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Managing Political Disappointments: Lessons From Akwa Ibom

By Etim Etim



Eno birthday

An impressive collection of dignitaries gathered at the Worship Center, Uyo, on Wednesday for a thanksgiving service to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Akwa Ibom State governor, Pastor Umo Eno. There were songs, prayers and speeches from many, but it was Mrs. Ekaette Unoma Akpabio, wife of the Senate President, who surprised the crowd the most with her profound philosophical rendition.  

One after the other, she recognized the dignitaries and had something nice to say about them. Gov. Eno; former Governor Udom Emmanuel; former President Goodluck Jonathan; political leaders, clergies, business leaders and traditional chiefs were all present. Gaily dressed women added a peculiar hue to the colourful event. When she got to the immediate past governor of the state, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, Mrs Akpabio went spiritual and philosophical, drawing both laughter and applause from the audience.

‘’I am here to represent our leader, our father, the father of Gabriel Udom Emmanuel’’, she said, referring to her husband, adding, ‘’and by extension, I am the mother of Gabriel Udom Emmanuel’’. There were laughs and applause. In 2015, Gov. Akpabio invited Udom Emmanuel, then an executive director at Zenith Bank, into partisan politics and made him governor of the state in a typical Nigerian succession politics. She continued, ‘’I want to thank you, your excellency, our immediate past governor, Gabriel Udom Emmanuel, for propelling us to go to the center. If you had not propelled us; if you had not moved, Akwa Ibom people would not have been at the position they are today. So, I greet you Sir. God ordered your footsteps’’.

Mrs. Akpabio was essentially recalling the frosty relationship between her husband and Mr. Udom Emmanuel, and how that turned out to a blessing for Akpabio.  She was therefore grateful that God used Udom Emmanuel to ‘’propel’’ her husband out of Akwa Ibom politics into national politics. Now, soon after Udom Emmanuel succeeded Akpabio as governor, the relationship between the two broke down, something not uncommon in our politics. Akpabio had contested and won election to the senate in 2015, and so, the two men managed to keep their rancour from public knowledge for the first two or three years. In August 2018, Senator Akpabio decamped from the PDP to the APC, leaving his godson, Gov.  Udom Emmanuel in the PDP. A big political turmoil erupted in the state, leading to Akpabio’s failure to win a reelection to the senate in the 2019.

He became minister in 2019 and the political gulf between the two widened more and more. In 2023, he contested again for the senate, telling Akwa Ibom people that he would be the Senate President if he won. He won and, to the surprise of many, became Senate President, under APC while Eno became governor, succeeding Udom Emmanuel, under PDP.

Things now began to work differently. Eno discarded politics of war and quarrel, and reached out to Akpabio and others in APC, creating a never-seen-before political harmony in the state. Last year, Eno attended Akpabio’s inaugural ceremonies as senate president and since then, has been very deferential of the senate President. Akpabio has also reciprocated the gestures from the governor and yesterday, his wife represented him at the celebration to mark the birthday of Gov Eno.  This rearrangement of the contours of politics in the state therefore afforded Akpabio’s wife the opportunity to go spiritual yesterday.

Mrs Akpabio’s assertion that it was Udom Emmanuel who ‘’propelled’’ her husband to return to the senate and eventually become senate president is therefore correct, and reflects the depth of her spirituality. It’s a testament to an adage that says that when one door is closed, another is open.  If Akpabio and his successor had not fallen out, maybe he would still have remained in the PDP and would not have become Senate President. The quarrel catapulted Akpabio to seek relevance in national politics. It is a classic case of turning a disappointment into a blessing. An English adage says that. ‘’If life gives you a lemon, turn it into a lemonade’’. My own favourite saying which I have on my WhatsApp profile is, ‘’If you stumble on the dance floor, make it part of the dance’’. The Bible expresses it differently. ‘’And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good…’’ (Romans 8:28).

I was very pleased to hear Mrs. Akpabio, a devout Catholic, express her thoughts in this spiritual context. She had come to understand that her husband’s fight with his successor was his stepping stone to a higher responsibility. That’s why she told Udom Emmanuel yesterday, ‘’God ordered your footsteps’’. Many people have their own experiences of how personal disappointments have turned out to be a blessing. I have mine.

Whatever the disappointment that you face, look carefully, another door is open, or ajar. I will therefore advise Barr. Nyesom Wike and Mallam Nasir el Rufai to turn their quarrels with their successors into opportunity to do nobler deeds. There are other open doors for everyone out there!

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