The recipe for development is peace, argues Ufot Essien
The week of absurdity that ended last Friday with the police vacating the state House of Assembly Complex which they had occupied for three days may have ended but the ominous sign emanating from that incidence is evincive that it is not yet time to sing the victory song.
By way of update, the week opened Monday with the ruling party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) alerting the world that it had uncovered a plot by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to engage the services of thugs to disrupt proceedings at the State House of Assembly. Later that morning, what was supposed to be a threat turned real when hoodlums attempted to barricade the entrance to the Assembly Complex located on the highbrow Udo Udoma Road in the state capital.
It took the intervention of the police, who ostensibly had earlier been alerted, to put off the bonfire and dislodge the riotous thugs thus paving way for the legislators to access the chambers for the day’s business. Back in the House, the day’s proceedings were brief; the Speaker Rt. Hon Onofiok Luke declared vacant five seats belonging to members who had defected to the APC, acting on an order of the Federal High Court sitting in Uyo. Next, the House also entertained a motion seeking to name either the Ibom International Airport in Uyo or the State University after the former Governor Obong Victor Attah, in commemoration of his 80th. birthday; after which it adjourned sitting to Wednesday November 27.
The adjournment created space for the five sacked members to embark on a melodrama which saw the emergence of a ‘new speaker’, in the person of Nse Ntuen, member representing Essien Udim constituency. The ‘new speaker’ emerged about three hours after the House had adjourned same Monday.
Then Tuesday and an uneasy calm enveloped the state following the public holiday declared by the federal government to mark this year’s Eid el Maulud. By Wednesday, the ‘new speaker’ had ‘consolidated’ his position by naming some principal officers that would work with him. Also Wednesday, the House came under siege as security operatives locked down the Assembly Complex, barring workers from entering the premises. The siege ended Friday, perhaps following the intervention of the Senate, but not without some ‘casualties’ prime among them, John Bassey Abang, the former Commissioner of Police, who only resumed duties in the State barely a month ago.
Ordinarily, one could have dismissed these events as part of those dramas with which our politicians regularly entertain the public. After all, was it not in Nigeria, specifically Benue State, a few months ago when eight of 30 lawmakers in the State House of Assembly attempted – against known laws – to impeach the Governor, Samuel Ortom?
Akwa Ibom, under the Governorship of Udom Emmanuel, has enjoyed unprecedented peace. As the governor himself, would say, “If you want peace then you must invest in peace”. I could still recall the efforts the governor has invested to restore peace to the three troubled local government areas that were, hitherto, held hostage by cultists; namely Etim Ekpo, Ika and Ukanafun; the endless visits, the town hall meetings, the passionate appeals to the misguided youth to come out from the forest and make meaning of the rest of their lives. Only last month, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Maj Gen Jamil Sarham, while on a courtesy visit to Governor Emmanuel, announced that from available statistics at the Command, Akwa Ibom was the most crime-free and the most peaceful state in the South-south region.
As the Governor recreates a new path for the state via industrialisation, Akwa Ibom has witnessed unprecedented inflow of visitors particularly investors and tourists, taking advantage of the prevailing atmosphere of peace in the state. Indeed, as residents and visitors alike, would tell you, it is a new day in Akwa Ibom. A new day where freedom and peace prevail. A new day where the ruling party and the opposition can campaign freely on their chosen venue without any fear of molestation.
In fact, the governor himself captured the contrast succinctly in his broadcast to the people during the last state anniversary: “We are confronted with two stark and distinct choices: the choice of living in a state that is peaceful, devoid of kidnappings, politically-motivated assassinations and where the security of lives and property is assured or a return to the fearful years when death and insecurity walked on two legs; where people were afraid to visit or pursue their legitimate businesses for fear of being kidnapped or out rightly murdered … a chapter in our state’s history we wished had not been written!”
Was it not a sad irony that the ‘Uyo Week of Absurdity’ coincided with the week that the world gathered to honour Obong Victor Attah, former governor of the state and a globally-acclaimed patriot who fought for true democracy in Nigeria? The wealth Akwa Ibom and by extension, other South-south states enjoy today was made possible because there was a fighter called Attah. And was it any surprise that the day the forces that occupied the State Assembly vacated, again, coincided with the day that advocates of true democracy in Nigeria gathered in Uyo to honour one of their own (Attah) with a lecture titled; Leadership, Politics and Sustainable Democracy in Africa delivered by non-other than the cerebral Hassan Mathew Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto?
Now, let’s take a look at the dramatis personae, simply the actors, and what they and their actions depict.
‘New speaker’ Nse Ntuen – Can this otherwise lawmaker say for a truth that he deserves the title he foisted on himself, given the very lawless manner in which he emerged? What does a lawmaker earn when he stands the law he is supposed to make and defend, on its head?
Oshiomhole – You may ask, why? But come to think of it, at the mention of a word, stating that the erstwhile State Commissioner of Police for stopping the rampaging thugs on Monday from invading the Assembly, that he (CP) was a supporter of the state governor and was consequently instantly removed and replaced. It is a common joke in the state that Akwa was served with three Commissioners of Police within 48 hours. One Officer who was to replace Abang was said to have been issued a contrary signal on arrival at the Uyo Airport and had to board the same flight back to Abuja before Musa Kimo, was sent on Wednesday. Place this side by side with the role of security operatives during the Benue impeachment misadventure – all in a regime that had taken the corruption fight as its cardinal mission. Little wonder that the consensus at the Attah lecture was that what Nigeria – nay – Africa needs for sustainable democracy to thrive are strong institutions, not strong personalities.
Onofiok Luke – the lawful Speaker of the State Assembly has so far acted most maturely, both in his body language and utterances, even as he resolved firmly that “No amount of intimidation would cow us as a people”. While not pretending to be a lawyer, the Speaker is said to have declared the five seats vacant on Monday acting on a court order, while the same court was believed to have issued a stay of proceedings on Wednesday.
What else better summarises both the Attah’s 80th birthday lecture and indeed, the unfolding ‘drama of the absurd’ than his presentation at the lecture that “Nigerian democracy is governed by the courage to do nonsense”, citing among others, the example of Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State who Ray Ekpu noted, was impeached in a hotel room by 5am. Thank God for the judiciary that brought the law back on its feet and restored Obi.
In all these, we may have only seen the hand of Jacob while the voice of Esau is inaudibly directing the melodramatic script.
With the 2019 elections few weeks away, and with an earlier promise of replicating Warsaw in Nigeria – nay – Akwa Ibom, then what is unfolding, if not properly curtailed, may indeed, actually signalled the beginning of the Road to Warsaw.
The peace Akwa Ibom has enjoyed will be too precious to let go.
Essien wrote from Uyo