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2019: How A/Ibom Assembly became a battlefield

The ongoing crisis in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly is an offshoot of the fight for supremacy between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party…

The ongoing crisis in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly is an offshoot of the fight for supremacy between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the main opposition in the state, the All Progressives Congresses (APC). The latter is seeking to take over government in the state come 2019.

Before now, opposition lawmakers were non-existent in the state, and even when there was any, they made little or no impact in the House. Any disagreement among members was resolved amicably, and in the case of any proposed impeachment, the affected lawmaker resigned or stepped down honourably.

In fact, at the inception of this Assembly, there were no opposition lawmakers until the defection of Senator Godswill Akapbio to the APC. This defection not only fuelled the desire of the APC to take over the reins of government at all cost, but the party, which could be described as a lame duck in the state, suddenly came alive and many aggrieved PDP members or loyal followers of Akpabio defected.

Five lawmakers: Mr. Idongesit Ituen, representing Itu; Mr Gabriel Toby (Etim Ekpo/Ika); Mr. Victor Udofia (Ikono/Ini); Mr. Otobong Ndem (Mkpat Enin) and Mr. Nse Ntuen (Essien Udim) defected to the APC and their seats were declared vacant by the Speaker of the House, Mr. Onofiok Luke.

Police barricading the entrance to the State House of Assembly

While Nse Ntuen, who hails from the same local council as Akpabio, and Gabriel Toby defected to the APC the same day with the former governor, Victor Udofia and Otobong Ndem moved to the party when they failed to secure tickets in the PDP primaries for the House of Representatives and Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly seats respectively. Unfortunately for them, the APC could not give them the tickets they desired as the slots were already taken.

Idongesit Ituen defected to the APC in September 2018 when he discovered that he would not clinch the PDP ticket in Itu to return to the House of Assembly. As a result of the fear that he would lose his seat, he quickly went to court to secure an injunction. But his action backfired as the court mandated Speaker Luke, on Thursday, November 15, to withdraw his membership. Subsequently, the speaker obeyed the court order, stating, “Being a declarative judgement, the Honourable Speaker wishes, therefore, to state clearly that as a law abiding citizen, a lawmaker and lawyer, he has abided by the court order.’’

When Ituen learnt that the House would declare his seat vacant on November 19, 2018, he reportedly organised youths who promptly barricaded the Assembly complex to prevent the lawmakers from sitting. The protesters, numbering over 200 youths, who were alleged to be from the APC, blocked the entrance to the Assembly complex, chanting songs and displaying placards against the decision of the Speaker to withdraw recognition of Ituen as the lawmaker representing Itu.

When the Speaker arrived the gate to the Assembly complex, he was almost lynched, but for the intervention of the police, led by the Commissioner of Police John Abang. The commissioner, therefore, prevented an outbreak of violence and promised to secure the lives and property of lawmakers and the Assembly. But Abang, who was barely a month in office, has been replaced on the allegation that he aided the PDP during the crisis.

Amidst tight security, and the teargas meant to dispel some of the youths who had gained entrance into the Assembly and succeeded in destroying some windows close to the chambers, Speaker Luke and other lawmakers sat and declared the seats of the five lawmakers vacant.

The PDP had, in a statement, alleged that the APC had concluded plans to use thugs to invade the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and prevent lawmakers from carrying out their legitimate business.

The statement read: “We received a credible intelligence report highlighting plans by the opposition APC to use thugs to invade the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. The thugs, we have been reliably informed, are camped in Ikot Ekpene and will be conveyed in buses to Uyo. On arrival at Uyo, they will be dropped at different locations, from where they are expected to board tricycles in pairs and head towards the Assembly.

“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.’’

The sacked legislators, however, cried foul over the decision of their colleagues, and broke into the chambers after they departed. Three of them – Nse Ntuen, Idongesit Ituen and Otobong Ndem – went ahead to impeach the Speaker without any Assembly staff or paraphernalia of office in place. They declared Nse Ntuen as the new Speaker of the House.

Ntuen described the process that led to their sack as illegal, null and void as there were subsisting court orders to that effect. He added that House rules and procedures were not duly and legally followed before their seats were declared vacant.

He wondered why their seats would be declared vacant when a member who defected to the PDP from the APC last year was not given the same treatment. He argued that their decision would make the legislature stronger.

“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.

“Moreover, the purported action was not in the order paper for today’s plenary. The two items on 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. We will reconvene on Wednesday when other positions will be filled. This will not be the first time a minority member will be elected a head of a legislature. The president of the Nigerian Senate is a minority member.

“We elected a new Speaker because Luke is not good enough. He is incompetent and is being teleguided by the executive against our quest to be independent,’’ he said.

Ntuen went a step further to suspend five legislators and issued a statement, using a letterhead paper with his name as Speaker of the House. He named new heads of the committees he constituted.

He has the support of the APC, which described the action of Speaker Onofiok Luke as ‘political rascality’. The party insists that all the five members whose seats were declared vacant have pending cases in court against the action; hence the declaration was null and void.

The state chairman of the party, Mr. Ini Okopido, argued that the judgement against Idongesit Ituen was of no effect as the Federal High Court and Justice F.O. Riman, who incidentally gave the first ruling, had, on November 21, 2018, ordered a stay of judgement pending the outcome of the appeal of Ituen in the Court of Appeal.

“The ruling in respect of the stay of execution of the judgement against Hon. Idongesit Ituen, which was adjourned to today, November 21, 2018, had been delivered by the Federal High Court in his favour.

“The APC in Akwa Ibom State cannot accept the act of impunity and political rascality displayed by the former Speaker in declaring the five seats of our members in the Assembly vacant.

“We stand by the decision of the lawmakers to elect a new Speaker to lead the 6th Assembly. And we will support the new Speaker, Hon. Nse Ntuen,’’ a statement by Okopido read.

The state chairman of the PDP, Mr. Paul Ekpo, also raised the alarm that the APC had plans to use the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to freeze the accounts of the state government and set Governor Udom Emmanuel in a collision course with President Muhammadu Buhari.

“It is pertinent to note that we have uncovered a fresh plot by the APC to use the EFCC to clamp down on the Akwa Ibom State Government accounts. This is another desperate attempt by the APC to paralyse the activities of the government of Akwa Ibom State.

“In view of the foregoing, we demand that the Inspector-General of Police and the Commissioner of Police in Akwa Ibom State to, as a matter of urgency, cause the troops laying siege at the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly to vacate with immediate effect and cease forthwith, further intimidation of officials of the Akwa Ibom State Government and principal officers of the House of Assembly,’’ he said.

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