Politics in Nigeria is very local. Forget what happens in Abuja. It is at the home front or states that candidates make or break their political career. This fact is what lead to the defection of Senator Godswill Akpabio to the ruling APC from the PDP.
The immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom must have felt completely marginalized by the current governor, Emmanuel Udom. This wasn’t supposed to happen because Udom was Akpabio’s handpicked candidate who succeeded him.
Godswill Akpabio is not just another senator. In the Senate, apart from being the minority whip, he belongs to the all-powerful caucus of former governors who have a lot of influence in the Senate.
The timing of his defection was very bad for the opposition PDP. Nigeria News reported PDP was still basking in the euphoria of being the major beneficiary of mass defection of lawmakers away from the ruling party when the Akpabio setback hit them
At first, the idea that a principal officer from the South-South, a strong PDP base, was going to defect to the APC was simply incredulous and beyond belief.
But the wedge between Udom and Akpabio was too entrenched to be dislodged. Something had to give.
It is almost an exact replica of what happened between Akpabio and ex-governor Victor Attah whom he succeeded. Victor Attah, against all odds, made sure Akpabio became the PDP candidate in the 2007 gubernatorial elections.
But once Akpabio became governor and got comfortable, it was a matter of time before Attah felt sidelined. What happened was predictable. The two men fell out.
On the face of it, Akpabio’s defection is a big deal. It was such a big deal that the ‘common sense’ Senator, Ben Bruce Murray, was apoplectic when he specifically mentioned Akpabio the day the NASS was invaded by masked SSS agents.
As far as Murray was concerned, Akpabio was part of a group of rogue senators who were planning to illegally impeach the Senate President on that day.
Comically for Murray, Attah was nowhere near the scene as he was hundreds of kilometers in Akwa Ibom getting set for the huge rally as part of events to mark his defection to the APC.
Senator Murray’s faux pas should not be taken in isolation. Many PDP senators were angry and felt betrayed by Akpabio.
But for most of them, that anger had nothing to do with Akpabio’s reasons for defecting. In the larger scheme of things, PDP was relatively unhurt by the move as far as elections in Akwa Ibom State are concerned.
In the politics of the country’s senate, the loss of Akpabio was huge. PDP really need the numbers to cement their position as the dominant party. Akpabio’s defection meant one less vote in a house that is split almost 50-50.
In his home base Akwa Ibom State, Akpabio doesn’t have that much political capital the APC could count on. This is why.
Senator Godswill Akpabio is from the minority Annang in the state. Out of 30 LGAs in the state, the Annang people control only 10. The dominant Ibibio tribe control the rest.
As a matter of fact, Akpabio’s emergence as Governor was shrouded in controversy. Victor Attah had to arm-twist and bribe the PDP to force them to accept somebody from a minority area as the governor.
The Annang people would always be grateful to Attah for making that happen even though the two men fell out later.
Senator Akpabio naturally won the Senate election for the PDP in Akwa Ibom South West Senatorial district. The 10 local councils in his district are dominated by the Annangs.
But it is doubtful the people of these local government areas would vote for the APC in the presidential elections. The chances of that are very slim as long as the Governor, who is from the majority Ibibio tribe, remains in the PDP.
Akpabio might still win the Senatorial seat since his people are likely to back him to the hilt. Even if his Senatorial district decided to vote APC in presidential elections, it is still not going to make much impact in the overall result in the state.
Akwa Ibom State at the moment, even without the Annang people, is overwhelmingly PDP. And the non-Annangs have the numbers to give the state to the PDP in national elections.
In other words, come 2019, Akpabio is more likely to win the election in that Senatorial district. At the moment, there is no Annang person sufficient stature, politically, to challenge and successfully defeat him.