniekan Akpan. Being a naturally taciturn man with more daily minutes of silence and concentration that loquacity, Akpan is also an attentive listener deeply endowed with the capacity to execute thin ideas on paper into thick actions on ground. This is a mini profile of the man who was recently elected to replace Obong Udo Ekpenyong who passed on early this year as Akwa Ibom State PDP chairman.
In a congress held on Wednesday 30th June, 2021 in Uyo, Mr Akpan was unanimously elected amidst electrifying cheers. His emergence came through a well moulded consensus arrangement across the party hierarchy to produce him as the sole candidate.
The new chairman is a retired school principal from Ikot Oku Usung in Ukanafun, the same village where the late Udo Ekpenyong held from. His meteoric rise in politics started like a gentle sea breeze which gathered momentum into a storm that eventually exploded with thunder on June 30th with his elevation to the current position as party chairman. Elder Akpan graced his current political height not by sudden flight, but through years of enduring walk on both spikes and velvet floors.
The new chairman started his political career with his first notable appointment as the Local Education Secretary of Ukanafun in1997. Thereafter he was appointed the local government council secretary in year 2000. In 2008 Mr Akpan was elected chairman Ukanafun local government council. He was later elected in 2011 as member Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly where he proceeded to be appointed commissioner for education in 2015. Before his election to the exalted position of State chairman of PDP, Mr Akpan was serving as commissioner one, Akwa Ibom State local government service commission.
Sometime in 2008, I had the privilege to sight the academic credentials of Elder Aniekan Akpan in my capacity as a member of the local government elections screening committee when he was vying to become the council chairman of Ukanafun. The committee member had a pleasant surprise that as at 1982, Mr Akpan secured a second-class upper division degree B.Sc.Ed in Education biology from the prestigious university of Ilorin and also emerged the best graduating student of his department. The committee after sighting all his certificates, honours and award documents had no option than to ask him to bow and go. Today by reason of hard work, dedication and the grace of God, Mr Akpan is rewarded with the top job of his party.
The new chairman who was a close associate and brother to late Udo Ekpenyong is well acknowledged to be a very intelligent person, complete gentleman, astute administrator and stable minded too. But then, success as state party chairman does not necessarily depend on academic intelligence, administrative prowess or tall moral bones. Although AKpan may have the brain, he seriously needs the brawn, grit, strong resolve and strength of character to intensely engage his target come 2023. Paradoxically however, his crown as chairman though glittering also has some embedded thrones in it that inflict pains that needs grit, mental alertness, a lion like instinct and a personality exuding confidence at all times to contend. His late predecessor had a good dose of these elements which the new chairman must distill to form part of his recalibrated political playbook.
Although the new chairman is an ordained senior elder of Qua Iboe Church of Nigeria, he is also a knowledgeable politician. He knows that election is a moral equivalent of war that may demand occasional folding of shirt sleeves and deployment of bare knuckles to breakthrough obstacles if need be. This is perhaps the reason football coach Jose Mourinho strongly believes that any football match without the aim to score goals is merely a game of physical exercise. In the same manner, it can be rightly said that, any political activity without a focused aim to win election is a baseless venture.
Since victory therefore is the main target of every political party involved in elections, the chairman must therefore garb himself and his team with Winston Churchill’s mental state of mind when he said “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.” Though a war quote by Churchill which should not be taken literally, the message here is very clear-victory at all cost.
In his privilege as one of the closest persons to late Udo Ekpenyong, Mr Akpan must have read the lips and understood the body language of his predecessor well enough to know the direction he was leading the party including the political playbook he adopted. Most importantly, he must acknowledge that his late predecessor was after all a fallible human with feet of clay disposed to making mistakes. Sitting now as the new captain of the ship, Akpan must avoid the hubris of pride and learn to be flexible or amendable to people’s opinions by seeking and accepting good counsels. He must also be wise enough to surround himself with well educated, intelligent and experienced people who care about his success not their stomachs only. The empty political barrels who love to hang around and feed leaders with unproductive gossips are some of the wrong elements he must farm out far from himself if he truly desires to succeed.
The task ahead is daunting and uphill like a rocky mountain trip as the new chairman alluded in his inaugural speech. There was no pretense about this as Mr Akpan without sounding like a lion honestly acknowledged the enormity of the task ahead in his first speech. He promised to create a level playing field to accommodate the aspiration of all-party members in future elections. This was the key aspect of his speech that stoked 2023 emotions. It also revealed the morbid fear within the very poetry of his soul quietly pointing at deep matters that could possibly rise and trouble his brow in future. But then, to fear does not make the chairman a coward or deficit in courage. Identifying his area of fear and worry only make him realistic to develop strategies to confront his fears earlier. Because the chairman seriously needs a legacy of victories like the one time former chairman Obong Paul Ekpo who was able to sustain the PDP as the dominant party in Akwa Ibom political space, Akpan must work very hard to achieve just that. He will not want that superstructure he inherited to come tumbling down under his watch.
Elder Akpan is currently in a vulnerable position especially as the state chairman of the main opposition party at the national level. The APC in the state though a toxic house of squabbling political lords has the capacity to bite and incapacitate the PDP come 2023 if not closely marked. APC also has what it takes to go hawkish by using federal might or matching governor Udom’s financial muscle with their deep federal pocket. He should be prepared for a war involving the use of diamond dust to cut diamond.
One challenging problem facing the new chairman come 2023 would be on how to produce the governorship flag bearer of PDP that fits into governor Udom’s recommended frame without toppling the fragile unity within the party and causing a windfall of defections to APC by aggrieved losers. This is where his main headache truly lies. His ability or lack of it to balance the interest of all sides on this issue will to a large extend determine how PDP will fare in 2023 elections.
Presently, the most noticeable feature of Nigeria’s party system with Akwa Ibom Inclusive is the absence of party supremacy because the chairman is merely reduced to a nominal figure, subservient and submissive to the governor who is the chief financier of the party. Most often, candidate’s selection process is abused and manipulated by the governor, godfathers or other top party financiers. Under this atmosphere, the concept of party supremacy, which underscores the absolute control of the affairs of a party by its elected leaders headed by the chairman do not count.
When party primaries, which is supposed to serve as the litmus test for stability, cohesion and party supremacy are manipulated to produce candidates favoured by godfathers, such situation is capable of engendering intra party conflicts and weakening the party cohesion and chances during elections. This is one troubling area the chairman must work on closely with key stakeholders to produce candidates with public appeal and capacity to pull votes.
In all, one of the ways the new chairman can avoid a split within its ranks during the 2023 party primaries is to persuade all governorship aspirants to discuss the need for party unity before the gubernatorial primaries. They should reach an agreement to be bound by the outcome of the primaries and openly congratulate and accept to work with the winner. The strong lesson that resonates hereis expressed in the words of Henry Longfellow here paraphrased; ‘there is danger in discord and strength in unity’.