The dramatic nullification of the nomination of Umo Eno as the PDP governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom State by the Federal High Court in Abuja last week has left Governor Udom Emmanuel scrambling for options on how best to salvage his succession agenda. The governor had last January unveiled Eno to the PDP stakeholders as his anointed choice, a decision that infuriated many inside and outside the party, and left the PDP considerably weakened and divided. Senator Bassey Albert left the party and joined YPP with his supporters and picked up its governorship ticket, essentially breaking the PDP into two. Another aspirant, Mr Akan Okon accused Eno of certificate forgery and challenged him at the Federal High Court, Uyo. The case is making its way to the Supreme Court after Okon failed at both the trial and appellate courts. But it is Michael Enyong, a showy and controversial member of the House of Representatives, that eventually succeeded in dethroning Eno as the party’s candidate.
In a judgement delivered January 20, Justice Fadima Aminu ordered the PDP to submit Enyong’s name to INEC as its candidate. In a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1295/2022 filed in August, Enyong had submitted that he won the party’s primary held on May 25. Meantime, the PDP had since suspended its gubernatorial campaigns to attend to the unfolding drama. Most members are despondent, sullen and sad, some blaming the governor for the chaos on installing a colorless and unpopular Eno as the candidate. It is working hard with a team of lawyers to file an appeal against the judgment.
But it is certain that the Court of Appeal will not give judgment before the March 11 election, and it is doubtful if Eno will ever reclaim the ticket. It takes at least 12 weeks from the date of first hearing for the Court to reach a decision on such cases. This means that the PDP governorship candidate will remain Hon. Michael Enyong (alias Babantan). Many PDP members and leaders in the state do not have a high opinion of Enyong; and the thought of him as their governorship candidate is unsettling. “I did not even know Enyong as an aspirant’’, said Chief Nduese Essien, an elder stateman and PDP leader, when I sought his opinion this morning. He did not want to talk further because he was rushing out for an engagement.
But another PDP chieftain, Barr. Emmanuel Enoidem, was less diplomatic. “Babatan is a fraud, from beginning to the end. He did his own primary in house and went and deceived the Court to obtain judgement. The judgement cannot stand,’’ Enoidem shouted into the phone as soon as I raised the matter. He however, confirmed that although Babatan is on the ballot as the PDP candidate, the party will continue to campaign, hoping that the judgement would be upturned at the appellate court. Enyong is already busy in Abuja tidying up his new status. He has to serve INEC with the Court judgement, nominate a running mate and provide INEC with details of both himself and his ticket mate. So far, he has not uttered a word publicly on his plans for campaigns and his blueprint to the people.
On his part, Gov. Udom Emmanuel is seething with rage at both the PDP and its defunct candidate, Umo Eno. The governor believes that the party was derelict in not defending itself in the Enyong case and blames Eno for being “very naïve and inexperienced in politics and many other things’’.
“The governor is embarrassed, and is filled with rage and regrets’’, said a PDP chieftain from Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District. In December, a Magistrate Court in Abuja had entered judgement against Eno in a case of dishonesty filed by one of his former employees. Eno had failed to file a defence in the case, prompting the Magistrate to issue a Warrant of Arrest against Eno who had, however, appealed against the judgment. “Umo Eno has turned out to be the most problematic, damaged and unpopular PDP governorship nominee in the State since 1999,’’ said Isang Isatt, an ebullient politician and businessman.
But who is Hon. Michael Okon Enyong, the new PDP governorship candidate? He is a flamboyant politician who lived in the United States in the 1990s, and was romoured to be involved in sleazy businesses over there. When democracy returned in 1999, Enyong made frequent visits from the US to Uyo, his home town, and would be driving around the city in a convertible car, throwing out cash to folks at the city center. This endeared him to the youths and he often boasted that his wealth was as plentiful as the heaps of sand by the roadside, thus earning him the sobriquet, Babantan, which means ‘’father of sand’’. As an attestation to his acclaimed wealth, Enyong’s new luxury home in Uyo is a look-alike of the Buckingham Palace. White painted and imposing, it is the largest residential home in the state, located in Ewet Housing Estate, one of the upscale neighborhoods. It is not unusual for visitors to stop and stare at the building, wondering why it looks so familiar. A few years ago, he married for the second time, and the wedding was as ostentatious as it could ever be. In 2015, Enyong was elected into the House of Representatives under the PDP and he is currently serving his second term.
When Babantan bought the PDP nomination form early last year, many had thought that he was just playing his usual pranks. They now know better. As INEC is being served the court order that would facilitate the uploading of Enyong’s name in its portal, the governor pensively is weighing his options, one of which could be throwing his weight behind a candidate of another party who is least tainted in controversy and scandals.
ETIM ETIM Election Series (10)
ETIM ETIM is a journalist, banker and author. He has been a member of the Editorial Board of The Guardian, a Regional Manager in Access Bank and is currently a Columnist in Prime Business Africa, The Cable and Businessday newspapers.
He is also the Chief Executive of Stein Meyer Communications, a major media consultancy and the author of the best-selling book, "Akwa Ibom Heroes: Inside Story of the Fight for Abrogation of Onshore-Offshore Oil Dichotomy" and co-author of another book, "Osinbajo Strides: Defining Moments of an Innovative Leader".