The inability of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Akwa Ibom to elect a new state chairman and other executive members of the party has thrown it into a fresh crisis.
The APC is holding its state congress nationwide today.
A meeting convened on Friday night at the Uyo residence of President Buhari’s aide, Ita Enang, threw up a major political surprise in the state, as a relatively unknown politician, Ini Okopido, was handpicked as the new chairman of the party.
Apart from being a younger brother to a former environment minister, Imeh Okopido, not much is known about Mr Okopido politically.
Other aspirants have, however, rejected Mr Okopido, describing the development as an attempt to foist a candidate on them.
One of the aspirants, as well as a serving official in the party executive, said Mr Okopido was “ineligible” to stand the election because, according to them, he did not buy the nomination form within 24 hours to the election as stipulated by the party guideline for the congress.
“I don’t accept it,” said Udoma Ekarika, a former commissioner for works in the state and one of the leading aspirants for the chairmanship position of the party. “We will contest the election. If we don’t, we will go to court.”
“Let all of us go to the field and test our strength, they cannot manipulate us again,” said Mr Ekarika, who is a medical doctor.
The meeting at Mr Enang’s residence was attended by the Managing Director, Oil & Gas Free Zone Authority (OGFZA), Umana Umana; the Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Nsima Ekere; a former petroleum minister, Don Etiebet; a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, John Udoedehe; and the senator representing Akwa Ibom South in the National Assembly, Nelson Effiong.
Apart from Mr. Enang, who is President Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters, other APC stalwarts who attended the meeting were a former military administrator of Rivers State, Sam Ewang, and the APC South-south woman leader, Rachael Akpabio.
An APC member who attended the meeting told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Udoedehe instinctively pointed at Mr Okopido and nominated him, after all the aspirants, including the one he supported, were rejected by the different power blocs at the meeting.
“I don’t want to claim the credit,” Mr Udoedehe said of the choice of Mr. Okopido as a consensus candidate.
“If you look at his character, he is a very amiable person. His character is not contentious. Everybody in the meeting accepted him.
“We want to mend fences, we want to put our party together so we can win elections,” he said.
One of the aspirants, Boniface Akang, said he felt disappointed and angry at the attempt to exclude him from contesting for the chairmanship of the party.
Mr Akang said he was yet to be issued with the nomination form after paying N100, 000 nomination fee to the party through a designated bank and sending the teller to the party.
“Nobody can lawfully exclude me as an aspirant in this congress,” said Mr Akang, a lawyer. “You can’t pick a consensus behind the back of the aspirants, otherwise our fundamental rights would have been encroached upon.”
The secretary of APC in the state, Effiong Etok, said the “consensus thing” was done without the knowledge and involvement of the party, and therefore the meeting at Mr Enang’s residence “didn’t have the blessing of anybody”.
“I doubt if Okoido bought the form. To the best knowledge of the party, we have not seen his form till this moment. Maybe, they will arrange the form secretly for him,” Mr Etok said, adding that the party leadership in the state rejected the choice of Mr Okopido as a consensus candidate.
The party congress, as at 2 pm, had not begun. By 2.30pm, some of the APC chieftains, together with the party secretary, Mr Etok, converged at the state secretariat of the party, along Atiku Abubakar Avenue, Uyo, where they presented Mr Ekarika, before a crowd of party supporters, as their “elected chairman”.
Before now, the APC in Akwa Ibom State was divided into two factions – the former minister, Mr Udoedehe headed one faction, while the other was controlled by Mr Umana and Mr Ekere.
Both factions had buried their differences before the recent APC ward congress and agreed to work together for the good of the party.