Politician, educationist and businessman, Senator John James Akpan Akpanudoedehe had fought and prevailed in many political battles as a young man in his native Akwa Ibom State. Indeed, at the advent of the Fourth Republic, he had prided himself as a sort of child prodigy always able to overturn the disadvantage to his favour.
Not only had he overturned the odds in winning election as council chairman, he had also against the tide won election into the Senate despite stiff challenges set against him. He was to crown his heroics in 2007 when he marshalled the internal opposition in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to stop the then governor, Obong Victor Attah from positioning his son-in-law as his successor.
As Chairman of the campaign organisation that brought Godswill Akpabio as governor in 2007, the suggestion that Senator Akpanudoedehe would stem his inclination to political rebellion was far-fetched. Not even his appointment as a minister could stop him.
“I am not blowing my trumpet, but when it was difficult to speak, I became their voice,” he said of his decision around 2008 to pull away from Governor Akpabio and become his leading critic. “At that time by 5.00 p.m. people would go to bed and it was even difficult at that time to even whisper to your wife as if the government was hearing what you would say,” he said in an interview in his Abuja residence of the faceoff with the then governor that eventually forced him to leave office as Minister of State of the FCT. Akpanudoedehe had before then served in the Senate between 1999 and 2003 during which time he was also a thorn in the flesh of Akpabio’s predecessor, Obong Victor Attah.
After stepping down from President Umaru Yar‘adua cabinet in 2008, he became the face of the opposition to the politics and policies of the Akpabio government. First from within the PDP, and subsequently from the then Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN on whose ticket he vied as governorship candidate in the 2011 elections.
The 2011 battle was epic and bloody. Lives and property were lost in the battle for the soul of the state. Scores of state owned vehicles were consumed in an arson attack state officials alleged was instigated by Akpanudoedehe. The former senator was charged for treason, understandably for his efforts to bring down the ruling regime. The case, however, collapsed.
However, the senator made a mark as a number of his supporters especially from his Uyo Federal Constituency won the 2011 legislative elections on the coattails of the ACN governorship candidate. Akpanudoedehe claims that the ACN won seven seats in the House of Representatives election that year but that all but one seat was taken away from the party by the PDP; while a number of seats also won in the State House of Assembly were also taken away from the party with the exception of one in Uyo where according to him it was impossible for the PDP to steal.
Senator Akpanudoedehe finds it bemusing that several of the henchmen of Akpabio like his former deputy Nsima Ekire, the former Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Umana Umana who according to him battled him to near stupor in furtherance of Akpabio’s political agenda have almost taken over the soul of the opposition party now shaped as the All Progressives Congress, APC.
“All these people now claiming to be in APC were eating from the same pot of soup with Akpabio. Can you believe what they are now coming to say about Akpabio? They built houses while there, they got everything there. Umana left because he was almost anointed as governor until Akpabio pulled the rug from his feet,” he told Saturday Vanguard.
Though the senator is quick to admit that he was also at one time in the PDP, he, however, asserts that he left the PDP when it was in power both at the state and federal levels saying he made sacrifices. Noting the need for oppositionists in the country to be resolute in their criticism of the ruling party, he said it would help to give shape to the country’s democracy.
“…I think after a while we will come to that level where Nigerians will come to the position of staying where you are and fighting from the opposition. Why are you rushing to another party if you so believe in Nigeria? It is so funny. Stay and develop party politics, let us have a platform. When we come we will know this man this is what he believes in.”
“I am not against those coming in for whatever reason, I don’t question people. I was in the PDP but I left it when it was in power and it was quite juicy at that time; Akwa Ibom was the richest state in Nigeria and that was when I left because I would not allow criminality and looting of public funds. And who are these people? The same people who were part of it. If you go to Uyo you will see the kind of houses they live in. When did they build them? When they were in government!”
“For example if some government officials at that time now say that they want to probe Akpabio, is that possible?” Senator Akpanudoedehe is particularly miffed by what he claims as the aggregation of his former enemies in the former PDP who have converged against him and his associates in the APC in Akwa Ibom. Even more perniciously, he claims that the new APC members who crossed over just before or just after the 2015 elections have apparently poisoned the mind of the party’s national leadership.
That fear is reflected in the claim that those who championed the interests of the PDP until recently have now become the leading crusaders of the APC and have apparently grabbed all the juicy positions that came from the Federal Government to the state.
It is a claim that finds resonance not only in Akwa Ibom but also in a large swathe of the political landscape. The senator affirms that many of those now in authority at the national level of the party seem to have forgotten the role he played as a member of the merger committee and the roles played by his new adversaries in his APC to frustrate the change.
“These were actually die-hard Akpabio elements, people who wanted to die for Akpabio when I spoke against so many things that were going on in that government. They never supported it, rather they wanted me dead because it was in their own advantage; the same thing that they are doing now.
“For crying out loud, how can you come out now and try to berate Akpabio? Why didn’t you see Akpabio as bad then? I tell you, these are facts and they cannot campaign against Akpabio. “Have you heard any of them campaigning against Akpabio? They have never. If you want to take over government from Akpabio, you have to say something different, you cannot be campaigning as if you are still with Akpabio. You must tell Akwa Ibom people what they are suffering from.”
Senator Akpanudoedehe was understandably miffed by reports that he had been sanctioned by the state chapter of the APC, blaming recent defectors from the PDP for an action he claimed was crooked in the manner and style of the PDP of yore. Asked why he was sanctioned by the ward executive of his party, he said: “What happened was the manipulation of the defectors with some powerful friends of theirs in the APC. APC being a marriage of very different groups not tied to one ideology, because I could not even imagine that the people we suffered with in the trenches would abandon the altar of faithfulness to what they are doing today.
“When they started, I understand that they organised people who were not my ward executive and they concocted allegations against me. “When those who decamped came, Umana and others came, the disappointment we got was that the state executive which was supposed to be neutral but because of long years of poverty being in the opposition they were easily swayed by money.
So, they bought them,” noting that the whole venture was directed towards preparing for the 2019 governorship election. “The whole thing is on how to get the soul of the party for 2019 and they think that getting me out will be the way out,” as he blames his political rivals in the APC, Ekere, Umana and other defectors for his woes. “Nsima Ekire, never wanted opposition to exist.
I keep saying that in 2011 he would have done anything for Akpabio. While we were preaching against the government, they were supporting Akpabio.” Summarising his recent experience in the hands of the new APC members just crossed over from the PDP, he said: “I describe them as someone who comes into your house and goes straight to the fridge and asks you, the owner of the house, what will you take?”
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