By Etebong Akpan
Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District remains one of the largest senatorial districts in the country with three federal constituencies of Oron, Ikot Abasi and Eket comprising 11 local government areas. Since the return of democracy in 1999, the area which is also known as Eket Senatorial District has remained consistent, steadfast and loyal to its zoning principle and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In fact, the political catch phrase in the area is that ‘zoning is sacrosanct’. It has, therefore, in the spirit of equity and fairness kept faith with the PDP in its dealings in the National Assembly, especially the Senate.
Their zoning journey started in 1999 with Ikot Abasi Federal Constituency which thrust forward Senator Udoma Udo Udoma . He did two terms and relinquished the seat honourably to Mrs Eme Ekaette from Eket Federal Constituency in 2007. Senator Ekaette did only one term after losing her re-election bid to Mrs Helen Esuene; a former minister of environment. Senator Esuene despite her excellent performance was constrained from going for a second term because of the inherent PDP zoning arrangement in the area. She relinquished the seat for Nelson Effiong from Oron Federal Constituency in 2015. Senator Nelson Effiong later dumped the PDP for the rival APC and lost his subsequent re-election bid to Dr Akon Eyakenyi. Senator Eyakenyi , the current senator for the area, is winding up her services in the upper legislative chambers even as she has been nominated as the deputy governorship candidate of the PDP.
The circle starts again with Ikot Abasi Federal Constituency and the area after an internal micro zoning arrangement settled for Mkpat Enin Local Government area where Dr Ekong Sampson became the standard bearer of the party. The rival All Progressives Congress (APC) and Labour Party (LP) equally nominated their candidates from the area. The APC and LP candidates though formidable in their own rights do not pose a threat to the PDP and its candidate. They do not pose any threat because in Mkpat Enin, the political landmark and language aretainted with PDP. Being the largest local government area in the senatorial district, Mkpat Enin has long remained a centre of attraction for all the political parties contesting election in the state. However, at the end of the day, the PDP usually carries the day; so 2023 will not be an exception.
The only distraction in the senatorial district contest comes from the new Young Progressives Party (YPP) that has chosen to defy the existing zoning arrangement in the area by picking its senatorial district candidate outside the preferred federal constituency. Though the party and its handlers are yet to give any reasonable excuse for its action, its candidate, Akparawa Ephraim Inyang-Eyen from Onna Local Government Area,believes he is the candidate to beat in the election. Inyang-Eyen,a former commissioner for works in the state and until recently, the chief of staff to the state governor, is acting like the biblical Achitophel who went behind King David to anoint Absalom as the new king when King David his father was still alive. Christians knew how Achitophel and Absalom ended up. But then, aside the biblical metaphor, Inyang-Eyen though perceived to be very rich and benevolent has so many odds stacked against him. Number one, zoning does not favour him and secondly, his rival, Ekpong Sampson, is an old fox as far as elections and grassroots mobilizations are concerned. He has been a local government chairman, a two terms House of Assembly member and recently, a former commissioner in the state. This is the intimidating curriculum vitae that Sampson is bringing into the race. Sampson is a veteran journalist, lawyer and an author withso many titles to his name. He is a politicians’ politician. He is practical and patient, an attribute that masters of politics display sparingly. This makes him different from the ordinary politician because he knows when to make the right move as a typical chess champion.
Inyang-Eyen, though not favoured by zoning is loud but can hold his own anyway. Before he fell out with Governor Emmanuel, he was the governor’s right-hand man as he took all the political bullets meant for the boss then. How that relationship became sour is a topic for another day but for now, the chances of the zonal patron of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) is very slim. As long as he comes from Eket Senatorial District, he stands morally disqualified from the race. Secondly, coming from the same local government area with the governor has compounded his problem. Apart from the people being accustomed to voting PDP, they cannot toe a different path from the governor, neither would they accept to be the saprophyte nor the mole that will destroy the PDP and the orderly political arrangement in the area.
So Inyang-Eyen’s ambition is dead on arrival in his local government area, federal constituency and the senatorial district.The YPP does not have the structure or resources to deliver him. He may be tempted to believe that he does not need a structure to win the election. That line of reasoning is very deceptive because you would still rely on human beings to reach out to the electorate. This may sound very simple now but when the chips are down, it will be ‘to thy tents oh Israel’.
Apart from Eket factor that he is banking on, Ephraim Inyang-Eyen will meet his greatest disappointment in Oron Federal Constituency where he believes the YPP deputy governorship candidate, Asuquo Amba, would swing the votes for him. Amba is not on ground in Oron. The small leverage the party has there is through the wife who was the president-general of a foremost Oron Union and later an aide to the governor. These positions are however held by other people now and the new people are those enjoying the cut that the position gives. Incidentally, these new people are in PDP and they have all declared to go with the PDP and its candidates.
Moreover, sticking with PDP is the best bet for Oro people as any attempt for them to be a party to any scattering of the existing arrangement in the area will affect them the most in the long run.
As it is, PDP will win in all the 11 local government areas of the senatorial district with the YPP garnering at least 10 per cent votes generally. APC and LP will come a distant third and fourthrespecrtively.
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