By Edidiong Udobia
With every passing day, it’s becoming more clearer that the All Progressives Congress, APC has only two objectives for the 2019 general elections; winning the presidential election and winning Akwa Ibom state. Already, the level of desperation in which the APC led federal government is pursuing these two objectives has gotten to an all-time high. The ruling party, in connivance with very sensitive government institutions like the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies, is orchestrating political upheavals and tactical intimidation across the country in preparation for 2019, and Akwa Ibom as a strong resistant state, is among the worst hit.
The earliest revelation of APC’s obsession for Akwa Ibom was in the unguarded utterances of the party’s former national chairman, Chief John Oyegun. “With respect to Rivers and Akwa-Ibom, I want to tell you that we are strongly determined and there is hardly any doubt. The former governor of Akwa-Ibom’s motto was ‘what money cannot solve, more money can solve it’. I think that this has been very much at work. But I have no doubt in my mind, factions or no factions, that is irrelevant. I have stuck my neck out for Umana Umana because looking at all those who wanted that office, he was the only one who has the grits and the guts to take on the very murderous situation that existed in Akwa-Ibom state and if you ask me, I am more confident of winning Akwa-Ibom than any other state in the South-South. We are going to win, that is almost a certainty,” Oyegun said in December 2015.
Oyegun’s remarks came on the heels of the unlawful invasion of Akwa Ibom state government house by masked men of the Department of State Security, DSS in a Gestapo manner. Despite the public outrage against the invasion, till date, no official explanation or apology has been given. With the affirmation of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s election by the supreme court in early 2016, it was hoped that normalcy will return to the polity so the government and people of Akwa Ibom could breathe a sigh of relief. But that was not to be as the federal government has continued to obstruct the smooth running of government in the state. This, the government has done through the instrumentality of her various institutions, which were originally established to serve in the best interest of the Nigerian public.
In August this year, Akwa Ibom was among the two states whose accounts were frozen by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) without any reason. “The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has frozen the bank accounts of the Akwa Ibom State government”, reports the sunonline of 9th August, 2018. According to the story, which was reported by other credible news platforms like Premium Times, all the accounts belonging to Akwa Ibom and Benue state governments were frozen by EFCC without any cause. The Commission’s action was allegedly in furtherance of the federal government’s clampdown on opposition states.
Reacting to the incident, the PDP national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan described the freezing of the accounts as a direct attack on innocent Nigerians in the two states, which are controlled by the PDP. “Nigerians are all aware that no section of our constitution or any law in Nigeria for that matter confers any agency of the Federal Government with powers to interfere or put any restrictions on funds belonging or accruable to states as federating units of our nation… in illegally blocking the flow of funds to these states, the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government has ostensibly commenced a reprehensible design of using economic deprivation as a political tool to arm-twist governors and states to support President Buhari’s re-election in 2019”, Kola said in a statement.
About the same time, too, the Akwa Ibom state governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel accused the federal government of withholding billions of naira belonging to the state. Akwa Ibom and other oil-rich states are constitutionally entitled to 13 per cent of revenue which Nigeria derives from petroleum oil. The governor, while addressing newsmen in Uyo, said President Muhammadu Buhari-led government apart from deducting money meant for the state, is withholding its oil derivation money. “As at today, they’ve withheld all our derivation funds, we have not gotten anything out of the derivation for last month. Within two months, they have dropped the allocation of Akwa Ibom State by N6.8 billion,” Udom said.
As 2019 draws nearer, the APC led federal government seems to be taking her repressiveness against Akwa Ibom to a whole new level. Recently, the inspector of Police, Ibrahim Idris invited the campaign team of Governor Udom Emmanuel to Abuja for questioning. The invitation followed a petition by the APC state chairman, Mr. Ini Okopido over the hoisting of a campaign billboard in a popular market in Uyo. Among those who were served the IG’s invitation letter were, Otuekong Idongesit Nkanga, director general, Divine Mandate, a campaign organisation of Governor Emmanuel; Paul Ekpo, the PDP chairman in the state; Onofiok Luke, the Speaker, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly; Iniobong Essien, the Commissioner for Environment in the state, and others.
In his remarks shortly after returning from Abuja, Speaker Luke said; “On getting to the IGP’s office, I was confronted with a petition written by the state chairman of the All Progressives Congress, addressed to the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and minuted by the president himself for investigation by the inspector General of Police. Part of that very frivolous allegations were issues about comments and billboards… At the point of interview, we stated one thing very clearly in the presence of the APC chairman in the state and which is one of the things I want to state clearly again here today. We stated that in Akwa Ibom state, we are law abiding citizens of Nigeria and no one can use the office of the president under the guise of politics to intimidate us; not even the state security agency”.
*The siege on the State Assembly*
It has been a very unpleasant situation in Akwa Ibom in the last 48 hours or so as the federal government through the Police continues a siege on the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly complex. It all started early morning of Monday, 19 November, 2018, when members of the Assembly were scheduled to hold an emergency sitting. Prior to the sitting, the state PDP publicity secretary, Comrade Ini Ememobong, through a press release, raised alarm over plans by hoodlums to invade the Assembly and prevent the state lawmakers from performing their legislative duties. Mr. Ememobong alleged that the hoodlums were sponsored by one of the lawmakers, Hon. Idongesit Ituen, to prevent the Speaker of Assembly from executing a court order mandating the Speaker to declare Mr. Ituen’s seat vacant.
“We are in receipt of credible intelligence highlighting plans by the opposition APC to use thugs to invade the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly and prevent the House from carrying out its legitimate business of law making… Another set of thugs are expected to accompany the ousted lawmaker, Mr. Idongesit Ituen to attempt to force his way into the assembly. The motive of this invasion is to prevent the Speaker from declaring vacant the seat of the sacked legislator. This invasion has as its adjunct function, the creation of tension as a feeder to the desired invitation of ‘Federal might’ to close the assembly,” the PDP spokesman said.
Despite the earlier warning by Mr. Ememobong, irate youths and supporters of the APC stormed the Assembly complex and barricaded the entrance to the complex. As law abiding citizens, the leadership of the House called the attention of the Commissioner of Police, Mr. John Abang, who quickly intervened and quelled the crisis. With the situation under control, the lawmakers later gained access into the Assembly to proceed with their duties. At the plenary, the Speaker, relying on order of the court as contained in the judgment of 14/11/2018 and section 109(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), declared Idong Ituen’s seat and that of four other lawmakers who also defected from the PDP, vacant. For avoidance of doubt, section 109(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution states;
(1) A member of the House of Assembly shall vacate his seat in the House if –
(g) being a person whose election to the House of Assembly was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected.
In an unexpected twist, three out of the five lawmakers whose seats were earlier declared vacant, later gained access into the Champer to hold a mock plenary. The three-man plenary then elected Hon. Nse Ntuen as their Speaker. According to reports, addressing newsmen at the Assembly premises shortly after their plenary, Hon. Nse Ntuen said his election as Speaker was in line with due process and had the ayes of majority of the members.
“We were supposed to sit on Tuesday, but yesterday (Sunday), we got notices that the sitting had been rescheduled for today because of the public holiday on Tuesday. Unfortunately, this morning when I came to the House, the gate was barricaded and we were not allowed to go into the premises… Moreover, the purported action was not in the Order Paper for today’s plenary. The two items in the Order Paper were the consideration of the appropriation bill sent to the House by Governor Udom Emmanuel and a commemorative sitting for former Governor Victor Attah. So, in the light of these anomalies, members sat and elected me as the new Speaker”, Mr. Ntuen was quoted.
The State Assembly, through the chairman, House Committee on Information and member representing Ibiono Ibom State Constituency, Rt. Hon. Ime Okon, in a press release, strongly condemned the actions of the ex-lawmakers, describing it as illegality. “Furthermore, we are informed that the former member of Essien Udim state constituency with two other ousted members unlawfully broke into the chambers after the close of plenary to announce himself the new Speaker of AKHA. This is clearly an illegality unbecoming of former honourable members. A close view of the video of their purported sitting that has now gone viral betrays their level of frustration and ignorance of parliamentary rules and conventions.
“It is important to state that what happened today bears grave consequences for the sanctity of the house and the legislative arm of government which remains the undisputed symbol of our democracy. The absolute disregard for decency and the rule of law stands condemned by members of the 6th assembly and we will employ every legal means to ensure that decorum remains the guiding principle of the state legislature under the leadership of the Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Barr Onofiok Luke”, Mr. Okon said.
On their part, the APC, through her national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole accused the then Commissioner of Police, John Abang of supporting the PDP government of the state to oust the affected APC state lawmakers. Adams Oshiomhole outburst eventually paid off as the Inspector of Police, Ibrahim Idris immediately redeployed CP John Abang and replaced him with a new CP, Hyelasinda Musa Kimo. The redeployment of Mr. Abang further gave credence to the allegation that the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies are now appendages of the APC and used to excute the goals of the party. “We have had 6 Directors of DSS in 3 years, we are having the 10th Commissioner of Police is 3 years because when these people come, they meet a very peaceful Governor and don’t find the stories they heard to act as expected by the opposition and they get changed”, said the Akwa Ibom state PDP publicity secretary, Ini Ememobong.
From early morning of Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, a combined team of the Police and the Civil Defence have commenced a 24 hour siege on the State House of Assembly complex, crippling activities within the complex and its environ. Citizens are now living in fear as they can no longer go on with their daily activities like before.
*A call for caution*
As the federal government and the APC seem to have thrown caution to the wind, there is need for a reminder that however peaceful and law abiding the people of Akwa Ibom are, they are also strong-willed and very resistant to intimidation. It is very obvious that the ruling party is pushing for anarchy in Akwa Ibom in order to find a reason to declare a state of emergency in state and consequently treat the state as a special case during the 2019 elections. The PDP, through her national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, has called on the federal government and the ruling party, APC, to tread with caution because Akwa Ibom state will never allow anybody, no matter how highly placed, to overrun their state or in any way attempt to foist an undemocratic leadership over them and no amount of intimidation or force will make them change this resolve.
“This recourse to self-help, against declarative judgment by competent court of jurisdiction sacking the three lawmakers, is a deliberate attempt to instigate violence, foist a reign of terror, cause confusion, create an impression that the state has become ungovernable. This is with a view to opening the way for a declaration of a state of emergency, which will enable them dismantle all democratic structures and forcefully take over control of the state. The PDP wants the Buhari Presidency and the APC to bear in mind that their plot to forcefully take over Akwa-Ibom or any other PDP-controlled state will be firmly resisted by the people of those states and such may lead to a crisis of unprecedented magnitude that has the capacity of truncating our hard-earned democracy”, Kola noted.
Edidiong Udobia is a journalist and writes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom state.