Freedom Ibritam is a former police officer and lawyer who is deeply involved in the politics of Akwa Ibom State, especially from his local government, Ukanafun where he is seen as a political leader and force to reckon with.
He spoke with TNN on the zoning controversy in Ukanafun.
Let’s have an insight into the politics of Ukanafun as it concerns zoning principles. What has it been before now and what do you think will be the shape of things in the days ahead?
The little I know about Ukanafun and Afaha; Ukanafun has two clans and Afaha has three clans. That is one. We don’t want to look at the clans. I will like to look at the blocs in Ukanafun and Afaha. I was born to hear of the fight involving Udom of Idung Nneke and Frank Umoren. People were butchered and Frank was sent to jail when he wanted to murder Udom. Along the line, when both gentlemen came back to peace talk, Umoren and Udom reconciled and we were all happy that they had reunited. Since then, the fight between Ukanafun and Afaha stopped. We thank God for that.
So, the zoning principle started at that time. For example, if Ukanafun is producing a local government chairman, the next turn will be Afaha. That principle has been maintained for sometime now and it has not been breached. Though because of greed, some people try to go against that principle and you know once someone tries to circumvent that principle, what will happen is that people will die. But God will not allow that to happen.
So, since we started operating the zoning system, there has been no fight in Ukanafun. For example, like the House of Reps seat, what used to happen is that if it comes to Ukanafun as a local government, the people will sit down and consider the two blocs and zone the seat. Usually, it is shared between Ukanafun and Oruk Anam. Anytime it comes to Ukanafun, a particular bloc will not dominate it.
We started with Eno Akpan in Afaha. When it came back to Ukanafun, Sabbath Obot got it, from Ukanafun. Now that it came back to Ukanafun as a local government, even though Ukanafun people were trying to criticise Idem Ultimate(Unyime Idem, the current occupant of the seat), that he is from Ikot Inyang Abia…you know that constitutionally, once someone has lived in a place for up to 10 years, he is qualified to contest an election there. That is why Idem Ultimate, people like us did not bother because he grew up in Afaha, even though he is still doing a lot in Ukanafun; but that is not the issue. Obama is from Kenya but he later became the US president. He contested the election as an American. So, as a learned person and somebody who is well lettered, I look at it from that point of view. Idem Ultimate is from Afaha and he contested for House of Reps. Emman Ukoette had set that precedent of two terms and what we are trying to hear…Idem is supposed to go for a second term if he has done well and if he has not done well, then an Afaha person will take over to complete the two terms, before Oruk Anam person will take it. So, if it moves into Ukanafun, then an Ukanafun person will then take it for two terms, because it was an Oruk Anam person that started it. But we are told that Ukanafun people have vowed to drag it with Idem. That is what we don’t know yet, even though people are saying it is not a seat for Ukanafun and Afaha, but a seat for Oruk Anam and Ukanafun. So, they want to bring in sentiment.
I am told that the late Udo Ekpenyong entered into an agreement with Idem that Idem will do one term from Afaha, then his son will go for one term from Ukanafun. I do know that if we allow that precedent to continue, then anytime it will leave Oruk Anam and come back to Ukanafun, Afaha and Ukanafun will be sharing one term each. That is what it means. But if they allow Idem to go for a second term, or any other person from Afaha, when it returns to Ukanafun, it means Ukanafun also has the right to go for a second term. This is how the thing is supposed to be considered.
Then the house of assembly, that one is strictly an Ukanafun matter. There is no contention on that one at all. Akpan Mkpa(the current PDP state chairman) had wanted to try going for a second term. Senator Godswill Akpabio, when he was governor, had wanted to give him the ticket for a second term but major leaders from Ukanafun-Prosper and Eno Akpan-they went to see Akpabio and told him that there is a zoning covenant in Ukanafun and that nobody goes for a second term. So, they said to avoid blood- letting, Akpabio and Akpan Mkpa agreed that there would be no second term for Akpan Mkpa. Akpabio then appointed him commissioner as compensation. That is how Akpan Mkpa handed over his structures to Otobong, from Afaha. So, for Akpan Mkpa to accept to drop his second term, when he was already sure of getting it, that meant that second term is a no go area in Ukanafun. We are hearing as rumour that Charity Ido (the current occupant of the seat) will like to try a second term. I know there are advantages of going for a second term but since we are from Ukanafun, it is dicey. Since we already have this strong zoning principle, to allow peace to reign and to avoid blood-letting and fighting, I will also say that it will be good for everybody to honour the zoning arrangement. That is the way I look at it.
So, are you afraid that if the zoning principle is not followed, there may be killings in Ukanafun?
I am not saying so because if God intervenes…what I am saying is that since Akpan Mkpa did not insist on collecting the ticket from Akpabio when it had already been given to him on a platter; in fact there were plenty of youths from Afaha that supported Akpan Mkpa, but the elders insisted that he must not go. Akpan Mkpa left it to avoid killings. The point is that once somebody goes for a second term, he will also like to go for a third term and then a fourth term and so on. Greed does not allow people to reason well. If you go to the north, there are people that seek to contest for a fifth term. But we don’t have that system here. Left for me, if Ukanafun wants to go for a second term, then Afaha will also go for a second term, but mind you, before you know it, somebody will like to go for a third term. So, I think since we are just coming out of the crisis in Ukanafun that turned all of us into refugees, we should maintain this tempo first because you may not know what will annoy the youths or even the elders. In places where there is understanding, we can say since four years don’t even take time, let’s allow for the second term. But in doing that, the youths may be angry and before you know it, the entire place will be on fire. So, since Akpan Mkpa had stepped down and allowed the zoning based on a single term mandate to continue, I think that we should respect it. Then anytime this is to be altered, it can be altered just after someone’s first term election, when the atmosphere is conducive, then the leaders can call for a confab between Ukanafun and Afaha, where they will talk and agree on a second term so that people agree and set a time for it to begin. But when somebody is still in that office, enjoying rice and stew, and you are bringing the idea of adjusting the arrangement to suit the person, then it will show that the occupant of the office is architect of the new arrangement, to favour them.
Obasanjo tried to amend the constitution to give himself a third term and that was why people ganged up against him and the agenda. That was why it failed. The timing was wrong.
So many people are not happy. It will be difficult to convince many people who had started planning to go into politics in 2023 based on the existing zoning arrangement, for them to drop their ambition. There are many people who are already lined up, waiting to contest in 2023. But my own is that they should allow Ukanafun to be in peace. We have just recovered from the crisis that forced people to flee the local government. So many people have committed their resources, knowing that they will run for an election in 2023. They may not want to listen.