By Umoh Joshua

Perhaps, for the first time since the creation of Akwa Ibom State, this year’s statehood anniversary celebrations came not with the characteristic appurtenances of flamboyant feastings and festivities. Occasioned by the desire to manage the exposures of the now ubiquitous COVID 19 pandemic, the Akwa Ibom State Government reasonably scaled down activities to just a few vintage events. Asides a thanksgiving service, Governor’s anniversary message broadcast, inauguration of a new Chairman of the State Council of Chiefs, an award event, flag-off of few projects, there was presentation of the state anthem, flag and emblem.

We, the people of Akwa Ibom State, were partakers of these festivities, physically, remotely or merely by association. Together, we shared in the joy of the present, partly because we shared in the memory of the past. Believe me, there is a nexus connecting our experiences in the past to our experiments in the present and to our expectations of the future.

This piece, in some constrained sense, aspires to reminisce our past experiences, reappraise our present experiments and consequently inspire a rethink of our future expectations. It seeks to interrogate the plausibility or otherwise of the recently kindled conversations about micro-zoning, in the build-up to 2023. Let us kick-start with the experience of the past.

The Past:
After the 1952 political maneuvers in the Western House of Assembly denied Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a foremost pan-Nigerian politician from the Eastern Region, the chance to be elected to the House of Representatives in Lagos, Dr. Azikiwe felt ethnically discriminated against and returned to the Eastern Region, where the N.C.N.C, his own party was also in control of the House of Assembly. His intention was to replace Prof. Eyo Ita, an Ibeno man from Calabar Province who was his second-in-command in N.C.N.C. and was leading in the Eastern House of Assembly at the time. There was an upset. There was a split. There were ethnic alliances and Dr. Azikiwe won in 1953.

It was that bitter experience that further inspired the non-Igbo of Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers (COR) Provinces to resolve to organize themselves for a state or states of their own. The COR Movement was sired, led principally by Dr. Udo Udoma and others. In 1967, Cross River and Rivers States were created out of the COR Provinces. In 1983, a memorandum demanding the creation of Akwa Ibom State was submitted to the General Buhari-led administration by the Paramount Rulers of the 10 LGAs that made up the mainland part of the then Cross River State. Nothing happened still. The agitations continued and on Wednesday, September 23, 1987, the age-long dream of those who desired a Mainland State of Ibibio, Annang, Oron and others with headquarters in Uyo, came true with the creation of Akwa Ibom State by General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.

Though Akwa Ibom State was officially partitioned out from the old Cross River State in 1987, the aspiration for statehood stretched as far back as the 1930s. It was certainly not a walk through the highway but a crawl through a labyrinth. It was a slow, steady, long and tortuous journey for the survival of a people.

At various defining moments in our collective past, Akwa Ibom State has been blessed with befitting leaders to steer its ship of state, either as military administrators or as elected governors. Col. Tunde Ogbeha was Akwa Ibom’s first military administrator and did his pioneering bits between September 28, 1987 and July 30, 1988. Between July 31, 1988 and September 5, 1990, Col. Godwin Abbe did his best to bring his predecessor’s plan out of the drawing board. When Abbe left, Idongesit Nkanga arrived as the first indigenous military administrator and turned things for good between September 5, 1990 and January 2, 1992. Same date, the first civilian Governor, Obong Akpan Isemin took over and began his revolutionary works, which were abruptly stalled by a military interregnum on November 18, 1993. On December 15, 1993, Lt. Col. Yakubu Bako began his time as the military administrator of the state and was replaced on August 21, 1996 by Joseph Adeusi, an Army officer who became the sixth Chief Executive Officer of the state. On August 9, 1998, Adeusi transmitted the baton to Group Captain John Ebiye, the witty, calm but strict disciplinarian who oversaw the military-to-civilian transition programme in the state.

With the return and subsequent entrenchment of constitutional democracy in Nigeria, Arc. Obong Victor Attah got elected and served for two terms between May 29, 1999 and May 29, 2007. That pioneering dispensation of visionary leadership, infrastructural renaissance and struggle for resource control was succeeded by an eight-year era of uncommon transformation and significant infrastructural development championed by another elected Governor, Chief Godswil Obot Akpabio, between May 29, 2007 to May 29, 2015. Then came the incumbent Chief Executive: Governor Udom Emmanuel.

The Present:
After a keenly contested election, Governor Udom Emmanuel took over the saddle of power on May 29, 2015, with a five-point agenda bordering on wealth creation, economic and political inclusion, poverty alleviation, infrastructural consolidation and expansion, as well as job creation. With the administration of Mr. Emmanuel now close to one and half years into its second term, the Government has brought in revolutionary leadership, massive industrialization and accelerated infrastructural development.

At 33, while the incumbent Governor of Akwa Ibom State is putting his nose to the grindstone in his efforts to better the fortunes of the state at a critical time like now, some political gladiators had since begun scheming for the Governor’s successor, ahead of the closure of his second term by May, 2023. One way they do this is to stoke certain political conversations intended to stir up the polity and galvanize sentiments in favour of their interests.
Let’s now interrogate one of such recently instigated conversations: Micro-zoning.

The Future:
Of late, some actors and gladiators in the state have sponsored a new conversation bordering on zoning and micro-zoning, with the subtle aim to court, coax or crimp palatable public sentiments for themselves or the interest(s) they represent.

While some elders and stakeholders believe the time is not yet ripe for 2023-focused discussions, some others hold the position that there is nothing to even discuss at all, as it is already common knowledge that the next governor of Akwa Ibom State will emerge from Uyo Senatorial District.

The later set are of the opinion that since the first round of rotation that coincided with the commencement of constitutional democracy in Nigeria commenced with Obong Victor Attah from Uyo Senatorial District (1999-2007) and continued with Chief Godswill Akpabio from Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District (2007-2015) and is wrapping up with Mr. Udom Emmanuel from Eket Senatorial District (2015-2023); another cycle of rotation should naturally begin with Uyo Senatorial District. The position is further stretched to imply that since Senatorial District with a mix of ethnic considerations sufficed in 1999, 2007 and 2015, any attempt to micro-zone the office to any specific Federal Constituency within USD by 2023 may tantamount to shifting the goalpost in the middle of a game.

Conversely, some elders from Itu/Ibiono Federal Constituency are of the opinion that since Uyo Federal Constituency in 1999 produced Obong Attah from Ibesikpo Asutan who served the State for eight years, the hilltop seat in 2023 should be micro-zoned to Itu/Ibiono Federal Constituency. Arrowheads of this proposition further argue that since Etinan Federal Constituency took a bite at the plum job in 1992 through the Late Obong Akpan Isemin whose tenure was aborted due to the 1993 military interregnum, Etinan Federal Constituency should just ‘calm down’.

Some stakeholders and elders of Etinan Federal Constituency have admitted that even though they are yet to meet as a bloc to decide their fate on their 2023 expectation, they strongly believe 2023 should afford them the opportunity to consolidate on the victory of Obong Isemin who was duly elected but was not allowed to serve, following the 1993 military take-over by Gen. Sani Abacha. Those in this school of thought believe Etinan Federal Constituency (comprising of Etinan, Nsit Ibom and Nsit Ubium LGAs) should be favoured for the role the Federal Constituency has played since after the premature abortion of Isemin’s mandate, in supporting others and deepening the fabrics of democracy in Akwa Ibom State.

Meanwhile, there are those from Uyo Federal Constituency who also believe the Federal Constituency may somehow still gain access to the hilltop scepter, by some stroke of luck.

To drive home their various persuasions, a few stakeholders particularly of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have begun to call on the incumbent Governor and the leadership of their party to convene roundtable talks to allow them vent their sentiments on the triune issues of zoning, micro-zoning or zero-zoning.

Weighing into this conversation, the Ink Newspaper, in its September 22, 2020 edition, reportedly submitted that while these conversations are ongoing, its checks revealed that the PDP would likely foreclose the chances of Uyo Federal Constituency joining the governorship race in 2023, but was likely to allow an open contest amongst contenders from Etinan Federal Constituency and Itu/Ibiono Federal Constituency and that a deputy governor would likely be picked from Oro Federal Constituency, while Ikot Ekpene may get Speaker of the State Assembly.

End Notes:
But as I begin to draw the curtains, let me let you interrogate for yourself the plausibility or otherwise of the mumbles over micro-zoning. Before one gets consumed in the ensuing hullabaloos in the days ahead, one may need to pause and intelligently ponder on some issues. Here are a few posers.

Micro-zoning, zoning, zero-zoning: What difference does it make? Is the time yet ripe for these conversations? If there were no micro-zoning considerations in 1999, 2007 and 2015, why now? What do the promoters of micro-zoning seek to gain? In 2023, what kind of leader is fit to lead the new Akwa Ibom? What should his or her qualifications and antecedents be?

My end notes therefore are: 1. Let us focus less on the next election but more on the next generation. 2. Let us border less on trivialities, banalities and mundanities but more on the basic requirements for good governance. 3. Let us argue less over cosmetic issues and think more on things that can better our lots as a people. And 4. Let our considerations for the next leader of a Post COVID 19 Akwa Ibom be hinged on these critical three: Character, Competence and Capacity.

God bless Akwa Ibom!


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