BERNARD TOLANI writes on the evolving power play in Akwa Ibom State which currently rages at the state's House of Assembly
Akwa Ibom State has been the frontier of the political tussle between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The State Governor Udom Emmanuel, penultimate week was forced to kick hard at what he described as plans by the federal government to hide under a deliberately orchestrated state of insecurity to seize the oil-rich state by force in 2019. This followed series of tussles in the House of Assembly.
It all started as a minor disagreement between former governor Godswill Akpabio now Senator and his estrange godson, the incumbent Emmanuel, whom he single-handedly installed as his successor in 2015.
Although the face-off between the duo had for a long time existed in the realm of rumour, the case assumed a more glaring and worrisome level, when Senator Akpabio, openly announced to his successor, that "all is not well in my Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District".
It was at a forum in Ikot Ekpene to honour Emmanuel and his wife, Martha, where Akpabio and other political chieftains, across the state, also attended.
The anger of Akpabio, stem from the fact that some of his legacy projects including the Uyo-Ikot Ekpene road dualization and the Four Point by Sheraton Hotel, had been abandoned by the state Governor Udom Emmanuel.
The disagreement, however reached an irreconcilable point, when Akpabio declared that what would recommend Udom for re-election remains proper and judicious distribution of projects and other dividends of democracy across the state including his Ikot Ekpene zone.
He explained that what would endear the electorate of Ikot Ekpene extraction would be the presence of Udom's development imprints in the zone, which the former said he was going to use as departure point to convince voters in the zone to be in the vanguard of his re-election.
"Remember, we don't control the centre again, we do not have the Police and INEC", was the last warning to Udom, before his famous "uncommon defection" to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), at the centre.
At the departure of Akpabio, to APC, Udom and his PDP camp was shaken with shock and disbelief which forced the people including stakeholders of the PDP, to keep mum for a while before gathering the momentum to absorb the shock and chart a new way forward.
PDP leaders and elders across the three Senatorial zones of Uyo, Ikot Ekpene and Eket, including former Minister, Chief Nduse Essien (Eket); Senator Emmanuel Ibokessien (Ikot Ekpene), while Otuekong Idongesit Nkanga, Senator Effiong Bob and Senator Anietie Okon, immediately form themselves into a think-tank group for Udom.
Series of solidarity visits, support rallies and other patriotic exercises were mustered by youths, market women Road transport workers, keke riders including the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for Governor Emmanuel's re-election.
At his official reception into the fold of the APC at Ikot Ekpene sport stadium in August, where APC chieftains including Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, Ministers, National and State Assembly members were in attendance, Akpabio had explained that he was on a mission to oust Udom.
According to him, "Akwa Ibom cannot afford to play opposition". He added "I am on a mission to re-direct the state to the centre for more and greater dividends of democracy as the number one oil producer in Nigeria."
Since then, series of horse-trading, negotiations and deliberate political overtures from both camps were held leading to movements of political forces across party lines.
For instance, Akpabio's movement had two commissioners and about eight personal aides of the governor dumping PDP to pitch tent with APC.
Besides, the rank of the PDP was also depleted with the exit of the Deputy Chairman, Mr. Godwin Affangideh, who also ditched the party for APC.
Two House of Representatives and five House of Assembly members also joined the APC, as well as some PDP chapter leaders in some local government areas including Etim Ekpo, Ukanafun, Oruk Anam, Ika and others.
In the same vein, kinsmen of Akpabio including his cousin and former aide, Prince Ukpong Akpabio, shunned all entreaties and remained in PDP with Udom and was rewarded with a juicy post of commissioner for Commerce, Industry and Investment.
As the campaigns rolled- off, the tussle between the two camps escalated with accusations and counter accusations that the ongoing feuds in the State House of Assembly, could be a prelude to the plot allegedly hatched by the federal government to take over the state in 2019.
The matter became more worrisome when Governor Udom openly accused Akpabio and some senators from Akwa Ibom at the National Assembly of masterminding insecurity in the state.
Few days later, a combined force of Police, Army and Civil Defense took over the Assembly complex, barring even the House of Assembly staff from gaining entrance.
A source said: "The plot is to enable the five sacked Assembly members to overthrow the Speaker, Rt. Hon. (Barr) Onofiok Luke in order to install Hon. Nse Ntuen as the new Speaker."
The development came hours after a new Police boss was sent to the state.
In its reaction, the state government condemned the removal of the immediate past Commissioner of Police, Mr. John Abang, saying that such move portend danger.
Charles Udoh, the state's Commissioner for Information & Strategy in a statement lamented that the commissioner of Police was hurriedly withdrawn from Akwa Ibom for doing his professional duty responsibly.
According to him, "Apart from the fact that the outgoing CP barely spent a month in the state, the circumstances surrounding his removal is a mockery to the nation and a contrast to the insecurity battle of the federal government."
Five lawmakers including Hons Nse Ntuen (Essien Udim); Gabriel Toby (Ika\Etim Ekpo), Victor Udiofia (Ikono), Otobong Ndem (Mkpat Enin) and Idongesit Ituen (Itu) who had defected to the opposition party APC were avoided like lepers in the hallow chamber of the state House of Assembly some were relieved of their positions in the steering committees and left flat footed with no juicy positions
Speaker Onofiok Luke (Nsit Ubium) at an emergency plenary and having being un-confortable with the rebellious members declared their seats vacant following their defection to the APC, but the five lawmakers, said to be heavily backed by , APC, the presidency and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), returned to trenches with their own secret plan to cause confusion in the House.
In the wake of the crisis following the implementation of a court order vacating the seats of five members who defected to APC, by the Speaker, Hon Onofiok Luke, the state governor, on sensing danger, called on the lawmakers to uphold the sanctity of the rule of law and work for the attainment of peace, equity and justice in the Assembly.
The governor while fielding questions from newsmen in Uyo described as a show of shame the invasion of the State House of Assembly by hooligans and subsequent prevention of the law makers and staff of the Legislature from carrying out their legitimate duties, saying that such disrespect to the Legislative Arm of government negates democratic principles.
The governor added that the vacation of the five members should not give rise to undue expression of emotions and faulted negative comments made by the APC Chairman Adams Oshiomole on the Assembly crisis, saying that the former Edo governor may not have been duly informed on the matter hence his comments.
He called on well-meaning persons to guard against attempt at making capital of the crisis through unguarded utterances, advising that emotions without control is dangerous and that people should work for the peaceful coexistence of Nigeria which he stressed belongs to everyone.
The drama however escalated when the five lawmakers stormed the Assembly gained access into the chamber where they sat and also claimed to have impeached Speaker Luke.
The grandstanding was to continue on Wednesday last week, when the Police cordoned off the Assembly complex for two days barring lawmakers and Assembly staff from performing legislative and administrative duties.
Notable citizens in the state including the Akwa Ibom State Chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) called for truce and admonished the state lawmakers to settle all contentious issues amicably in the interest of the state.
Chairman of CAN, Rev Dr Ndueso Ekwere, reminded them that no matter how highly placed anyone could be, that no one holds the monopoly of citizenship of the State freely given to us by God himself.
He reminded the politicians that God will hold anybody who directly or indirectly initiates or causes crises in the State responsible for his actions or inactions.
The spiritual leader condemned in very strong terms such political instability and confusion just introduced into the State which God has blessed with sustainable peace so far.
Rev Dr Ekwere therefore called on all parties concerned to sheath their swords in the interest of their father land.
He admonished that the 2019 elections will come and go but Akwa Ibom State will remain by the grace of God" he noted.
However, the matter got to a head on Tuesday last week when the House reconvened. The five rebel APC lawmakers arrived the complex at about 8am, while the plenary was supposed to start by 10am.
The five rebel members whose seats were declared vacant by House Speaker, Onofiok Luke forced their way into the hallow chamber of the Assembly, and elected the member representing Essien Udim constituency, Mr. Nse Ntuen as their new Speaker.
Speaking with journalists Ntuen said that their decision to change the Speaker followed members' lack of confidence on the ability of Mr. Luke to lead the Assembly.
He described the process that led to their purported sack as illegal, null and void as there were subsisting court orders even as the House rules and procedures were not duly and legally followed.
"In the first place no such action as declaring our seat vacant took place because there was no mace, the former Speaker did not follow due legislative procedure of being announced into the chamber by the Sergent- at- Arms but rather he came in through the back door.
"What happened in the House today was a normal legislative thing. 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 and nobody objected to that. Unfortunately this morning when I came to the house, the gate was barricaded and we were not allowed to go into the premises.
Ntuen wondered why Mr. Luke would unilaterally declare their seat vacant when that of a member who defected to the PDP from APC last year was not given the same treatment.
"So we elected a new Speaker because Luke is not good enough to be Speaker. He is incompetent and is been teleguided by the Executive against our quest to be independent and not to be labeled a rubber stamp Assembly."
He called on the people of the state not to see their action as confrontational but that which would make the legislature stronger in the discharged of its responsibility to the people of Akwa Ibom state.
According to the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Speaker Onofiok Luke, Mr. Kufre Okon, who was heavily manhandled and even had his phone smashed , said that the 'rebels', who had earlier picked Ntuen, as their own factional 'Speaker', entered the Chamber, where they sat to announce key positions and sacking of 11 house members.
They also announced that they would commence impeachment proceedings against Governor Emmanuel, an action that infuriated the governor to leave the confine of his Hilltop Executive mansion about two kilometers from the Assembly complex to storm the House and ordered his security details to dislodge the aggrieved APC lawmakers.
In the process, there was exchange of gunfire involving security officials of the governor irate youths and the APC lawmakers, resulting in the collapse of law and order, which eventually paved the way for hoodlums to jump in and heavily manhandled Ntuen and Udofia, who escaped by the whiskers while their official vehicles were vandalised.
After the melee, the governor, who lambasted the Commissioner of Police (CP), Musa Kimo, for acting the script of the Federal Government in their plot to seize Akwa Ibom by force, told journalists that it was time for the people to rise against such impunity.
"I want the whole world to know that the democracy that the people fought for and some paid with their lives is being threatened in Akwa Ibom and the Police should be blamed".
He pointed out that the game plan of the federal government was to deliberately create violent and chaotic picture of Akwa Ibom in order to justify their plans to declare a state of emergency and postpone elections in the state for a later date.
"If elections are postponed in in this state, they should forget Akwa Ibom", the governor raised the alarm at a press conference he held with Journalists at the Lodge, soon after the Monday's incident at the Assembly.
He accused the new CP, Kimo who was barely one week in the state of playing the script of his boss, IGP Idris, as directed by the Presidency, saying the democracy Nigerians fought for and lost their lives in the process, was being threatened by occupation forces.
He wondered why Senator Akpabio, whom he alleged has benefitted so much as a Commissioner for six years and a governor for eight years under the PDP, should turn around to fight the same system that gave him fame and fortune.
Besides, he pointed out that the federal government was deploying the oil money generated mostly from Akwa Ibom to stir up political crises with the sole aim of making the state ungovernable and for the state of emergency to be declared "so that they can postpone elections in Akwa Ibom.
"Those who preach Warsaw, saw war, have benefitted so much from the system for 14 years as Commissioner for six years and governor for eight years, yet they continue to preach war ", he said.
For his alleged complicity in the crises, the House of Assembly voted for the removal of the CP and the governor affirmed it, saying the state would not know peace, if the CP and the head of Quick Response Squad (QRS) continue to superintend over security in the state.
The governor alleged that the concerned citizens of the state arrested some hoodlums in military uniforms and recovered 18 A-47 riffles from them during the crisis at the Assembly premises, and handed them to the police "but sadly enough, he (CP) allowed all of them to go with the rifles".
"The entire Police structure is now under one political party. How can we have three Commissioners' of Police within 24-hours in one state?", he exclaimed and urged President Muhammadu Buhari, to immediately intervened.
"We want to let the world know that if politics is played like this, then there is no hope of democracy", he warned.
Meanwhile, both Senator Godswill Akpabio and the new Police Commissioner Kimo have denied any complicity in the Assembly crisis.
Special assistant on Media to Senator Godswill Akpabio, Anietie Ekong, in a statement said Senator Akpabio was never at the scene of the fracas neither has anyone any evidence of his involvement, except the oft repeated strategy of blaming anything that is wrong in the State on Senator Akpabio.
"Akwa Ibom people have a right to determine who leads them. The choice will be based on performance and not on sentiments" he said
He therefore urged Governor Emmanuel to brace up and face the challenges of his office, instead of looking for who to blame for his lacklustre performance in the last three and half years which have made Akwa Ibom people determined to democratically vote him and his party out in the next year general election.
On his part the state Commissioner of Police Mr. Musa Kimo denied ever leading any lawmakers into the Assembly chamber during the crisis.
Addressing newsmen at the Ikot Akpan Abia Police headquarters in Uyo, the CP denied the false allegation made by Governor Emmanuel, challenging the State government to show proof.
"I didn't send policemen to the State House of Assembly; our duty is that if there is any problem we have to move fast to serve live and property. Do you know if we didn't deploy our men there by now the State House of Assembly structure may not have been there?
"Unfortunately people will not appreciate what we do. We should be encouraged for God sake especially when we are doing the right thing.
"I urge well-meaning Akwa Ibom people to continue to be law abiding. If anybody have problem we have law in this country. We can go to court. We need to be patient and legal system is the best. Two wrongs cannot make a right" he stated.
On the call for his redeployment by the Governor Emmanuel, the new State Police boss said "the Governor is free to say whatsoever he wants to say, fortunately he has not asked for me to be killed. There is no big deal about it. I didn't bring myself here. We are nomadic, he is entitled to what he says, and he has his reason.
"We are in democracy, so anybody is free to say whatever he /she wishes. It is left for God and good people to judge. As far as I am concern we will continue to do the right thing. I am not bordered. I didn't pray, nor canvass to be here.
"I have served in so many places in this country. It may interest you to note that this is my second missionary journey to this state. I have been here as a Squadron Commander of Mobile Police 26." the police commissioner stated.
Similarly reacting to the fracas, the state chairman of APC, Hon. Ini Okopido explained in a statement he issued and made available to newsmen in Uyo that in many Houses of Assembly across the federation, and indeed in both the Senate and House of Representatives, there have been many cross defections across party lines in the last several months. It is only in Akwa Ibom House of Assembly that the Speaker, goaded and pressured by the governor that has been intolerant and immature enough to declare seats vacant.
"An Ibibio proverb says: He who takes ants-infested firewood into his home should be ready to receive lizards.
"I therefore urged the Speaker and his governor to be ready to solve the problem they brought upon themselves, or" they would bear full consequences.
"Last year, the only APC member in our House of Assembly elected on the platform of our Party, Hon. Asukwo Archibong, defected to the PDP. Mr Onofiok Luke did not declare his seat vacant. The Governor was happy about it. As a Party, we handled the loss of the only lawmaker with calmness and fortitude. But this year, in an uncanny reversal of fortune, five PDP members have moved into our Party, Udom Emmanuel and his Stooge, Onofiok Luke, are too bigoted to bear the humiliation! How can the duo expect peace with such a level of injustice, impunity and double standards?
"Since Udom Emmanuel instigated this crisis by pressuring Mr Onofiok Luke to declare the seats of the APC legislators vacant, both of them should solve the problems. Calling on the President to intervene in the crisis they created is childish and amateurish" Okopido stated.
The APC Chairman therefore urged the President Muhammadu Buhari to declare state of emergency in the state to forestall further break dawn of law and order.
But the state PDP chairman Obong Paul Ekpo described Okopido statement as in human and a testimony to the veracity of his party's PDP earlier announced intelligence relating to the motive of APC in instigating in the state.
According to Paul Ekpo, On the invasion of the House of Assembly and the complicity of the Nigerian Police, it is important to state that the constitution of the country which is the operational code for all public and private persons, is clear on the steps expected of a presiding officer of any parliament, when a member of the parliament defects without any lawful justification.
"In our case, the Speaker of the State Assembly, we have been reliably informed had applied restraint in the declaration of the seats of the law makers until they approached the courts and judgment was given against one of the law makers and the rest teamed up with him in pursuit of an unlawful course, of attempting to prevent the House of Assembly from undertaking its legal responsibilities".
"It is common knowledge that as at the time the speaker acted in declaring the seats of the former members vacant, there was no subsisting injunction or legal impediment restraining him or any other person from acting in that direction.
"It is therefore not in doubt that the declaration of the vacancy of seats of the former members was, is and remains constitutional, lawful, legal and extant and there is nothing the APC can do about it" PDP chairman stated.
"We were not shocked to read the APC chairman accuse the governor of not being sound in mind. It is in their character to engage in gutter banter and mud bath, which is very alien to us and our clime. But if public perception is to serve as the guide, the people who orchestrated and in fact shamelessly recognized the former lawmakers who claimed to have sat and impeached a speaker, are those whom the citizenry want their mental health urgently examined.
Ekpo called on his supporters to remain calm even in the face of unprovoked aggression by the war-minded members of the opposition and urged the security agencies to conduct their duties professionally, without political leanings.
"We commend the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Barr. Onofiok Luke for his maturity in handling these provocations; the remaining 20 members of the House of Assembly deserve special commendation for their courage and strength of character.
"The cynosure of good governance in Nigeria, Governor Udom Emmanuel has exhibited great restraint and maturity in the handling of the many issues that arose alongside the well-choreographed and instigated crisis that was visited upon the state parliament by the APC.
For now, situation in the state appears calm. This followed an order of a High Court sitting in Uyo yesterday restraining the factional member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Mr. Nse Ntuen from parading himself as the Speaker of the Assembly.
The presiding Judge, Hon. Justice Ekaete Obot gave the order following application filed by Barrister Ekemini Udim, counsel to the Speaker of the Assembly, Mr Onofiok Luke.
In granting the order for interim injunction, the court restrained Mr. Ntuen from parading himself as the Speaker pending the determination of motion on notice filed.
Justice Obot ordered that the injunction be served on Mr Ntuen in person and also be pasted on every conspicuous part of the Assembly complex to forestall breakdown of law by the sacked lawmakers.