By Comrade Ini Ememobong
After the 2015 elections and the swearing in of the Governor, Obong Paul Ekpo used his influence to push for party loyalists and others who played critical roles in the election to be rewarded with appointments into different offices,as would be expected of any responsible state chairman. And he got a fair share, deputy leadership position in the state assembly, Commissioner, Chairmen and members of transition committees, aides to the governor etc. While he was excited at the stability and hope that these appointments signaled, unknown to him, this feat had earned him huge envy and hatred from some stakeholders. He continued with his work oblivious of the build up of negative emotions lying in wait, searching for the perfect ventilation time. Then came May 2016, time for the congresses to elect new leaders for the party at all levels. The process began with the appointment of the Local Organising Committee whose duty was to create an enabling environment for the conduct of congresses and to serve as a liaison between the state party and the congress committee of the National. The Governor as the leader of the party, had instructed that the materials be taken to the units and that all members and stakeholders should be involved in the election of the officers. He advised that consensus should be reached among stakeholders as to who should hold which office. They were to signal their agreement by all spending their signatures to a single document containing the names of those agreed upon. Any discontent was to be expressed in writing and considered by the Appeal’s committee. The stakeholders were pleasantly surprised that the Governor did not seek to control the process as was the precedence, where cronies were told to unilaterally submit names of Executives. The processes went on smoothly in almost all the local government areas. Done with the election of ward and chapter executives of the party, the theatre was set for Paul’s test to begin.
As a background to this, it will be safe to guess that, this was one of Paul’s most confusing moments, he wasn’t sure of who to talk with, wasn’t certain who was on his side and who wasn’t etc. He felt the heat, heard the many stories about him-all stories crafted in mud and painted in tar to demonize him beyond recognition. The paradox is that few months before then, all his adversaries were his friends and had absolute confidence in his capacity but months later, the same people, plus his ‘frienemies’ had forgotten all the positives associated with Paul; his return from the land of the dead made no sense to them, rather a political funeral awaited him, in their estimation. In fact, the single word that can convey the mood of that time is UNCERTAINTY, nothing was sure, not even the support of past benefactors and uplines. A memorable incident that aptly conveys this situation occurred during the re-election campaign for Barr Dennis who’s election was annulled by the court of Appeal. At the event held in Etinan, someone overheard Paul’s strongest backbone(by his estimation) whispering to the Governor, whom he sat next to, that he had withdrawn his support for Paul and that the Governor can pick anybody as the chairman. He added in quick succession that his main interest is in the selection of chapter chairmen and state officers, in his jurisdiction. Some of the moves were know to Paul, while most were unknown to him, but the heat was enough to raise his temperature to boiling point.
Back to the process, the stakeholders having been satisfied with the democratic way the governor handled the processes which birthed the ward and chapter EXCO, at the caucus meeting immediately after the LG Congress,the caucus unanimously agreed that the Governor be allowed to nominate any person of his choice into two offices in the State Working Committee( Chairman and one other office, which I will not mention in this article). So effectively, by the decision of the caucus, the power levers were narrowed to one source-the Governor. Understandably, the pressure also shifted there. Blackmails, conspiracy theories, predictable alignment patterns and doomsday forecast were unsolicitedly supplied to the Leader of the Party. Those with clairvoyant capacities predicted that when the time comes in the future for Paul to make a choice between his master who ‘made’ him and a brother whom he contributed in ‘making’, that he(Paul) would have very little hesitation in aligning with his ‘maker’.Both his traducers and ordinarily concerned People were disturbed. Paul himself was disturbed too, but for other reasons. Chief among the reasons being why the sudden change in perception from Paul the beloved and sought after, to Paul the suspected and avoided? Vintage Paul Ekpo, who can’t feel a thing without expressing same, he began to express himself. He confronted people he heard had spoken ill of him and one night he took his case to the leader of the party. As Paul would later discuss with me, he wasn’t afraid of losing the office, but didn’t understand why the sudden unwarranted and unprovoked attack. He wonders till date what exactly the triggers were.
At the Governor’s lodge, he met one of those he heard had ‘blackmailed’ him and engaged the man frontally on an issue alleged to have happened in Abuja and a hot exchange occurred. Just then the Governor entered the room and saw the tensed situation. He calmed both parties and asked the reason for the altercation. When he was told, he simply said to Paul, “Chairman, nko mma ubo fien aduok odudu, ke mfina ibagha. Ndaubed ado ndaubed”. Meaning chairman, I’d told you not to bother, there’s no problem at all, support is reciprocal . Hearing that, I guess gave him inner peace and a sense of victory, but as you know in politics, it’s not over until it’s over. Speaking on the subject later, he said that immediately the Governor gave him that assurance, he was sure the battle was over, because of his knowledge of the Governor’s integrity. He said “if the Governor doesn’t want to do a thing, no matter the amount of pressure and persuasion mounted, he won’t commit to it, but immediately he says a thing, he will do everything humanly possible to get it done.”
The Governor’s assurance did not quench the fire against Paul, as power-brokers and others were still engaging their gears and fashioning their tactics. As the day fixed for state congress drew near, the tension increased, but Paul became more relaxed and people were confused. On the eve of the State Congress, a caucus meeting was convened by the Governor. At the meeting, the Caucus received reports of the LG congresses and a vote of confidence was passed on the governor for transparency and his commitment to deepening internal democracy . It was time for the Governor to speak. He rose, stood behind his lectern , addressed many issues and finally announced the two offices conceded to him, starting with the Chairman, Obong Paul Ekpo, the entire hall erupted with applause. Standing at a vantage point, I could see the surprise on Paul’s face as he rose to acknowledge the cheers and receive the congratulatory handshake from the Governor. I guess in his mind he was wondering, are these not some of the people who opposed my emergence? Truly, failure is an orphan, while success is from a polygamous home.
On May 10, 2016 when Obong Paul Ekpo stepped into the Godswill Akpabio stadium, he exuded confidence and returned to the Paul we knew. He addressed the people and gave his score card, ending with the sentence, “this is my report, I submit myself for your assessment”. Of course, as history bears testimony, he was re-elected unopposed for a second term, thereby breaking the jinx and becoming the first State Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party in Akwa Ibom State to win a second term, without any controversy.
With this crescendo, on lookers will ordinarily think that the movie has ended with the usual postscript “and they lived happily ever after”, but not with politics with its many bends and turns. The main trial was enroute and the drama unfolding.
To be continued…
A Paul comes to Judgement: New wine, same bottle