A peek at the political trajectory of the new Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State Government, Prince Enobong Uwah (Hammer)
Of the five appointments so far made by the new Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Pastor Umo Eno, the one that has resonated most with the people, far and wide, is that of the new Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prince Enobong Uwah, more popularly called Hammer. It has been greeted with applause across the state. “A well-deserved appointment” is what is being said generally. There are hardly sour grapes or voices of disapproval.
Obviously, from public opinion, Eno has got it right on the choice of SSG.
Climbing the Ladder
Since his political debut 21 years ago, Uwah, 54, has steadily climbed the political ladder from the bottom rung. Today, he has earned a place at the top rung. From a rookie politician, he has grown to become one of the biggest names in Akwa Ibom politics.
Fresh from an eight-year sojourn in Lagos, Uwah got his political baptism in 2002 when he bought nomination form to contest the chairmanship primary of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Uyo Local Government Area (LGA). He might not have been among the contenders then but that baptism launched him into the politics of Uyo and the state. Then politics in the state capital was polarised into two contending factions led by Obong Rita Akpan, a former SSG, and Senator John Udoedehe, a serving Senator at that time. Uyo politics revolved around the duo. To be relevant, one had to be either for Mma or John Akamasio (the senator was interchangeably called Etukudo Akamasio then). There were very few politicians in the middle ground. Uwah was one of them.
Subsequently, the former geography teacher and son of two retired and deceased school principals participated in the re-election campaign activities of Governor Victor Attah in 2003.
But it was Uwah’s alliance with his long-time friend, Isantim Kenneth Okon (Wayas), that gave him a firm foothold in the politics of Akwa Ibom. Then, Wayas, who styled himself “the Commander of both seen and unseen forces,” virtually dictated youth politics in the state (some say till now) and most youth leaders were allied to him. Uwah started out as the Chairman of the Uyo Local Government (LG) Youth Council and soon rose to become the Deputy National President of the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN).
In the run-up to the 2006 PDP gubernatorial primary, the triumvirate of Wayas, Hammer and retired Captain Iniobong Ekong (Ikwafang) became the most gritty youth combination, if not the final solution. The two leading aspirants, Dr. Udoma Ekarika and Barr. (later Chief) Godswill Akpabio, lobbied hard for their support. In the end, they cast their lot with Akpabio, who they were already familiar with. Akpabio had been a hero of sorts to many Akwa Ibom youths since his appointment as Commissioner for Petroleum Resources by Attah at the age of 39 four years earlier.
It was Attah, as Governor, who started youth empowerment in politics but Akpabio took it to the zenith after he succeeded Attah in 2007. It became almost a state policy. And it was understandable. When most commissioners, legislators, local government chairmen, monarchs, elders and contractors deserted Akpabio between September and December 2006 after he lost favour with Attah, who preferred Ekarika, his son-in-law, only the youths were left. Akpabio’s campaign became almost a child’s play. But the youths stood firm and delivered him in the primary.
An appreciative Akpabio handsomely rewarded the youths with unprecedented political appointments. Many were appointed Special Assistants (SAs) and Personal Assistants (PAs) while some became local government chairmen and even commissioners.
Uwah, for instance, was appointed Special Assistant to the Governor on Protocol (Abuja). In 2010, he resigned to contest the PDP House of Assembly seat for Uyo State Constituency. He lost the election, the following year, but that did not stop his political rise. After Akpabio’s assumption of office for a second term, Uwah was appointed the Commissioner for Environment and Mineral Resources. He served throughout the term, finding favour with the Governor. In turn, Uwah worked wonders, restoring the glory of the ministry which it lost after Attah’s first term. Under his watch, Akwa Ibom became one of the cleanest states in Nigeria, what with his ubiquitous Green Brigade.
Uwah was one of the commissioners retained by Governor Udom Emmanuel in 2015. He was moved to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Renewal. But he was not done with wonders. The Dakkada State Secretariat Annex and the maternity ward of St. Luke’s Hospital, Anua, Uyo, are some of his wonders.
The following year, Uwah was dropped from the cabinet but he did not lose favour with the Governor. He was appointed the Chairman of the Uyo Capital City Development Authority (UCCDA), a position he held till his appointment as SSG on Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
SSG at Last
From 2013 to 2014, Uwah aspired to represent Uyo/Ibesikpo Asutan/Nsit Atai/Uruan Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. He set up a formidable campaign structure, looking like the man to beat. Suddenly, Akpabio asked him to step down for Dr. Michael Enyong (Babantan) who had unsuccessfully sought the PDP ticket with the Governor’s support in 2011. Accordingly, Uwah threw his weight behind Babantan against Ekerete, then the Chairman of Uyo LG.
It was rumoured then that Uwah was to be compensated with the position of SSG which became vacant in October 2014 following the resignation of Udom to contest the PDP gubernatorial ticket. That did not happen.
Again, for much of last year, it was taken for granted in political circles in the state that Uwah, who was the Secretary-General of the PDP Gubernatorial Campaign Organization for the third consecutive time (some politicians jokingly call him permanent secretary), will be the SSG once Eno became Governor. But towards the end of the year, a tussle began. For the first time in the history of Akwa Ibom politics, the position of SSG was contested for. At a point, some of Uwah’s ardent followers were not so sure anymore as about eight other names kept making the rounds. By appointing Uwah, Eno has unmistakably stamped his authority and ended the scramble.
The I-11 Days
Right from his entry into Attah’s cabinet in July 2002, Akpabio, with his charisma and oratory, attracted to himself scores of wide-eyed, fire-eating youth activists. His support base grew more when Attah pencilled him down as his running mate for second term in December, that year, after he had organised three hugely-successful pre-declaration rallies for the Governor with the help of youths. Akpabio’s subsequent role as the Chairman of the Rally/Mobilisation Sub-Committee of the Attah/Ekpenyong Campaign Organisation in 2003 further increased his popularity. It exploded in the subsequent three years when he held sway as the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. He was widely seen as Attah’s heir-apparent.
Propagating Akpabio’s cause in the streets was a group of nine very young foot-soldiers who called themselves I-9. They were Emmanuel Ukoette (Gani), then Attah’s PA, his (Gani’s)’maternal cousin, Anietie Johnny Ufot (AJU), Onofiok Luke, Michael James Etim (MacJoe), Ekerete Ekpenyong, Monday Eyo Okon (Murray), Emmanuel Ekpenyong Bassey (Iraq), Etetim Anwatim and Prince Ukpong Akpabio, Akpabio’s cousin and PA then.
With the entry of Wayas and Hammer, the group became I-11. The duo, much older than most of the nine, brought leadership and experience to the group.
For much of Akpabio’s first term, I-11, whose members all held sensitive political positions, collectively controlled youth politics in the state with Wayas at the apex. In some instances, a number of them called the shots politically in their LGAs.
Akpabio even practically handed over the 2012 PDP state congress to I-11 to run.
The group, however, disbanded in 2014 because of divergent interests over Akpabio’s succession plan. They went their separate ways politically.
From Champion to Leader
Throughout Attah’s regime, there was a perpetual struggle for control of Uyo politics between Rita Akpan and John Udoedehe. Rita, with the Governor’s support, clearly overpowered Udoedehe in Attah’s first term. During the second term, Udoedehe, with the Governor’s backing, indubitably gained the upper hand over Rita who became the Minister for Women Affairs and Youths.
In Akpabio’s first term, it was a three-way power struggle involving Udoedehe, who was appointed the Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, in 2007, Dr. (now Prof.) Chris Ekong (Hotrico), who became Akpabio’s Commissioner for Economic Development after serving as Attah’s Commissioner for Youth and Sports, and the youth alliance of Uwah and Ekerete, both Governor’s aides, and Murray who became the Vice Chairman of Uyo LG in 2008. Hotrico produced the LG Chairman, Dr. Chris Nyong.
In a Machiavellian style, Akpabio played one tendency against the other without completely pandering to one side till two of the tendencies were eliminated. In 2008, Hotrico was dropped from the state cabinet and later incarcerated. He was replaced by Udoedehe’s nominee, Samuel Efanga. Udoedehe, himself, was similarly dropped from the federal cabinet, the following year, allegedly at the prompting of Akpabio who had recommended him for the appointment. They fell out. There was a consequent realignment of forces. Ekere Afia, then the Member representing Uyo State Constituency in the House of Assembly and Deputy Leader of the House, switched support from Udoedehe to Akpabio and joined forces with Hammer, Ekerete and Murray to fill the power vacuum. Efanga also dumped Udoedehe and floated a group to independently work for Akpabio’s re-election till he was unceremoniously dropped as commissioner in 2010.
Thie power game in the state capital changed permanently during Akpabio’s second term. It marked the beginning of Uwah’s ironclad grip on Uyo politics. As commissioner, he took charge, installing his allies, Okon Joshua (Atiku) and Ekerete, as PDP Chapter Chairman and LG Chairman, respectively, in 2012. His control was consolidated in 2014 when he became one of the 31 champions named to midwife Akpabio’s succession programme in their respective LGAs. Uwah was not only able to deliver Udom in Uyo but to also deliver Babantan and Murray as House of Representatives and House of Assembly Members. It is to his credit that among the 31 champions, he is the only one today that the appellation still sticks.
Uwah continued his winning streak in 2016 and 2017 when he installed two of his key lieutenants, Idorenyn Orok and Elder Imoh Okon, as PDP Chapter Chairman and LG Chairman, respectively. Furthermore, between 2018 and 2019, he championed Babantan’s re-election and the election of Anietie Eka (against Murray at the nomination level) to the State House of Assembly.
Everything did not continue smoothly though. Uwah suffered a revolt led by Babantan and Murray. There was a move to wrest control of Uyo politics from him during the May 2020 PDP local government congresses. For sometime, his rivals appeared to triumph, producing the chapter chairman and other key party officials. Uwah looked beleaguered, if not subdued. But the setback did not last. His rivals came to grief in 2021 as Uwah regained control with the start of the Udom succession programme. He became the Secretary-General and Uyo Chapter Coordinator of the Maintain Peace Movement (MPM), the Governor’s personal political structure, effectively eclipsing any potent form of opposition to him in Uyo PDP. Before that time, Hammer had reconciled with Murray (he later relinquished the MPM chapter coordinator to Murray), isolating Babantan who had started his gubernatorial bid.
Faced with reality, some of the forces, that fought him for control of the party structure, orchestrated his proclamation as the Political Leader of Uyo on January 1, 2022 in what amounted to a supreme irony. As one of them explained to this writer, who ran into him at a public facility a few days later, they were merely legitimising what was in practice and which they were unable to change. His words: “Enobong has already been doing the work of Political Leader. All Uyo political meetings are held in his house. He funds the party. He has access to the Governor. If name was the problem and the only thing remaining, we have decided to name him the Political Leader.”
A Champion of Rapproachment
Uwah seems to have an uncanny ability to reconcile with his rivals. Some of the politicians surrounding him today used to be antagonistic to him in the past.
For instance, Murray, who is the Chairman of the Local Government Service Commission, works closely with Uwah as the Deputy Political Leader in a Granite Coalition (apologies to former President Muhammadu Buhari who coined the term to describe his 2007 electoral alliance with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar against late President Umaru Yar’Adua).
Interestingly, the LG Chairman, Dr. Uwemedimo Udo, whose nomination in August 2020 came directly from Udom and not from any Uyo politician m, had long placed himself under Uwah’s political canopy, in a deft move. He is fiercely loyal to the leader.
Before the 2023 elections, Uwah was able to bring back hundreds of defectors from opposition parties including Ekerete who had sojourned in the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) since 2015. And it appears his appointment as SSG would attract more of such defectors to the PDP. Among hundreds of well-wishers who attended the reception ceremony at his residence in Shelter Antique Estate, Uyo, after his swearing-in on Wednesday, were several members of the APC and the Young Progressives’ Party (YPP) in Uyo and beyond. Most of them were there long before his arrival for the event. It is possible that they see him as a route to return to PDP.
Uwah lost the 2011 House of Assembly election not really to Edwin Joseph, his opponent in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the precursor of the APC. Edwin was an unknown quantity then. His real opponent was Udoedehe, the ACN Gubernatorial Candidate. Gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections held the same day and Uwah and Udoedehe hailed from neighbouring villages, Atan Offot and Afaha Offot, in the same ward. Udoedehe had a cult-like followership in Uyo then and he easily swept the polls for his party in almost all parts of the state capital. Most people voted for his party without bothering to know who were his candidates for federal and state legislative seats. As a result, Edwin rode on Udoedehe’s coat tails to victory.
But Uwah turned the tables on the former senator 12 years later. A politically weaker Udoedehe, who contested the March 18, 2023 gubernatorial election on the ticket of an equally debile New Nigeria Peoples’ Party (NNPP), lost his ward (some say his village also) and LGA essentially to Uwah, the arrowhead and face of PDP in Uyo.
The champion was the star of the show this time like Udoedehe was in 2011. It was a complete role reversal.
Beside the Governor, Uwah, together with Murray and other Uyo PDP chieftains, was able to deliver his former aide, Uwemedimo Asuquo (Capo), as House of Assembly Member.
In early 2021, a very outspoken former State Chairman of PDP, during a state caucus meeting at Government House, Uyo, reportedly questioned the Governor then why he relied on the same few persons to execute major party assignments. He specifically mentioned Uwah and four others.
About a month later, in the course of researching for Chapter One (Nigeria’s Best and Largest Golf Course) of the book, The Seven Wonders of Akwa Ibom, this writer met Uwah at Ibom Golf Club, Uyo. As an aside, he was asked the secret of his staying power in the light of the query by the ex-party boss. “Consistency,” he replied pithily.
But from all indications, he was modest. He failed to mention loyalty, energy, zeal, tenacity, meticulousness, single-minded determination and track record of project delivery as other determinants of his staying power.
Now as SSG, armed with those attributes, he has his work cut out.