Recently a friend mentioned an idea to me that I haven’t been able to shake: What if we do away with zoning and throw open the ball for all aspirants in the Akwa Ibom State 2023 governorship election?
Well, thinking about it, my first reaction was to smile – not because the suggestion was impractical but because some politicians would simply be uptight as that would effectively zero their chances of being handed the plum job on a platter since all their eggs had been dumped in the zoning basket.
But amid the uneasiness and tension – there are also perhaps a few politicians (one actually – Senator Bassey Albert Akpan) who would be going through his day-to-day tasks in a happy-go-lucky fashion, with the assurance that it is the people who would choose whom to lead them, not really on the somewhat ‘controversial’ mechanism in the name of zoning.
Zoning in politics is nothing new. It is not hard to absorb the significance of the concept. Zoning has fostered all-around developments in societies and ensured minorities’ voices are being heard. Simply defined as the rotating or shifting of political office(s) from one section to the other – sometimes based on regional, ethnic, or religious lines – zoning is what Akwa Ibom, as well as other sub-national units of Africa’s most populous nation, has been banking on to produce its leaders at the state, and other levels of governance. And as it is applicable in other concepts, zoning has its pros and cons. One prominent downside that immediately pops out is that it is capable of shutting out popular and credible candidates who probably could have outperformed their rivals in the contest.
Over the past few months, conversations revolving around zoning have ballooned into a full-grown debate. The media, both old and new, is awash with articles and opinions on the matter. The conversations have made the oil-rich state increasingly fragmented, with the different sides offering divergent partisan spins. Disagreements about whether the Hilltop Mansion’s seat should be micro-zoned to the Itu/Ibiono Ibom Federal Constituency has been simmering as far back as I can remember. As you might know, the constituency belongs to the Akwa Ibom North-East (Uyo) Senatorial District, one of the three districts in the state, with the other two being Akwa Ibom South (Eket) and Akwa Ibom North West (Ikot Eket Ekpene). While there is hardly any voice of dissent regarding the fact that it is the turn of the Uyo Senatorial District to produce the next governor, that unison dissipates and falls apart when talks of micro-zoning are mentioned. The ayes believe the minority constituency that is yet to taste the seat of power ought to be given a chance, but the nays disagree, opting for the contest to be thrown open to any aspirant in the Senatorial District. After all, they argue, it would eventually be ‘governor of Akwa Ibom’, not that of the federal constituency or even senatorial district.
In the light of the above, the zoning debate has given some thinkers a pause for thought: What if equity, justice, and fairness is put on hold or even outrightly called off? What if we throw open the gubernatorial battle in 2023 to allow for all aspirants in the Uyo Senatorial District to fight it out, and not blockade some people from the other two constituencies? What would be the chances for Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, who is representing the Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District at the Red Chambers, and is turning 49 today, 28 October 2021.
Questions like these don’t require serious brainwork. Senator Albert, a former banker who was in 2007 appointed to head the Finance Ministry in a South-South state, is a people-loving lawmaker that has given not just his constituents, but the people of Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria at large, an electrifying representation.
He currently chairs the Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), leads the Akwa Ibom Caucus of the National Assembly, and despite a raft of pressing challenges, has seen the successful completion of over 6,000 life-touching projects ranging from health to education to human capital development, has sponsored five Bills in the 8th Senate and six Bills so far in the 9th Senate, moved several motions of national importance including Motion on the need to curb the soaring rate of unemployment in Nigeria which Akwa Ibom State – although Governor Udom Emmanuel is trying his best to reduce the numbers – still has a lot of work to do.
In June, reeling out his scorecard in the last six years, Senator Albert said: “I had, two months into the Senate, built a model Constituency Liaison Office at Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo, the State capital, with full complement of staff to attend to constituents and provide feedback on impact and services. The centre has a-500 capacity Hall, which is used by our constituents free of all costs for their various events.
“Within the last 72 months, my office through the Centre has impacted the lives of constituents in the Senatorial District to the tune of over N360million in allowances and general services.
“I recall with gratitude to the Almighty God, our open Constituency Briefing and Empowerment Programme held on Friday, April 20, 2018, at Uyo Township Stadium, Akwa Ibom State. With the spectacle of its success, the event was dubbed “Mother of all empowerment not only in Akwa Ibom State but beyond.”
Despite the ship-jumping of his two colleagues and party members during the build-up to the 2019 polls, Senator OBA, as he is popularly known, stayed put, not only that, deployed his resources and teamed up with a few other staunch members of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to ensure that Governor Udom Emmanuel won his second term. Talk of loyalty and reliability. Those who can recall the tension in the air would agree that it was a high-risk gamble maintaining allegiance to the PDP, as clearly evident in the defection of the others. But OBA defied the pressure and relegated the idea of receiving perks that were to accrue to the defection. He refused to be pushed down the path marked ‘compromise’. His defection could have worsened the then-government’s already slim chances at the polls. The outlook, as at the time, had offered a terrifying glimpse of the future. But now is history.
Senator OBA is a past master at representation. Rather than being carried by the tide, he has proven again and again that he can chart a course where things seem impossible to the ordinary eyes. He has presented several petitions at the Senate including the one that brought about the reinstatement of a police officer who was wrongfully dismissed from the service for over 21 years and; and another that culminated in the reinstatement of a director who was wrongfully suspended from the service.
It is often said that behind every successful man stands a woman. The case of Senator OBA, a peace-loving father who acknowledges God in his ways, is not an exception, thanks to the prayers of Pastor (Mrs) Imaobong-Nkeiru Bassey Albert, his wife, who has been his pillar of support.
With that being said, Senator OBA is a much better successor and deserves to receive the baton from our incumbent governor, Deacon Emmanuel.
It is not that I no longer buy the micro-zoning narrative, or that I have washed my hands off it, but even without the concept, Senator OBA, stout-hearted as always, fits the bill.