Zoning of the local government chairmanship seats may be settled in 22 Local Government Areas but there is serious contention in nine others
By Inemesit Ina
In the run-up to the 2015 gubernatorial election, zoning was quite a contentious issue. Recently, with the possibility of a rerun election (before the Supreme Court judgment), it was resurrected with all sorts of arguments and counter-arguments.
Zoning is equally a contentious issue at the grassroots. It has always been and it is already so regarding this year’s local government election which must be held within six months (from January) as resolved by the State House of Assembly.
Modes of Zoning
There are four modes of zoning the local government chairmanship seat in Akwa Ibom – clan, bloc, community and clan/bloc zoning.
It is easy to zone the chairmanship seat on the basis of clan in eight Local Government Areas (LGAs) because the clans are clear-cut, contiguous, fairly proportionate and delineated into same wards. These LGAs and their clans are Uyo (four), Ibesikpo Asutan (two), Ikot Abasi (five), Mkpat Enin (four), Ika (three), Ukanafun (five), Ikot Ekpene (two) and Obot Akara (three). Clan zoning is still achieved in Etim Ekpo despite the fact that her five clans are mixed up in the 10 different wards.
Bloc zoning is in place in Itu, Ibiono Ibom, Eket, Esit Eket, Ibeno, Oruk Anam, Ikono and Ini because the clans there are disproportionate. In this mode of zoning, the clans are grouped into two or more blocs for balance.
This mode also obtains in four of the five LGAs in Oro Nation which has a different clan structure from the rest of the state except Eket and Esit Eket. The four LGAs are Oron, Udung Uko, Urue Offong/Oruko and Okobo. Oron LGA has three blocs while the other three have two blocs each. The same Oro clans, which are not contiguous, are spread across the five LGAs. There is a similar clan structure cutting across Eket and Esit Eket.
Bloc zoning is equally adopted in one-clan LGAs as Etinan, Nsit Ibom and Nsit Atai. Here the clan is sub-divided into two blocs or zones (Etinan and Nsit Ibom) or three blocs or zones (Nsit Atai).
There is a combination of the two modes of zoning in Uruan, Nsit Ubium, ONNA, Abak and Essien Udim. In Uruan and ONNA, respectively, one of the three clans is split into two zones to achieve four zones or blocs in the LGA. Similarly, one of the two clans in Nsit Ubium is split into two to make it three zones. In Abak, there is contention whether zoning should be done by clan or bloc with some politicians advocating a return to the old system of finding a way around the two. Zoning is normally done by bloc and clan in Essien Udim. But the clan where the chairmanship seat has been zoned to straddles the two blocs and this has thrown up an unusual problem never envisaged.
The fourth mode of zoning is by community. This obtains in Eastern Obolo and Mbo. It is also used partly in Ini where one-half of the 10-ward LGA has four clans (Ikpe, Itu Mbonuso, Iwere and Nkari) while the other half (Odoro Ikono and Ukwok communities) is yet to have a government-recognized clan. Odoro Ikono or Ikono North (three wards), in particular, is still an extension of Ikono Clan in the mother Ikono LGA. Zoning in Ini is, therefore, done both by bloc and clan/community.
The Settled Areas
Zoning of the local government chairmanship seat is settled at the level of the afore-mentioned modes in the following LGAs: Uyo, Ibesikpo Asutan, Uruan, Etinan, Nsit Ubium, Nsit Ibom, Eket, Esit Eket, Ibeno, Ikot Abasi, Mkpat Enin, Eastern Obolo, Oron, Urue Offong/Oruko, Mbo, Okobo, Etim Ekpo, Ukanafun, Oruk Anam, Ikot Ekpene, Obot Akara and Ini.
But beyond the modes, there is contention in almost all these “settled” LGAs about which ward should produce the next elected Chairman. Zoning of chairmanship seat, it appears, is almost being reduced to villages.
The Contentious Areas
The nine LGAs where there is no consensus yet on zoning are Nsit Atai, Itu, Ibiono Ibom, ONNA, Udung Uko, Abak, Ika, Essien Udim and Ikono.
Nsit Atai is a one-clan LGA but the area is divided into three groups of villages: Afaha, Ibiaikot and Ibedu. Afaha and Ibiaikot, the two big groups, dominate four wards apiece while Ibedu, the smallest, has two wards.
For the Assembly seat, it seems zoning is settled on the basis of the three groups.
There is, however, contention over the chairmanship zoning. The two big groups recently agreed on zoning the top job on the basis of six zones: Itak Afaha, Afaha Atai, Afaha Ndisiak, Ibiaikot Atai, Ibiaikot Essien Itiaba and Ibedu. Under this arrangement, they have zoned the chairmanship seat to Afaha Ndisiak and the vice-chairmanship seat to Ibiaikot Essien Itiaba.
But the Ibedu people, who feel muscled by their bigger brothers, would have none of this. To them, the old zoning arrangement of three zones subsists and it is their turn for the chairmanship seat.
A crisis is brewing over the issue. And this is coming a few months after Ibedu people protested vehemently over their exclusion from the nine-member Local Government Transition Committee.
Since the return to democracy, the elected chairmanship seat has rotated this way: Otuekong Raphael Bassey from Ibiaikot (1999-2002), Obong Asuquo Darby Udo (Ete Udo) from Ibedu (2004-2007), Ibanga Akpan from Afaha (2008-2012) and Elder Mark Esset from Ibiaikot (2012-2015).
The Assembly seat has equally rotated fairly: Obong Inyang Ekpe from Afaha (1999-2003), Sir Emmanuel Ekpenyong (Tempo) from Ibiaikot (2003-2007), Ete Udo from Ibedu (2007-2011), Mrs. Sarah Sunny Elijah from Afaha (2011-2015) and the incumbent, Mark Esset, from Ibiaikot.
Itu LGA has a peculiar configuration. The majority clan, Itam, boasts of eight of the 10 wards. The remaining two wards are shared by four minority clans – Oku Iboku, Itu, Mbiabo and Ayadehe. Itu and Mbiabo Clans are Efik-speaking while Oku Iboku and Ayadehe Clans, like Itam Clan, speak Ibibio.
Due to the disproportionate nature of the clans, political sharing is done on the basis of zones or blocs and not clans. In time past, there were three generally-accepted zones: East Itam (five wards), West Itam (three wards) and Itu OMA (two wards). Because of their size, East Itam people and some politicians in the other two zones now believe in four zones: East Itam Northern (two wards), East Itam Southern (three wards), West Itam (three wards) and Itu OMA (two wards). But some politicians in West Itam and Itu OMA (OMA is acronym for Oku, Mbiabo and Ayadehe) still insist on the three-zone arrangement.
East Itam began the chairmanship rotation in 1999 through Godwin Ndon. But their occupation of the Assembly seat for consecutive three terms of 12 years in the persons of Barr. Kennedy Ekong (2003-2007) and Dr. Ekaette Ebong Okon (2007-2015) kept them out of the chairmanship position for that number of years. The incumbent Assembly Member, Prince Idongesit Ituen, is from West Itam, the same zone as Obong Bassey Offiong Udo (Jimbo), who was in the Assembly from 1999 to 2003.
Ededet Ekanem, from Oku Iboku in Itu OMA, occupied the chairmanship seat from 2004 to 2007 after which Michael James Etim (MacJoe), from West Itam, served for two terms between 2008 and 2011 and from 2012 to 2015.
Now, East Itam politicians say it is the turn of East Itam Northern since Ndon was from East Itam Southern.
Their claim is, however, disputed by some Itu OMA politicians who insist it is their turn for the chairmanship seat, more so after losing the Assembly seat to West Itam, last year.
The present Local Government Transition Committee Chairman, Okon Etim Okon, from Itu Clan, is believed to be interested in transmuting to an elected Chairman.
Zoning has never been enforced in contests for both chairmanship and Assembly seats in Itu.
Like Itu, Ibiono Ibom has a disproportionate clan structure. Ibiono Ibom Clan, with 278 villages, has 10 wards while Ikpanya, the second clan with five villages, has a ward.
Given this scenario, political sharing is done on the basis of zones or blocs, not clans. There are five zones: North, Central, East, West and South. All zones have two wards each except North (of which Ikpanya is a component part) which has three wards.
Again, like Itu, second term in the Assembly has affected rotation of the chairmanship seat. Both races have always been free-for-all. Idorenyin Umoh, from North, served for a single term in the Assembly from 1999 to 2003 but his successors, Engr. Ignatius Edet, from South, and Barr. Ime Okon, from West, got re-elected in 2007 and 2015, respectively.
The chairmanship seat has rotated this way: Aniedi Jackson Udofia (Andy Jack), from West (1999-2002), Prince Eyo Utit from East (2004-2007) and Obong Godwin Ekpo from Central (2008-2011 and 2012-2015).
The Northern and Southern zones are the two zones that have not occupied the chairmanship seat since 1999. As a result, both zones are in contention in 2016.
The Local Government Transition Committee Chairman, Godwin Eyo Ekpenyong, from Ikpanya in the North, is among those said to be interested in becoming the next elected Chairman.
Essien Udim was the first LGA created from Ikot Ekpene in 1989. But she has a different zoning arrangement from her mother LGA, Ikot Ekpene, and younger sister LGA, Obot Akara. Zoning in Essien Udim is based on bloc and clan.
Essien Udim LGA has seven clans spread into two blocs – Essien Annang and Udim with five and a half wards each.
Essien Annang bloc is made up of Odoro Ikot (two wards), Ekpenyong (one and a half ward), Okon (one ward) and Afaha (one ward) Clans. Afaha is the headquarters of the LGA.
Udim bloc comprises of Ukana (three wards), Ikpe (one ward), Adiasim (one ward) and Ekpenyong (half a ward) Clans.
Ekpenyong is the only clan that has never produced an elected Chairman since the creation of the LGA and she is highly favoured in this year’s contest. But the presence of Ekpenyong Clan in the two blocs has sparked off controversy over the chairmanship rotation. The Local Government Transition Committee Chairman, Chrysanctus Udoh, is interested in becoming the elected Chairman. He is from one of the 18 villages of Ekpenyong Clan that falls under Essien Annang bloc where the chairmanship seat is rotating to. His major opponent for now and fellow seasoned politician, Raphael Isobara, is also from Ekpenyong Clan. However, Isobara’s own village is among the six Mkpatak Group of Villages that joins six other Ekpenyong villages to form Ekpenyong 2 Ward. But, unlike the other six, the Mkpatak Group falls under Udim bloc (Ekpenyong Clan has 24 villages in all). Naturally, Isobara wants zoning on clan basis but Udoh wants it on bloc basis.
It is a tricky issue which will require much tact to handle by the political leaders of the LGA because of the precedent it is likely to set.
In the main, the chairmanship seat of the LGA has rotated quite smoothly between the two blocs. But the re-election of Elder Emmanuel Akpan, from Odoro Ikot Clan in Essien Annang bloc into the Assembly in 2011, ensured that the chairmanship stayed in Ukana Clan in Udim bloc for two terms. There was still zoning but rotation was suspended till now.
Past elected Chairmen of the LGA since the return to democracy have been Barr. Martin Umanah from Ukana in Udim (1999-2002), Obong Okon Peter Ebere from Odoro Ikot in Essien Annang (2004-2007) and Sir Nse Ntuen from Ukana in Udim (2008-2011 and 2012-2015).
The elected Assembly Members have been Ndifreke Idung from Afaha in Essien Annang (1999-2003), Dr. Etido Ibekwe from Adiasim in Udim (2003-2007) and Emman Akpan (2007-2011 and 2011-2015). The incumbent is Nse Ntuen.
The situation in Abak is similar to Essien Udim’s. There is contention whether zoning should be done on bloc or clan basis.
There are two blocs – Abak Urban, comprising of Abak (three and a half wards) and Ediene (half a ward) Clans; and Eastern Annang made up of Otoro (three wards), Afaha Obong (two wards) and Midim (two wards) Clans.
Like his Essien Udim counterpart, the Abak Local Government Transition Chairman, Dr. Emmanuel Udosen, is interested in transmuting to an elected Chairman. Udosen, a brother-in-law of Senator Godswill Akpabio, is from Midim Clan and wants zoning done on bloc basis which will enable him to benefit. But all his opponents, so far, are from Afaha Obong Clan and they insist on clan zoning which would benefit only aspirants from their clan which, they argue, has not produced an elected Chairman since 1999.
Their position is openly backed by the Assembly Member, Elder Friday Iwok (Fiwok), from Otoro Clan, who is serving a second term. The Deputy Governor, Moses Ekpo, the Commissioner of Information, Aniekan Umanah, and the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial Chairman of Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Imo Ibokette, all from Abak Clan, are yet to openly take a stance.
It is a delicate and potentially explosive issue if not handled with care.
The elected chairmanship seat has rotated fairly to the two blocs since 1999 though not to all the clans. This is how the rotation has gone: Barr. Paul Ubom from Midim Clan in Eastern Annang bloc (1999-2002), Dr. Innocent Idiong from Abak Clan in Abak Urban bloc (2004-2007), Aniedi-Abasi Udo from Otoro Clan in Eastern Annang bloc (2008-2011) and Joseph Ikpaisong Inyang from Ediene Clan in Abak Urban bloc (2012-2015).
The Assembly seat has equally rotated fairly between the two blocs but again not to all the clans. It has been this way: Imo Ibokette from Abak Clan in Abak Urban bloc (1999-2003), Chris Udofia from Afaha Obong Clan in Eastern Annang bloc (2003-2007), Uwem Udoma from Abak Clan in Abak Urban bloc (2007-2011) and the incumbent, Fiwok, from Otoro Clan in Eastern Annang bloc (2011-2015 and 2015-till date).
Ika has three clans – Achan (four wards), Ito (four wards) and Odoro (two wards). Zoning is on the basis of these clans.
The chairmanship zoning has followed this pattern: Dr. Francis Udoikpong from Odoro (1999-2002), Obongemem Ekperikpe Ekpo from Ito (2004-2007) and Chief Saviour Enyiekere from Achan (2008-2011 and 2012-2015).
Ordinarily, the seat should rotate to Odoro in 2016 but there is contention by some Ito politicians who argue that it is the turn of their clan which ranks next to Achan in size and population. They claim that Odoro had compromised and lost their turn to Saviour in 2012. Odoro politicians, however, dispute this claim.
The present Assembly Member, Elder Gabriel Toby, is from Achan. He was re-elected last year. Interestingly, his first election in 2011 did not prevent Saviour, from the same Achan, from being re-elected Chairman in 2012 despite protests from some politicians across the three clans.
Achan hosts the local government headquarters in Urua Inyang.
Ika shares the same Assembly seat with her mother LGA, Etim Ekpo. The seat, therefore, rotates between the two LGAs. The Assembly Members from Ika, so far, have been Sir Ernest Ukpong from Ito (1999-2003) and Toby.
Ikono, one of the two Ibibio-speaking LGAs in this predominantly Annang Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District, has four clans – Ikono (seven wards), Ndiya (one ward), Ediene (two wards) and Itak (one ward).
But zoning is not done on clan basis. It is done on three zones or blocs – Ikono South (four wards) comprising of Nkwot and Ukpom communities of Ikono Clan which boast of two and one wards, respectively, as well as of Ndiya/Ikot Idaha Ward; Ikono Middle (four wards), which is wholly Ikono Clan, and Ediene/Itak (three wards).
With the exception of 2012, chairmanship contests since 1999 have been free-for-all though there have been several, albeit failed, zoning accords. Somehow, every zone has managed to produce an elected Chairman. Past Chairmen have been Dr. Clement Bassey from Ikono South (1999-2002), Engr. Edet Umotong from Ediene/Itak (2004-2007), Barr. David Udo from Ikono Middle (2008-2011) and Emmanuel Ukpong from Ikono South (2012-2015).
The chairmanship seat should ordinarily rotate to Ediene/Itak zone in 2016. Itak politicians say it is exclusively their turn since Ediene had produced an elected Chairman, Umotong, in the past. But the rumoured ambition of the Local Government Transition Chairman, Asuquo Nnana (Mbakara), who is from the same Nkwot village as the last elected Chairman, Emmanuel Ukpong, has made Itak politicians apprehensive.
The Assembly seat has rotated this way: Dr. Aloysius Etok from Ediene (1999-2003), Dr. Bassey from Ikono South (2003-2007 and 2007-2011) and Victor Udofia from Ikono Middle (2011-2015 and 2015-till date).
ONNA is an acronym for the three clans making up the LGA – Oniong, Nung Ndem and Awa. Apart from clan, the LGA operates a four-zone structure – Awa (four wards), Oniong West (three wards), Oniong East (three wards) and Nung Ndem (two wards).