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IKONO/INI FEDERAL CONSTITUENCY SEAT: STRICTLY A THREE-HORSE RACE

As the contest for Ikono/INI Federal Constituency seat intensifies with strong moves and arguments by three camps, the incumbent member, Engr. Iboro Ekanem, helplessly contend against two strong forces of Obong Emmanuel Ukpong-Udo and Mr. Victor Udofia. The contest, strictly a three-horse race, has been adjudged by political analysts as unique and one with the least number of aspirants in the state and with clear penchant for zoning by all. DARLINGTON UDOBONG and MARTINS INYANGETOH x-ray the intrigues surrounding the contest.

Given the spate of aspiration by political office seekers across the state, one would have expected many aspirants to show interest in the coveted Ikono/INI Federal Constituency seat as the 2019 election draws closer.

Surprisingly, the reverse is the case. Outside the incumbent, who is seeking a second term, the ring has just two ‘generals’ for the contest. They are the Political Leader of Ikono, Obong Emmanuel Ukpong-Udo, fondly called Macaire, and the sitting two-term State House of Assembly member for Ikono State Constituency, Mr. Victor Udofia.

For the incumbent, Engr. Ekanem, and his strong challengers, Obong Ukpong-Udo and Mr. Udofia, they must first cross the nomination hurdle of their party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to be given ticket to stand election. What that means also is that the party is everything for now. But there appears to be a leeway should any of the contenders feel betrayed by the party. That leeway could be the option of moving their finance and supporters to the opposition party, the All Progressive Party (APC).
THE PARTY LINE
Zoning of political offices, particularly the Federal House; State House of Assembly, and Chairmanship seats for the area is completely in the hands of the party. And Barrister Moses Akpan, the PDP Chapter Chairman, says he will adhere strictly to zoning as championed by Governor Udom Emmanuel and the report of the 2019 Zoning Committee, also known as micro-zoning or internal zoning, set up by him for the sake of justice, equity and fairness.

THE ZONING AGITATION

Though politically divided into three zones of Ikono South (Four Wards), Ikono Middle (Four Wards) and Ediene/Itak (Three Wards), Ikono Local Government Area, traditionally, has four clans with Ikono Clan being the largest. Ikono Clan covers the entire Ikono Middle, three Wards in Ikono South and even extends to five (Odoro Ikono) of the 10 Wards of the sister local government, INI LGA. There is Ndiya Clan, which doubles as a Ward in Ikono South. And there are Ediene Clan, which covers two Wards, and Itak Clan, which is made up of a Ward.

Regarding the contest for the House of Representatives’ seat, it appears Ikono Local Government Area may be heading to a free-for-all contest, from all indications. But according to the established zoning arrangement, which has also been revalidated by the 2019 Zoning Committee, it is still the turn of Ikono South to complete the eight year tenure, which will terminate in 2023, before the seat goes back to INI Local Government Area.
On the zoning issue, when contacted, the State Legal Adviser of PDP, Barrister Goddy Umoh, said “I am the Coordinator of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s reelection Campaign in Ikono and as such I would not want to make any remark regarding the zoning issue in Ikono. Please bear with me. Thank you.”

The Local Government Council Chairman, Mr. Itoro Columba, tactically avoided making remarks on the issue as he neither responded to text messages nor whatsapp message. His phone line was also forwarded and restricted from taking calls.

The PDP Chapter Chairman, Barrister Akpan, sees no point debating on the issue of zoning. To him, internal zoning (micro-zoning) has always been an established accord for the area. According to him, “The zoning of political offices has been an established thing and the argument on whether which zone should take what would not have been a topic for discussion but for the inordinate ambition of Victor Udofia, who now sees himself as a colossus and a man that should live permanently in government. That is the thinking of the people.”

But the incumbent House of Assemblyman, Mr. Udofia, in the guise of Concerned Citizens of Ikono, says otherwise. According to him, “At no time in the history of Ikono and INI has the Ikono/INI Federal seat been micro zoned to any area due to the fact that 21 Wards make up the two LGAs. It is always a case of the emergence of the people’s choice. Rt. Hon. Victor Udofia has clearly distinguished himself as a lawmaker, good representative and humanitarian and therefore deserves to be given a higher responsibility on the basis of antecedents, experience, performance, pedigree and acumen. His achievements speak for him and therefore the people should be allowed to make their choice as to who represents them in the national assembly.”

Obong Ukpong-Udo sees wisdom in Barrister Akpan’s argument: “PDP has history from 1999. And from that 1999 when the zoning of political offices in Ikono started, we had the TABAS Accord. It was later revalidated in 2013 during the tenure of Chief Etim Inyang (Ukarakpa Itak Ibibio) as Chapter Chairman of PDP to Agatha’s Accord. Today, the Agatha’s Accord has also been revalidated by the Dr David Akpan Ntuk-led Zoning Committee. It will be revalidated again in 2023 by whoever will be the Chapter Chairman of PDP then. So, there has always been internal zoning of political offices in Ikono Local Government Area. The last beneficiary of the Agatha’s Accord is Mr. Itoro Columba, the Chairman of Ikono Local Government Council. The Agatha’s Accord zoned the Chairmanship to Ediene/Itak with particular reference to Ward 11 and that is why Itoro Columba emerged. The same Agatha’s Accord brought Victor Udofia (Ikono Middle) to the House of Assembly and Barrister Moses Akpan (Ikono Middle) as PDP Chapter Chairman.”
On this premise, Mr. Udofia challenged Barrister Akpan, saying “This is totally unacceptable in Ikono. Party faithful hereby challenge the Chapter Chairman to come out clean by proving beyond reasonable doubt that this fraudulent Committee doesn’t have the stamp and handwriting of Emmanuel Ukpong Udo, one of the aspirants for the Ikono/INI seat boldly inscribed on it. Can the party Chapter Chairman prove otherwise?”

Responding, the PDP Chapter Chairman, said “I am from the same Ward with Victor Udofia and I do not see any reason for me to be against him. But at the same time, I am in charge of the entire local government when it comes to PDP and I have to listen to the people of the area. I am in total agreement with what the people are saying, through the report of the Committee. It is commonsense that at the completion of Ikono turn and whenever it will return from INI to Ikono, it will rest in Ikono Middle. The argument of the aggrieved is not zoning, but micro-zoning. The political implication of what Victor Udofia is trying to do is to create anarchy in the state. Zoning is a cardinal agenda of the party. You cannot zone the Governorship and not zone other offices. The expectation of Victor Udofia would have been for the Committee to keep the position of the Federal House seat open for all. If the Governor says do zoning, and people have been given the task to do zoning, would you now expect them to fold their hands and do nothing?”

In his own remark, Macire said “Ikono South has the largest vote in the local government area and it should not be deprived of its right to keep the House of Representatives’ seat for eight years. So we have to obey the already established zoning arrangement and its revalidation for peace, justice and equity.”

N5MILLION GRATIFICATION

On the allegation of lopsidedness and N5Million gratification to the Zoning Committee, the incumbent Assemblyman said “Reliable party sources on conditions of anonymity have disclosed to us that the Chapter Chairman has pocketed a whooping N5Million to ignore the stakeholders of the party in Ikono and also been promised the Chairmanship position of Ikono when it goes to his zone and also been assured by the kangaroo zoning committee that the position of the LG Chairman will be allotted to his zone in 2021 after delivering on the given assignment by his cohorts. Chief Akpan, having also received gratifications from majority of the aspirants, decided to set up a kangaroo committee barely two months to the party primaries to orchestrate his self serving agenda. This shows that the Chapter Chairman is a puppet on a string, dancing to the tune of his pay masters to the detriment of the peace, decorum and tranquility that exists in Ikono.”

On the allegation, Barrister Akpan immediately reacted, saying “The issue of N5million bribe rests entirely in the figment of the imagination of those alleging. If they have tangible fact, they should come out and prove it.”
Obong Ukpong-Udo also rejects the allegation. According to him, “For people to say that Macaire paid this and that is unfounded. The Ikono PDP Chapter Chairman is not from my zone. He is from Ward-3, Ikono Middle, where Sir S. U. Akpan and Victor Udofia are from. So how could I have paid him to do zoning and sell out his zone, what will he tell his people? If you want to know if I paid money to the Zoning Committee, go and get the report of that Committee and see for yourself and do your own finding. And do not forget, before this time there was a committee set up by the State Governor, called Strategic Committee. The Committee has invited us twice on the issue of zoning.”

THE 2019 ZONING COMMITTEE

The Zoning Committee, which was set up by Barrister Moses Akpan, has nine members representing the three zones of the Local Government Area with three members each from Ikono Middle, Ikono South and Ediene/Itak. They include Dr David Akpan Ntuk (Chairman), Akparawa Charles Umoh (Vice Chairman), Chief Itoro Okoruen (Secretary), and Barrister Stephen Okunnyang (Proof Reader). Others are Dr Idotenyin Etokobong, Dr Godwin Udofia, Hon. M.P. Udoh, Hon. Friday Ubeng and Mrs. Idorenyin Okon as members.

To have a violent-free election that will reflect equity justice and fairness to the three zones, the Committee was saddled with the following terms of reference: To gather all relevant facts and evidence that shall help in arriving at a workable zoning structure. That in doing this, all relevant stakeholders and opinion leaders from Ikono shall be invited to bear their minds on such matters as it affects this subject matter. That previous zoning should also be x-rayed and any mischief arriving there from should be treated to afford a smooth zoning and rotation among the three geo-political zones in Ikono.

Consequently, the Zoning Committee in their conclusion and recommendation zoned the House of Representatives’ seat to Ikono South for a single term starting from 2019 to 2023. Ikono State Constituency seat was zoned to Ediene/Itak for a single term also, starting from 2019 to 2023. And finally, the Chairmanship seat was zoned to Ikono Middle for a single term, starting from 2020 to 2023.
Again, reactions trailed the 2019 Zoning Committee. Bittered by its composition and recommendations; Mr. Udofia said “The attention of party delegates and lovers of equity, fairness and democracy in Ikono have been drawn to an overt plot by the PDP Chapter Chairman, Barrister Moses Akpan, to circumvent laid down democratic processes to protect his selfish interest and favour a particular candidate in the build up to the Ikono/INI House of Representatives’ elections in 2019.

Delegates sensing foul play have unanimously risen to protest and speak up against alleged perceived micro zoning by a kangaroo committee fraudulently and maliciously set up by the Party Chapter Chairman without consultations with critical stakeholders of the party in Ikono. Why on earth would the LGA Chairman, State House member, National Assembly member and state officer of the party who are key stakeholders of the system not be consulted as regards the constitution of the committee if nothing was fishy?”

The PDP Chapter Chairman, Barrister Akpan, explained “Members of the Zoning Committee were properly constituted and inaugurated in the presence of the sitting House of Assembly and Federal House members and other key stakeholders of Ikono Local Government Area. Three members were nominated from each of the three zones that make up the Local Government Area. A report from the committee was submitted to me as the Ikono Chapter Chairman of PDP. The seeming problem is from those who feel they have money to pay political jobbers to rubbish the integrity of the Chapter Chairman in which case they were not favoured in the zoning arrangement as submitted by the committee. I had no input in the decision of that committee and I never had a hand in the conclusion of that Committee. Members of the committee are still alive and they can be contacted to prove this fact.”

He went further to say “According to the report, the truth remains that in 1999; the position of the House of Reps came to Ikono and rested in Ediene/Itak through Hon. Ikwo Inyang. She served for eight years. When the seat went to INI Local Government, it rested in Ikpe for eight years. Returning back to Ikono, the seat went to Ikono South and it is expected that it should rest there for eight years. Should people have any misgiving with the representation of the current occupant of the seat, Engr. Iboro Ekanem, a replacement should not be from any other zone but the same zone. That is the conclusion of the report.”

In its conclusion, the Zoning Committee, in furtherance of the pursuit of zoning as a lasting panacea to the promotion of equity, justice and fair play amongst political zones in Ikono, and after taking in consideration the input from major stakeholders across Ikono Local Government Area, zoned the House of Representatives’ seat to Ikono South (2019 – 2023), State House of Assembly to Ediene/Itak (2019 – 2023), and Chairmanship to Ikono Middle (2020 – 2023). The Committee also said that recourse should be to other issues bothering on political balancing of power in order to ensure that no political zone is left out of the power equation in Ikono.

THREAT TO LIFE

The House of Representatives’ contest has taken a new dimension of threat to life. Findings revealed that the PDP Chapter Chairman, Barrister Akpan, has tabled a threat to life petition against Victor Udofia before the State Director of State Security Service; State Commissioner of Police, and the State Governor.

According to the petition, Victor Udofia, at about 8:18a.m of Friday, June 22, 2018, called Barrister Akpan, “starting in clear terms his bitter displeasure about my handling of party matters, chiefly among such matters is the constitution of a Zoning Committee to ensure fairness, equity in the activities building up to 2019 general elections.”
In his petition, Barrister Akpan said “I therefore wonder aloud why Hon. Victor Udofia should call and threaten me that if I do not bck down on upholding the Zoning Committee’s report, what had befallen a former Chapter Chairman, late Barrister Benjamin Udo Ekpo, will also befall me. He even stated that he knows the people that assassinated the deceased. Quite sickening is his open threat to collect forcefully my car, which he voluntarily presented to me during his empowerment programme on April this year. Having been properly serviced by me to be motorable and also registered in my favour with the licensing authorities.”

Though receipt of the petition by the security agencies was confirmed, Victor Udofia, on the other hand, denied ever threatening Barrister Akpan.

BATTLE IN THE SOUTH
Within Ikono South, the contest is between Macaire and Engr. Ekanem’s performance.
Though the incumbent House of Representative member could not be contacted as at the time of this report, Macaire, when contacted and asked why he sought the office, said “Consideration of office is based on performance and acceptability. When you say allow somebody to complete term, it is like I am trying to get something that does not belong to me. The mandate of Engr. Iboro Ekanem belongs to the people and so it is the people that will decide. Not just the people of Ikono but the entire people of Ikono and INI that will decide. And you know it is not easy for you to take something from a man who has done well. The whole thing is liken to a football match. If a player is under performing, it is ideal for such a player to be changed.”

“Why I am in the contest is because we know that Engr. Iboro Ekanem has not done well and I can beat my chest to that. I am in the contest not as Macaire or as someone that wants to cause trouble but as someone who wants to protect the course of his people. If I do not come in, I do not see the strength of Engr. Iboro Ekanem against Victor Udofia. Do not forget that in politics, interest and godfatherism are involved. And let me shock you, if Victor Udofia was from Ikono South, I would not have been in the race because it would have been a contest between two incumbents. But I am seeing him as someone that wants to distort the established zoning arrangement of the area through bloodshed and infighting.”

Macaire further said “Before I accepted to run for the office, I had weighed the options. I am going in to salvage the yearnings of my people. Let Victor Udofia come from Ikono South, and tell his people that he has performed and if the people say he has done well, then I do not need to contest for an election. My motive for leadership was not for election.”
A LOOK AHEAD
From the report of the Zoning Committee, the contest, which has been narrowed down to Ikono South, might be between Engr. Iboro Ekanem and Macaire.

But since 2002, the contest for the House of Representatives has been tied to that of the State House of Assembly, with particular reference to zoning. Whether or not it will get complex as the PDP primary stands a few months away, is uncertain. Though there has been no open alignment yet by most of the House of Assembly aspirants, not much might change if the report of the Zoning Committee is strictly adhered to.

Going by popular opinions of the people of Ikono, most being prospective delegates, it is not difficult to predict who will get the PDP ticket for the House of Representatives’ seat and subsequently fly its flag in the 2019 election.
If the truth must be told, going be interactions with Ikono people, Engr. Iboro Ekanem does not have the capacity to win the PDP nomination let alone the general election. Already, it is clear that the people are with Macaire which puts him in a commanding and winning position given his legendary philanthropic nature, astuteness and sagacity.
Again, as alleged, Engr. Iboro Ekanem’s incumbency, Abuja connection, money may not be of advantage to him due to his established non-performance. But if the people of Ikono, as it appear, continue to stand by Macaire, then he is simply unstoppable. He will virtually walk over his lone challenger. If otherwise, then Macaire has a battle on his hands.

Ikono/INI Federal House contest is, indeed, an interesting contest to watch.

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