by Vincent Akanmode
The nation was served a yellow card by the Jonah Jang faction of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) penultimate Friday after the re-election of Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State as the forum’s chairman. In a move considered by many political observers as an ominous sign for the 2015 general elections, the governors loyal to Jang turned the rule of democracy on its head, declaring that the election in which Amaechi polled 19 votes and Jang polled 16 was won by the latter.
Not surprisingly, the rebellion against Amaechi was led by Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State who has earned himself a reputation as the chief motivator for the second term ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan. Of course, many would wonder at the desperation with which Akpabio has been pursuing the Jonathan’s re-election bid in the face of the President’s growing unpopularity. Considering that he only last year predicted that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would remain in power for another 50 years, Akpabio’s reputation is by emerging political realities.
Besides, the Akwa Ibom State governor is fighting an emotional battle. In the build-up to President Jonathan’s presidential campaign about three years ago, I had done a piece as a columnist with Punch newspaper, in which I chronicled the numerous instances where campaigns championed by the governor had ended in fiasco. In the said piece, I had prayed that the campaign train of Jonathan would not suffer derailment with the overzealous involvement of Akpabio. The said piece drew the ire of some Akpabio supporters who bought spaces in the media to haul abuses at me.
Of course, they felt a sense of triumph as Jonathan eventually won the election. Lost on them was the fact that the massive goodwill Jonathan enjoyed in the build-up to the election would have dwarfed even the ill luck of Jabesh. Unfortunately, the situation is now different as evident in the loss suffered by the Akpabio camp in the just-concluded chairmanship election of the NGF. The once brimming bucket of the President’s goodwill has drained so much that he cannot even muster enough support from PDP governors to make his favoured candidate win the election.
Expectedly, many political observers believe the result of the NGF chairmanship election is a microcosm of the fate that awaits Jonathan and his supporters in 2015. There lies the plight of Governor Akpabio whose record of jinxed supports was worsened by last week’s election.
An abridged version of the piece is reproduced below for the records:
Nigerians with progressive bent are upbeat about the prospects of Jonathan’s emergence as the winner of the presidential race next year; a development many believe is guaranteed to change the political equation in which the presidency is literally the birthright of the major ethnic groups while the minority groups, including those of the Niger Delta on which the nation depends for survival would only enjoy the right to vote.
With the voice against zoning getting louder by the day from the most unlikely quarters, such as the North and other parts of the country where Jonathan’s candidacy would have suffered vehement opposition, the coast is getting clearer and clearer for Jonathan to transmute from the providential president he is now to one elected by popular will. Of course, fairness demands nothing less.
But my worries stem from the prominece Governor Godswill Akpabio is already enjoying among Jonathan’s supporters. The governor seems to have been having a running battle with ill luck. So much so that many people now tend to believe that enlisting his support in a mega venture like presidential campaign could amount to taking a risk.
Two years ago, the blossoming career of Nigeria’s former WBC heavyweight champion, Samuel Peter crumbled in the face of the mega support Akpabio mounted for him in far away Germany. As Peter’s title defence date with Ukranian boxer, Vitalis Klitchsko on October 11, 1998 drew near, the governor was at his vocal best, telling anyone who cared to listen that Peter was about to tap from his training, perseverance and determination to make the nation proud.
In the months ahead of Peter’s clash with Klitchsko, the governor threatened to lead a delegation to Germany to witness the fight. “I will be by the ring side in Berlin. When you see Don King (Peter’s promoter) by the ringside in Berlin, the next person you will see is me,” he said. Of course, Akpabio made good his vow to storm Germany. But what happened? Peter was battered by Klitchsko so much that he could not answer the bell in the ninth round. Klitchsko dethroned him as the world heavyweight champion!
The Akpabio government had a hectic time denying a story to the effect that the governor offered one of the state’s elder statesmen, Obong Donald Etiebet, the sum of $200,000 to embark on a trip overseas for medical treatment. The gesture later turned into a nightmare for the elder statesman as bandits stormed his house and carted the money away.
The day the Nigerian team played its opening match against Argentina in the World Cup soccer competition held in South Africa in 2010,Akpabio reportedly stormed the venue with a lorry load of cash he promised to dole out to the players if they won. But ill luck connived with ill fate to rob him the chance to celebrate with the Super Eagles as the South American team defeated them and the Nigerian team eventually crashed out of the competition at the group stage.
The lesson was, however, lost on some Nigerian journalists who converged on Uyo for a conference. According to the then chairman of the Lagos Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Mr Wahab Oba, the governor demonstrated his support for the journalists by giving them a million naira “in fulfilment of his promise to assist us for a project we are doing in Lagos.” But as the media men headed back to Lagos, they were kidnapped by gunmen who kept them for one week before they were set free by policemen.
With Akpabio now at the frontline of the Jonathan-for-President campaign, will the story be different?
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Vincent Akanmode