Senator Bassey Albert. (Credit: Google)

Abasifreke Effiong

The 2023 governorship candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) in Akwa Ibom State and Senator who represented Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District in the 8th and 9th Senate, Mr Bassey Albert, defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, on Friday 19th January, 2023. Albert ran for the governorship against great odds. He trounced some.

Albert, his team and erstwhile party, YPP, sprung huge surprises in the 2023 governorship election that cannot be lost in shallow appeals. The quinquagenarian left the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and joined the YPP on 18th July 2022, about eight months to the 2023 election, in a quest to fulfill his longtime ambition of contesting for the governorship of Akwa Ibom State. He consulted to run for governorship in 2015, but withdrew for Mr Udom Emmanuel, before the primaries. In 2023, Mr Emmanuel had his preferred candidate. Albert needed a platform to run. YPP, a new, unknown Party was his choice.

Before 18th July 2022, YPP had no presence beyond its small, one flat office on Aka Road, Uyo. The Party soon spread through his efforts to the nooks and crannies of the State, with executives and large supporters’ groups in villages, wards and chapters. Ward and chapter offices painted with the two dominant colours of the Party – bright yellow and green – sprang up within weeks across the State. The Party relocated its State secretariat to an imposing duplex, branded with eye-catching facade, on Edet Akpan Avenue, (popularly called Four lanes), Uyo. The speed and successful organisation of the Party within short span of time was Albert’s first triumph.

As the Party was penetrating the grassroots, Justice Agatha Okeke, Judge at the Federal High Court, Uyo, handed Albert a-42-years jail term on December 1, 2022, three months to the governorship election. “That has closed his chapter … he will not be on the ballot”, were public opinions arising from his conviction. His travail boomed. His conviction evoked contempathy – a feeling of celebration and sympathy from his opponents. Some of his supporters whom I spoke to at the time were perturbed, yet resolute. “It is just a little setback, but we are not giving up. We will make a statement with our vote”, one of them said. They felt the judgment was a political witch-hunt. Albert was convicted for receiving car gift from his friend and business partner, Mr Jide Omokere, while serving as Commissioner for Finance. Albert was granted administrative bail upon appeal of the judgment. However, he was restricted from public gatherings.

From confinement he participated in the January 29, 2023 governorship debate organised by the Nigeria Union of Journalists. Candidates of the PDP, Mr Umo Eno, and that of the APC, Mr Akanimo Udofia, withdrew from the debate on the D-day without reasonable excuses. Albert joined the debate via zoom and spoke about his plans for the State, alongside four other candidates, Senator John Udoedehe of the New Nigeria Peoples Party; Iboro Otu, the African Action Congress; Ezekiel Nya-Etok, the African Democratic Congress; and Ekere Essien, the Action Democratic Party. Throughout that period, Albert spoke via zoom or send recorded messages to his supporters at local government campaigns. The introduction of zoom technology as a channel for large, outdoor political campaigns by his team was an innovation.

Albert had very little opportunity to campaign in-person before the elections. Other political parties made good attempts to sway his supporters, but they were formidable. They believed in him and in what they were doing. Their unweary resilience, seamless coordination, resoluteness, unity and loyalty in the face of such huge distractions and travails was hard to find in many teams during the election. I can recall arriving my village to vote during the presidential election, a State officer of a ‘major’ political party walked up to me and said, “My brother, today we are voting Labour Party. My only interest is the governorship.” I smiled, shook my head and walked away. Supporters of the YPP in my unit were strict and uncompromising as those of the APC and PDP.

READ : Sunrise for YPP in Akwa Ibom

Albert scored 136,262 votes, representing 21.6% of total votes cast in the election. He came second to Mr Umo Eno of the PDP who won the election. YPP outscored the federal ruling Party, APC, and popular cōnstantem contestant, Senator John Udoedehe of NNPP. APC scored 129,602 votes. Udoedehe had 12,509 votes. The YPP won the Ikono/Ini Federal Constituency election, and two seats in the State House of Assembly – Ikono and Ibiono Ibom. No opposition party in the State has made such strides in recent elections. YPP made history in Akwa Ibom, just like LP in the presidential election, because it filed a popular candidate.

Albert had a fantastic team led by the grand chamberlain, Sir Emem Akpabio. His role as director of campaigns assisted by many highly experienced professionals, administrators, and politicians, including Mr Ephraim Inyang-Eyen, Pastor Sunny Ibuot, Elder Friday Iwok, Mr Usoro Akpanusoh, Retired AIG Asuquo Amba, Mrs Janet Amba, Pastor Nyeneime Andy, Mr Emmanuel Ekon, Mr Emmanuel Ukpong-Udo, Barr Usenobong Akpabio, Mr Emmanuel Akpan, Mr Nana Udo, Mr Enefiok Ekefre, Mr Samuel Efanga, Mr Ufot Nkangude, Mr Moses Essien, Mr Andrew Unwanta, gave that team credibility, stability and focus. Sir Akpabio, Mr Inyang-Eyen, Mr Unwanta, were involved in strategic political planning, mobilisation and coordination for Mr Udom Emmanuel. The team was effective in crises and situation management as in human resources. When Albert was barred from public gatherings, his team promptly deployed e-channels of communication to fill the gap. From his home, he could have live interactions with large number of supporters. The team also brought in Pastor (Mrs) Imaobong Nkiru Albert, to spearhead the campaigns in her husband’s stead. She did an amazingly great job at the campaigns according to social media reviews.

Team Albert was exceptional in voter’s education and engagement. In my village, at unit 008/10/09/003, where I voted, YPP scored more votes than the PDP in the House of Representatives election, and outscored the NNPP in all the elections, but the governorship. Rural women recognised the YPP logo, its position on the ballot papers, and voted by themselves without mistakes. Building visibility for the party and winning such recognition for the brand logo within a short span of time was proof of seriousness and validation that the team engaged interpersonally with voters and connected well with them. The team worked with a lot of youths. Albert enjoys cult following among a population of youths. Cult following is simply a group of people who dedicate themselves to a specific entity. The term is used in branding to express a deep sense of loyalty and commitment to an idea, company, product or person. Some of these youths are students who benefited from Albert’s scholarship; others are young people who profited from his empowerment programmes. His scholarship scheme has produced 481 graduates, 60 of them finished with first class honours. Sir Akpabio and his team deserve credit for leveraging the energy of the array of youths that were available to them to penetrate remote areas for voter’s sensitisation.

The curtains on Albert’s voyage in the YPP has fallen with his defection to the APC. He closed that chapter remarkably.
He defected with the State Executive Committee of the Party led by the Chairman, Pastor Nyeneime Andy, State Working Committee, Chapter and Ward Executives, Elders’ Advisory Committee, Candidates of the Party in the 2023 election, more than 3000 members of his campaign council and the entire YPP structure in the State. Individuals have defected and deflected. It is rare to have an entire party structure defect with an individual. Mr Inyang-Eyen said they consulted and all their members said “take us to APC”. Such political unanimity is unprecedented. Another credit to Albert’s political balance sheet.

The strong emergence of YPP in 2022 as a third political force in the State took quality members out of PDP, and depleted the grassroots supporters of APC. Most of the egg-heads of the YPP defected from the PDP, while most of the young people in communities who worked for YPP were dissatisfied members of the APC. Albert’s defection to APC “to foster collaboration and support for the administration of President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR” should defibrillate and energise the party when his team is properly integrated. APC has lost steam and energy due to irreconcilable differences arising from the 2021 congress, the 2022 primaries, and the endless struggle for control among its leaders. The party has too many ‘republicans’ who do not want to be led.

Despite Albert’s travails, he survived and made modest triumphs. He built a desirable, “consequential” political structure and within eight months, that won three seats in the legislature at first attempt as an opposition Party in Akwa Ibom State. From confinement, he scored the second highest number of votes in the 2023 governorship election. Albert triumphed unexpectedly. President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio, acknowledged his modest wins while receiving him on Friday 19th January, in Ukana, Essien Udim. He said: “from nothing, you built a recognised political structure in Akwa Ibom State that propelled you to somewhere”. More than the sons he won in his political voyage; the unity, organisation, coordination and loyalty of his team during his travails was his biggest triumph.

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