By Etim Etim
APC presidential candidate Bola Tinubu came to Uyo last Monday to address his supporters in a large football stadium, made a few denigrating remarks against the State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, and left behind a maelstrom of vendetta politics, anger and churning emotions. Inside the ensuing fireworks lies the everlasting truth: people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. It is an immemorial axiom we should all take to heart. This is what Tinubu said at the rally: ‘’Akwa Ibom, you will not suffer again. That boy that brought Atiku here, that calls himself governor, tell him enough is enough. He lives in my backyard in Lagos. If not that we are one, I would have driven him away. I would send lizards, scorpions and alligators to drive him from Lagos…’’. Phew!
I was stunned as I watched the whole thing on TV, and my initial reaction was that of anger and revulsion at such a barrage of insults dealt on our governor on our soil. Senator Godswill Akpabio was watching with glee, obviously cheering on Tinubu. Akpabio and the governor are sworn political foes. Other APC leaders in the state were on the podium, observing the macabre scene with apparent consternation. Although Tinubu is noted for his gaffes and misspeaks, this one was far below the belt, a verbal equivalent of scud missiles. The huge audience, that filled the 30,000-capacity stadium, was obviously elated, cheering Tinubu on for the first time in a long while, they have seen a man bold enough to put the governor in his place.
Reactions came quick and pointed. The governor himself was visibly agitated the following day at an event at Government House. Voice shaking, he said that the insults from the former Lagos governor were unwarranted, after all, when Tinubu returned from exile in 1998, he as a young bank officer, had helped to rehabilitate him by facilitating a loan for him. Information Commissioner, Ini Ememobong; PDP Campaign DG in the state, Chief Assam Assam, SAN, and the governor’s wife, Martha, have also spoken in irritation, calling out Tinubu. At a political event in Eket a few days later, the First Lady said, ‘’how can somebody come and vomit rubbish to a man who was ordained by God; a man that the whole world celebrates, a man that is known everywhere, a man that can enter a place that the old man cannot enter…’’. The people in Udom’s orbit, and indeed, the governor himself, are always boasting about his exposure, ‘’international connections, business schools attended and even his spiritual and financial attainments before he became governor’’. In a church service last year, the governor had announced to the congregation, in an apparent response to rumours of many crooked transactions in government, that he was not interested in pilfering from the treasury because he was already a wealthy man, earning over $1 million as yearly income before he became governor.
As a deaconess in Qua Iboe Church (the husband is a deacon), the governor’s wife is particularly irked by the reference to scorpions by Tinubu because the Bible assures that God has ‘’given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions…’ How then could Tinubu be so irreverent to contemplate driving the husband away by the use of some invertebrates the deacon should be treading upon? The metaphor is unsettling! But it is Assam’s response that carries a greater poignancy. He writes: ‘’by calling the political symbol, source of authority and identity of our people and state a ‘boy’, Tinubu has denigrated, insulted and stereotyped the entire people of Akwa Ibom State’’. About eight years ago when Candidate Udom Emmanuel was running for governor under the mentorship of Akapbio, Chief Assam, himself an aspirant, protesting against the undue advantage Udom was enjoying from Akapbio, had launched the most vicious attacks against Udom, including unearthing hidden disgraceful secrets about Udom’s parents. It is therefore a tribute to the transiency of political quarrels in the state that both Chief Assam and Gov. Emmanuel are now dining together.
Gov. Udom Emmanuel himself is also fond of releasing uncouth remarks and encouraging denigrating jokes. He had once described Akwa Ibom people in a radio interview as ‘’illiterates’’, bragging that he had attended the best business schools before Akapbio plucked him from Zenith Bank to impose on the people. Soon after Akpabio decamped to APC in 2018, the governor was fond of saying at public events: ‘’Some people came from Lagos in a night bus to pick up appointment in the state, and then became governor. Tell them that that I came in a private jet’’. It was an oblique reference to his predecessor. Two years ago, Udom Emmanuel had hosted Senator Dino Melaye and a few PDP leaders in his office in Uyo. A video soon emerged of Dino making a mockery of Senator Godswill Akpabio at the event and the governor having a good laugh at the jokes. Just two weeks ago at a PDP presidentially rally in Asaba, Melaye was seen making a jest of Tinubu, singing, dancing and falling on the podium, acting as a frail, unhealthy man, in an apparent jest of Tinubu. The parody was so distasteful that a Civil Society Organization issued a statement, condemning the act. But Udom Emmanuel, who is the Chairman of the PDP Presidential Campaign, was obviously having a good laugh and enjoying the skit. So, why is the governor now peeved that Tinubu has paid him back in the same coin? Does Udom Emmanuel not know that if you live in a glass house, you should not throw stones?
I am not sure that dishing out insults to political opponents do win votes. Tinubu and Atiku have spent the last few months insulting each other, yet there’s no proof that their polls numbers have changed. Instead, the APC candidate is becoming more and more petulant, blaming everybody, including the Presidency for his wobbly campaigns. The reason Tinubu’s insults are particularly jarring to the governor is because it is coming from an external source and so far, not a single ordinary citizen has risen in his defence. Chief Assam referred to Tinubu targeting the ‘’political symbol, source of authority and identity of our people and state’’, but the people, buffeted by hyperinflation, cost of living woes, fuel crisis and elusive new banknotes, are not interested in joining to fight in Udom’s war. I think the governor has lost the sympathy and support of his people. Someone wrote on Facebook just yesterday, ‘’What’s my business with Udom’s problems with Tinubu? Did he remember us when he collected billions in Derivation revenues from the federal government?’’
Etim is a Journalist and Political Analyst, writes from Abuja