Godswill Akpabio, while he was the governor of Akwa Ibom, had declined a request from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to use a stadium in the state to host Muhammadu Buhari.
The incident has found its way back into public discourse in the state because of a similar one where the Akwa Ibom government recently said Mr Buhari will not be allowed to use the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo, for his campaign next Friday.
The incident under Mr Akpabio’s watch occurred in April 2015 when the then-governor was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He is now a chieftain of the APC.
Mr Buhari had just been elected president then, the first time in the nation’s history the opposition would unseat an incumbent president.
Several of Mr Akpabio’s political allies then, led by a former secretary to the state government, Umana Umana, had fallen apart with him and defected to the APC because of the then governor wanting to foist a successor – Udom Emmanuel (incumbent) – on them.
The APC in the state wanted to host Mr Buhari, the then president-elect, at the Uyo Township Stadium on April 9, 2015, apparently to shore up the party’s electoral chances in the state ahead of that year’s governorship election.
The APC governorship candidate in the state then was Mr Umana who is today the managing director, Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA).
Mr Akpabio-led government, through the ministry of youth and sports, said the stadium was not available for the APC because, according to them, the PDP had already applied to use the facility on the same date.
“You are by this letter, please requested to look for any other alternative venue since the stadium had already been booked and would not be free for April 9,” Nse Edem, a senior government official, said on behalf of the commissioner for sports, in a letter to the APC.
Akwa Ibom has two stadiums – the Uyo Township Stadium and the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium which was completed before Mr Akpabio’s administration ended in May 2015.
It is unclear why either the PDP or the APC did not use the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium.
Iboro Otongaran, who was the spokesperson then for the APC governorship campaign organisation in the state, reportedly said Mr Buhari’s visit to the state then could no longer take place because of the lack of venue to host him.
Reversal Of Roles
Today, three years after, there is a twist of irony and a reversal of roles.
Mr Akapabio, a senator representing the North East District of the state, is the new face of the APC in the state and has vowed to stop his successor, Mr Emmanuel, from winning a second term in office.
The Akwa Ibom government has just rejected the APC’s request to use the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium to host President Buhari who is expected in Uyo to flag off the party’s election campaign.
In the light of the fierce political battle for the 2019 elections, some people in Akwa Ibom see the state government’s action as Governor Emmanuel’s way of hitting hard on the opposition party, though the government has made another stadium – Uyo Township Stadium – available for the party.
The Uyo Township Stadium accommodates a far lesser number of people compared to the 30,000-capacity Godswill Akpabio stadium.
“The next season of the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) is scheduled to begin on January 13, 2019. In view of this and the fixtures of home matches for Akwa United FC, it will be practically impossible to ‘regrass’ the stadium for pre-fixed matches, if used for non-sports activities, because of the nature of pressure that such events bring on the pitch,” the Commissioner for Sports in the state, Monday Uko, said in a statement issued on Friday.
“Additionally, the maintenance contractor (Julius Berger) had also advised that the present atmospheric conditions being very hostile to the pitch, the facility should not be used for non-sport activities during this harmattan period, so as to avoid inflicting long-term or irreversible damage to the grass on the football pitch,” Mr Uko said.
The commissioner said the annual state-sponsored Christmas Carol night in Uyo took place in the Uyo Township Stadium, instead of the earlier proposed Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, because of the same reason.
The Christmas Carol night was held on Friday.
The commissioner added, “The stadium from its inception has been under a maintenance contract with Julius Berger Construction Company. They operate all the sensitive and non-sensitive components of the facility.
“They had closed for the year and proceeded on vacation (as it has been their usual practice) and are due to resume on January 7, 2018. The implication of this is that the technical capacity required to activate the venue is currently unavailable, and this is not within our control.
“The Ministry has however approved, in the alternative, the use of the Uyo Township Stadium for the event. We guarantee that the approved venue is in perfect condition,” he said.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the spokesperson for Mr Akpabio, Anietie Ekong, he declined comment on the matter.
Mr Otongaran, though no longer the spokesperson of the APC governorship campaign, is the deputy chairman of the publicity sub-committee of the APC campaign council in Akwa Ibom.
PREMIUM TIMES asked Mr Otongaran what was different between the 2015 incident and the current situation.
“We are dealing with a situation that is entirely different,” Mr Otongaran responded.
“We are now dealing with the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“In the other case, he wasn’t the president; he had not been inaugurated. To a large extent, he was still a private person. But today, we are dealing with the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who has the right to visit any part of the state to interact with people,” he said.
Mr Otongaran said the state government’s excuses for not giving out the stadium was “funny”.
He said Governor Emmanuel is known to have antagonised President Buhari on so many occasions.
“The stadium that APC applied to use is the property of the Akwa Ibom people, not the property of the governor or a political party. And the president of the nation is visiting Akwa Ibom to meet with the Akwa Ibom people.
”It is absolutely wrong that, as someone who is simply acting on behalf of the people, who own the stadium, the governor can deny their own leader, their president, the use of the stadium,” he said.