Nigerians are poised to witness what may turn out to be the main attraction of the governorship contest in Akwa Ibom State.  This is not meant to discountenance the governorship battles in other states across the federation.

The point is that, apart from the presidential poll, the Nigerian public has always been treated to a most engaging electoral feast at the peak of the state ballot.

Legislative polls don’t command the same appeal. Perhaps because contestants have less spatial constituencies.  Maybe because Nigerians don’t accord much recognition to the second tier of government.

But in Akwa Ibom State pundits say next year’s poll is acquiring all the stakes you expect in all the three tiers of government.  Why? Observers attribute this to three factors. First is the calibre of the main contestants, namely incumbent Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio and the man who appears to be his chief rival Senator John Akpan-Udoedehe, who was FCT Minister of State in the Yar’Adua administration.

Second, is the forces arrayed behind these two politicians. Akpabio is backed by twenty of the twenty-six members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly along with almost all the local government chairmen and their councillors.  There is formidable support from numerous interest groups including the influential women associations in the state. It is gathered that powerbrokers are also on the governor’s side.  The ruling party in the state and at the National Headquarters are said to have endorsed Akpabio.

How about Udoedehe? His main crutch is ex-governor Obong Victor Attah.  The former chief executive’s son-in-law, Udoma Bob Ekarika is also on the side of Udoedehe. Analysts say that coupled with the one-term Senator’s foot soldiers across Akwa Ibom and his grassroots experience garnered as the chairman of the powerful Uyo Local Government Council, Udoedehe might pose a serious challenge at the poll. Add to that the skills he had acquired as a mobiliser of the National Union of Road Transport (NURTW) in Uyo Motor Park where he collected tolls.

Observers say that a contest in which these two contrasting figures are in the ring will offer nothing but a battle royale where the electorate would task the gladiators’ skills to the extreme before making a choice.

That is what democracy should offer: present the best for the electorate to make a choice! And in Akwa Ibom, the people are lucky that this time at the ballot, politicians are selling a promising agenda to give the state credible leadership.

So what is in store?  Udoedehe says he is coming as a weapon of positive change which he claims has been denied Akwa Ibom. Launching his campaign at the Four Towns Primary School in the capital, the former local government chairman declared: “People crave for change and I am determined to be instrument of the change.”

He then went on to accuse the Akpabio government of being “corrupt, selfish and occultic.”  Udoedehe said he is on “a mission to sanitise the polity and give a new meaning to lives ravaged by hunger, deprivation and unemployment.”

On the other hand, Governor Akpabio is flying a flag of achievements.  He refers to his three years in office as evidence of his excellent scorecard.  He insists that one good term deserves a second term. He wants the people’s nod so that he can complete the Annang slot for eight years.

The argument of the Akpabio camp, however, is nobler than a mere fulfilment of a narrow geo-political agenda.  Keen watchers say the governor has put in place quite visible developmental structures which would need consolidation and continuation only through his own unique vision and supervision.

For instance, his three years in office have witnessed massive infrastructure development like execution of road projects, potable water provision, electricity, urban renewal and human capital development. His free and compulsory education policy has rescued Akwa Ibom citizens from menial jobs in many parts of Nigeria and in Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.

Most of Akpabio’s loyalists easily refer to the construction of the Akwa Ibom International Airport as a key irreversible achievement that will last beyond this generation. They are not exaggerating. A first-time visitor to the airport said if Akpabio had nothing else to present as a legacy, this facility would suffice!

But of course there is more that Akpabio has done in only three years of a first term.  He has embarked on unprecedented road construction and rehabilitation schemes. One such is the dualisation of Aka-Nnung Udoe Road. Information Commissioner, Aniekan Umanah says the Akpabio administration has not borrowed money for these road projects. Umanah says that the state government has even undertaken the construction of federal roads and institutions in Akwa Ibom.

Stakeholders in Akwa Ibom State argue that an ideal situation would be to allow Akpabio conclude and entrench what he has started through a second term mandate. They believe this would lay an immutable foundation for an enduring all-round progress in Akwa Ibom State.

President Goodluck Jonathan gave tacit support for this position when he honoured Governor Akpabio at Aso Villa for his contributions to the social and economic development of Akwa Ibom State.

•Emmanuel Udoh is a policy analyst based in Lagos. E-mail: peter_udiong@yahoo.com