LOCKED HORNS: AKWA IBOM ASSEMBLY LEADERSHIP FEUD TRIGGERS STUNNING HYSTERIA

The diversity in political perception and association fueled by dangerously high expectation of individual members is aptly what played out a forth night ago in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. The stories that have been breaking out from the assembly is worrisome given the scale and festering which has inherent potential to open up a new front line in the conflict.

And tracking conversations of what happened and still running in the embattled assembly, the latest news trickling in last week on the stalemate reports that the five-man faction of the assembly led by Hon. Nse Ntuen, arrived on Tuesday at the legislative chamber early in the day and while conducting sitting, commenced impeachment proceedings against the governor, Udom Emmanuel. Some suspected thugs alleged to have provided cover for the decedent group, had earlier gained entrance into the premises of the complex but were dispersed by a team of security officials who fired several gunshots into the air.

On the same day of the incidence, report had it that the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Hon. Onofiok Luke led the other 21 members into the chambers where they sat for about two hours deliberating on a number of issues.

The People’s Democratic Party and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar joined several other commentators to condemn the crisis at the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. The former Vice president described it is a threat to democratic institutions, adding that it portends grave danger to the nations democracy.

Governor Udom Emmanuel in a swift reaction while addressing journalists in Uyo after the fracas, doubled down on the meddling of the APC and Police, accusing the later of using their influence to aid and abate the illegal invasion of the state House of Assembly.

And offering more insight at the media parley, Udom in what seems like an official narrative of government, accused the Nigeria Police Force of joining forces with thugs and criminals to cause mayhem at the assembly thereby threatening democracy and the relative peace in the state. Buttressing the narrative, Udom said some people were arrested with fake army uniforms and 18 AK – 47 rifles but the police commissioner ordered their release. Specifically, the governor said this about the commissioner of police “…and today, he led them to the House of Assembly with thugs, they were meant to maintain peace and order, not to cause chaos in someone else’s state”. And on this premise, he called for the immediate redeployment of Musa Kimo, the newly posted commissioner of police for aiding and abetting the illegal invasion of the state House of Assembly by sacked APC lawmakers.

In a related development, the day after the incidence, the women in Akwa Ibom led by commissioner for women affairs, stormed the premises of Akwa Ibom Assembly dressed in black, holding placards with various inscriptions expressed disapproval over the recent crisis rocking the assembly. They accused the police of complicity and called for the removal of its commissioner.

Now, walking back to the initial developments that snowballed into the current impasse in the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly is the sacking of the five honourable members that defected to the APC. It all started with the defection of five honourable members from the ruling People’s Democratic Party in the state to the ruling All Progressive Congress party at the center. The twist in the defection that unnerved the five defectors, was the declaration of their seats by the speaker, Hon. Onofiok Luke, vacant. The decision apparently was premised on two grounds – federal High Court judgement restraining him (i.e. speaker) from recognizing Hon. Idongesit Ituen as member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and section 109, sub section 1 of the 1999 constitution as amended. The later states in ‘g’ that 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: Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored. The affected lawmakers are Idongesit Ituen representing Itu state constituency, Otobong Ndem representing Mkpat Enin state constituency, Gabriel Tobby representing Ika/Etim Ekpo state constituency and Victor Udofia representing Ikono state constituency. 

The five defected legislators now in the All Progressive Congress had in their maiden sitting in the legislative chamber of the House, in Uyo elected Nse Ntuen as speaker. And in a session of the five members last week, suspended 11 members, with former speaker, Onofiok Luke as top on the list out of the 26 members of the assembly. Ntuen also dissolved all standing committees he alleged to be illegally constituted by the former speaker, Hon. Onofiok Luke and adjourned plenary till today, Tuesday 4 December, 2018.

And progressing the conversation, there is need to walk readers back to the single initial incidence from where things congregate to the quagmire the assembly is now in. The House member representing Itu state constituency, Hon. Idongesit Ituen had approached the federal High Court, apparently pre-empting the action of the Speaker in the suit no. FHC/UY/CS/151/18 and prayed the court to stop the Speaker, Hon. Onofiok Luke and two others joined in the suit, from declaring his seat vacant. But the judgement went contrary to his plea as a declarative judgement presided over by Hon. Justice F. O. Ritman, in an order of court, restrained the Speaker, Hon. Onofiok Luke, or any other person acting on his behalf, including the staff of the state House of Assembly, from further recognizing the complainant as a member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. The latter sought redress in appellate court, the federal court of appeal in Calabar where the case is now pending. Meanwhile, the cases of the other four defectors are still before the federal High Court in Uyo awaiting judgment.

A fallout of the pronouncement was the reported attack on the assembly by leaf and placard carrying youths suspected to be members of the All Progressive Congress – APC. This action prompted the invitation of the police by the state government to quell the riot. And on the second day which coincided with the resumption of duty of the new police commissioner, Musa Kimo, a detachment of armed policemen barricaded the assembly, and was alleged to provide cover to the five sacked lawmakers who had plenary session in the same chamber of the assembly and elected Hon. Nse Ntuen as their factional speaker. And sequel to this seal of the assembly by the police, the Senate acting on the prayer of Senator Bassey Akpan representing Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District, ordered an investigation into the sealing of the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly by security operatives.

In a telephone interview with The Lens reporter, the factional speaker, Hon. Nse Ntuen said the Speaker’s action does not portray him as a good and qualified lawyer. He said as well that the speaker is not an exemplary leader of a modern 21st century House of Assembly. And in his reckoning, the declaration of their seats vacant by the speaker was against the order of the federal Court of Appeal which had granted a stay of execution order on the judgement of the court of first jurisdiction, pending the determination of the case in the federal court of Appeal.

The factional speaker, who said he and his embattled colleagues were already in court, described the action as a rape of democracy and the highest level of disobedience to court orders. He noted further that the declaration of their seats vacant has gone to show the level of naivety of some leaders in various spheres of responsibilities, who use their positions to act arbitrarily and victimize others for their selfish interests.

Last week Monday, the new police commissioner, Musa Kimo, condemned the crisis rocking the House of Assembly, during a meeting with 20 political parties in the state. Kimo described the crisis as ‘ugly and worrisome’.

The legislature at whatever level of governance is the true face of democracy which is a representative government. This arm of government which is supposed to checkmate the executive and judiciary arms are themselves in disarray in the state.

And while the people of Akwa Ibom depending on their political bend, may have different assessment of the standoff in the state assembly, the fact still remains that both sides erred. The bottom line question now is how do we de-escalate the impasse in the AKHA, as if not addressed and urgently too, the implication for our democracy as we close in on the general elections in 2019 maybe chaotic. Engagement, not police presence will diffuse the conflict. A lasting truce in my reckoning is achievable only through selfless engagement of the parties in the dispute. To move forward, all options should be on the table and there should be no grey area.

It has become evidence to me that the unfortunate development in the assembly is a signal to the fact that the 2019 general elections in Akwa Ibom will be very divisive. The stalemate in the state assembly is far from being over despite shutting down. A no holds barred engagement I think will make room for a holistic remedy touching on the nitty gritty of the problem.

First, in my critical and dispassionate assessment of the deadlock, the action of the Hon. Speaker was profoundly a misuse of power. His action to me was deliberate as he cannot feign ignorance of the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria and the proper interpretation of court judgments. Going contrary to court orders is an aberration especially for someone in the legal trade. Aside the scenario of Idongesit Ituen which was clear, what do one make of the four other defectors. The case for these ones are still pending at the federal High Court in Uyo, yet the Speaker went ahead to declare their seats vacant.

The action of the five defectors on the flip side is uncomplimentary and aberration of the electoral act as amended which state conditions bothering on this kind of infraction. They were in order to have gone to court to seek redress but going ahead thereafter to unilaterally act, unmindful of the court order is mind-blowing. Their action no doubt was emboldened by the federal might at the center which controls security apparatus of government. it is obvious that the security at the assembly was compromised.

Another inappropriate observation in the stalemate in my assessment is the role of the court. Right now the courts which are supposed to provide stability in the polity are heading in a different direction. The manna of judgement in the first place by the federal high court in the suit filed by Hon. Idongesit Ituen was questionable. This raises salient questions about not just the competence of judges but their neutrality in adjudication as well. Again, what is court doing about the myriad of infractions by political office holders to its orders and judgments. 

My take in all of this is simple. The Nigerian people, leaders and the followers must see the constitution of the country as numero uno, unlike what is presently the case where the document is exploited by public office holders to suit their selfish interest. The constitution is effective only to the extent that it is suitable to whoever is in custody of power. Secondly, presidential democracy as a government of representation which we practice must relinquish power to the people. The process of electing public office holders should be transparent and credible. The electoral system should be re-engineered so that people who have character and capacity could contest public offices. Democracy as a government of the people must in deed and in action, be the people’s government.

Another insight that cannot be ignored, possibly as a third force in this legislative struggle to wield power and dominance, is the Akpabio factor. Godswill Akpabio, Senator representing Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial district in the red chamber of the National Assembly had earlier this year defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the All Progressive Congress. As a maverick politician who has a good number of followers partly drawn from his vast political structure in his former party, the PDP, now enjoys fanatical support from his followers in the state executive council, board members’, aids of the governor, members of the state House of Assembly et cetra. His defection to the ruling All Progressive Congress has an overwhelming influence on his followers and supporters which explains in part, the standoff in the state assembly spearheaded by Hon. Nse Ntuen who represents Akpabio’s state constituency, Essien Udim. The other fellow who is within the milieu of the Senator is Hon. Gabriel Tobby representing Ika/Etim Ekpo state constituency in Akpabio’s senatorial district. It was not surprising therefore when the PDP last week on its twitter handle accused the former governor of masterminding the crisis, which caused the transfer of former police commissioner, Bassey Abang.

However, the other three defectors do not fall into this category. Their case is more of anxiety and desperation to remain in the corridors of power after 2019 general elections. Hon. Victor Udofia representing Ikono state constituency and his Mkpat Enin counterpart, Otobong Ndem are free loaders seeking soft landing in the All Progressive Congress, having lost the People’s Democratic Party tickets to return for second term.

Some political analysts who spoke with The Lens in Uyo, described the development as a setback. According to Raymond Akpan, a former member of Technical Education Board, Otobong Ndem, who initiated the court action is an ingrate. He recalled how the embattled lawmaker became a House member on a platter of gold and frowned at his greed, which according to him has led him to what he described as unexpected summersault. Others described the defectors as sailors without compass and fair weather merchants who have lost their way in the web of political misadventure. They reasoned that if the sacked lawmakers had the interests of their people at heart, they would have remained in their party or consult with their constituents if there was need to defect. 

Some of those who spoke with The Lens newspapers did appreciate the members representing Uyo state constituency, Hon. Monday Eyo and his Ukanafun counterpart, Otobong Akpan, who lost in the House of Assembly primary election, but still remained in the party. They charged Ituen and his group to borrow a virtue of steadfastness and selflessness from the duo. 

Published in maiden edition, Lens Newspapers Vol. 1 No. 15.

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