The April 23, 2022 ward congresses of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa Ibom State are crucial as they are likely to signal things to come in the primaries which begin two weeks later
By Inemesit Ina
The races for the nomination of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa Ibom State for various positions are getting frenzied. Aspirants, fresh from buying nomination forms, are stepping up consultation of statutory delegates. They are chasing votes everywhere. And given the high demand for their votes, the delegates, in turn, are clearly enjoying their status as the stars of the show presently, what with huge benefits.
The concentration on the statutory delegates now is because they are the ones known. The other set of delegates, the ad hoc delegates, constitute an unknown quantity for now. They would be elected at ward congresses scheduled by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP for Saturday, April 23, 2022.
Interestingly, ad hoc delegates actually determine the primaries. Hence, in a matter of days, attention would shift to the ward congresses which would essentially constitute a dress rehearsal of the primaries which start on Saturday, May 7, 2022 with the House of Assembly contest. Put quite simply, whoever triumphs in the ward congresses is likely to run away with a victory in the race or primary.
Ad Hoc Delegates as Kingmakers in Primaries
Statutory delegates are mostly past and present public and party officials as determined by the PDP constitution. In each Local Government Area (LGA), they are usually more than the ad hoc delegates whose number varies (like their statutory counterparts), depending on the number of wards in each LGA. The ad hoc delegates are elected three per ward, one of who must be a woman, in each of the 329 wards created by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Akwa Ibom.
Despite their lesser number, the ad hoc delegates make all the difference in the primaries because of the typical manner of their emergence. As experience has shown, it is possible for a powerful individual, usually a favoured aspirant or a godfather, to unilaterally choose all the ad hoc delegates in a LGA. As a result, the ad hoc delegates normally vote as a bloc in support of their principal, unlike the statutory delegates whose interests are often varied. In choosing the ad hoc delegates, emphasis is usually placed more on loyalty than spread among villages constituting the ward such that there were instances in the past where a husband and a wife or two brothers emerged as two of the three delegates from a ward.
The Purposes of Ward Congresses
In the PDP, ward congresses are held for different purposes. They are either held to elect Ward Executive Committees (WECs) of the party or to nominate local government councillorship candidates or to elect delegates who would, in turn, elect Local Government (Chapter) Executive Committees and State Executive Committee or nominate chairmanship, House of Assembly, National Assembly and gubernatorial candidates.
The last sets of ward congresses held in Akwa Ibom were in March and August 2020. The first set was about WECs while the second one was about the local government elections.
The forthcoming one, which would be the last in Governor Udom Emmanuel’s tenure, is about the 2023 national and state elections.
Trajectory of Ward Congresses in Akwa Ibom
In the beginning, ward congresses in the PDP, which berthed Akwa Ibom in September 1998, were openly elective. All party members lined up to vote in what was termed Option A4, an invention of the aborted Transition Programme (1988-1993) of the former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.).
But chaos, violence and bloodshed often characterized the congresses. In nearly all wards, there were scenes of blood, sweat and tears. The 2001 congresses to elect WECs were particularly bloody. Some died while many were injured.
That marked a turning point in the history of PDP ward congresses in the state. From thence onwards, there were no more open contests to choose ad hoc delegates, apparently, to avoid violence. Officially, consensus became the option. But in not a few cases, consensus was merely a euphemism for imposition in actual practice. Many powerful or wired persons began to write or compile lists of delegates. It became a survival of the fittest. The strongest or most connected pushed through their lists, overpowering or outmaneuvering their less-fortunate opponents.
The contest of lists characterized the ward congresses held in July 2002 for the local government elections and in December, that same year, for state and national elections. It was, however, not a game of winner-takes-it-all everywhere. In some cases, the PDP’s state leadership got the contending forces to harmonise their lists. It was easy to do that since most of those forces supported then-Governor Victor Attah’s re-election bid.
The August 2006 ward congresses took a different dimension. Everything was up for grabs including the governorship ticket. Many House of Assembly members and other Attah loyalists decided to go it alone. They got the party’s leadership to publish, on the notice board at its state secretariat, lists of ad hoc delegates that were clearly skewed against their opponents including governorship aspirants. This writer recalls tense moments when some stakeholders searched in vain, with shock, anger and anguish, for their names on the notice board. In frustration, a number of them used their pens to blur and mutilate the lists before walking away, muttering curses on whoever caused their omission.
With the general outrage, the lists could not survive for long. Atuekong Don Etiebet and a few other governorship aspirants opposed to Attah’s heir-apparent and son-in-law, Dr. Udoma Ekarika, succeeded in getting the PDP’s national leadership to quash the lists. What followed were harmonised lists that reflected all interests. That harmonisation was certainly responsible for the stiff competition witnessed in all the primaries in December 2006.
Then ward ad hoc delegates were as many and unwieldy as 25. Changes in PDP constitution in subsequent years pruned the number to a manageable size of three.
If Attah’s loyalists failed in 2006, loyalists of his successor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, did not eight years later. Their lists prevailed in all 31 LGAs of the state after the November 2014 ward congresses. Other governorship aspirants tried and failed to get the PDP’s national leadership to change the lists.
But Akpabio’s loyalists, who supported Udom, the heir-apparent then, were thrown into panic by the unexpected. A couple of days before the first primary in early December, the election panel sent by the party’s national leadership arrived the state reportedly with lists of ad hoc delegates favouring one of Udom’s opponents, Mr. Okpolupm Etteh, then the Leader of the State House of Assembly. The rumour spread like wildfire so much so that aspirants for House of Assembly and National Assembly tickets trooped to Etteh’s house at Osongama Estate in Uyo, pledging loyalty and seeking support.
The rumour, however, turned out to be false. Akpabio’s lists were subsequently used for all the primaries.
The Likelihood this Time
Normally, by now, all camps have probably prepared or are preparing their lists of would-be ad hoc delegates for adoption during the congresses. Such lists are usually prepared not only to favour the governorship aspirant but also the House of Assembly and National Assembly aspirants on the slate of each camp. In many instances, it is actually the re-election-seeking House of Assembly member or his challenger who prepares the lists for all aspirants in their camp in his LGA, with the assistance or guidance of other aspirants, godfathers and foot-soldiers, since he is supposed to be the closest to the grassroots with a good knowledge of who’s who in every ward.
For obvious reason, most of the House of Assembly aspirants and majority of the National Assembly aspirants today openly support the Governor and his heir-apparent, Pastor Umo Eno. Their only point of divergence is their contending ambitions in many cases. Very few aspirants openly identify with Eno’s rivals in the governorship race. Some prefer to stay neutral for now, concentrating only on their ambitions.
There are reports that nearly all the governorship aspirants are already apprehensive that the forthcoming ward congresses are likely to produce loyalists of Udom and Eno. Some are said to be planning to get the PDP’s national leadership to exclude ad hoc delegates from voting in the primaries, believing, rightly or wrongly, that they stand more chances with the statutory delegates. It is possible that they are merely waiting for the ward congresses to hold, dispute the outcome and then proceed to Abuja to agitate for the cancellation of the congresses and exclusion of ad hoc delegates. Some of their supporters are already convinced that ad hoc delegates will not vote. They point to the last two PDP governorship primaries in Anambra and Ekiti States where only statutory delegates were allowed to vote following disputed ward congresses.
Such strategy may or may not work in Akwa Ibom. In politics, anything is possible. Miracles do happen. As one of the state’s greatest political orators, late Senator Etang Umoyo, used to say, “there is no finality in politics.”
But what those predicting the Anambra and Ekiti possibility in Akwa Ibom, perhaps, fail to understand or acknowledge is that the situation is not the same. In other words, borrowing the Nigerian Pidgin English lingo, Akwa Ibom no be Anambra or Ekiti. Those states had no incumbent PDP Governors. It is a fact of life that Akwa Ibom has an incumbent PDP Governor who cannot be wished away. He is undoubtedly one of the pillars of the party at the national level with a big say on party activities including the forthcoming primaries. From the look of things, it would take a miracle to exclude ad hoc delegates in the state from voting, except he agrees which is a remote possibility.
In fairness to Udom, he insisted on the use of consensus, in which all interests were accommodated, in past congresses. It remains to be seen if he would stick to consensus this time.
But one thing is likely – the ad hoc delegates would again be kingmakers in the primaries.